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NBA Mid Season Update

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year where things in the NBA really start settling in and we have a good idea of who’s who both in terms of both where teams stand and where individual players stand in possible award races. At this point, every team has played 41 games plus or minus 4, so it’s a good time to take a look at where everyone stands about halfway through the season. There’s a lot of great stories in the league this year, so we’ll break things down by topics.

Contenders:

East: As per usual the past few season, outside of LeBron James in the east, most of the top contenders are in the west. LeBron and the Cavs are in 1st in the east by a 3-game margin and are the heavy favorites to make it back to the finals. At 29-10, they are playing very good but not great so far. They have been a dominant 18-3 at home but have struggled some on the road to the tune of an 11-7 record. Their biggest competition is the 2nd place Toronto Raptors, while Boston and Atlanta are getting hot in the 3rd and 4th spots respectively.

West: Everyone knew the Warriors would be a force coming off a 73-9 record and adding Kevin Durant, but they are possibly playing beyond everyone’s expectations. It took no time at all to get comfortable with each other, and the Warriors have been as dominant as any team has ever been with a +12.1 per game point differential and a 34-6 record. They hold a 3-game lead over the always quiet always consistent San Antonio Spurs, and the surprising Houston Rockets have been surging since the beginning of December and are in 3rd at 32-11. The Clippers were a top preseason contender and started hot but have cooled to a 28-14 record and sit in 4th place.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff Races:

East: As the Atlanta Hawks have surged to the 4th spot in the east and start to separate themselves some, there has now become 5 team race for the last 4 spots in the playoffs, with a few more teams lurking not far behind. The Bucks, Wizards, Pacers, Hornets, and Bulls are all separated by only 1.5 games, followed by the Knicks 1.5 behind the Bulls and in 10th place, the Pistons 1 game behind the Knicks, and the Magic one game behind the Pistons.

West: The west is definitely falling into tiers as the season progresses. There’s the 3 teams at the top, followed by 4 that are solidly playoff teams but don’t seem to be serious contenders in the Clippers, Jazz, Thunder, and Grizzlies. These 4 teams go from a 28-14 to 25-18 record respectively. They are followed by 8 teams that don’t seem worthy of the playoffs at the moment, but one team has to make it. Right now, the Trail Blazers sit in 8th place at an 18-25 record, and no team in the west is more than 4 games out of the 8th spot. Literally anyone can take the last spot with a hot 2nd half of the season.

Rebuilding Projects:

The 76ers are finally starting to see the return on their extreme breakdown of their roster, with Joel Embiid looking like a star and the Sixers playing some great ball right now. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games to improve to 12-26 overall. Soon they’ll get prized top pick Ben Simmons back. For the first time in a long time things are really looking up for the Sixers. The Lakers got off to a great 10-10 start and since have gone 5-20 for a 15-30 record overall. Naturally there was going to be some regression from a hot start, but at 15-30 and a lot of young talent, things are looking much better than last season’s 17-65 squad that was the worst in franchise history. The Timberwolves were expected to make a leap this season and contend for a playoff spot, but got off to a miserable start. They have since settled down and have been playing respectively lately. They have improved to 14-27 on the season. With only a -1.1 per game point differential, they have definitely been playing better than their record. Now that they are playing better basketball, they can’t be ruled out of the 8 seed yet, being only 3 games behind the Blazers for the last playoff spot. They just need to consistently start winning close games. These 3 seem headed in the right direction, while the Heat, Nets, Mavericks, and Suns are all going the wrong way, and the Pelicans, Nuggets, Kings, Magic, and Pistons are somewhere in-between.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

MVP Race:

All you can say about the top contenders for the MVP this year is WOW. Russell Westbrook is averaging a 30-point triple double at 30.9 points, 10.5 assists, and 10.7 rebounds and has 20 triple doubles through 42 games, and probably isn’t even the favorite right now. That’s because James Harden is turning into Mr. Triple Double himself, and is averaging 28.4 points, 11.7 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per games with 12 triple doubles himself through 43 games for a team with a much better record. Can you believe these two used to share a backcourt?

Anthony Davis is having a ridiculous season with 29.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game but he won’t come close if his team misses the playoffs. The same goes for Boogie Cousins averaging 28.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game for a team not currently in a playoff spot.

Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, and DeMar DeRozan are all having career years while leading a team in the top 3 in their respective conferences. Jimmy Butler and Damian Lillard are both having monster seasons in trying to will their team to a playoff berth without much help. Giannis is quickly becoming a star on a solid playoff team in Milwaukee.

