25 Bold Predictions for the Final Month of the 2012-13 NBA Season
The 2012-13 NBA season has been riveting. It's been the year of the unexpected, with traditional cornerstones like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics taking an unexpected step in the wrong direction.
More importantly, it's been the year of LeBron James, the type of player who conquers the league every quarter century with enough force to leave burning wreckage in his path.
For those who reside outside Miami, the good news is there's still one month to go, and with several significant playoff seedings still hanging in the balance, as well as some interesting historical footnotes, this isn't the time to stop paying attention.
Delivered in no particular order, here are 25 bold predictions for what we might see the rest of the way.
The Dallas Mavericks Will Make the Playoffs
The Mavericks have finally found themselves, going 8-4 in their last 12 games.
Their schedule isn't easy, but they do face the Phoenix Suns once and the New Orleans Hornets twice. Five of their last 10 games are at home, and they play the Los Angeles Lakers on April 2, the team that stands in their way.
Dirk Nowitzki is making 50/40/90 look like a stroll in the park, with 52.2/47.7/95.7 shooting percentages from the field, three-point range and the foul line in his past 20 games. He's locked in, and so are the Mavericks.
The Los Angeles Lakers Will Not Make the Playoffs
This team scrapes and claws for every win it gets, and without Metta World Peace in the starting lineup, it appears to have finally hit a roadblock that stands too tall.
The Lakers face the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors down the stretch. They might be underdogs in all those games, and anytime Antawn Jamison is in your rotation this time of year, it's a really bad sign.
The Boston Celtics Will Lock Up the No. 7 Seed
The Boston Celtics have virtually locked up a spot in the playoffs, but they aren't done battling against the Milwaukee Bucks for that incredibly important No. 7 seed. Whoever gets the eight seed is sentenced to a beheading at the hands of LeBron James and Co., and the Celtics, prideful bunch that they are, know this.
Down the stretch, they'll do whatever it takes to position themselves on the opposite side of the bracket. After all, a lot can change between now and the Eastern Conference Finals. Nobody will want to face the Celtics if they can get that far.
Three Houston Rockets Will Receive Votes for Most Improved Player
Selecting an annual winner for Most Improved Player is as arbitrary as the NBA gets. The word "improved" is far too difficult to define.
The Rockets have three players—Chandler Parsons, James Harden and Omer Asik—who could win, each for different reasons.
Take Harden, for example. His game probably hasn't "improved" so much from last year to this year, but his numbers certainly have thanks to a major increase in minutes and offensive responsibility.
Same goes for Asik, who barely played in Chicago his first two seasons in the league, But he put up per 36-minute rebounding numbers that are hardly different from what he's done in Houston.
The final, and most legitimate, example is Parsons. In his second season, the 24-year-old has seen an increase in minutes, but he has played his way into them by improving his shooting numbers across the board.
His three-point percentage is up to 37.8 percent from 33.7 percent last year (on 2.4 more attempts per game), and his free-throw percentage took a major leap from 55.1 percent to 72.3 percent (on nearly one more attempt per game).
He's also creating for others off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll, which is something he didn't do much of last season. And the style of play Houston has decided to roll with appears to suit his game perfectly.
For an award that's wide open, the Rockets have three players who could end up with it.
As Many as Nine Head Coaches Could Be Fired
The Utah Jazz have been playing like a disinterested bunch just as the season hit its most important stretch. If they don't make the playoffs, their collapse will fall on head coach Ty Corbin's shoulders, even though his key free-agent-to-be players are acting like they've already signed elsewhere.
If the Jazz make the playoffs, Corbin will still probably find himself on the outs, with the team showing no real improvement from last year to this year under his leadership.
Others that could see the door are Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni—even if his team gets into the playoffs—and Los Angeles Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, who's viewed by many as the biggest reason his team can't win in the postseason.
New ownership could look for a new head coach in Sacramento/Seattle, so Keith Smart is in danger of losing his job, and given the meltdown we've seen throughout the year in Philadelphia, this has probably been Doug Collins' last go-around with the Sixers.
The Toronto Raptors have once again disappointed, especially on the defensive end. Dwane Casey was hired as a defensive specialist, so it seems his influence is waning.
Elsewhere, Lindsey Hunter with the Phoenix Suns, Lawrence Frank with the Detroit Pistons and Larry Drew with the Atlanta Hawks could all see their organizations head in different directions.
Jeff Green Will Win Sixth Man of the Year
Does he belong on the bench? Probably not, but most winners of this award don't.
Nonetheless, at first, Green found himself serving as Boston's offensive spark off the bench before slowly morphing into the prolific two-way player he's become today.
