The Thunder has finally arrived
The Thunder had been amongst the league’s biggest disappointments this season, thanks to an extended gelling period between the big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. But finally, as they climb into the West’s fourth seed and seek home-court advantage in the first round, it appears the Thunder are geared up for the playoffs.
In the last ten games, the Thunder are ranked top ten for both offense and defense, and have been beating genuine playoff competition. They’re on a six-game win streak, with wins against the Raptors, Clippers, and Spurs included. Having moved two games clear of the Jazz in fifth, they should have done enough to finish in the top four, though their difficult fixtures continue right to the end of the season.
Warriors resemble LeBron’s Heat teams
Going to the NBA Finals every year is hard. Most players are done playing by mid-April, which means they have several months to recover before the new season begins. Play until the Finals and you’ll have barely a month before needing to be back in the gym. That means injuries and motivation woes, which sounds a lot like the Warriors at the moment.
Having made the last three NBA Finals, this season has been a grind for Golden State as regular 10-month campaigns take their toll. Just ask LeBron - the last couple of Heat teams he was on were equally knocked around as they coasted through the regular season trying to last until May when the games really mattered. The only question for the Warriors is: will they end up like the 2013 or 2014 Heat?
The Lillard-McCollum tandem works
The Blazers' win streak is up to 13, and they’re answering some big-time questions about the direction of their franchise. CJ McCollum won the NBA Most Improved Player in 2016, but many questions had been asked as his team stagnated last season. Could a team of two star guards who were both defensively average or worse ever dominate the league? Well, in the last 13 games they’ve beaten up on the Warriors twice, Thunder, and Timberwolves, and their much-maligned guard duo averaged 49 points between them per game.
The Cavs can’t beat good opposition
Since the All-Star Break, the Cavs are 2-6 versus .500 teams and 6-1 against teams below .500. Since they’re unlikely to face many sub-500teams in the playoffs, LeBron needs to get a move on in adapting to his new teammates. That job won't get any easier as head coach Ty Lue has announced he’s taking medical leave to deal with an illness. On a positive front, James starred with another triple-double to start Week 23 as the Cavs disposed of the Bucks.
Don’t mess with the refs
The referees vs everybody battle continues. This week, the officials' focus - or should I say wrath - shifted to coaches. Stan Van Gundy and Alvin Gentry were both fined $15,000 for criticizing officials, while Raptors’ Coach Dwane Casey was ejected. The comments from those coaches come at a bad time as the league continues to push for more respect for referees from all figures in the game.
What were your major takeaways from Week 22 in the NBA? Comment below!