The NBA All-Star Break is a big week for teams as it gives them a chance to rejuvenate and turn their season around, by getting on a better track than they previously were. As crazy as it might seem, we’re closing in on the NBA playoffs. Standings in both conferences are coming into focus and playoff seedings are beginning to clear up.
Who will fight their way out of the middle of the playoff pack to become true title contenders? Who will fight their way into getting a playoff berth? Who will improve their play from the first two thirds of the season?
Read along to find out what I believe is the answers to those questions and which 5 teams will breakout before playoffs come in April.
#1: Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have been a bit of a disappointment this season, compared to their expectations before the season. Many analysts, journalists, and experts were expecting them to be the #1 seed out of the East; and I’m not going to lie, I was one of them.
They seemed to have the most talented group of players in the East with a top 3 Center in Joel Embiid, an All-Star in Ben Simmons, a former All-Star in Al Horford, an All-Star-caliber player in Tobias Harris, and a formidable amount of role players.
Yet, so far this season, the Sixers haven’t been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the East. They’ve had chemistry issues, questions about their locker room, and just a lack of expected success as a whole.
Things have not gone the way Sixers fans may have wanted for their team, but I believe Philly will get back on track after the All-Star Break. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid seem to be on the same page after some questions came up between their relationship, which is an instrumental piece in the Sixers’ playoff run.
If these two players can get in their groove and ball on the court, the Sixers will continue to rise in the standings. Along with relationships and chemistry improving, the Sixers have added a few pieces from the trade deadline in Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. They provide some much needed shooting for Philly and should be able to help off the bench.
Young pieces Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle have also broken through as of late and played well, which has led them to be on a three game winning streak. The Sixers are also getting healthier as a whole, with the entire starting lineup being healthy in consecutive games for the first time in a while.
Lastly, Brett Brown’s coaching has been better as of late. He’s been willing to make changes, mix up the minutes, adjust the lineups, and it has paid off, most notably with Al Horford’s move to the bench.
The Sixers have all of these things lining up for them, and they have the second easiest schedule remaining in terms of strength of schedule. Things seem to be looking up for the City of Brotherly Love, and it’s now up to them to see if they can make a push forward into the conversation of being title contenders.
#2: New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans are another team to look out for after the All-Star break, as they are still in the Western Conference playoff hunt. Only time will tell if this group of young playmakers and vets will find their way into the playoff race.
Zion Williamson is continuing to develop and make his mark in the NBA. He’s scored over 30 points in each of his last two games and has helped them to get on a bit of a roll as of late, winning 3 of their last 4 games. Since Zion has come along, the Pelicans have gone 6-5, but as their chemistry continues to grow stronger, that number should continue to improve.
Brandon Ingram is having an amazing year, and I expect that to continue. The duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson is scary enough, and adding veterans like Jrue Holiday, JJ Reddick, and Derrick Favors, along with other young role players makes this team a legitimate playoff contender.
On top of this talented lineup finally getting its chance to shine, they have the easiest schedule remaining, giving them much opportunity to show out after the All-Star Break. I expect them to continue to make their playoff push and find their way into the coveted Western Conference playoffs.
#3: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have had a lot of new faces coming through this year, but they have still stayed competitive in the West. The true question is if they could work their way into being title contenders and one of the top seeds, and right now, they are not that.
Sitting at the fifth seed, the Rockets have a bit of an uphill climb to prove that they are true competitors to come out of the West; but I believe this small ball group will shine, and possibly have a chance at a top 3 seed in the Western Conference.
We all know about these Houston Rockets. The hype surrounding the pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden was heavily covered before the season began. It’s been a bit rocky, but the pairing has been somewhat successful so far. Russell Westbrook has been on a major hot streak lately, averaging 35 points per game in his last six games.
If Westbrook continues playing like that, and his team picks up some more of the slack, this Rockets team is bound to rise in the standings. The other Rockets star James Harden has expectedly continued to put up, well, James Harden numbers. If these two can continue to mesh the way they have lately and continue this play, the sky is truly the limit for these Rockets.
The addition of Robert Covington has also been able to help Houston out, as they get one of the premier 3-and-D players of the NBA. Although they now don’t have center Clint Capela, Houston comes out of the trade deadline and All-Star Break with a new infusion of talent and a different talent pool.
If they can find some footing with this small ball unit, the teams in the West should be concerned. Along with these variables, the Rockets have a genuinely easy schedule coming up, and it provides them with an opportunity to rise the ranks, which I expect them to.
#4: Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers for the past few years have all been about one man: Damian Lillard. This season is no different. Dame is averaging nearly 30 points per game, yet his team has still struggled overall. I’m under the belief that like always, Dame will come through and force his team’s way into the playoffs.
When the Dame clock is ticking and you need someone to make a play, Lillard shows up. The Trail Blazers need him to continue to show up, and I believe he will. Dame is averaging 33 PPG in his last nine games, and has been able to get 6 wins in that course of time. The other often-discussed Portland player, C.J. McCollum, has continued to do his job, scoring over 20 points per game on the season.
Aside from these two, Portland doesn’t seem to have much talent. Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside have shined at times, but aside from them, along with Rodney Hood, there hasn’t been much of a spark out of their role players, thus causing them to not have much success on the season.
The Blazers certainly look better than they did earlier in the season, but in order to be a legitimate playoff team, they need to continue to get better. I believe they will as they’ve continued to grow all year and with a star player like Damian Lillard, it’s hard to see them not making a bit of a run in the playoffs.
The Blazers were in the conference championship last season, don’t expect them to disappoint the rest of this season. Portland also has one of the easier schedules remaining, and Damian Lillard tends to shine at this time of the year. I believe the Blazers will continue to step up and find their way into the playoff hunt.
#5: Miami Heat
The Heat came on fire to begin the season, and have consistently been talked about as possible contenders at different points this year. They definitely have among the most potential in the East, led a great group of role players surrounding their stars Jimmy Butler And Bam Adebayo.
Miami hasn’t been the best team as of late, and it’s been a bit concerning for fans as they’d like to know why. Things may not seem great with how they’ve gone in their last few games, but I definitely see them getting back on track and having a chance at one of the top seeds of the East. Jimmy Butler is always focused and with this hard-working group of young players, they seem like they will not be denied easily in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Jimmy will continue to lead by example, and his rising stars will continue to follow him as they get into an easier stretch of games for the rest of the season. For how young this team is, the rejuvenation and time to breathe could be very valuable for them to come out of the All-Star Break firing on all cylinders.
There’s a tough few teams at the top of the East with the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Milwaukee Bucks, but I believe that the Heat will continue to shine. Their grit and determination separates them from other middle-of-the-pack playoff teams. and they should continue to rise as they develop.
When the playoffs get closer and big moments arrive, not many players in the league are better than Jimmy Butler. So, as this stretch of games begins, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jimmy continue to play efficiently and intelligently to help his team stack up more wins.
Bam Adebayo’s development has also been a crucial part of this season and after the All-Star Break, I expect Bam to continue doing what he does best. This Heat squad will not be denied and they’ll fight their way to rise the ranks.
The All-Star Break is soon to be over and the regular season is coming to a close, but before it does, these teams will shine. Be ready for these teams to break out after the break and don’t be surprised when they do.