NBA Mid-Season Round Up
WRITTEN BY KARAN TELI & CHARLES ODUGBESAN
As the NBA All Star break approaches, many people have called the Regular Season MVP race a 2 horse race. I am not one of those people. For all the great things James Harden has done, getting the Houston Rockets to the 3rd seed in the stacked Western Conference, Russell Westbrook is putting up one of the greatest individual seasons we’ve ever seen. Every night, when he plays we ask 2 questions; ‘Did OKC win?’ and ‘Did Russ get another one?’ He’s playing the game like we’ve never seen before and is on course to break the Oscar Robertson record of most triple doubles in a season (Oscar got 41, Russ has 27 will 25+ games left). Also, Russ has got a team that lost Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and replaced them with Victor Oladipo in the Western Conference playoffs.
My pick for MVP this year has to go to James Harden…just. I can concede that his old teammate Russell Westbrook is averaging numbers not seen since The Big O and has racked up 27 triple doubles already this season; but individually Harden has 15 of his own (10 clear of the next best) and is only a shade below a triple double average himself. What separates them for me is the team factor. Houston are the 3rd ranked team in the Western Conference with Harden the driving force in an otherwise average team. Playing in a new position and a new system under Mike D’Antoni is proving beneficial for Harden as night after night he demonstrates his incredible playmaking ability alongside his individual brilliance. These are qualities Westbrook also boasts, however his Thunder team (comparable in ability and talent to the Rockets) sit a mere 7th in the West. Harden’s ability to bring out the best in his teammates and accordingly deliver better results is the reason he edges it for me.
Eastern Conference –
Unsurprisingly, Cleveland are the #1 seed. But, their inconsistency is something we didn’t see coming, and with Kevin Love out for at least 6 weeks and with the Celtics and 4th quarter superstar Isaiah Thomas breathing right down their necks, that #1 seed looks at risk.
Personally, I see these two teams (Celtics and Cavaliers) meeting in this year’s Eastern Conference finals despite the strong Wizards team and a potentially explosive Raptors outfit in close attendance. Cleveland still have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to ensure they get over the line atop the pile, even if things are looking interesting at this point.
When it comes down to it, it’s hard to imagine a team other than Cleveland emerging as Eastern Conference champions, but it won’t be a walkthrough like the last 2 years; Cleveland may actually have to work before the NBA Finals.
Western Conference –
The Golden State Warriors; The most unfair and overpowered team in NBA history sit atop of the Western Conference and don’t even look threatened. Sure, they’ve already lost the same number of games this year as last season, but, as they harshly and infamously learnt last year; whatever regular season record you have and all the statistical categories you lead; it don’t mean a thing without the ring.
To be honest, the question should really be, ‘who gets to be the team to lose to them in the Western Conference Finals?’ Kawhi Leonard and the consistent San Antonio Spurs seem to be the main contenders. The Rockets and the Clippers may be having good regular seasons but provide unconvincing cases in the playoff push. It is ironic that arguably the more competitive conference of the two is (bar some catastrophic injuries) the biggest foregone conclusion in all of sport today!
NBA FINALS –
The regular season is fun at times; seeing Westbrook and Harden, the resurgence of the 76ers and of course, the weekly show of Inside The NBA, but were just waiting. Waiting for what might be the final chapter of the trilogy between Warriors and Cavaliers, and with both teams tied at 1 ring each and the enormous pressure on the Warriors super team and MHP (Most Hated Player) Kevin Durant to deliver a championship is like we’ve never seen before in the NBA; and we cannot wait.
I have Cavaliers edging out the Celtics and the Warriors proving too strong for the Spurs which would set up the ultimate tie breaker series between Cleveland and Golden State. Both teams have a victory to their name in two of the most memorable playoff series in recent times. The Warriors with KD look irresistible, but if anyone in the NBA can somehow overcome the odds, despite how insurmountable they prove to be, it’s that kid of Akron, Ohio; LeBron James, carrying his home state within reach of the promise land.