The race for the NBA playoffs

Since the All-Star break is over and games begin Feb. 22, there have been some interesting story lines from the first half of the NBA season, with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new team being dominant in the four games after the trade, the Houston Rockets threatening the Golden State Warriors for the first seed and the Warriors performing well as usual.

This discussion took place between Feb. 22-27, with some portions of it lightly edited.

Sanjay Annigeri, Sports Editor: What is your take on how the second half of the NBA season will play out? Who are the teams to watch out for? Will the Cavs earn the top seed and cruise to the NBA Finals (as they usually do)? Who is going to make the playoffs?

Also, what are your thoughts on the proposed changes to the NBA playoff system? It is potentially going to be the top 16 team format (eliminating conferences) and a play-in for the last two spots in the playoffs for each conference.

David Chang, Staff Reporter: Now that the teams are starting to care more about their record, we can finally see the teams at 100 percent and the tanking teams playing their young stars. I’m excited to see what Damian Lillard has in store. Having recently been benched in the All-Star game while outperforming both James Harden and Stephen Curry, he ended the first half of the season on fire, dropping 50 and 44 points in two games. Coming from a mid-level market team, Lillard always plays with a chip on his shoulder.

Now that George Hill is gone, the Sacramento Kings have an interesting dynamic with De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, where both players can be primary ball handlers and complement each other through Bogdanovic’s shooting and Fox’s athleticism. Speaking of George Hill, he compliments LeBron James well in that he is not afraid to shoot the three when he gets the pass from James. He also takes pressure off James by attacking the basket, drawing fouls and finding passes off the pick and roll. As for the Cavs, I hope Tyronn Lue slowly eases Rodney Hood into the starting lineup. Hood shoots more consistently than J.R. Smith, who is a hit-or-miss in the first quarter, so you would rather start strong with good shooting. Also having Hood and Jordan Clarkson playing off the bench is redundant because both guards like to score. I really want Larry Nance, Jr. to start over Tristan Thompson, because Nance hustles for offensive boards which translates into second-chance points, and his defensive energy inspires the entire squad to play hard. While lacking a true center, the Cavs were able to handle Steven Adams by outscoring the Oklahoma City Thunder, so we will see how they fare with teams with length such as the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m also curious to see how Isaiah Thomas’ story plays out in the Los Angeles Lakers. Does he start playing better as a sixth man for the Lakers once Lonzo Ball comes back and propels them to the playoffs?  Or will he continue putting up the same shooting percentages as when he played for the Cavs and not get signed this summer?

Andrew Ford, Staff Reporter: I am personally very excited for the second half of the season. The Cavs finally have a team at least somewhat capable of competing with the Warriors for multiple reasons. One, they are younger and more athletic, two things that are necessary to keep up with Golden State’s fast-paced tempo. Two, they acquired players that are perfect to play around James. James can dominate the ball, like he should, and Hood, Nance, Hill and Clarkson will play off of him, splashing threes and cutting to the bucket. Three, these new guys will let James control the team and there will be unity because of it. A huge part of basketball is chemistry and unity. James knows how to build both of those things if his teammates will let him; the team pre-trade deadline didn’t conform. While I don’t think they become title favorites, they are Eastern Conference favorites and will be able to compete, in my opinion, against the Warriors.

Jacob Rayyan, Columnist: I am also looking forward to the second half of the season. Despite wondering what the Cavs will do, I am looking forward to how the situation in the Western Conference develops further. The San Antonio Spurs, despite being without superstar Kawhi Leonard, have maintained a relevant spot out west (which is another testament to the greatness of Coach Gregg Popovich). I am also looking forward to how the Rockets and Warriors finish down the stretch as the two teams look primed to meet in the Western Conference finals.

Some questions I have about the Eastern Conference are what Cavs team will show up towards the end of the season, and wondering how long James can keep up his level of play despite not taking any rest that he would normally take at this point in the season. Despite his best attempts to defy Father Time, he will eventually break down. I think it would be beneficial for him to start sitting some games out occasionally moving towards the end of the season.

Niko Kamlet, Staff Reporter: I’m excited to see the Milwaukee Bucks! Quality team. Imagine him and James playing together in Milwaukee. What a dream. Time to see the real champs of the East rise up and take on the Warriors. They’ll beat them too. You know why? Sean Kilpatrick is about to be the next superstar.