He's always on the floor at the end of close games guarding the opponent's best player, and defenses that don't pay attention to where he is typically get burned.
Jamal Crawford is probably the favorite for this award, but it'd be nearly impossible to say Green isn't the better overall player.
Damian Lillard Will Lead the League in Total Minutes Played
It's nearly a foregone conclusion that Lillard will win Rookie of the Year, but let's take a look at how important he is to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Guess how many players have logged more minutes this season than Lillard. Give up?
One. Kevin Durant. That's it.
In his first year, Lillard has not only picked up NBA offense with no visible struggles, but he's viewed by his coach as an indispensable piece of the puzzle.
It's been a really special season for Lillard, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he passes Durant in total minutes, needing just 40 more than Durant in the season's final month.
Jeremy Lin Will Finish Better Than He Was Last Year
Now that he's seriously cut down his turnovers (at least the unexplainable ones) and has situated himself in an environment that best cultivates his open-court skills, the argument about whether Jeremy Lin can be an above-average NBA point guard should be put to bed.
He's struggled a ton in Houston this year, but each month, his numbers have improved. In March, he's shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the three-point line.
Last season, Lin shot just 32 percent from behind the arc and 44.6 percent from the floor. Through Houston's final 10 games, he should see an even more sizable boost in his efficiency.
Chris Paul Will Become the Assists Leader
Rajon Rondo has led the league in assists per game since the season started, and even since he went down with a season-ending ACL tear before the All-Star break, he's held the top spot with 11.1 per game.
Chris Paul has steadily been making a run at the top spot, though. In his last 15 games, he's averaging 10.0 assists per game, according to NBA.com. And being one of the most competitive players in the league, there's no doubt he knows how close he is to catching Rondo.
Paul currently sits in second with 9.6 assists per game. Look for him to go out of his way to set up teammates for the rest of the season, even more than usual.
Avery Bradley Will Make the All-Defensive First Team
He's so much more than an elite on-ball pest. Bradley has perfected the chase-down block and closes out on shooters with unparalleled quickness.
Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio are all fantastic on the defensive end, but Bradley's ability to focus on the defensive end gives him a significant leg up on the competition.
His prime responsibility is to make opponents uncomfortable, and nobody does a better job defending ball-handlers the length of the court. Now that he's in Boston's starting lineup, point guards are well-aware when the Celtics are coming up on their schedule, and they don't like it at all.
Three Players Will Eclipse 50/40/90
This is self-explanatory: Three NBA players will finish the season shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent on free throws.
They are Kevin Durant, Steve Nash and Jose Calderon.
Durant is the only player in the league currently at that mark, and he's been there for much of the season. But Nash and Calderon are both comfortably above 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Calderon is at 48.8 percent from the floor for the season (he's shot 52.2 percent since being traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Detroit Pistons), while Nash is shooting 49.6 percent from the floor.
Russell Westbrook Will Take More Than 100 More Shots Than Kevin Durant
This isn't meant to be critical of Russell Westbook, one of the 10 best basketball players in the world. Instead, it's just pointing out an interesting situation.
Kevin Durant is the NBA's leading scorer, but as of today, his point guard has taken more shot attempts. That's amazing.
As of March 28, Westbrook has taken 1,348 shots (only Kobe Bryant has taken—roughly 900—more). Durant has taken 1,284 shots.
Tristan Thompson Will Establish Himself as the Game's Best Offensive Rebounder
Tristan Thompson is just 22 years old, but appears to have already found an elite skill, making him incredibly valuable: He grabs nearly four offensive rebounds per game
This season, he's totaled more offensive rebounds than Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Omer Asik and Kenneth Faried. By the end of the season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him leap past Roy Hibbert and Zach Randolph for first place overall.
Brook Lopez Will Become the Eastern Conference's Most Significant X-Factor
In the midst of his finest season, Brook Lopez is averaging 19.0 points (on 52.3 percent shooting) and 7.0 rebounds per game. Not the best for a seven-footer, but his defensive rebounding percentage has doubled from what it was last year.
As a result, his PER is an unconscious 24.7, higher than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade. In fact, only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul are better. Coincidentally, those are also the world's three best players.
If Lopez is able to take his game to even higher level in the season's final month, he could be a seriously interesting force throughout the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets Will Get the No. 6 Seed
It's the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors battling it out for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Houston trails by 1.5 games, but it holds a tiebreaker and has been more consistent all season.
