2019-2020 NBA First Half Analysis

Is it possible that with league parity, this season was cursed before it started? The first half of the NBA season has been chaotic. The conversation about ratings has been hanging over the league’s collective head since the season began. Issues such as load management, international interests and the deaths of David Stern and Kobe Bryant have been bigger than the games televised.

There’s still hope for an exciting second half, especially the month before playoffs begin. A lot of fans will look ahead to the playoffs and how those teams that didn’t make it in will rebound for the upcoming season. Yet there’s a good number who’ve thrown in the towel and just want something without as much drama, intended or unintended.

Here’s what we’ve learned throughout the first half of this year’s NBA regular season.

There’s no clear winner for Coach of the Year

Just as we broke down in the NFL, at least half the coaches in the NBA are considered candidates for coach of the year. A good number of fans who watch the game know that Doc Rivers, Brad Stevens and Terry Stotts know how to run their teams well and get the best from their rosters, so any of those three have an excellent chance of being awarded that honor this year. There are at least a half dozen coaches who are on their heels or have surpassed these three. Monty Williams, who took a hiatus from head coaching for a few years, is doing an impressive job with the Phoenix Suns in his first year there. Erik Spoelstra may have put together one of his best years with Miami as not only are the Heat in the top five in the East, but as of this publishing have only three losses at home the whole year. Taylor Jenkins took control of a Memphis Grizzlies team that should have a slow re-build, but has found a way to put up a fight in the Western Conference and the Southwest division. Last but not least, coach of last year’s champion Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse has found a way to have the Raptors playing as well as last year, minus Kawhi Leonard.

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Monty Williams has done a fantastic job coaching and elevating the play of the Phoenix Sun’s young talent.

The Warriors have won the year, even if their record says otherwise

If there was ever a year the Golden State Warriors could take off, this was the one. They were decimated by injuries in 2019, then were gashed in free agency with core players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala retiring or exiting to other teams. While D’Angelo Russell was cool to watch for half the season, most of us knew he wouldn’t be in the team’s future going forward once Steph Curry and Klay Thompson returned from their injuries. Trading him for a few players and first round draft picks was the smart thing to do.

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D’Angelo Russell (0) showed out in most of the games he played in, which increased his trade stock during the season.

There are other factors that go the Warriors way, most notably how people haven’t tuned in this year to watch games. The Warriors had a premier super team, now the field is balanced. In the division, the Clippers have had an up and down season, even with load management not being an issue at times (more on that later) while the Lakers, although they’re the best team in the West record-wise, don’t look completely there. The Warriors will have their best players back for next season with a young core that’s played a full season. Unless Daryl Morey shoots his mouth off bashing a foreign market, we should see interest come back to the Warriors and how fun the Pacific division will look in the offseason.

Daryl Morey should have been axed before obtaining Russell Westbrook

Say what you will about the firestorm Morey created over his Hong Kong tweets, the real red flag for him as a GM flew when the Rockets got rid of one of the best point-guards of our era because that point-guard called plays James Harden didn’t like. It’s one thing to unload a guy who doesn’t get along with the team, hey, it happens. To then turn around and bring in a volatile player like Russell Westbrook and basically let coach Mike D’Antoni know that they should start together is just a different level of stupid.

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General Manager Daryl Morey (right) acquired Russell Westbrook in a trade before the 2019-2020 season began, leaving many puzzled

Kevin Durant spoke this past week on why he left Oklahoma City, and if people take their feelings out of it, they would know everything he said about his teammates was accurate. Westbrook is not that guy when it matters most, and the joke with Morey’s teams the past three years (at least) is that they couldn’t get out of their own way to get to the Championship. Not only did the GM make it that much harder for the team, he has set up a powder keg that a national audience could watch explode in the playoffs.

Kobe’s death is a worldwide loss

We’ve heard a lot of things involving Kobe’s death and reflections on his legacy, but the biggest one by far and away is how much international attention has been drawn to the NBA. Mike Wilbon said it best when he told audiences and stations days after he died that we’ve yet to process how massive the loss really is in the international community. Make no mistake that David Stern, who died in January, is the commissioner who made this possible business-wise, but entertainment-wise, Kobe’s name was the one that drew people in. It’s jarring to see how his death has pulled people back into the basketball world to reflect on how the sport has grown and evolved.

Now for what each of the 30 teams can do to improve upon or keep doing right the remainder of this season.

Atlanta: the worst team in probably the worst division in the NBA, the Hawks need depth to give Trae Young help. When Jabari Parker is your third best scorer, that says everything you need to know.

Boston: dumping Kyrie Irving and signing Kemba Walker has been one of their best offseason moves in a while. Granted, this team isn’t Milwaukee, but they look better and have a lot to look forward to.

Brooklyn: They’re in a pretty good position going forward despite looking average this year. Mostly a defensive team, they still qualify as a low-tier playoff team in the Eastern conference, with Kyrie Irving as the main player on offense. Kevin Durant will make this team better when he returns, though it is important for the Nets to add more to their offense this offseason.

Charlotte: There’s clearly nothing on this team to be happy about going forward, so securing a top draft pick for a few seasons and making sure to have a lot of cap space is something they couldn’t screw up. Right?

Chicago: Living in the Chicago market offers glaring insight into how awfully run this organization is. Firing Jim Boylen doesn’t fix anything. As a matter of fact, firing President and GM John Paxson and Gar Forman won’t either. Bulls fans need to pressure ownership to fix everything, but that can only happen if the top feels how uncomfortable everyone is. The Bulls are very close to being the NBA version of the Bill Wirtz Chicago Blackhawks of the 1990s to the mid 2000s. If you can’t or won’t fix it, sell the team.

Cleveland: It was no secret that Cleveland would be horrendous again when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving left. They’re just further ahead in the re-building process than Charlotte. Have to stick this out another year.

Dallas: my how things have changed. A few years ago, people thought Dallas was stale and hanging onto the old ways. Nowadays? Luka Doncic is the real deal, but he has to have playoff experience first. Speaking of guys who need playoff experience, Kristaps Porzingis should appreciate his first playoff year knowing that he shouldn’t have to toil with the Knicks.

