10 Bold Predictions for the Second Half of the 2013 NBA Season
By now, we know most of the teams that will find themselves in the postseason, and we have a pretty good handle on which players will receive consideration for the NBA's MVP award at the end of the year.
That said, there's a whole lot of basketball to be played, and plenty can happen between now and June. Which young stars are poised to have big second halves? Will Boston be able to hold it together without Rajon Rondo? Do the Miami Heat now have a clear path to the NBA Finals, or do other dangers await?
Some of these things are difficult to forecast. After all, few people thought that the Chicago Bulls would be as good as they are in the absence of Derrick Rose. But much of the rest of the 2012-13 campaign should fall into line—we've seen enough evidence from a number of players and teams to make a bold (and accurate) prediction on their respective futures.
10. No More Head Coaches Will Be Fired This Season
The time for making moves on the bench is done. With more than half of the season already in the ledger, it makes little sense for any team to fire its head coach at this point. Installing a new system in the middle of the year would be counter-productive, and those franchises most likely to make a move are too far out of contention for it to matter all that much.
So, Charlotte's Mike Dunlap, Cleveland's Byron Scott, and Detroit's Lawrence Frank don't need to keep their realtor's number handy—they're all safe until at least the end of the season.
9. Jimmy Butler Will Make a Run at the NBA's Most Improved Player Award
Chicago Bulls' swingman Jimmy Butler doesn't have a nickname, and he doesn't need one either. But if he keeps playing like he has over the past couple of weeks, he may have the NBA's Most Improved Player Award in his trophy case by the time the season is over.
After lighting up the Vegas Summer League in July (20.8 PPG), Butler has excelled whenever his number has been called this season. Butler received his first career start on Jan. 19, and since then he's averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 assists per game in relief of an injured Luol Deng.
Orlando's Nikola Vucevic will make the race for the league's most improved player an interesting one, but expect 23-year-old Butler to make a strong case for himself over the next three months.
8. Andre Drummond Will Be the Best Rookie of the Second Half of the Season
Even with his recent struggles, Portland Trail Blazers' rookie Damian Lillard is still likely to take home the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award at the end of the season. But keep an eye on Detroit center Andre Drummond: The 6'10" center has the goods to be the best freshman of the second half of the 2012-13 campaign.
The only things standing in Drummond's way from being a consistent double-double threat are time (he averages 20 minutes per game) and an abysmal free-throw percentage (40.9 percent). Drummond's PER is ridiculously high for a rookie, and once he's more consistent from the charity stripe, the Pistons' frontcourt will cause nightmares for opposing coaches.
7. Jeff Teague Will Star in Lou Williams' Absence
Jeff Teague figures to benefit the most in the absence of Lou Williams, who tore his ACL on Jan. 18 and will miss the rest of the season.
The fourth-year point guard had already showed signs of increased aggression on the offensive end this year, and 24-year-old Teague could wind up averaging 17 points per game for the Atlanta Hawks before the playoffs roll around.
Teague has already enjoyed four games of 20 points or more since mid-January, so he's the most likely candidate to shoulder some of the scoring burden for Atlanta going forward.
6. Boston Celtics Will Make the Playoffs
It's "next man up" time for the Boston Celtics now that star point guard Rajon Rondo is out for the season with a torn ACL. Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee will split the ball-handling duties for the C's, but replacing one of the game's premier playmakers will be no easy task.
Even so, the Eastern Conference is so mediocre that an undermanned Boston team will still sneak into the playoffs as either the No. 7 or No. 8 seed. The Celtics have enough talent to be a .500 team, and a 41-41 record should be enough to get them into the postseason. What they'll do when they get there is another matter entirely.
5. Miami Heat Will Win NBA Finals Again
The Miami Heat struggle on the glass, and are a pedestrian team away from the AmericanAirlines Arena, but when the second half of the season begins, expect the defending champions to add another Larry O'Brien Trophy to the mantle.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all enjoying career-best shooting performances from the floor—proof that they realize that they need to be more efficient due to Miami's lack of size. With proven shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis ready to knock down the open looks that they'll inevitably get, the city of Miami can already start making preparations for yet another parade.
The road won't be easy, but Miami shouldn't have to face a severe challenge until the NBA Finals, where they'll face a team that had to endure the gauntlet of a challenging Western Conference. The "3 Kings" may not win as many as they originally predicted, but they'll continue to carve out their legacy with another title this June.
4. Jrue Holiday Will Finish Second in the NBA in Assists
With Rajon Rondo on the shelf for the rest of the year, expect emerging Philadelphia 76ers' point guard Jrue Holiday to lead the Eastern Conference in assists at the end of the season.
It's not out of the realm of possibility for Holiday to overtake the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul for the league lead in assists, but the Sixers are far too reliant on Holiday's scoring for that to happen. So instead, Holiday will have to settle for being the best playmaker in the Eastern Conference: A distinction that will go well with his first-ever All-Star bid.
3. Andrew Bynum Will Return Around the All-Star Break, Average 17 and 8
All signs are pointing toward Andrew Bynum making his Philadelphia 76ers' debut around the All-Star break, and there's little reason to believe that he'll have a setback at this point.
Philadelphia plays exactly 31 games after the NBA's mid-season classic, and if Bynum is anywhere close to the form that he displayed prior to his injury, the 7'0" center should be able to average 17 points and eight rebounds per game over the final two months of the season.
That should be more than enough to vault the Sixers into the postseason, where they'll be one of the more dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference.
2. Los Angeles Lakers Will Make Playoffs
If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Lakers would be at home watching the postseason like the rest of us. Fortunately for them, there's still more than two months of season left, and when the brackets for the NBA's version of the Sweet 16 are unveiled, the Lakers will find themselves still dancing.
Have Mike D'Antoni and his charges finally figured out a way to peacefully co-exist? It's doubtful, although their 105-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 27 is a huge building block for the future.
The Lakers are too talented to completely miss the playoffs, so they'll find their level over the next few weeks and fulfill at least some of the promise that they had prior to the season.
1. Chicago Bulls Will Make the Eastern Conference Finals
Thanks to the continued dominance of the Miami Heat and the sudden emergence of the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls have been able to pretty much fly under the radar this season.
Chicago is winning at better than a 60 percent clip without its best player, and with point guard Derrick Rose primed for a comeback in the near future, the Bulls could even clinch home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Playoffs once all is said and done.
If Chicago can avoid a second-round matchup with Miami, don't be surprised to see a Bulls/Heat Eastern Conference Finals showdown this spring—a year later than many of us expected.