By: Dan Grant, Daniel Reynolds and John Gaudes
With the NBA All-Star Weekend kicking off down in New Orleans tomorrow night, and thus signalling the ‘halfway point’ (more like the 67% point, amirite?) of the NBA season, we here at the Same Page thought it would be fitting to hold ourselves accountable for our arrogance. To die a death of a thousand paper cuts. To stuff ourselves into an iron maiden, with spikes constructed of nothing but our own turgid miscalculations.
That’s right. We’re going to look back at our pre-season picks.
This really needs no further introduction. You can read our Western Conference Preview here and our Eastern Conference preview here, just for your own schadenfreude-al enjoyment. Hush, it can be a verb.
Last time we started with the East, so this time we’ll make like Fieval, and go West.
Before the bloodletting starts, let’s see if we managed to get anything right.
Which of your predictions makes your proudest?
Reynolds: I know the obvious answer for me here is to mention my praise of the Houston Rockets. That’s easy. As I write this they’re 40-17 and a legit threat to most any team in the league (including the Warriors and Cavaliers). But I won’t crow about that. Instead, I’d like to remind everyone of a little one-off I tossed into the Lightning Round. On the Portland Trail Blazers I had this to say:
“Had to look up most of the roster. Good luck in the West guys!”
Let’s start at the top: It’s tough to win a lot of games when your two starting guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, are not exactly defensive specialists, to say the least. It’s tough to win a lot of games when your team’s starting centre used to be a Plumlee (Mason in this case). It’s tough to win a lot of games when you employ (and pay a lot of money to!) a miscast Evan Turner. It’s tough when you’re hoping for the return of Festus Ezeli to set things right. (Ed. Note: Yikes!)
Setting aside all those individual components, now we arrive at the bottom line: in a league where the offensive explosion is real, where every team is searching for shooters and filling up the score sheet, where efficiency is the standard and the rising tide is lifting all boats, etc…, one thing stands out: defense. This is not news, but it has become a problem for Portland and their 25th ranked defense. That kind of number is just not going to get it done in the West (or the East, really). Sorry fellas — though I am happy to have been so correct.
Grant: I actually agreed with you at the time, and that was quickly confirmed in the seasons opening weeks, to the point that I wrote this little nugget. It basically found that Lillard and his horrendous individual defense was at the centre of the swirling toilet bowl that is the Blazers defense. With that said, it’s a roster problem too — they’ve had little to no rim protection with the Ezeli injury, and it’s not Lillard’s fault that Portland decided to turn from Wes Matthews (or what he used to be, at least) to McCollum, who is undoubtedly a better player, but as you mentioned, not much of a defender. Still, it’s disheartening when your franchise player is also a root of your main issue.
Gaudes: (sigh) I have nothing to add. There is no pride here.
Grant: Poor John. Welp, let’s move on to the nasty stuff!
Quick like a band-aid! Right off!
Which of your predictions make you want to crawl in a hole and die?
Gaudes: Given that my two major predictions were about the Grizzlies falling and the Clippers rising, I’m combining my two answers into one big ball of shame.
I mean, these two teams just can’t stop being themselves, can they? I predicted that the Grizzlies would finally become too old and injured to muster up a playoff spot, and here they are in the seven seed, winning the highest percentage of close games in the NBA, with Marc Gasol playing like the best centre in the Association. Tony Allen is still wild fun to watch on defense, Mike Conley is playing like he knows he’s great, and Vince Carter is defying age with 360 reverse layups. To quote the great Daniel Reynolds: gotdamn.
Then there’s the Clippers. Can they ever not be snake-bitten? I rode the NBA writer wave in my prediction that they’d finally get healthy and Blake Griffin would play to his MVP potential. Like a Bon Iver record on repeat, though, the sad cycle just keeps coming around for Doc Rivers’ squad. Chris Paul is out till at least March, Griffin is just coming back from a long absence, and the shallow Clippers are looking up at Houston, San Antonio, and Golden State. At this juncture, even if they get healthy I can’t see them beating two of these teams in the playoffs.
Pour one out for the Clippers.
Grant: I will not! I am quite interested in what would happen if they completely blew things up in the off-season though. Redick is a pending free agent, and both Paul and Griffin can (and likely will) opt out of their contracts. What would the league look like if everyone just peaced out? How would DeAndre Jordan feel if they all made him come back to LA and then just left him there to die?