Denver: Can this team still end up with the first seed in the West? Of course. This is still a middle of the pack team when you look at the roster and the stats though, and all of that rears its head in the playoffs. Portland was a team with two and a half superstars last postseason and took Denver down to the wire. Suffice to say, the Nuggets should hope they get a favorable playoff matchup for the first round.

Detroit: 7th in the league in three point percentage but dead last rebounding the ball. The Pistons need a big man who can score and rebound. That’s a must, especially in the Central division.

Golden State: There’s absolutely no way Stephen Curry should or will make a return to the Warriors with this unrecognizable roster. He’d just get hurt again. Management should shut him and Draymond Green down after the All-Star break and focus on securing any top tier draft picks, any free agents who can add depth and eat as many losses as they can. You don’t want to say that out-loud if you’re the organization but it’s the best card they have remaining.

Houston: After the Rockets have another crushing yet spectacular end to their season in the playoffs, Tilman Fertitta needs to have an honest conversation with Daryl Morey. Morey clearly has built the Rockets into a better team than when he first came to Southern Texas, but his building has only gone so far. A GM in a good mental place doesn’t add Russell Westbrook to a roster that needs a sharp shooting guard and a center who should make free throws.

Indiana: If only another team in the central wasn’t a steaming pile outside of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Pacers. Much like the Nuggets, they’re behind in critical statistics such as scoring compared to teams like the Bucks, 76ers and Miami Heat. They’re still a team that can compete, but they’re one big man who can rebound and score short of challenging the top teams in the East on a consistent basis.

Los Angeles Clippers: load management will pay off well the longer the season goes for the Clippers. Paul George will disappear but Kawhi’s legs are what could be more worrying. Regarding their game, they’re top ten in a lot of categories, so moving the ball consistently and not firing shots like the Rockets do will be key. We’ll see how they are by April with this.

Los Angeles Lakers: Earlier it was mentioned that while the Lakers seem fantastic, they don’t look completely there. Here are some things people should keep in mind with this team collectively

  • only three players on this roster are averaging double digits in points this year. Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma.
  • The Lakers are 28th out of 30 in free throw percentage at 73.5%.
  • only one member of this team has a FG % of over 50.0%. That would be Anthony Davis.

This isn’t saying they’ll bow out of the playoffs early, but it highlights what they’ll have to fix so they don’t have to depend on one or two players to carry the load throughout the playoffs, and Frank Vogel should be making every player aware of this. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to stop playing Rajon Rondo an average of 21 minutes a night.

Memphis: All of the issues brought up with free throws, scoring, rebounding and good coaching applies to this team. They’d qualify for the last seed in the west if the playoffs were held today, and that’s a miracle considering how bad they were last season. Hopefully they’ll keep adding to this roster so they can be a solid playoff team for the next few years.

Miami: If they start playing on the road like they do at home, look out and enjoy the show.

Milwaukee: They’ve locked up the regular season, so Mike Budenholzer should keep things steady and make sure his best players, especially Giannis, get playoff mentalities in gear.

Minnesota:There are two teams that no matter what they do, no matter who they add, no matter the stats or efforts, they’re just awful and hard to watch on a regular basis. The Timberwolves are one of those two teams.

New Orleans: Yours truly likes to be kind and say a team isn’t out of the playoffs until the losses really rack up, and by rack up, it has to be they won’t crack .500 or anywhere close for the rest of the season. The Pelicans aren’t there yet, but they probably won’t go on a run like Milwaukee or Toronto has. When the point comes to where they can’t keep up, they should be smart and deactivate Zion Williamson. Their prize asset shouldn’t have to put his body at risk if there’s no point. If they continue to add quality depth, this division as a whole will be fun to watch again.

New York: like the Chicago Bulls, this team’s issues are at the very top, and while the Knicks are worth $4.2 billion, the league should start finding rich people who covet owning the franchise and force James Dolan out. If they don’t, fans will go from chanting, “Sell the team” to firing water cannons from the stands.

Oklahoma City: So much for tanking this season. Billy Donovan may be another candidate for coach of the year, because this is a team that wants to play in the postseason and they’re proving it. Who would’ve thought that their leading scorer would’ve been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the beginning of the season (not Chris Paul or Dennis Schroder) and would be in the top eight in the west trying to clinch a playoff seed? Those draft picks should help a bunch.

Orlando: Markelle Fultz coming back helps a team that’s dreadful to watch and with dumb luck, is second in their division. The Magic are flirting with a playoff spot right now, so getting the team as healthy as possible is key. It also helps to have players who consistently don’t disappoint when much is expected of them.

Philadelphia: of all the teams on this list, this team is sleep-walking the most through the rest of the regular season. The 6ers have had quality wins over the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks. This team is just itching for the postseason. That is on the coaching staff.

Phoenix: management has to decide what it wants: to win or to re-build. The salary cap space is huge, but what plans to genuinely develop this team does the front office have? Think of it this way; if Monty Williams is fired in a few years, and the roster is close to what it is when he came in, then he was neither the problem nor the solution.

Portland: Terry Stotts has done a great job with this Trailblazers team that has two great players, a few good players and nothing after that. This is why you can’t blow half your salary cap on two guys. There are no suggestions on how this team can improve, BECAUSE THEY CAN’T!!

Sacramento: There are two teams that no matter what they do, no matter who they add, no matter the stats or efforts, they’re just awful and hard to watch on a regular basis. This is the second of those two teams.

San Antonio: Remember when a good number of people said Pop should’ve retired with Tim Duncan? That’s looking more everyday like that should’ve happened. If your coach had a hard time telling who had talent during FIBA practice, that should be a red flag that he both shouldn’t be a coach of your team or that he should hang it up.

Toronto: These guys continue to win and find ways to improve with Nick Nurse as their coach. A lot of us assumed the Raptors would fall out once Kawhi Leonard left, but this team could put up a fight in the playoffs if push comes to shove. They probably won’t be as lucky as last year though. Either way, Toronto could entice key free agents in the future.

Utah: Much like the Lakers, the Jazz have a lot to like, but they aren’t there yet. Like the Lakers, they have some leaks too. They include:

  • being middle of the pack when scoring. They’ve gotten lucky against teams like Portland at times, but a team like the Blazers that has playoff experience <insert Houston here> will win games like that nine times out of ten.
  • speaking of Houston, the Jazz are 3-6 against top tier teams in the Western Conference, those being both Los Angeles teams, Denver and yes, Houston.

