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

Jake,

Sorry, but Kevin Durant has as much chance of getting into a fight as Wayne Gretzky once did: The moment an opposing player attempts to—in hockey parlance—take liberties with the Oklahoma City star, one of his teammates will swoop in and do the fighting for him, NHL enforcer-style. (My money is on glowering, take-no-crap Thunder center Kendrick Perkins). Of course, I doubt that will happen, either. Not when the NBA has worked long and hard to erase the memory of both the Malice at the Palace and the violent scrums that once were as much a part of the game as short shorts. If Durant or Carmelo Anthony or anyone ends up in a heated confrontation, it will likely play out like this: Someone will pretend to be mad enough to throw a real punch, and his teammates will pretend to hold him back, and that will be that.

LeBron won't just be named MVP; he'll be named Finals MVP, too. And probably earn an ESPY, a People's Choice Award, an honorary Harvard degree, an invitation to Davos, and full knighthood in the United Kingdom.

But I digress. Predictions for the rest of the season. I have a few. Hampton, as good as Damian Lillard has been, I don't think the Portland point guard is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. Not when Washington guard Bradley Beal is improving on what seems like a nightly basis. Yes, the Wizards got off to a bad start of epochal proportions; yes, Beal struggled through much of that; yes, living in the District makes me biased. Still, it's impossible to deny that Washington is a much better, downright competitive team since guard-cum-franchise-savior John Wall returned to the floor after missing the first 33 games of the season with a knee injury, and that his presence has helped Beal look more and more like the versatile, level-headed sharpshooter who was the third pick in the NBA draft—a well-regarded young talent who reportedly could have netted the Wizards eventual Houston Rockets guard James Harden in a trade.

I agree with Jake: Unless LeBron James gets hurt, no one in the Eastern Conference has the talent to challenge Miami, particularly now that Boston is without Rajon Rondo. I suppose the New York Knicks could give them a competitive series, provided the team rediscovers its hot-shooting early season form; I guess the Brooklyn Nets would have a puncher's chance at not getting swept, provided point guard Deron Williams rediscovers his game circa 2009. In the Western Conference, I like the Thunder to return to the Finals, largely because each of their rivals has a fatal postseason flaw: San Antonio relies too much on the three-point shot; the Los Angeles Clippers play too much one-on-one offense in their half-court sets; Memphis is trying to settle in after a recent series of salary-shaving trades; Denver plays best at a rapid, decidedly non-playoffs pace; and the Los Angeles Lakers flat-out stink. (No, really. They're terrible. Forget the injuries and personality clashes; they simply can't guard anyone).

Oh, and James won't just be named MVP; he'll be named Finals MVP, too. And probably earn an ESPY, a People's Choice Award, an honorary Harvard degree, an invitation to Davos, and full knighthood in the United Kingdom. Because he's just that good. Fair enough?

–Patrick

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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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