Here’s a clip of me asking him:
Good for you DeAndre. Good for you.
Reynolds: To be clear, none of my predictions were hot-takey enough to want to make me die, but I do regret my glib dismissal of LaMarcus Aldridge. While it is obvious the centre of the Spurs machine is Kawhi Leonard, ultimate robot, the contributions of Aldridge, as a post threat and silky smooth jump shooter, should not be overlooked. Not even by me.
On the season, Aldridge is averaging 17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds which, yes, are down from his season averages last year, and well off his peak. But, as with every player who joins the Spurs, Aldridge is doing that thing where he seamlessly blends his individual talents with an artful collective of other San Antonio players to create something beautiful. It is hard not to be envious as the Spurs remain a top five offensive and defensive team despite the constant aging and rollover of their roster.
Anyway, before I get mad about this again I’ll just say: kudos to Aldridge for keepin’ on.
Grant: Before we move on, I’d like to say that I trusted you two to be honest about your most shameful predictions, and I’m going to say that while you did fine, you’re both finks.
Yeah I said it. FINKS!
John, you said the Blazers would be a top 5 seed and that the Spurs would/should trade LaMarcus Aldridge to the Raptors.
Daniel, you said Emmanuel Mudiay, and I quote: ‘has it’.
The sophomore is undoubtedly talented, but when I see that he’s still shooting less than 37% from the floor, I have to ask: has what exactly? Swimmers ear?
Alright, we’re almost out of time, so there’s definitely no time to mention the fact that I thought the T-Wolves would for sure make the playoffs, the Thunder would probably miss the playoffs, Westbrook was a faux MVP candidate, Karl-Anthony Towns would make first team All-NBA, Jokic and Nurkic were the new Bash Brothers and that Buddy Hield would win Rookie of the Year. No sir, no time for any of that.
A Shot at Redemption: What prediction do you have for the second half?
Reynolds: The Pelicans will end up trading for Jahlil Okafor (as rumoured) and find a way to work the offense around Anthony Davis, the team’s shooters and Jah’s low-post game. And from there, owing to the weakness of the current holder of the eighth playoff spot (the 23-28 Nuggets), the Pelicans will make it into the playoffs.
I reserve the right to rescind this prediction when the trade doesn’t happen, and/or Davis gets hurt and the Pelicans spiral into the tank again.
Man, there’s just no luck out there for New Orleans is there?
Grant: Well except that they get to watch the rejuvenated Dunk Contest this weekend! LaVine-Gordon II: This Time It’s Still Mostly Impersonal and Just For Fun!
Reynolds: Uh, Dan…
Gaudes: He doesn’t know ?
Gaudes: Should we… should we do something?
Reynolds: It’s OK. He’s happier this way. Just finish up.
Gaudes: OK then!
In one of my less crucial predictions –- which probably wasn’t read by the majority of our viewing audience after reading my Grizz and Clips takes – I did see Mike D’Antoni “leading a renaissance” in Houston to make Lakers and Knicks fans drink salty tears. It’s come to fruition! So my wild prediction for the second half is this: the Rockets push Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, in a series equally entertaining to the Thunder-Warriors series we got last year.
Houston has all the firepower to get this done. As it was excellently put in Howard Beck’s feature for Bleacher Report, James Harden is evolving the D’Antoni offense for a new generation. His downhill drives leave defenders desperate, resulting in free throws or acrobatic finishes. If help comes, he’s able to make insane skip passes to Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson – both of whom are having career years. Hell, if the big man wants to test his luck, here comes Clint Capela, the selfless centre that Dwight Howard could never be, to throw down some NBA Jam nonsense.
Even with the triple double express happening in Oklahoma City, Harden is still my MVP pick just for how he’s taken this D’Antoni style and made it his own. He and the Rockets can put up 130 on the Warriors no problem, and it could very well happen four times in two weeks. Don’t be surprised if they challenge the blue chip gods of Silicon Valley.
Grant: I gotta say, not exactly risky, fellas. A tepid 8-seed pronouncement and a well-contested playoff loss?
I’m going to show your how to really go out on a limb. I predict that Russell Westbrook will not finish in the top 3 in MVP voting. No, I will not explain myself any further (at least until my next NBA MVP Watch column that is! Synergy!)
OK folks, thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow with Russell Peddle to do this again with the Eastern Conference, while Dan and John will bathe in each others tears until October, when we get to do this all again.