Washington: the Wizards appear to be the basketball version of the New Jersey Devils. Please fire Scott Brooks, start unloading talent and re-build. Might need to cut loose half the front office too. If it moves, let it go.

1st Half Summary of the NHL 2019-2020 Regular Season

Well this was certainly an entertaining first half of the season. As the NHL All-Star break rolls into St. Louis this upcoming weekend, all of us can to look back on the first half and predict what could be a stellar push for the playoffs. While there may not be a Cinderella story like we had last year with the Blues, there’s a lot to keep an eye on and what teams can improve or work on going forward into the offseason. First, let’s start with what we’ve seen in the first half.

  • Firing coaches mid-season will become the new trend

As if last year didn’t foreshadow, this year ramped up pressure on the coaches to perform heading into the All-Star break. We’ve had at least seven coaches fired, the most recent one being Gerard Gallant, where he had the rug pulled from under him and can’t coach the Pacific division in the All-Star game. Most of the coaches fired made the playoffs last year, and all of them made the playoffs two years ago. While we can debate on how three deserved their firings for issues away from the ice, the other 24 teams may use this as an excuse for years to come if they want to pull the plug early, just for a chance for a quick turn around and sneak into the playoffs.

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Latest coach casualty is Gerard Gallant who was the first coach in the Golden Knights’ existence.

The problem with this trend is coaching changes in the NHL happened too often with little value going forward last decade. This season and this decade accelerated the trend, which means everyone could be on the hot seat even if their team reaches the playoffs.

  • The Pacific Division is clearly the worst division in hockey, while the Central is probably the best.

The first part of that statement is accurate, because the point total is bunched together between five of the eight teams, which mostly are mediocre at best. The second part may cause fighting words with fans of an eastern conference team. To this I say one thing of both those divisions:

1). Half of the Atlantic division is pretty good, the other half is just as miserable in the standings, so there’s balance.

2). The top two teams in the metropolitan will solidify what power they have with little opposition in the second half.

The Central however could have five, possibly six teams reach the playoffs by the time the season ends. The Minnesota Wild, in last place with 50 points, have the possibility of keeping pace with the third place Dallas Stars, a team they crushed last Saturday night 7-0. While Nashville could be one of the few teams who may not make it, Chicago and Winnipeg have exceeded expectations, and we know St. Louis and Colorado won’t have a problem clinching early.

The divisional games within the Central are must-watch for hockey fans for the second half of the season.

  • The Devils are in the worst situation possible.

Going into the season, yours truly thought the New Jersey Devils would be in a pretty good situation to make one of the lower seeds in the playoffs because of who they added to their roster. Then, a lot of that roster amassed injuries not long after, and the team never recovered. This year, audiences can tell that the Devils are not competitive and are nowhere close to playoff contention. While the Ottawa Senators have had jokes made at their expense (and with good reason, but more on that later), they have looked better and are further ahead in their process than the Devils can say.

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PK Subban has sadly wasted another year in his career with a dead-as-a-doornail team that will have to go in full re-build.

The Devils did the right thing by firing their coach and GM before the end of the first half of the season. The Taylor Hall experiment proved to be one of the most lopsided deals of last decade, and after all of this, the team must tear everything down, brick by brick. This decade will be a long one New Jersey.

Brian Boucher is a wonderful addition to Doc and Edzo’s announcing crew

There have been valid complaints about Inside the Glass reporter Pierre McGuire on NBC for years, and it intensified last season after he made sexist comments and couldn’t stop injecting himself in play-by-play calls. NBC made the switch before last season ended to putting Brian Boucher by the ice with Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk in the booth. Not only has Brian added some polish and youth, the audiences seem relieved knowing it’s one less game without the afore-mentioned McGuire. Boucher adds fresh views about what it’s like being on the ice in the last 25 years, goalie play, coach and captain mentality and using his time wisely in other areas in ways the audience can comprehend. Viewers hope this trio lasts for the rest of the 20s.

31 Takes for the 31 Teams

Now for what each team can improve on or keep doing right in the second half of the season.

Anaheim: conflicted about this team. Gibson could wind up having his pretty years spent during this re-build. Trading for defense is a must at this point. Buffalo could help with that if the Ducks want to clear space and go for some trades.

Arizona: They’re the true division winners if Darcy Kuemper never got hurt. They need a solid backup behind Antti Raanta. Better yet, someone who has proven they can start and take the reins if Raanta gets hurt again.

Boston: Even when Rask got hurt, this team was starting to slip. Their loss Sunday in Pittsburgh has summed up what could be their season: a white hot start but fading fast and then an exit to a much more motivated team. They have to get that early season magic back and have better depth past the second line.

Buffalo: Because the Atlantic has four sensational teams, they can’t do what the Oilers have. Too many defensemen and not enough offense is their recipe for not making the playoffs.

Calgary: Strangely this team knows what improvements they’ve had to make and have executed. Racist and bully of a coach? Fire him. David Rittich slips in performance? Replace with a better coached Cam Talbot. Milan Lucic staying consistent? Current work in progress.

Carolina: Many people leered when yours truly said the Canes couldn’t have a run like last year. While they started off as the best team in the league, they’re now fifth in their division behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. Justin Williams could be a spark and they could turn it up in the second half, but the signs are there this could be rough.

Chicago: The open secret is that Robin Lehner is the clear starter if you live in Chicago. The team defense has shown much improvement with him not just in net but with the culture of the players. Still, it would be bad to let either Lehner or Crawford walk after this year considering how few consistent goalies there are in the NHL. However, it is widely thought that Jeremy Colliton is not the coach this club needs, even if he is someone Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is comfortable with. Colliton couldn’t pull an injured Robin Lehner during a high-scoring 7-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on January second. It’s a bad look.

Colorado: last year yours truly wrote a wonderful piece on why the Avalanche are the real deal. They need to stay healthy and Jared Bednar is a top candidate for coach of the year.

Columbus: so is John Tortorella if we have to be fair. Didn’t think goalie play was going to be a strength this year since Bobrovsky took off for Florida. This will be one of two teams (the other being Minnesota) that will be interesting to watch if they can keep up the pace they ended the first half with.

