All-Star Weekend: This Is When the NBA Season Gets Good

Hampton,

One good guess, huh? I'll give you two.

First, the Heat will cruise virtually unchallenged to the Eastern-Conference title come playoff time. Everyone knows about LeBron's recent 30-point, 60-percent shooting run, a stretch unmatched in NBA history. But the bigger boon for Miami is the quietly improving play of Chris Bosh, who is knocking down more 18-footers and finally beginning to rebound on both ends of the floor. Miami is most vulnerable to playmaking point guards and big front lines, two things notably lacking in the East. With the news that Derrick Rose may miss the entire season, the Bulls don't seem like a viable challenger to the Heat. And while I've loved watching my Knicks be relevant for the first time in 12 years, their over-reliance on Carmelo Anthony will not fly in a seven-game series against Miami.

The later rounds of the Western Conference playoffs will be among the best in recent memory.

Second, the later rounds of the Western Conference playoffs will be among the best in recent memory. There are three legitimate championship contenders in the West (the Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers), a bona fide elite squad with the best big men in the NBA (the Grizzlies) one nightmarishly athletic team (the Nuggets) and a dark horse that maybe, just maybe, could surprise us all (Kobe, Dwight, and the dysfunctional Lakers). The matchup possibilities are tantalizing—Chris Paul vs. Russell Westbrook, Tim Duncan vs. Blake Griffin, Paul vs. Tony Parker, Kevin Durant vs. the Spurs defense, Durant vs. Kobe ... I'm getting goosebumps.

One more bonus prediction: Durant will get into a fight sometime in the second half of the season. In an unsubtle attempt to "round out" his game, the Thunder forward has developed a nasty streak this year, most recently jawing with half the Utah bench near the end of a dispiriting loss to the Jazz. Durant is tied for the NBA lead in technicals at 10 with Anthony, but Melo's techs are primarily for whining to the refs—Durant has earned his. Look for someone with a nasty streak of his own (leading candidates: Metta World Peace and Stephen Jackson) to push back at Durant and force the NBA scoring machine to put up or shut up. I think he'll put up.

What's your take on the second half, Patrick?

–Jake

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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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