Beyond Rip City – Bold But Realistic Predictions For NBA Season’s 2nd Half

Calling all NBA fans! Calling all NBA fans! Throw away those Magic 8 Balls! Shatter that crystal ball! Stop paying your medium to call the late Miss Cleo now!

With the 2018-19 campaign’s second half underway, it’s officially #PredictionSZN. These prognostications are 100 percent guaranteed* so sit back, relax, and get ready to see exactly what the future holds.

*These are not 100 percent guaranteed at all. Predictions are hard. But these ones are $$$.

The Bearded MVP Runs It Back

NBA history books only have a handful of back-to-back MVPs, but they’re going to get another one in 2019.

James Harden, who has said publicly he’s going after a second straight Most Valuable Player award, is playing true to his word. There are compelling cases for the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Paul George and more, but The Beard is taking bodies like no one else in the league aside from maybe the Greek Freak or a certain Splash Bro when he decides to drain 11 threes for what feels like the hundredth time in his career.

If the Rockets have home-court advantage in the playoffs, it’s going to be hard not to give Harden the league’s most prestigious individual honor. You can call his isolation game boring you’d like, but you also have to call him butter*. And soon enough, you’ll have to call him MVP for the second year in a row.

*cause he’s on a roll 🙂

Robin Lopez, Warrior Extraordinaire

The Chicago Bulls, a young, rebuilding group perpetually suffering from the effects of its own organizational dysfunction, are done with their Robin Lopez experiment. In Sideshow Bob’s defense, the past two and a half years have been far from a waste. After all, he’s a likable guy with cool hair who loves doing thankless dirty work, he doesn’t need touches so that’s not an issue, and he officially earned a reputation as the NBA’s most hostile mascot victimizer.

In Chicago’s defense, Lopez is approaching his 31st birthday, is making just south of $14.5 million (Jusuf Nurkic is making $11.1 million), and is nowhere near the career arc of his  teammates.

Finding a trade partner for a chunky expiring contract isn’t typically a difficult task, but contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as too much chunk. Lopez can help a contender, but owners considering trading for him will be weighing the production they’re receiving against the luxury-tax dollars spent to add said production.

In Lopez’s case, it’s tough to defend trading for him if you already have a bill coming your way. Which is why the Bulls will dangle RLEC* in front of teams at the deadline but ultimately cut ties with the 7-footer via an amicable buyout.

The Warriors are the team that seem to be the most interested should this go down, because of course they are. And they’ll inevitably land his services and get even deeper entering the season’s final stretch, because of course they will.

At least if the Warriors win another title, Blazers fans will have one player on that roster they can be happy for. Maybe.

*Robin-Lopez’s-Expiring-Contract. Not unlike Raef-Lafrentz’s-Expiring-Contract back in the day. Except that teams across the league actually legitimately wanted to deal for the latter because 80 percent of his $12.7 million deal was paid for by insurance. And the Blazers still couldn’t turn it into a veteran perimeter star despite numerous being on the market. But I’m not bitter.

KANGZ Miss Playoffs But Earn Back Rightful Kings Name

This organization has been way too good at going Full KANGZ over the years, and we almost saw it again when rumors started to fly early in the current season that the team was looking to part ways with head coach Dave Joerger. That relationship appears to have been salvaged (for the time being), which is good news for many reasons, none more important than this team is actually putting out an exciting and—dare I say it—respectable product on the floor.

Although the West’s top eight seeds are still wildly and almost inexplicably up for grabs, the Kings’ youth and inexperience in meaningful games won’t do them any favors. But the team is finally trending in the right direction. Marvin Bagley’s rookie season has been better than his lack of headline real estate would indicate. Willie Cauley-Stein won’t ever be a Boogie Cousins clone, but he’s fitting into Sacramento’s system like a maybe-slightly-large-but-still-very-cozy glove. The fact that Buddy Hield’s breakout season is coinciding with De’Aaron Fox’s sophomore surge is icing on the cake considering 26-year-old former lottery picks don’t typically experience a breakout season two teams and three years into their careers.

Nobody’s going to crown this group kings of the NBA, but fans across the league should recognize they’re once again Kings of Sacramento. Ditch the KANGZ immediately. You’ll thank us when you beat your friends to it next season.

Karma Finally Kicks In For Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA. It’s honestly not all that close, either, which is less a testament to the “competition” for second-worst and more an indictment on how awful an experience it is to sit down and watch those grown men in shorts play basketball. Seriously—I cover the beautiful sport for a living and can’t think of a more hazardous occupational risk to one’s health and wellbeing than watching this team for two-plus hours.

It’s bad, guys. Real bad. So bad, actually, that this group should finish with the league’s worst record without a doubt. But here’s the thing: Cleveland has done nothing over the years to deserve any success it has achieved. It lucked into LeBron James. Then it failed to put an adequate roster around him, and he took his talents to the Beach of South. Dan Gilbert burned any bridge that may have connected Dade Wade County to Lake Erie (and in comic sans nonetheless). Then LeBron returned to the Cavs for no reason other than to make good with the city via a championship.

What does this all mean? It means Cleveland will be the big loser of the NBA lottery, because despite having the best odds of obtaining the No. 1 overall pick, it will be leapt by not one, not two, not three…well, actually yes, three teams. The Cavs will be the league’s worst squad and it will not obtain a top-three pick.

Losing games is bad for the culture. Losing Zion Williamson is bad for hopes of becoming relevant any time soon. And the Cavs can thank Karma for that one.

Healthy LeBron Proves He Can Still Carry a Team

The Los Angeles Lakers are 3-7 over their last 10, have the same record as the ninth-place Utah Jazz—and will still earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

LeBron James has sat the last 10 games and the Lakers have made headlines for all the wrong reasons—most recently losing to another team realizing how hard life is when you once had The King and now you no longer do.

Not only will a healthy LeBron late in the year get Los Angeles out of its current playoff slump, he’ll single-handedly get the team to the fourth seed. What happens next won’t be pretty assuming the Golden State Warriors take back their throne atop the West, but that won’t change the fact that we should all bend the knee to The King while we still can.

Doncic’s Dazzling Debut Doesn’t Desist

The Dallas Mavericks are saying hallelukah that their gamble on the relatively unknown Slovenian has paid off. If all goes according to plan, it’s going to continue paying off for the next decade and prove to be a very lukarative move in the long run.

Between what’s looking like an inevitable (in a good way) All-Star appearance and a unanimous Rookie of the Year trophy, the NBA is starting to get a taste of the excitement that Cool Hand Luka brings.

Luka Doncic will be an All-Star. And ROY. Book it.