Dallas: a shame Jim Montgomery had to be fired. This team needed the rest after beating Colorado, because they gave up eleven goals in two games to teams that might not make the playoffs. All but two had Ben Bishop in net. Could be disturbing if they enter the second half still playing like that.

Detroit: There’s a really good take on what the Wings can do that would be great….just not this woeful season. Finish this agonizing year, cut the guys loose who are 28 and above (minus Jonathan Bernier), and keep re-building.

Edmonton: There was an article that was never published nor written on this site involving how the Oilers are playoff contenders with coach Dave Tippett at the helm. Regrettably not typed up, the article said most of the things that has happened this season. Tippett has come in, taken what he has and turned it into something opponents are almost scared to face night in and night out. The Oilers should feel good about him being their coach and add depth in after the season.

Florida: this year’s Sergei Bobrovsky is last year’s James Reimer. Keep an eye on Coach Q recruiting Corey Crawford to the Sunshine State if this keeps up.

Los Angeles: it is a shame Jonathan Quick’s body has deteriorated faster than expected. Although the talent on the ice with him isn’t much better. This re-build needs to speed up. Now.

Minnesota: as mentioned with Columbus earlier, this team was scorching as the first half of the season ended. What’s peculiar about both teams is how we as a collective audience assumed the goal-tending would sink them. For this team, that’s still in play. Devan Dubnyk has thrown the towel in on any remaining talent, but if Alex Stalock can keep improving, maybe there’s something. Don’t bet too much on it though.

Montreal: stop infuriating the public by being good and then bad every two weeks.

Nashville: Like Boston and San Jose, this team has to play well to get to the playoffs with the talent they have. The way their goaltenders play though is not encouraging. The Wild and Preds will be on the hunt this offseason.

New Jersey: The main take is above, but this club should play Louis Domingue for the rest of the season to see what they have to work with. There’s a clear need for a starter, but a quality backup would give them a boost.

NY Islanders: this team got worse in the offseason and it’s shown throughout January. Take the eight goal slaughter against Detroit out and this team has scored four goals in three games, two of which were against teams that probably won’t make the playoffs. The other in a 6-4 loss to the Capitals. This team needs better offensive performances if they want to make a run.

NY Rangers: the Rangers have to decide what they want to do with their goalies. Reports were Alexandar Georgiev was going to be shopped, so if they decide to do that, they better request a massive haul. Nashville could be just the team.

Ottawa: DJ Smith has his club buying in, and the Senators, rather than doing nothing before the trade deadline, seem to have bargaining chips for some teams in need. Popular talk is Craig Anderson, who is sure to leave with the rise of Marcus Hogberg playing a factor, could be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Strangely, this could be something that benefits both teams, as Toronto has a lot of offensive pieces to spare, and they desperately need a backup netminder.

Philadelphia: there’s still a good chance they can make the playoffs, but they have to play better in games against playoff caliber teams. It’ll be interesting to see how Carter Hart can bounce back when he returns from his injury.

Pittsburgh: There go any Evgeni Malkin trade rumors. Mike Sullivan too should be up for coach of the year. For the battle in net, Matt Murray has to want the job back to keep it, though it’s possible the play of Tristan Jarry’s made that a little too late.

San Jose: the easy answer is to say get someone in goal who is not Aaron Dell or Martin Jones, but maybe you have to just re-build. While the Pacific is trash this year, the defense was a growing problem last year, and now it can’t be ignored.

St. Louis: while most expected the injuries to Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko would be huge, this team needed rest more than anything. The two losses to the Avs could sting going forward though.

Tampa Bay: Andrei Vasilevskiy basically told the press last week, “I play better and am more focused when I face more shots. I don’t zone out as much”, and it’s good he did because that may have been a factor in some of Lightning’s critical losses in the past year. The pace they’ve been playing at not only makes them the favorites to win their division, but also sharper heading into the postseason, knowing that’s where the adversity is.

Toronto: Craig Anderson will be available. Having an Anderson every night in net should bring consistency.

Vancouver: Jakob Markstrom is putting together a fantastic season, and this team deserves a lot of credit for coming as far as they have with not a lot of depth to use. Thankfully for them their division is terrible, so the depth part may not matter until the offseason.

Vegas: Yours truly will take a gamble and break with the public on this issue and side with general manager Kelly McCrimmon on not just firing Gerard Gallant, but hiring rival coach Peter DeBoer. McCrimmon was right about at least one thing: the Knights weren’t playing with the passion they had even last year when Mark Stone was acquired. If hiring the coach of the team you loathe gets the team going, then yeah, it’s worth it. DeBoer needs to know what defense is though.

Washington: the Braden Holtby question won’t stop despite their wins. He has allowed an average of just over three goals a game. While that may be overlooked because of the Capitals’ offense, Ilya Samsonov’s average is one full goal less. Keep in mind Holtby is a free agent and it’s looking more likely he won’t return if he continues this play.

Winnipeg: As yours truly predicted at the beginning of the season, they wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. That remains probable looking at how they have minimal defense and how awful their back-up goaltender Laurent Brossoit is. If Connor Hellebuyck caves in, this team is done.

2019-2020 AFC Divisional Weekend Playoff Predictions

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Last Saturday’s AFC wildcard match-ups were really fun and worth the watch! The Houston Texans’ second half surge was epic and deserved overtime. The Titans went punch for punch with the Patriots, frustrating Bill Belichick. One wonders what would’ve happened if Tom Brady didn’t throw that interception at the one yard line, as that sealed the deal for the Titans (hmm, where have we heard this before?).

This week looks even better, so without further ado, here are my AFC Divisional round picks.

#6 Tennessee Titans v. #1 Baltimore Ravens

This game just feels like an upset waiting to happen. The Titans were in the top five against the run, and while they didn’t play the Ravens this season, Mike Vrabel and his coaching staff are probably still bitter about last year’s shutout to Baltimore at home. Ryan Tannehill is not inconsistent like Marcus Mariota. Baltimore’s pass rush is different especially with Terrell Suggs gone. Tennessee’s offense should not disappoint this week.

