The All-Star weekend was fun for the most part, but it was a diversion from what really matters: The NBA championship and the race to the playoffs that precedes it, which kicks back into action after a few days of rest for the league, as LeBron James leads the Miami Heat in his chase of the Indiana Pacers while Kevin Durant keeps trying to steer the Oklahoma City Thunder ship to a top spot finish in the West.
Right now it doesn’t look like anything is going to stop Durant from winning the MVP award. No one is going to admit he’s the best player in the league until he finishes at the very top at the very end of the season, because people love measuring players by titles. However, unless LeBron James pulls off a very special final 30 games to this season, and playing without Dwyane Wade might help him make a case for the MVP and DOPY awards he cares so much about, this is Durant’s award to lose.
But the important thing is the NBA championship, and what will be used to measure this season, and the greatness of certain players. Paul George won’t win the MVP – after an awesome start to the season we’re seeing he’s not quite at the elite level, individually, offensively, just yet. Maybe he’ll never be. But he’s on the best team in the Eastern conference. Like we saw last season and throughout this one, the home court advantage is going to be crucial for both the Pacers and the Heat to win the East and reach the championship. With a healthy Wade and a good and settled Michael Beasley + Greg Oden, I see the Heat as favorites to beat Indiana. But that’s not going to happen without home court advantage.
Things seem a bit simpler in the West. Portland seem a bit fatigued, the Spurs are injured and maybe missed their final opportunity of doing something special with this core group last season, the Los Angeles Clippers look like a team that will fall apart defensively when it matters and the Houston Rockets don’t have any help from the bench aside from Lin (who shouldn’t be a bench player at all), especially with Omer Asik not looking like someone who actually gives a s@#$ if he does well or not.
Out of all the teams in the NBA, the only one that doesn’t absolutely need home court advantage to win it all are the Oklahoma City Thunder. But they’re so good for the last five weeks, without Russell Westbrook (maybe even better without him), it’s hard to see them losing that top spot.
Unless someone figures Kevin Durant out, it’s hard to see who in the West can take them. The Spurs need a trade now – it’s now or never for them. The Blazers need one more year. The Clippers need a big man to rest someone in the frontcourt and so do the Rockets. If these things don’t happen, the Thunder aren’t going to see a game 7 until the NBA finals.
How does it end? Right now it’s hard to bet against the Thunder, but this season still has some twists and turns to give us. You don’t bet against defending NBA champions this soon, especially when LeBron James is playing for them, and the Indiana Pacers have already paid the price of learning experience. They’re ready to go all the way, but it won’t happen without home court advantage.