The Rockets are healthy, and in five of their last 10 games, they face the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic. The Warriors have the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron James Will Finish with the Highest Single-Season PER in NBA History
Thanks to LeBron James, this is a season basketball fans will never forget. He's been the NBA Player of the Week six of 20 times, Player of the Month four of a possible four times and is on his way to winning his fourth MVP in five years. His third straight Finals appearance feels like a foregone conclusion.
More importantly, only three players in NBA history have played more minutes than James this season and registered a higher PER: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and a 24-year-old LeBron James.
The all-time high is 31.8, posted by Chamberlain in 1963. James sits at 31.3 with 11 games to play. It'll obviously be difficult, but if he gets past Chamberlain, this might qualify as the best individual season in league history.
Knowing him, next year could be even better.
Omer Asik Will Make the All-Defensive First Team
According to NBA.com/stats, the Houston Rockets have one of the 10 best defenses in the league when Omer Asik is on the court. They're one of the three worst when he comes off.
If you watch them play, you know why. He's one of the league's most formidable forces in the paint. The Rockets force the sixth fewest shots from five feet and in, according to NBA.com/Stats, while keeping opponents on the perimeter.
Opposing teams also shoot the sixth most mid-range jumpers against Houston, and the primary reason for this is Asik's interior presence.
Tim Duncan and Joakim Noah are both worthy contenders for this place, but Asik's on/off court point differential on the defensive end is larger, according to NBA.com/Stats, indicating his overall impact for Houston might be greater than Duncan's in San Antonio or Noah's in Chicago.
The Charlotte Bobcats Will Finish with the Worst Defense in the League
Not sure this qualifies as a "bold" prediction, but the Bobcats are an awful defensive team. For the second year in a row, they'll finish with the lowest defensive rating in the league.
Bismack Biyombo is their only rim protector capable of lateral movement, and half the time he's nowhere near where he's supposed to be.
Kevin Love Will Not Return
Kevin Love averaged 14.0 rebounds in 18 games his injury-shortened season. That's pretty incredible. But what's the point in bringing him back at the end of a lost season? What incentive do the Timberwolves have in risking further injury with one of their best players?
Minnesota is currently 20 games below .500, sitting fifth in their division with just 10 games left in the season. Playing Love will do no good for them.
Larry Sanders Will Win Defensive Player of the Year
Larry Sanders (LARRY SANDERS!) isn't the best defensive player in basketball, but his impact is easiest to identify. He swats shots more than anyone else, leading the league in blocks per game and block percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The Bucks allow 98.5 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, and 106.2 when he's off, according to NBA.com/stats. That's as drastic a difference as it gets.
The Washington Wizards Will Look Like a Playoff Team
The Wizards have had one of the league's best defenses all season (I know, right?), but still, with nothing resembling a functioning NBA offense for November, December, January and February, they struggled to win games.
But in March their offense has been above the league average, and their point differential has been fourth in the Eastern Conference, according to NBA.com/stats. There's no doubt that a healthy John Wall has helped. If the season were three months longer, the Wizards would surely qualify for the postseason.
James Harden Will Win the Scoring Title
Only Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have scored more points than James Harden season, and no player has made more free throws.
To nobody's surprise, the points-per-game leader is Durant with 28.3. Harden is fifth, two points per game below.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, more than a third of Harden's made baskets this season have either been dunks or layups. He plays like a man on a mission, and with his team in the hunt for the No. 6 seed, Houston's best player should take his elite scoring even higher while the players above him drop off their production.
Stephen Curry Will Lead the League in Free-Throw and Three-Point Percentage
Stephen Curry is shooting 45.2 percent from three-point range and 89.4 percent from foul line, third and second, respectively, in the NBA.
If Curry finishes the season with these figures, it'll be the first time in NBA history someone shot that well on as many attempts as Curry's had from both spots on the floor, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
He's a decent shooter. Now it's time for him to get even better down the stretch.
Kenyon Martin Will End the Season in New York's Starting Lineup
Kenyon Martin has been phenomenal since joining the New York Knicks, averaging 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as a starter. With him in the starting lineup, the Knicks are 6-2.
Even though Amar'e Stoudemire had not started a game all season before he was sidelined by an injury to his right knee, his presence on a thin Knicks roster would probably push him into the starting lineup by now.
But for the rest of the season, it's Martin's time to shine.
Derrick Rose Will Not Return
This subject has been discussed at length all season. In "The Year of LeBron," it doesn't make sense for the Chicago Bulls to throw Derrick Rose into the playoffs.
Similar to Kevin Love, what's the use? The Bulls declared Rose as their most important player by extending him on a five-year maximum contract. He's their entire future, and one of the brightest stars in the league.
Letting him sit out the final 10 games, and then the playoffs would be wise.