Many people will look past this, but a quarterback like Lamar Jackson hasn’t gone far in the playoffs for a very long time. Don’t misunderstand, he will win the Most Valuable Player award for this season, and will continually prove people wrong for passing over him and his skills. Unfortunately, he proved last year in the playoffs that compared to another veteran quarterback, that he can struggle, especially if the other team stays one step ahead. Tennessee was built to get physical, run the ball and gut out games, and in the playoffs, this is what gets teams to the championship final.

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Mike Vrabel’s probably the best head coach to come from the Bill Belichick tree, and he’s proving it week by week.

JD’s Upset Pick of the Week: Tennessee wins 24-16

#4 Houston Texans v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

The first matchup between these two teams was exhilarating and gave us a boat-load of unexpected results. DeShaun Watson proved he can come up clutch and win big games on the road early in the regular season. Yes, Patrick Mahomes can do the same, and showed us how, but a lot of people knew when these two were drafted, it’s Watson who stands out and plays the best when pressure arises.

Kansas City’s defense has yet to play a quality offense in over a month and a half. They have shown improvement, but after having a bye week, Houston’s offense is the right test for Steve Spagnuolo’s crew. A key note here: these are basically the rosters that played in week six. This game could probably be closer than the last game; again coming down to the last possession.

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Chiefs Defensive Coordinator has to be glad his players have played better, but it’s possible they break against Houston again Sunday

JD’s Pick: Houston wins 27-24

JD’s Picks from Wildcard Weekend: 3-1

2019-2020 NFC Divisional Weekend Playoff Predictions

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Last Sunday’s wildcard games shocked football fans around the country. Who would have thought that Carson Wentz would get injured in the first quarter? How many thought Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense would’ve not just performed better against New Orleans, but play their finest game of the season? How about Seattle winning by the same score against Philadelphia as they did in the regular season? Did you know the Saints are the first 13 win team eliminated from the playoffs on wildcard weekend history?

Both road teams Sunday will face their next challenges by playing the top two seeds in their conferences. Most analysts, including yours truly, didn’t give Minnesota a chance to win in New Orleans, and yet they have the daunting task of knocking off the 49ers in Santa Clara to open the divisional round of the playoffs. Which road team has a good shot to advance to the conference championship round?

#6 Minnesota Vikings v. #1 San Francisco 49ers

What’s still impressive about Minnesota’s win isn’t just how the offense showed up and did their job, but how the defense set the tone and dominated against the Saints’ front five. Coach Mike Zimmer did everything right, and the confidence level of the team will be felt for the start of this game. Running the ball consistently with Dalvin Cook, Mike Boone, Alexander Mattison & Ameer Abdullah can expose and possibly gut the 49ers interior if they have the chance.

There aren’t too many six seeds that match up well and have a good chance to take down a one seed, and this matchup is no different. The 49ers are the most complete team outside of their division, and they pummeled the NFC North winner Green Bay Packers on Sunday night months ago. The biggest issue the Vikings will have to face is the return of three 49er starters on defense who have been out for an average of a month and a half. Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt and Kwon Alexander are the boosts San Francisco needs to put away away their opponent and advance to the Championship game. Expect all three to look a bit rusty, but to pick up the pace around the second quarter and take control in the second half.

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Jaquiski Tartt (29) returning to play safety after an extra week off to recover is the boost San Francisco needs to advance to the next round

JD’s Pick: San Francisco wins 27-17

#5 Seattle Seahawks v. #2 Green Bay Packers

This matchup seems to be the polar opposite of the Minnesota-San Francisco matchup. While again we see an NFC West v. an NFC North showdown, there isn’t really a clear-cut winner. It’s been almost two decades since Seattle has won in Green Bay, but the Packers have struggled to win at home in the playoffs during that span. Russell Wilson has struggled against Green Bay throughout his career, especially in Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has shown regression at a pace many didn’t expect. How do we find a winner here?

Green Bay ranks 23rd against the run defensively and offensively has looked mediocre at best. Running back Aaron Jones seems to be the most dangerous player for the Packers, and the Seahawks have proven to stop the run against their opponents. While Marshawn Lynch may not be the main back unless it’s near the endzone, Travis Homer has proven he can be a great first option. It’s possible that Duane Brown can return for this game. The left side of the offensive line played well against a great front for Philadelphia last Sunday, and anything that can help the interior bodes well for Russell Wilson and his timing.

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If Aaron Rodgers (12) can have a vintage performance this Sunday against Seattle, then the Packers have a great chance of moving on to the Championship round

Seattle’s receiving corp is another advantage. Davante Adams is the big target for Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Graham can handle some of the load, but outside of those two names, it’s a question of who may step up. Seattle won’t have to worry about a battered receiving corp. They can just disrupt past the line of scrimmage. On the flip side, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf will create problems against a mid-league defense regarding the pass. Jacob Hollister and David Moore are trusted to make clutch plays when neither Lockett or Metcalf have been open.

JD’s Prediction: Seattle wins 24-20

JD’s Postseason Picks so far: 3-1

2019-2020 NFC Wildcard Weekend Playoff Picks

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Unlike the AFC, the NFC’s playoff teams were locked into the playoffs after Week 16. Seeding however wasn’t determined until San Francisco escaped with a win in Seattle in the final seconds of Week 17. Both San Francisco and Green Bay will have the first round off as they get to recover some depth and have much needed rest. Without further delay, here are the predictions for these upcoming NFC wildcard weekend games.

#6 Minnesota Vikings v. #3 New Orleans Saints

There is truly no more lopsided matchup than this one. Kirk Cousins, who has struggled most of his career against teams with winning records will have to be close to perfect if the Vikings are to beat New Orleans in the Superdome. Minnesota’s defense has been suspect for a good part of the season, especially in the secondary with Xavier Rhodes having poor performances in must-win games.

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Dalvin Cook returning for Minnesota’s playoff game on Sunday will be a boost for the offense, but Kirk Cousins must push the offense forward if they are to win in New Orleans.

If this wasn’t enough, Drew Brees and New Orleans’ offense has stepped up the second half of the season and has looked like their old selves. There are valid concerns with the receiver talent and depth, however it appears as if Drew Brees has figured part of that out by developing better chemistry with tight end Josh Hill and receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Coach Sean Payton has also found better ways to use Taysom Hill when it matters most.

On the flip side, New Orleans’ defense has stayed stout, showing why they’re in the top five against the run and are in the upper half of teams that have given up the least amount of yards per game. The linebackers and the secondary will be key to keeping Cousins and company in check.