This is before we even mention perennial candidates Lebron James averaging 25.8 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game, and Kevin Durant averaging a hyper efficient 26.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game while playing outstanding defense. Notice we didn’t even mention 2 time reigning MVP Steph Curry, who is still having a fine year himself for a historically good team.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Mid Season MVP Ranking:

1) James Harden

2) Russell Westbrook

3) LeBron James

4) Kevin Durant

5) Anthony Davis

6) Kawhi Leonard

7) Boogie Cousins

8) Isaiah Thomas

9) Jimmy Butler

10) Giannis

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the Year:

The Timberwolves reign of rookies of the year will end this season, as this is a one-man race with Joel Embiid. Embiid is averaging 10 points more per game than any other rookie, which may be more of an indication of a weak rookie class than anything else, but is still very impressive. The race will be for 2nd place and the other 4 spots on the all-rookie 1st team. Some guys in contention for that spot include fellow Sixer Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon of the Bucks, Buddy Hield of the Pelicans, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Brandon Ingram of the Lakers. Brogdon is the only one consistently producing for a playoff team so he is the likely 2nd overall finisher at this point. The rest it is more about potential than production so far.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Update:

There was only one trade worth noting and it was the Cleveland Cavs trading Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, and a future 1st round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for sharpshooter Kyle Korver. Korver could make a big impact on a potential playoff run with his ability to hit the three-point shot. It will be interesting to see if and how other top contenders respond as the trade deadline nears. Look for some second level contenders such as the Raptors, Celtics, and Clippers to possibly make a move while it will probably be status quo for the Warriors and Spurs. The Warriors and Spurs may browse the buyout market once the trade deadline passes looking for additional depth.

We’ll keep you updated as the trade deadline nears, and as Westbrook continues to push towards accomplishing a historic season. This is when the NBA starts getting more fun and serious, the first couple months are more about feeling each other out to see how you match up. What do you think about this season so far? Who are the true contenders? How are the rebuilding teams looking for the future? Who wins MVP? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics

Divisional Round Preview and Picks

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Last week during the Wild Card round, we got off to a great start going 4 for 4 in our picks. This week tings get a bit trickier. The Patriots essentially have a 2nd bye week this week, but the other 3 games are outstanding matchups and can all go either way. This is what the playoffs is all about, isn’t it?

Seattle vs Atlanta: The biggest story from their matchup during the regular season is whether or not Sherman interfered with Julio on the final Falcons play. In the end, Seattle came out on top 26-24 with a hobbled Russell Wilson and no Thomas Rawls, but they also had Earl Thomas on defense at that time and will be missing him this week. The game was also in Seattle, where Seattle is 8-1 this season against just 3-4-1 on the road. The game will be in Atlanta this time and Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be looking for revenge. Seattle’s defense has struggled some since Thomas went down with an injury, and they will have their hands full this week against the extremely high powered Atlanta offense. With Thomas, Seattle is one of the best at stopping the big play, but without him they are vulnerable to it. Atlanta had 69 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season and may be able to strike for a couple in this game. Will Richard Sherman and company be able to slow down Julio Jones and the Falcons? Our best guess is slow down: yes, but stop: no. Look for Atlanta to score enough to get bye

Prediction: Atlanta 27 Seattle 21

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Texans vs Patriots: The last matchup was just embarrassing. New England beat Houston 27-0 during the regular season behind rookie 3rd string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. This time around, New England will have a guy named Tom Brady at quarterback. There isn’t much to write about with this game, other than whether or not you think New England can cover the spread that has been floating between 15 and 18 points, currently at about 15.5. Our advice is to bet New England regardless.

Prediction: New England 31 Houston 10

Pittsburgh vs Kansas City: Pittsburgh easily handled Kansas City 43-14 during the regular season behind a dominant Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh is as hot as anyone right now and are fully healthy so it should be the same outcome this time, right? Not so fast. This time around the game is in Kansas City at the impossibly loud Arrowhead Stadium. While Pittsburgh is as hot as anyone, Kansas City is also 10-2 since that matchup with Pittsburgh and have suddenly found an explosive element to their offense in Tyreke Hill. Also factor in that Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 19-2 in his career following a bye week. There is very little chance this one is another blowout. Look for the Steelers to try to get Bell going again, and the Chiefs missing linebacker Derrick Johnson could be a big problem in trying to slow Bell down. They already struggle some against the run and Bell is as good as any back in the league. Will he and Antonio Brown each have another huge game? Time will tell. In the meantime, flip a coin to decide who will win this game, because it’s going to be a close one.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24 Kansas City 23

