The NBA season is a grind. Eighty-two games that are, for the most part, a marathon until the All-Star break.
Off-season trades, players returning from injuries, and new draft picks must be woven together to form what each team hopes are championship contenders. Although the NBA All-Star break is not quite the halfway point of the season, teams measure where they are and where the marathon becomes a sprint.
Here are five storylines to look out for After the 2022 NBA All-Star break.
Can the Lakers Recover From Their First-Half Collapse?
Before the beginning of the 2022 NBA season, Las Vegas prognosticators had the Los Angeles Lakers as odds-on favorites to win the NBA championship.
This forecast was based on the Lakers’ moves during the off-season.
Los Angeles picked up Russell Westbrook (Washington), Carmelo Anthony (Portland), and Dwight Howard (Philadelphia, also was on the 2020 Championship team).
Experienced veterans that came at a cost to their depth.
Westbrook and Anthony’s additions to a starting line-up with Lebron James and Anthony Davis are an almost unstoppable force. After acquiring these players, they are also the oldest team in the league, and having a veteran team has its risks.
Anthony Davis is a world-class talent with a long history of injuries. Lebron is one of the greatest of all time, but even “The King” has had his battles with injuries. The trades were made hoping that these two stars could remain healthy, and that has not been the case.
Chemistry is essential when making trades, and Russell Westbrook has not been a good fit for the Lakers. Westbrook has shot poorly and is among the weakest defenders at his position, and it is glaring when he is on the floor with Lebron.
Los Angeles is currently not in a playoff spot, with a losing record. Lebron had been having an MVP-caliber season, but the Lakers kept losing. Now the Lakers’ worst nightmare has come to fruition, a significant injury to Davis.
As long as the Lakers had a healthy Davis and James, the belief league-wide was that if they could get in the playoffs somehow, they would be dangerous. Davis’ injury blows all those hopes of the Lakers recovering from their first-half collapse.
With the Addition of James Harden, Can the Sixers Claim the no.1 Seed in the East?
James Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, elevated the team to a contender. Joel Embiid’s season has him as the leading choice for the 2022 NBA MVP Award.
The Sixers have hovered in the top five of the Eastern Conference standings from start to the All-Star break. Harden, when healthy, will bring his elite scoring and play-making ability to boost the starting lineup of Philadelphia.
Ben Simmons and the drama surrounding his holding out had been a black cloud looming over the Sixers’ organization all season. Trading Simmons away lifts the morale and offense of the team instantly.
Simmons was a reluctant and poor shooter but a brilliant defender. Unfortunately, his defense was not ever enough to help Embiid and Philly advance during his time there. Harden has more skill and is a dangerous threat anytime he is on the court.
Trading for Harden will open the floor for Joel Embiid, and his passing abilities will facilitate a much more potent offensive lineup. Tyrese Maxie emerged last season as a decent guard with good size length and is an excellent on-ball defender.
Provided Embiid and Harden can stay healthy, there is no reason why the Sixers cannot claim the no. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
CJ McCollum Making a Difference for the Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans are missing their star, Zion Williamson, trying to return to the team from an injury. In the absence of Williamson, the Pelicans picked up CJ McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers.
McCollum was traded from the Blazers in exchange for Josh Hart. Hart was a good player and well-liked but getting McCollum has already proven beneficial to the Pelicans.
McCollum brings a calming, veteran presence with a crazy arsenal of offensive skills and is already making a difference for the Pelicans. McCollum has played in 3 games for the Pelicans and has averaged 28.4 points per game.
Two tough losses to playoff-contending teams in the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, combined with a blowout loss to the upstart Toronto Raptors, have the organization thinking playoffs this season.
New Orleans is in a play-in tournament spot (12th). The hope of a return to the lineup this season of Williamson, plus new big-man Jonas Valančiūnas, combined with the contributions of McCollum’s points and another great season from their best player Brandon Ingram, could make the Pelicans a playoff team.
Ben Simmons Fit With the Nets Going Forward
Ben Simmons wanted out of Philadelphia, and his wish was recently granted. The Brooklyn Nets traded James Harden to the Sixers for Simmons, and the question is, how will Simmons fit with the Nets from now on?
Simmons stands at 6’ 11” and is 240lbs. The former Australian-Rules Football player brings toughness on both ends of the floor. Simmons is in contention for NBA Defensive Player Of The Year almost every season he plays.
The issue is that Simmons has not played since last year’s playoffs, has barely participated in any training camp, and brings a serious lack of shooting to Brooklyn.
So why trade for him?
Simmons is an excellent defender who can defend all five positions on the floor. He is also an excellent rebounder, particularly on defense, where he can push the ball and lead a deadly fast-break with Kevin Durant.
No question losing James Harden for Simmons puts a gaping hole in the offense for the Nets, but it can potentially improve it at the same time.
Simmons is unstoppable in the open court and puts a lot of pressure on defenses once he gets in the lane. With deadly shooters like Kevin Durant and Joe Harris on the perimeter waiting to be found, the addition of Simmons is an apparent good fit with the Nets in the future.
Is the West the Suns to Lose?
At 48-10, the Phoenix Suns boast the best record in the Western Conference, but the Suns are the best team in the NBA overall.
Health has been on the side of the Suns, who took over first place in the West from the Golden State Warriors at the very early stages of the 2022 NBA season and have not looked back since.
Phoenix is currently on a seven-game winning streak at the NBA All-Star break.
Their star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker are having stellar seasons and are elevating the play of all of their teammates.
CP3 is running the show with a surgeon’s precision, and Booker is in full attack mode when he enters the court. Deandre Ayton is growing as an emerging force under both baskets.
Despite the Warriors bringing back a significant piece in Klay Thompson, they are without Draymond Green, one of their leaders, and have hit a bit of a skid at the break. Minus any significant injuries to key players, the West is the Suns to lose.
Why is the All-Star Break So Important?
The NBA All-Star Break is conveniently after the trade deadline and is the measuring point of all teams dreaming of being in contention for the championship. Teams use the break as a time to ask themselves where they are in terms of goals. Every trade, cut, and injury, causes a hard look deep inside each team’s closet, and what direction the teams will take in the sprint forward.
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