As we head into the home stretch of the 2018-19 NBA season and begin to get ready for the playoff picture to shape up, here are 5 predictions that I believe will happen before the playoffs start.
1. Lakers will acquire either Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal before the trade deadline
The Big Lead
Having LeBron James on your team comes with plenty of benefits (duh). Aside from everything he brings on the court, there are countless other things he does for you. He takes care of marketing, drives up ticket sales, is a great leader, can mentor younger players, makes for a positive face for the franchise, etc. However, one thing that isn’t so great when he joins your team is that expectations are sky rocketed. Adding him immediately turns your franchise into win-now mode, with each year that an NBA Championship isn’t in sight becoming somewhat of a failure. With the added weight of playing under the lights in Los Angeles with a team and expectations like the Lakers, the pressure is even higher. So with the Lakers out of the playoff picture currently, they will want to make a drastic change to their lineup in order to try to compete come playoff time. Two stars in bad situations like Davis and Beal could be just what they are looking for.
2. Warriors will remain heavy favorites to win the NBA Championship
Well, of course, they will. I’ll admit there have been times during this season that I found myself wondering (stupidly) with the possible lack of chemistry between Durant and the original Warriors, with how poorly their reserves had been playing at one point, with some other teams in the West putting together strong seasons, if this might be the year that the Warriors run would be in trouble. Enter DeMarcus Cousins back into the lineup, and all those doubts are gone. The Warriors have won 10 in a row, scoring upwards of 120 points in many of those games and are looking like every bit the terror that they have been for the last 3+ years. The seamless way Cousins has adapted to their team might be the scariest part, as he still seems to be playing his way into shape and game feel, but has been able to fit right in with the offense anyway.
3. James Harden will keep up his scoring exploits and run away with the MVP for the second year in a row
Because he’ll likely have to. While Chris Paul coming back into the team will undoubtedly take some of the scoring load off Harden’s shoulders, the Rocket’s success during the period James Harden is having should show that their most effective style of ball is when he is taking the majority of the shots. This has been the case for the past few seasons, and it has proven to be successful at times, getting them to multiple deep playoff runs. However, this has proven to stall out at times when Harden has a bad game and the Rockets are not able to withstand that. Either way, whether it works in the playoffs or not, it will be more than enough to secure the MVP award that Harden is running away with (again).
4. Thunder will prove themselves as the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West
With the Warriors remaining championship favorites to come out of the West, who else can give them the most trouble within their conference? In my opinion, look no further than the Thunder. This is not because of the usual suspect, Russell Westbrook, who is doing his thing as always, but mostly because of the play of his surrounding cast this year. Paul George is playing at an MVP level and will probably be James Harden’s biggest competition for the award. His 26 points and 8 rebounds per game takes a lot off Westbrook’s shoulders, and his 2.3 steals per game show why he is one of the best defenders in basketball today. Other notable producers this year include Steven Adams (15 and 10 per game) and Dennis Schroder (15 and 4 assists). All this depth makes the Thunder as dangerous as ever and while they’d have to play a near-perfect series to do it, it makes them competing with the Warriors more feasible.
5. Carmelo Anthony will be added to the roster of a team heading to the playoffs
As much as he has been through the ringer in the past couple seasons, bouncing from unsuccessful tenures with the Knicks, Thunder, and Rockets, I still believe Melo can make positive contributions to a playoff team and I think a team will recognize this and sign him before the playoffs start. Ideally, his role would be mainly as a catch and shoot player within the offense, where his age won’t be able to stop his ability. Some teams I could see making this move: Pacers, Sixers, Blazers.