From a legendary slam dunk competition to a battle to the very end in the NBA All-Star Game, it was an All-Star weekend for the ages, all underscored with tributes to the life and play of the late Kobe Bryant.
The pause in the season came at the perfect time, allowing everyone to celebrate and reflect on what has happened in the last three weeks. And everyone seems to have left the weekend re-charged and with a new sense of purpose for the upcoming sprint to the postseason.
The favorites to compete for the title have already established themselves. But who might emerge in the second half as dark horse candidates that could give the heavyweights a run for their money?
The favorites in the West are the two teams in Los Angeles, with the Lakers moving clear of the field in the week before the All-Star break. But both the Lakers and Clippers are an injury away from coming back to the pack. The Nuggets, on the other hand, run deep. They’ve rarely had everyone healthy at the same time, yet are still hanging around.
If Paul George’s bad hamstring acts up for the Clippers, or one of the big-two with the Lakers goes into the playoffs less than healthy, keep an eye on the depth of the Nuggets.
No team has seen a bigger jump in its odds to win the NBA title over the course of the season more than the Miami Heat. They began the year at 600-to-1, and now stand as high 25-to-1.
No, that doesn’t make them a likely winner. But they’ve played great basketball inside the Eastern Conference, they’ve been absolutely dominant at home, and they added Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline.
That doesn’t necessarily put them in Milwaukee’s league, but it does put them in position to capitalize should the Bucks stumble.
The Raptors have also seen a meteoric rise in their championship odds largely fueled by an amazing 15-game win streak right before the All-Star break. Power forward Pascal Siakam has emerged as a consistent scorer down low, and he’s been complimented on the outside by the great play of guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
They obviously lost Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, and expectations for this team were low because of that. But they still have plenty of playoff experience and the ability to get hot at a moment’s notice.
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