Coming off a relatively lackluster All Star Break with new (and less entertaining) features, the NBA has returned for the push to the playoffs for many teams. The All Star Break is a make or break point for most teams around the league, where the teams at the top of the standings make sure they have what it takes and the teams in the middle of the pack try to make a run for the playoffs. The second half of the season should be especially exciting following a red hot trade deadline, with tons of teams being shaken up and trying to get into a better position to fight for a better seed. Already, there has been much discussion and debate from analysts and fans alike of who will make it out of each conference. Today we will be adding on to that discussion, looking at the top 5 teams coming out of the All Star Break.
Miami Heat: They have gelled really well together and are a balanced team, but in my eyes they do not have a true first option, which I envision as the downfall of them.
Milwaukee Bucks: They would probably slot in at 6th for my list, but with Khris Middleton having an off year, they have been too up and down to crack the top 5.
Memphis Grizzlies: I love Ja Morant and what he brings to the Grizzlies and basketball in general, but this is his first breakout year so it’s hard seeing them make a deep playoff push.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz are a really well rounded team but it feels as if they are always missing something when it comes to playoffs, so I see very limited success in their future.
5. Brooklyn Nets
I will start this entry with being fully transparent with all of you readers, I am a Nets fan so my opinion of this team may be a little skewed. However, I feel it would be absurd not to include them in the top 5. Following the blockbuster trade in which Brooklyn received Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry, and draft picks, I firmly believe they are primed to make a strong push in the second half of the season. Prior to the trade, the Nets 3 major weaknesses were defense (close to the bottom of the league), rebounding, and shooting. The Nets upgraded at every single one of those weaknesses with Ben Simmons’s top of the league defense, Andre Drummond’s great rebounding, and Seth Curry coming in to replace an injured Joe Harris with his shooting. From the three games we saw following the trade, the Nets have already shown a major shift in energy, as each game featured 4+ players scoring in double figures. Prior to the trade, Harden and maybe one other player would score double figures. The Nets' ball movement has greatly improved, and the games feel more like an overall team effort compared to their games prior to the trade. With Kevin Durant’s return rapidly approaching, possibly as soon as Thursday, and Ben Simmons ramping up his training, this team is ready to make a run for one of the higher seeds in the east. The only concern I see for them is building chemistry quickly, as well as getting everyone back on the court in a timely fashion.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
It pains me deeply to put Philly ahead of my Nets, but considering they are ranked considerably higher in the standings, I believe they are in a slightly better position. Through the trade, they definitely got the star power that they were looking for and so desperately needed. Sure Embiid has been having an amazing year, but without more help they seemed primed for another second round exit. With the addition of Harden though, they became a much more dangerous team down the stretch. Harden and Embiid on paper seem like the perfect duo, but of course there is always the concern of whether they will be able to build chemistry quickly. Their pick and roll/pop game should be insane, and it will be interesting to watch who will take the back seat when it comes to ball handling, considering Embiid has basically been playing point guard for the 76ers on the offensive end. My major concern for this team is not lack of chemistry and star power, but rather the role players they have around them. Their spacing will be a little off considering they gave away their best 3 point shooter, so it leaves me concerned as to who will fit that role. But even with that, the duo of Harden and Embiid alone makes them one of the scariest teams down the stretch.
3. Phoenix Suns
Now to some this might seem low, and if you were to ask me about a week ago I would probably put them in the top 2, but with it coming out that Chris Paul fractured his right thumb I expect a downturn in play for the Suns. Paul is going to be re-evaluated in 6-8 weeks, which is basically the entirety of the second half of the regular season, which is a huge loss for the Suns. I still think they’ll be able to stick near the top of the West considering they still have Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges, as well as loads of role players that fit so well into their team. They did go on a 7 game winning streak just prior to the all star break, winning many of those games very handily. My major concern for them without Chris Paul is the lack of leadership on the court, as I do not see the team running as smoothly without him. It will be a big test for Devin Booker to see if he can slide into that leadership role and keep the Suns on the tear they have been on this season.
2. Golden State Warriors
These last two could really be interchangeable, but to me it just came down to consistency of play. The Warriors are my top team in the West and seem primed to make a run for a championship. So many players have had breakout years, such as Andrew Wiggins making his first all star game, as a starter no less, as well as most improved candidate Jordan Poole, who has been averaging 16 points a game this year. The team is just flat out stacked, with Klay now back averaging 17 alongside Curry’s 25 per game they seem unstoppable. Additionally, Draymond brings so much defensively, both as a player and mentor to the young guys. The leadership from Steph, Klay and Draymond has allowed players like Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga and Gary Payton II to grow immensely, helping the Warriors to become a more well-rounded team. My major concern for this team going forward, and the reason they are not at the top for me, is consistency. After a red hot start from Steph Curry, he has sort of shot his way out of the MVP race and has been on and off since January. I do think with Chris Paul being out they can make a push for the number one seed in the West, but since they center their offense around shooting they need to bring their A game come playoffs, and I have a little doubt in whether they can do that.
1. Chicago Bulls
Now I will admit, I am probably one of, if not the only, NBA fan that has the Bulls as the top team in the league coming out of the All Star Break. I know some people who probably do not even have them in their top 5, which I find to be absolutely outrageous. For those who have not been paying attention, Demar Derozan is an absolute beast. He is averaging 28 points per game and through the last 7 games prior to the All Star Break he scored 35+ points. I know Embiid has had a phenomenal MVP season, but to me no one is more valuable in the league right now than Derozan. For basically the whole season and especially the last month, he has looked like the best player on the planet. Not to mention, they still have Zach LaVine averaging 24 a game, Nikola Vucevic averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, as well as great play from their young guys Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. They have been plagued with injuries with Derrick Jones Jr., Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso on the shelf, but they have already shown they can overcome those challenges considering they have not fallen in the standings at all. Plus, those injured players should be returning, which will make the Bulls even more unstoppable. The only concern is that this is their first year playing together, so they could collapse, but to me they have shown no signs of that happening any time soon.