NBA playoff contenders half way through the season

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Justice's NBA team picks
Posted Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 9:49pm

The NBA season reached its halfway point. I’m going to separate all the contenders into groups.

The sort of lingering group: First, the Washington Wizards. The Wizard have come on strong lately winning eight of their last 10 games. John Wall is playing like an all-star and his backcourt partner Bradley Bell has played well.

Next, the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks traded Kyle Korver and everyone expected them to start over. Instead, they’ve been rolling, reaching all the way to the fourth seed in the East. Dwight Howard is quietly playing good basketball in his hometown.

The last team in this group, the Memphis Grizzlies. They ugly up every game they play in and have a knack for winning close games. It seems unsustainable for them to keep what they’re doing, but I’ve been doubting them going on two years now and they never go away.

The semi contender: First, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are led by a one-man wrecking crew named Russell Westbrook. He is averaging a triple-double this season and is keeping the Thunder relevant. How sustainable is this? I would say not very when we’re dealing with humans, but Westbrook seems like he’s more robot than human so we’ll see.

Next, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are an entertaining team, but they’re another player away from being elite. Isiah Thomas is averaging 30 points a game and dominating teams in the fourth quarter. We’ll see if they make a trade because they definitely can.

The contenders: I may be just being a homer by putting the Utah Jazz in this category, but I am so here they are. The Jazz have been riddled with injuries so far this season and still have a 29-18 record. The Jazz are16-3 when both George Hill and Gordon Hayward play and they are DESTROYING teams when they are on the floor together. They have a top three defense in the league arched by Rudy Gobert. The Jazz have the lineup flexibility to give any team in the league trouble. The Jazz are good and could end up really good by the time the playoffs come around.

Next, the LA Clippers. The Clippers are who they are at this point. They’re a really talented team that seems to have bad breaks and isn’t good enough to win a championship and probably never will be.

Next, the Houston Rockets. The Rockets can shoot lights out and can beat any team, if they’re on. We’ll see how they do come Playoff time, but they have been fantastic so far. James Harden is the odds on favorite to win the MVP this season. Next, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are fun. Kyle Lowry is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. But the Raptors aren’t going to touch Cleveland unless they upgrade their power-forward position.

The Kings: First, the San Antonio Spurs. These guys are a machine. They play great defense and Kawhi Leonard is an all-around amazing player. Everyone, including me, thought that the Spurs would slip off a little this season and well we were wrong.

Next we have the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don’t know what to even say about these guys other than they’re great and that they’ll be in the finals again.

Finally, we have the Golden State Warriors. They’re untouchable when they actually try. Everyone knew they’d have a great offense, but as of right now they have the best defense in the league too. I don’t know how you beat these guys. Guarding a Steph/KD pick-n-roll is harder than parallel parking when you’re 15.

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