JD’s Pick: New Orleans wins 31-17

#5 Seattle Seahawks v. #4 Philadelphia Eagles

There aren’t too many disappointing teams in the playoffs, but these two are the big ones. Seattle gave up not just first place in the division, but the first overall seed twice in the second half of the season. Injuries have piled up on the offense, with three running backs and some of their best offensive linemen done for the year. The return of veterans Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin provide desperately needed running back presence, and flexible big man George Fant’s move to left tackle will also help, but the pass rush remains a concern.

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Russell Wilson was an MVP candidate for the first half of the season. While’s been hit or miss the second half of the season, he’s needed now more than ever.

The Philadelphia Eagles meanwhile, have the most major injuries heading into Sunday. The receiving corps has been battered throughout the season, meaning the tight-ends have stepped up. While Zach Ertz didn’t have physical contact in practice this week, he could possibly be a game-time decision since he’s cleared to play. Their offensive line has been banged up too, with starting tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters both injured for a good part of the season. Defensively their secondary has been hit-or-miss, while ranking third in the league against the rush. The Eagles need a strong start, propelled by the defense holding Seattle in order to get a win.

 

Both teams are battered, but one has been consistent. Seattle is 7-1 on the road, with a slugfest win against the Eagles after their bye week. The Seahawks saw more from the defense that they can exploit, especially since their receivers are getting better. The same can be said about Philadelphia, however with Ertz and Johnson’s injuries being a factor, this might have the same result.

JD’s Pick: Seattle wins 23-13

JD’s 2019 regular season picks record: 56-50

2019-2020 AFC Wildcard Weekend Playoff Picks

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What a wild finish the AFC playoff picture turned out to be. There weren’t many pundits who thought the Ravens could even win their division, let alone be the number one seed. Almost next to no one thought the Patriots would fall to the third seed after starting off 8-0. Then there’s the comeback of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who led the the Tennessee Titans to the playoffs and made the offense dangerous. Baltimore and Kansas City will have the week off to heal and watch their conference games. So without any further delay, here are the AFC wildcard weekend picks.

#5 Buffalo Bills v. #4 Houston Texans

Wow what a fun matchup this looks to be. Houston’s offense mirrors well with Buffalo’s defense, with Tre’Davious White v. DeAndre Hopkins as one of, if the not the featured highlight. A week off for DeShaun Watson will pay off, and the defense gets an added boost with J.J. Watt coming back from the injury report.

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DeShaun Watson (4) has put beatings on opposing defenses for most of the season, and a week off may make the Texans go further than most originally thought

Say whatever you want about both these teams (especially the Bills not appearing exciting on offense), the best part of this game will be the effort and determination of both teams. Sean McDermott is a great candidate for Coach of the Year, leading the Bills to ten wins in a season for the first time this century. Josh Allen has progressed behind his offensive line, looking more like the shot caller the Bills wanted him to be when they drafted him.

Both teams will have to face a strong running game from the other, though when it comes down to it, it’s who can throw down field and make the plays on the run with more creativity. This leans more towards DeShaun Watson as he proves to exceed, if not become a much different and dangerous player. If Watson takes control of this game early, Buffalo may be in trouble.

JD’s pick: Houston wins 27-23

#6 Tennessee Titans v. #3 New England Patriots.

Well, that was quite a surprise from New England for Week 17. Not only did they lose to a division rival that had nothing to play for, they lost out on a bye week they really needed. New England has to not just play one home game, but probably two road games if they win this saturday, making things harder on an offense that’s looked anemic for at least the last eight weeks. The Patriots have yet to take full advantage of Mohamed Sanu’s receiving skills. This could be the game he breaks out since Tennessee’s pass defense is ranked 24th in the league.

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As Tom Brady’s contract expires this offseason, many wonder if this will be his last postseason trip with the Patriots.

Tennessee on the other hand has turned the heat up on offense, and it hasn’t just been with Ryan Tannehill. Mike Vrabel’s offensive staff has finally figured out how to use rookie receiver A.J. Brown and to plug in Derrick Henry as the starting runningback. The results couldn’t have been better, as the Titans are number three in the league running the ball. The defense has been hit or miss this season, though there’s been consistency against the run (the defense ranks 12th in the league).

There are other non-statistical factors that give the Titans the edge. Mike Vrabel comes directly from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, and when the Titans played the Patriots in 2018 (with Marcus Mariota as the starting QB no less), they thumped them. Vrabel was able to take away multiple key pieces for Brady on a consistent basis and knock him around. While the result could be different, New England’s offensive line has struggled a good part of the season, which should give the Titan pass rush optimism.

JD’s Upset Pick of the Week: Tennessee wins 23-21

JD’s overall record the regular season: 56-50

NFL Regular Season Wrap-Up

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The 2019 regular season was full of fun and weekly surprises. Almost every team had a story new buzzing every month. Few teams were consistent week-by-week, but as the year and the decade closed, there are key takeaways to focus on for the playoffs and next season.

Older/veteran head coaches have bested younger ones.

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Bill Belichick (left) is still the Super Bowl reigning champion coach while John Harbaugh (right) boasts the team with the best record.

While Rams and Bears coaches Sean McVay and Matt Nagy enjoyed success last year, 2019 was a big let down for both them and their teams. It didn’t help that both teams’ GM’s may have doomed the future of their tenures by trading away draft capital and using a lot of cap space on questionable players, so these issues showed on numerous occasions, most notably opponents bound for the playoffs. New Bengals coach Zac Taylor struggled more than many expected, and the Bengals wound up being the worst team in the league. At the opposite end, coaches John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick each enjoyed another ten win or better seasons. Harbaugh’s Ravens are the best team (record-wise) in the NFL and have the probable league MVP leading the way.

The running game mattered a lot this season

Yes, the position of running-back is dwindling, and yes, fullbacks have been out of fashion, but this season sparked the resurgence and a need for both. San Francisco for example uses Kyle Juszczyk frequently with the three RBs they have to gash defenses. Baltimore has a blocking tight-end behind Lamar Jackson at times to make sure Gus Edwards gets better blocking or for Jackson to turn it up a notch when he runs. In fact, Baltimore broke a 48 year record the 1978 Patriots held with the most rushing yards ever in a season. San Francisco of course, came in second.

