The first half of the NBA is coming to a close, as the 2008 All-Star game approaches on February 17.
We've seen some surprises, like the resurgence of a young Portland Trail Blazers team, the consistent play of the New Orleans Hornets, and the disaster that is the Miami Heat.
But what can we expect to see in the second half of the season?
1. The Utah Jazz will win the Northwest Division easily.
Jerry Sloan's team has already won six in a row and is peaking at the right time. The Nuggets have been inconsistent and have failed to play solid defense in back-to-back games at any point this season.
Portland had a remarkable run earlier, but the adrenaline seems to be waning a bit for this young team. They may still sneak into the playoffs, but Utah's core of Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, and Andrei Kirilenko will be too much to handle at the end. Experience will win out, and the Jazz have found their stride.
2. The Nuggets or Warriors will be the odd team out in the Western Conference.
It pains me to say this as a Denver fan, but the Nuggets have been too inconsistent for me to think that they're ready to compete in the postseason. With several players injured and a lack of cohesion on the starting line, George Karl has few options if the team doesn't make a move by the trade deadline.
The run-and-gun style of play may be exciting, but in the West, if you don't play solid defense, you're not going to win a lot of games.
The same goes for the Warriors. You can only run up and down the court and shoot so many 3s until it catches up with you. I love watching both teams play, but this style of basketball is not fit for the playoffs. Both Denver and Golden State find themselves just 1 game ahead of Portland, and two ahead of Houston for the final playoff spot. Don't be surprised if one of them falls out of the top eight by season's end.
3. The Detroit Pistons will win the East.
Detroit is riding a six-game winning streak and, as of late, has been the most consistent team in the conference.
Boston charged out of the gates early, but after blowing teams out for the first 15 games, they have lost eight and won several nail-biters. The injury bug is slowly catching up with the Celtics and they seem to have lost a step or two.
The Pistons have played together with this same core for over 4 years and know what it takes to win. Add to that, the Celts still have two Western road trips where they have to travel to Denver, Golden State, Phoenix, and Portland in one trip, and San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans in the other.
Detroit does not have to endure either of these daunting tasks. The two teams will probably meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it will be the Palace that hosts a potential Game Seven.
4. The Suns will still not find a way to beat the Spurs.
Plain and simple, Phoenix does not match up well with San Antonio. There is no one to defend Tim Duncan, and the Spurs do an excellent job of keeping Steve Nash out of the paint where he's so dangerous.
Even last night without Tony Parker, the Spurs still managed to win in Phoenix with Jacque Vaughn at point guard.
Add to that, while the Suns are 19-2 against the East this year, they're just 14-12 against the West. If the Suns want any shot of finally getting to the finals, they need to step it up against their own conference.
With Damon Stoudamire arriving in the upcoming days and Parker returning to the lineup after the All-Star break, the Spurs will once again dominate the Suns. San Antonio always has a pretty average first half and then turns on the gas after the break.
Let's see if they can do it again.
5. The Eastern Conference playoff picture will have been Uggggglyyyy.
Right now the final two spots in the East belong to the Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets, who are six and seven games under .500, respectively. With Jason Kidd possibly on the way out of New Jersey, the Nets might be looking to rebuild and get a lottery pick.
Atlanta, on the other hand, might be looking to acquire a point guard to try and make a playoff run for the first time in years. Aside from New York and Miami, every other team in the East is no more than 2.5 games back of the Nets for that final playoff spot, so whichever team is the hottest at the end of the season will probably claim the eighth seed.
Finals Prediction (based solely on what we've seen in the first half of the season and disregarding history):
Dallas Mavericks over Detroit Pistons in six games