8 Questions Entering the Second Half of the NBA Season
The second half of the season begins Thursday so here are eight questions we’re dying to have answered before the NBA wraps up the 2021-22 campaign.
PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 25: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns look on during the game on December 25, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
If you want to get technical, the second half started a long time ago, since teams have played roughly 70 percent of the schedule. But as we enter the dog days of the NBA season—when the calendar turns to March and players are fighting off fatigue and injuries, eagerly anticipating either the start of the postseason or their offseason—there are plenty of pressing questions that remain unanswered.
The playoffs officially start April 16, and as teams begin their stretch run, a quick scan of the league turns up a few salacious storylines that probably won’t be resolved anytime soon and a number of topics worthy of debate on talk radio or First Take. Like, for instance, is it time to question LeBron James’ future in Los Angeles? Who will emerge as the winner, this year, of the James Harden-for-Ben Simmons swap? And precisely which teams should we pin as the favorites to emerge from the East and West when so much can happen between now and May, since we’re a shade under three months away from the conference finals tipping off?
I could bore you with more filler, but why bother? The second half of the season begins Thursday, and below you’ll see the eight questions we want answered.
Is This the Beginning of the End of LeBron in Los Angeles?
Who Wins the Harden-for-Simmons Trade (This Year)?
Who Is the Favorite in the East?
Is it Brooklyn? Nah. Is it Philadelphia? Nope.
The favorites should be the defending champions. While their defensive numbers have slipped from recent seasons, and not having the services of Pat Connauhgton and Brook Lopez is far from ideal, I’d argue the Bucks are the most complete team and clearly feature the best two-way player in basketball in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, if you haven’t noticed, is playing at an MVP-level yet again. Milwaukee may not own the East’s best record (currently in 5th place with the hardest remaining schedule in the NBA), but I wouldn’t bet against that veteran crew, led by the Greek Freak, when both the Sixers and Nets must work in major new pieces in the middle of the season and the Bulls, who currently sit in second in the East, haven’t proved they can beat the conference’s elite.
Seriously, I think we can rule out Chicago as serious contenders. While we all underestimated them heading into the season and they’ve clearly outperformed expectations, the injury-riddled Bulls have yet to beat the Heat, Sixers, or Bucks this season. I’m ruling out Boston, too, even though its defensive numbers have been ultra-impressive since the beginning of the new year. But take a closer look at their recent hot streak and you can poke a lot of holes in it. The Cavs are ahead of schedule, but nobody’s entertaining the idea that they’re getting out of the first-round.
If you haven’t noticed, we haven’t mentioned Miami yet, who have a lot going for them, led by the always quotable Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and supporting cast that’s helped the Heat run out to the East’s best record at the All-Star break. Their coach, Erik Spoelstra, is a living legend and the Heat, owners of a top 5 net rating in the league, probably features the most rugged roster in the conference. While I’m clearly not sold on the Heat being the team to beat, there’s a lot to like about Miami when it’s at full-strength and you can easily argue the roster’s better built for the postseason anyway. I’d gladly sign up for a Bucks-Heat conference finals. Put me down for Bucks in seven.