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay vs Dallas: Dallas traveled to Lambeau week 6 and really handed it to the Packers, beating them 30-16 behind a monster game from Zeke Elliott. It’s easy to look at that game and say it will be much the same except this time in Dallas, but that was before the famous Aaron Rodgers run the table prediction. The Packers come in to this matchup as the hottest team in football, and Rodgers is playing like a man possessed. Yes, he has to travel to Dallas and face the incredible rookie duo of Elliott and Prescott, but do you think Rodgers cares right now who or where he is playing? He just hung 38 on the Giants last week when they had been dominant on defense for much of the 2nd half of the season. Dallas is going to have their hands full on defense, but at the same time, who on the Packers defense is going to stop the Dallas offense? Elliott very well may go for over 150 yards again, and so long as Prescott takes care of the ball as he has all season, this should remain a close game. Dallas will likely look to control the clock and keep Rodgers off the field, while Rodgers will put up as many points as possible. The higher the score, the more this game favors the Packers, but with Jordy Nelson unable to play, the edge has to go to Dallas.

Prediction: Dallas 28 Green Bay 25

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How do you think the games will play out tonight this weekend? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics

National Championship Preview

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the rematch every college football fan has been waiting for. Last year’s national championship between Alabama and Clemson ended in a 45-40 Alabama win. Both teams were simply dominant in the playoff semifinals, Alabama beating Washington 24-7 and Clemson beating Ohio State 31-0. While Alabama comes in as the top team and undefeated at 14-0, against a 13-1 Clemson team, a lot of fans feel Clemson is the team that has what it takes to knock Alabama off their throne.

Let’s rewind to last year’s national championship. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson absolutely shredded Alabama’s defense. Watson put up 40 points behind 405 passing yards and 4 TD’s along with an additional 73 rushing yards. Clemson led last year 24-21 going into the 4th quarter, but their defense wore down and gave up 24 points in the 4th quarter. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney promised Alabama coach Nick Saban they’d be back to meet again in this year’s national championship, and both followed through.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson’s keys to success tonight rest on two major things: Deshaun Watson has to be equally as impressive as last year’s national championship, and the Clemson defense has to play as well as they did vs Ohio State in the playoff semifinal. This does not mean Watson needs almost 500 yards of offense or to put up 40 points again, because that is extremely unlikely. What Watson absolutely must do is protect the ball. Clemson cannot afford to turn the ball over against this Alabama team. If Watson can take care of the ball, sustain drives, and put some points on the board, Clemson will stay close. Look for the Clemson offense to try to spread it out and not allow Alabama's dominant front 7 to control the game. This will allow Watson more room to operate both with his arm and with his legs. Star wide receiver Mike Williams needs to have a big game tonight against Alabama's secondary. Most importantly, the defense must play the entire game this time around. Last year the defense collapsed in the 4th quarter. If they want to win this year they will have to play all 4 quarters. If Alabama scores 45 points again, Clemson has no chance to win.

Alabama’s keys to success also rest on two major things: contain Deshaun Watson and Jalen Hurts and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian must be on the same page. Watson is the only quarterback to have success against Alabama recently, and a lot of that has to do with the threat to run. Alabama must be able to contain Watson and not allow him to beat them with his legs. If there is one weakness on this Alabama defense, it is a mobile quarterback. Look for Alabama’s star linebacker Rueben Foster’s name to be called a lot tonight in trying to stop Watson. Offensively, Alabama has to get better play than they did against Washington in the semifinal. Steve Sarkisian takes over at offensive coordinator for Lane Kiffin, and he must be on the same page as Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Clemson’s defense must be able to contain Hurts and make him beat them by throwing the ball. They needed a similar game plan last week against Ohio State and JT Barrett, and they held Barrett to -2 rushing yards. If they have similar success against Hurts, they’ll have a great chance at holding Alabama’s score down. Look for Alabama to keep things simple for Hurts early to get him into a rhythm. They'll want to control the pace of the game and wont want to get into a shootout with Clemson. Alabama will likely try to play ball control offense and let their defense dominate the game. They want a lower score this time around.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: Watson has some success against Alabama’s defense but not to the level of last year’s game. Clemson’s defense plays all 4 quarters and contains Hurts for the most part but not to the level their defense played last week. Clemson keeps it close for all 4 quarters, but a crucial 4th quarter turnover tips the scale in Alabama’s favor. Final score Alabama 28 Clemson 24

How do you think the game will play out tonight? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics

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