Timberwolves and Celtics are for real and can compete for conference titles: FICTION
Thoughts: Karl-Anthony Towns and Jayson Tatum look like bonafide MVP candidates with their post-ASG play. KAT (24/10/4) and Tatum (27/8/4) have led the T-Wolves and Celtics surging up the standings after really slow starts to the year. With solid play the last few weeks, both teams could avoid the play-in tournament; both players can win a singular playoff series for their teams as well. However, neither team is deep enough to withstand the likes of the Bucks, Sixers, Suns, or Warriors, among others. The play has been impressive, but I am sure both teams fall short of the conference finals.
Reeling Cavaliers will land in play-in tournament and miss playoffs: FACT
1st time All-Star Jarrett Allen is out for the foreseeable future with a finger fracture, leaving the Cavs thin at Center and without their true rim protector. On the Cavs' most successful nights, Allen dictated who the ball went through on both sides of the ball. Even with Garland’s high level of play this year (21/8) and the depth of Levert, Mobley, Love, and others, Allen is the most impactful player on this team. They were losing games before his injury, and now need to cling onto the 6th seed without him. Either the Raptors or Nets will have ample opportunity to go around them in their final 16 games, and the Hornets and Hawks will provide tough match-ups in a play-in series. I fully expect the Cavs to, at the very best, win a play-in series, but it is entirely possible they lose that series and miss the playoffs altogether.
Giannis will win his 3rd MVP award; Bucks make conference finals if not NBA finals: FACT
The Bucks are scorching hot right now. Winners of their last 6 games, they are closing in on Miami for the #1 seed in the East. Giannis, Khris, and co. are truly built to win again. They've gotten great contributions from guys like Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez is on his way back from injury to fill out the rotation. This team has 12 guys who can truly contribute, which will make them harder to beat in the long run because they will be fresh and rested. Giannis’ season stat line looks like this: 29.7 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 6 APG. There is no player in the league who can impact the flow of the game the way he can right now. Giannis winning MVP again and the Bucks returning to the conference finals at the very least feels like a surefire lock.
Suns will gel again once CP3 returns; will return to NBA finals: FICTION
As much as I would love to see CP3 get his ring, I still don't think he does. The Suns have surprisingly stayed strong during his absence with great play from DeAndre Ayton (19 PPG, 10 RPG, The 67% fg. in March). Booker even missed some time but looks to be back and playing like he never left. But with CP3 out until at least the first round of the playoffs, The West has closed the talent gap. Ja Morant has the Grizzlies rolling, The Warriors are getting fully healthy, and even the Nuggets should have their stars back come April. The West has always been the tougher conference, and that narrative doesn't seem to be changing. Remember, we haven't even mentioned Luka and the Mavs or The Utah Jazz. I really don't see the Phoenix Suns getting back to the NBA Finals this year.
LeBron will lead the NBA in scoring and win both a play-in and playoff series: FICTION
Two short weeks ago, I wrote about how I expected greatness from James once again. And he himself has delivered; he had 2 50 pt games this week and has once again taken over the league lead in scoring at 29.7 PPG. He should be due to receive at least 1 MVP vote somewhere. But at age 37, LeBron does need some high-level play around him to win games. Russell Westbrook is in the midst of his worst professional season, AD is out until April, and Austin Reaves is playing down the stretch in tight games. This is not at all what the King signed up for. LeBron will need to keep pushing himself to take over the scoring load in games like he did this week. This will allow him to win the scoring title, and that part I do expect to happen. However, winning a playoff series with this roster seems highly unlikely. LeBron can take over a play-in series by himself, but the Lakers have even struggled against those teams (TWolves, Clippers, Pelicans) as of late. This year's playoffs, unfortunately, look like a first-round exit once again for LeBron, but there is always the 1% of hope in me that thinks he can still do it alone.