By Cameron Buford
Like any other season, each season in the NBA has unique storylines. Whether it’s seeing the development of rookies throughout the league or enjoying young teams come together and watching veteran teams unite for one final push before being cannibalized. Having played a third of their regular season thus far, as the National Basketball Association comes out of their mid-season break, I wanted to highlight the top storylines I will be paying the most attention to as they play through the remainder of this season.
A couple of these storylines haven’t changed. Yet, the season Ja Morant is having has ensured I catch them as often as possible this season. But most NBA fans were relieved to have some closure in the Ben Simmons saga, yet where he ended up getting traded too created an entirely different storyline. In reverse order, here are my top 5 storylines going into the second half of the NBA season;
• With the acquisitions of the big names during the off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers who added Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony to LeBron James and Anthony Davis were expected to be shoe-ins for the Western Conference crown. As it turns out the Lakers at 27-33 are ninth in the conference, just behind the 32-31 cross-town rivals Los Angeles Clippers, who has been playing inspired basketball without their All-Pro players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for a majority of the season. Adding more spice to the mix is the fact that never have the Clippers and Lakers met in the NBA Playoffs. Yet this relatively new NBA “play-in” tournament may see these two teams match up in the playoffs for the first time.
• Leading the league in steals and block shots shows is evidence of the Memphis Grizzlies defensive evolution. Equally impressive has been the play of third-year sensation Ja Morant! This combination has propelled the Memphis Grizzlies to the third-best winning percentage in the NBA. Seeing how far this young team can go in these upcoming playoffs will be as exciting as the arial assaults of one of Morant’s high flying dunks.
• In his initial season with the Chicago Bulls, DeMar DeRozan earns his first All-Star appearance while garnering some MVP consideration as he leads the Chicago Bulls back to Eastern Conference supremacy. The combination of DeRozan’s 28.3 points per game average and LaVine’s 24.6 points per game gives them two of the top 13 scorers in the NBA, not to mention the addition of embattled role players Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso adds to the mental strength of this team, which is jockeying for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
• The acquisition of Ben Simmons and Seth Curry from the Philadelphia 76ers solidifies the Brooklyn Nets as one of the teams to beat in the upcoming NBA Playoffs. Paring these guys with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the final stretch of this season will make them a true contender in the Eastern Conference. With the addition of one of the best defenders in the NBA in Ben Simmons. Simmons should have an immediate impact on the Nets’ defense. With Seth Curry averaging 48.8% shooting from the floor and 41.0% from behind the arc, he adds another competent three-point shooter to their line-up, a line-up that already happens to include, former NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant, who is averaging 29.3 points per game this season.
• The 76ers GM turns Ben Simmons into former league MVP, James Harden. I don’t think the Philadelphia 76ers could’ve found a better fit for their All-Star Center Joel Embiid. The trade to get Harden elevates the 76ers to my favorite team to come out of the Eastern Conference. By averaging 22.7 points per game, Harden has a proven ability to score in this league, and he also gets to the free-throw line better than all but three guys in the NBA. Lastly, Harden is second in the league in assists at 10.3 assist per game on the season. His assist totals are an aspect of his uncanny ability to create easy buckets for big men, which will be a welcomed addition for Joel Embiid. This trade also pairs Embiid, who leads the league’s free-throw attempts per game, with Harden, who is fourth on this list, ensuring these guys will get easy buckets.
You’re going to have to stick around for my NBA Finals prediction, though the duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden might be too formidable for the rest of the Eastern Conference to contend with. Can the youth movement of the Memphis Grizzlies led by the uber-talented Ja Morant shock the Western Conference en route to an NBA Final appearance? What will the return of Klay Thompson to the Golden State Warriors; are these new-look Chicago Bulls ready to win this season. These questions will be answered during this final portion of this NBA season; let me know your thoughts on the remainder of this NBA season by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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