These two teams aside, Carolina depends on Christian McCaffrey to be the focus for their offense. Aaron Jones is the most dependable Aaron for Green Bay going forward, and Minnesota has a three headed monster at running-back, even if one those (Dalvin Cook especially) goes down. New England, Kansas City, Tennessee and Philadelphia are getting into the playoffs thanks to their running games.

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Derrick Henry gashed Houston in Week 17 to a commanding win to clinch the last seed in the playoffs. Henry accumulated 1,540 rushing yards this season, averaging over five yards a carry.

If a team looks too good to be true, it’s probably because they are

Exhibit A: The Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. So many people believed the Browns and Bears would not just win the divisions, but go deep in the playoffs, with both quarterbacks taking the big next steps. None of that happened. In fact, Cleveland regressed so much that general manager John Dorsey and the team have parted ways, this coming after Freddie Kitchens was fired hours after the teams’ Week 17 loss to the Bengals.

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The picture of the year for Cleveland. Everything that could have gone wrong, did.

We appreciate that Sports Illustrated looked at the Chicago Bears honestly and predicted the right amount of regression. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was a bigger loss than a lot of pundits thought, and Akiem Hicks going down twice with an elbow injury during the season showed how vulnerable their defensive front was. Throw in the issues (all of them, not just Mitchell Trubisky) on offense, and the team was lucky to finish 8-8.

As yours truly predicted at the beginning of the year, the NFC West still is the superior division in the NFL. 

The Los Angeles Rams came into the season as division and conference champions. How’d they do this year? Third place in the NFC West and eliminated from playoff contention the second to last week of the regular season. They went 1-3 against the two teams that finished above them, and will have to deal with salary cap issues for years to come, something Les Snead knew and still sold out for a championship, to which was never won. Seattle botched two chances to not just win the division, but the number one seed for the playoffs. While they squeaked out almost all their wins, coach Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson showed they can move the team past qualified opponents, especially San Francisco. Ratings for Seattle in prime-time were some of the most watched games of the season. People like watching these teams consistently compete and win in ways that feel unfathomable.

Speaking of San Francisco, yours truly had them in the playoffs, but only as the sixth seed. They exceeded many expectations, and if the defense can hold up in the playoffs, they can win a championship. The way they dealt with a three team scheduled stretch in which their opponents’ winning percentage was above .800, and came out 2-1 (with the one loss by three points) shows how this team is ready, and both GM John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan deserve the credit and awards. Though, if we get to see Seattle and San Francisco in the playoffs again, you can bet the ratings will be high and the game will be fun.

Jason Myers celebrates his game-winning field goal in overtime.
Seahawks kicker Jason Myers (5) celebrates after making the game winning field goal in Santa Clara, CA. The Seahawks delivered the 49ers their first loss of the season on Monday Night Football, the first of their two divisional games.

And the Best NBA Champion This Decade Is…

 

Before I reveal which team won this poll, I’d like to break with objectivity and say thank you to everyone who participated in the poll. I was surprised at how few people participated, even though there was a good amount of feedback and voting. There’s still strong support for this blog and it’s deeply appreciated.

Now, time to reveal the best NBA Champion of this decade. The winner the public chose is…

The 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors!

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The third consecutive Conference title and championship appearance for the Golden State Warriors, this one would feature two teams that would lose one game each heading into the Finals. The Warriors won 15 games in a row during their playoff run to set an NBA record, while finishing 16-1 and post the best winning percentage (.941) in NBA playoff history. They blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first two games before winning the next two out of three by a combined 14 points, averaging over 113 points per game in the series. Free agent acquisition Kevin Durant won the Finals MVP that year. In a total average of 39 minutes on the court per game, Durant put up medians of 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists (35-8-5).

Q: What made this team stand out from the rest?

A: Some of the stats mentioned above with records being set show the Warriors dominating everyone they played. This was the season where Golden State had to answer back after setting records as the best season in NBA history while also failing to win a championship against the Cleveland Cavaliers in an epic seven game collapse. There was a lot depth and star talent that made the team stand out and be in the conversation of top four team in the league. When Kevin Durant decided in early July he was going to the Bay area, there was a sense that the Warriors would be next to unstoppable to beat. There’s a good argument to be made about the reaction to when LeBron James decided he was going to go to Miami and Chris Bosh followed suit. The counter was it took them an extra season before they got their first title in the decade. The Warriors came out of the gate in the regular season well, but became their best selves in the playoffs.

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Warriors Coach Steve Kerr (with clipboard and mouth open) knew how to get the best from the 2017-2018 roster, especially in the playoffs.

The author’s choice of NBA Champion of the decade: 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors

Q: Why pick this team as supposed to the other two or other nine for that matter?

A: There are only two teams to repeat this decade: the Heat and the Warriors. Yes, the Lakers went to two titles before the 2009-2010 season, but that team was well balanced compared to what happened when LeBron went to Miami. As stated earlier, the Heat took the first two seasons with three superstars to win a championship. The Warriors won a title before Kevin Durant came to the Bay area and had a good case for winning if Draymond Green wasn’t suspended the last two games. the second championship with Durant showed they were vulnerable, but not this one.

Q: What makes this team stand out from the rest?

A: Golden State’s commitment to dominating their opponents is the biggest factor. The Warriors throttled most of their opponents, especially in the playoffs. Their first round opponent, the Portland Traiblazers, were blown out in three of the four games played. Their second round opponent, the Utah Jazz, lost every game by double digits. In the Conference Finals, San Antonio took it to Golden State in the first game, but got crushed the last three. No one in a stacked Western Conference had an answer or even a win against the Warriors.

Golden State had depth that was envied across the league. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes, David West and JaVale McGee were the big names that filled in when the superstars needed rest. When this second unit got going, they left no doubt who would win.

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Andre Iguodala (9) goes for the dunk against LeBron James (23)

NBA Eastern Conference Predictions

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The NBA season began October 22nd and there are a lot of expectations for teams in the Eastern Conference. Kawhi Leonard has gone back to the West after his one year championship stint with the Toronto Raptors. While Kevin Durant is out for this year, Kyrie Irving could give the Nets a boost and give them one seed bump for the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat could each build off of some acquisitions last year and in the offseason. It is time to reveal who the top eight teams might be.

