5 Bold Predictions for the Final Month of 2018-19 NBA Season
There's now less than one month remaining in the 2018-19 NBA regular season.
Luckily, that still gives us enough time to unleash a few bold predictions.
The Association's unpredictable nature always makes this exercise fun. Imagine trying to convince your October self that the Sacramento Kings would carry a .500 record into mid-March, but the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't.
With that said, realism shouldn't be completely discarded. The best bold predictions are the ones that aren't only surprising, but eventually come to fruition.
We can't guarantee the five following forecasts will happen, but our crystal ball likes their chances.
Wizards Sprint to 8th Seed
The Washington Wizards have lost 60 percent of their opening-night starting five to injury (John Wall) or trades (Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris). Had Dwight Howard been ready that night, it would be 80 percent, since he still hasn't returned from November back surgery and might be shelved for the season at this point.
On a related note, the Wizards aren't particularly hot right now, either. Their 7-10 record since the start of February puts them in the bottom third of the league. They've also slipped to 11th in the Eastern Conference, which means any playoff path must include leap-frogging three different teams.
So, why are we buying Washington as a postseason participant?
It starts with Bradley Beal, who's separating himself from every other player in the eighth-seed sweepstakes. The 25-year-old has rocketed out of the All-Star break with 29.4 points, 7.1 assists and 2.1 steals. That puts him among the top 15 in points (sixth), dimes (15th) and steals (tied for second).
The Wizards have also found new juice with their post-trade-deadline starting group. The quintet of Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Bobby Portis has a plus-1.6 net rating, which would rank 12th overall on the season.
Finally, the scheduling gods could be shining on the District at the perfect time. The Wizards, who struggle playing away from home (8-27) and against good teams (11-25 against .500-plus clubs), host eight of their final 14 contests and have the third-lowest remaining opponents' winning percentage (.456), per Tankathon.
No Team Wins 60 Games
The NBA is often criticized as being too top-heavy, and it looked like the elites would rule once again this season. Back in October, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe boldly predicted we'd see four 60-win teams for just the second time in league history.
That isn't happening. With one more loss by the Denver Nuggets (or two by the Golden State Warriors), it becomes mathematically impossible.
But we can still see something that's almost just as rare.
Dating back to the 1979-80 season, all but one 82-game season has featured at least one 60-win squad. That number is about to double, and it might not even be close.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the only team cruising at a 60-plus-victory pace (61.5, to be exact), while the Toronto Raptors (57.9), Warriors (56.3) and Nuggets (54.7) are the only other clubs still in the running for a 60-win season. But the Dubs and Nuggets are all but mathematically eliminated from that chase, and the East heavyweights both might prioritize rest over wins down the stretch.
Milwaukee already has a comfy three-game lead atop the East, and Toronto has given no indication it's in all-out pursuit of pole position. The Raptors are busy keeping Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard as fresh as possible for the postseason, and they're also navigating around Serge Ibaka's suspension.
If Toronto eases up and Milwaukee follows suit, the league-best win total won't make it out of the 50s.
Warriors Slip to 2nd Seed
The Golden State Warriors have never fielded more elite talent during Steve Kerr's tenure than they tout this year. But they're also fighting more shortcomings than ever: frontcourt concerns, limited bench shooting, inexperienced reserves and inconsistency that might be due to fatigue, complacency or both.
Perhaps that was always destined to be the case given the intrinsic challenge of three-peating.
"As you go, the journey gets harder," Kerr recently said, per The Athletic's Ethan Strauss. "There's more adversity. ... We're seeing plenty of adversity this year and I tell the players every year, there's a reason you pour champagne on each other when it's all said and done, because it is hard."
The Warriors look exhausted. Every time you think they might perk up, they snooze through another stretch.
While the All-Star break seemed like a chance to recharge their batteries, the Dubs came out of drained as ever. They're only 5-5 since the intermission with a minus-1.3 net rating that slots them in the bottom third.
None of this means Golden State won't win the title or shouldn't be considered the clear favorite to do so. But it does increase the possibility that the Warriors won't flip a switch until the playoffs.
On a macro level, that's fine. The Warriors' goals don't start until then, anyway. But from a micro view, their grip on a top seed feels tenuous at best.
The Nuggets are nipping at their heels and should be more motivated to floor the accelerator throughout the stretch run given their unique home-court advantage and the inexperience of their core.
Trae Young Completes Rookie of the Year Comeback
If you thought the Rookie of the Year race was over—maybe by December or January, even—you aren't alone.
Luka Doncic deserves a trophy after getting his NBA career off to an incredible start. He's poised to join Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only freshmen ever to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
With that said, don't forget what Trae Young has brewing in Atlanta.
Young has been on a tear for the better part of two months. Dating back to Jan. 26—a 22-game stretch—he's averaged an absurd 23.5 points, 9.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds while splashing 2.8 triples at a 41.3 percent clip.
"Luka has had a tremendous year," Young recently told HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy. "He's played well all year and done a lot of tremendous things. ... But I think I've had a pretty good year as well. And with the way I've been playing lately, I think if I continue to play this way, there's definitely a chance that I'll win [Rookie of the Year]."
For the season, Young is up to 18.3 points, 7.8 assists and 1.9 threes per night. If he bumps that to 18 points and eight assists, he'd be the third freshman ever to do so. Tack on two triples, and it would be unprecedented production from a first-year hooper.
That still may not be enough to unseat Doncic, but the gap is close enough to justify a bold prediction on Young's behalf.
LeBron Left Off All-NBA 1st and 2nd Teams
LeBron James' first season with the Los Angeles Lakers looks like a streak-snapper on multiple levels.
Eight straight trips to the Finals? Forget it. The Lakers aren't even going to make the playoffs, which means we'll have our first LeBron-less postseason since 2005.
"I'll be watching it if we're not there," James told reporters, "and it looks like our chances are slim to none after each and every game."
But those team struggles are easy enough to explain given the Lakers' wide-reaching injury issues and questionable roster composition.
What's harder to comprehend is James having his 11-year first-team All-NBA streak snapped.
Last season was one of his best, good enough for his highest finish in the MVP voting since 2013-14 (second). Statistically, he's doing almost everything now that he was then. But the combination of a lengthy layoff after a groin injury on Christmas and the Lakers' likely lottery fate has sucked the life out of James' stat sheet.
The numbers are still impressive—27.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists—but they aren't enough to get him on the first or second All-NBA teams. Not when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all present stronger cases for their individual play and their impact on their respective clubs.
The last time James didn't make first- or second-team All-NBA, he was a rookie.
How's that for bold?
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.