1). Milwaukee Bucks

Last year’s number one seed will probably repeat with most of their core intact, minus one or two players. As long as the reigning MVP is on the team, there’s a pretty good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo will lead the Bucks back to the number one seed, and improve since last playing. No dealing with Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs or conference this time.

2). Philadelphia 76ers

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(From left to right) Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris & Al Horford will be a trio to be reckoned with this season.

Adding Al Horford will make a difference and not just with height and veteran leadership. Horford brings a lot to the team when it comes to knowledge and has made every team he’s been on better in almost every facet of the game. The Sixers barely lost to the Raptors in a seven game series last year, and could be the favorites in the Eastern Conference to make the Finals. While JJ Redick going to New Orleans does hurt the shooting game a bit,  the Sixers playing physically with Horford, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will make the important games close, so it’s an even trade-off.

3). Boston Celtics

Exit Kyrie Irving, enter Kemba Walker and Tacko Fall. This year’s Celtics team looks like the real deal and scarier than in last years. Kemba played at a good level in Charolette for years, and Fall did well in college before going to the draft early. He could wind up being a draft steal considering how Boston plays better as a team under Brad Stevens’ coaching. Expect them to be much better than last year for sure.

4). Indiana Pacers

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Although he was sidelined after a season-ending injury, Victor Oladipo stayed upbeat and continued being the heart and soul of the team. The Pacers proved to be the dark horse playoff team in the East that almost made a deep push.

The Pacers should feel good about this season, especially with Kawhi leaving the Eastern Conference. The Pacers could be the fourth best team in the conference if they play as hard and competitive as they did last year. If the injuries start piling up, there’s still a good culture and coaching.

5). Brooklyn Nets

While Kevin Durant is out for this season, Brooklyn’s acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan will still put this team in the right place to make an impact in the playoffs. Yes, Kyrie Irving has become a bit of an issue with the Nets right now, but they have to implode spectacularly in order to not make it to the playoffs. The Nets have more talent than the next three teams that will be listed, and much better depth.

6). Orlando Magic

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Nikola Vucevic (9) helps lead Orlando past the New York Knicks in one of their few wins to start the season

Minus what happened in the last four games against Toronto, the Magic did pretty well for the season. Locking up Nikola Vucevic the way they did in the offseason will be a breather, and if Mo Bamba gets going during winter, this team has a real shot of winning the division. Additions of Al-Farouq Aminu and Michael Carter-Williams will help the bench keep them in games. Give credit to GM John Hammond for building this roster the way he has.

7). Detroit Pistons

Not a pretty pick, but Dwayne Casey worked his magic last year with Blake Griffin leading the charge. With Derrick Rose there (and running point at times with Reggie Jackson out), Detroit will have a say for the playoffs. While they’re not as good as Indiana or Milwaukee, but the Pistons have to like their chances to make the playoffs as a later seed, especially with Cleveland and Chicago bottoming out in the league and not just the division.

8). Miami Heat

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Tyler Herro celebrates with Kendrick Nunn against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half on October 23. Both Herro & Nunn are rookies who could push the Heat into the playoffs.

 

Finally, there’s the Miami Heat. When Jimmy Butler decided to sign with them this past offseason, it put the Heat back in the playoff conversation. Erik Spoelstra has proven he can coach and develop talent well enough, and the Heat have at least eight rookies that can grow and be critical towards making the playoffs. Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters help with depth, something a number of the other teams on the brink don’t have.

To see who else has a realistic shot of making the playoffs in the East, look at who’s left. Mentioned above in the Detroit section was how bad the Bulls and Cavaliers will probably be, and that is 99% guaranteed. Washington and New York look to be awful as well, either because there’s no depth or the front office is a mess. The Hornets have a starting five that would make a great bench. Atlanta is still developing and putting the pieces together, and Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard and key pieces such as Danny Green in the offseason.

2019-2020 Western Conference Predictions

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A tale of two divisions: the loaded, hungry and physical Central, featuring the Cinderella Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues will be a force to reckon with and will compete with the likes of the Atlantic to show who’s best. On the other, a grayer, murkier and not as predictable Pacific which will feature at least two pretty good teams and plenty of questions after. Can the Calgary Flames get it together and drive to the top again? Will Dave Tippett tip the scales for the Oilers? Is this the year Arizona breaks out and makes the playoffs? Will the Kings be the comeback team in 2019-2020? It’s time to analyze which eight teams in this conference have the best shot.

Central Division: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators

A possible new era has arrived to begin a new decade; the St. Louis Blues will probably not be at the bottom of the division or the NHL by the time January 3rd hits, but could possibly be slugging through to number one, since no one really had an answer for the duo of Craig Berube’s coaching and Jordan Binnington in net. They even re-tooled and tweaked the roster and might be better than when they won the Cup.

Behind the current champions, the sleeping giants of Colorado could finally break out and do some serious damage in the conference, as was written on this site a few months back. Dallas seems to have made smart adjustments to their roster and added in players who could get them a fifth or sixth seed. As for Nashville, they still have enough gas in the tank to get them into one of the lower seeds, but they’ll have to gut it out against Chicago and Winnipeg.

Pacific Division: Las Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers

The Vegas Golden Knights were close to making the second round, and then had a terrible call go against them. They came out and pummeled the Sharks their first two games, and could go on a tear against any team they face. Although St. Louis won the championship, this is the team to beat in order to have a level playing field in the West. Even with the injury to Nate Schmidt, this team is still stacked.

San Jose, minus their epic playoff series win last season against Vegas will probably play second fiddle to them for most of the season, but they shouldn’t focus on that yet until April. For now, they need to get their roster going and make getting to the playoffs the goal. They have to play better defense and gel more as a unit, but they seem solid enough to get in.

Arizona has to break out at some point, right? They’re more of a defensive minded unit and led by both exceptional goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. The addition of Phil Kessel will help the offense put more pucks in the net, they just need to get to a strong start the first three months of the season.

Then there’s the dark-horse and wild-card pick of the Edmonton Oilers, who picked the right coach in Dave Tippett to make the team play better on-ice and be better off-ice. Edmonton may not be a top three team in the division, but they’ll be the team that will require opponents to put 100% in to beat them.