OPINION: Wide open Eastern Conference highlights NBA’s entertaining first half

Sean Blevins headshot

Sean Blevins

When DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors over the summer, it looked as if this NBA season was over before it started, as the addition of Cousins was the perfect example of the rich getting richer.

And while it looks like the Warriors are well on their way to their third straight finals win, that doesn’t mean this season has been all for naught, as the first half of the NBA season was superbly thrilling and filled with a plethora of amusing storylines.

The Eastern Conference has been incredibly entertaining this year, in part because of the parity caused by LeBron James jettisoning away to the Lakers. The Milwaukee Bucks currently lead the East by a game, but I don’t expect them to keep up this stellar level of play for the rest of the season. I think the Philadelphia 76ers could beat them if they met in the playoffs.

Victor Oladipo’s disheartening injury looks like it will derail the Indiana Pacers’ chances of making a deep run in the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be a shock to me if Indiana finished the regular season as a top-three seed.

Even though they’re sitting at the fifth seed right now, my money is on Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics to win the East in May. The Celtics started out slow but have righted the ship recently and are beginning to finally play at the elite level everyone expected them to. Irving has displayed a lot of maturity and poise as of late, something that he was severely lacking when he was playing alongside LeBron.

If there is one team that could beat Golden State in the Finals, it’s the Celtics. They have an insane amount of depth, something that is an invaluable commodity come playoff time. I have a lot of confidence in Boston, and I believe Kyrie and Boston coach Brad Stevens know what it takes to dethrone the greatest team ever assembled. I am not saying that they’ll beat the Warriors, but they are Golden State’s biggest challenger and could probably take them to six or seven games in June.

The only question in the Western Conference is who the Warriors will be running through on their way to the Finals. I think if the Rockets could ever get healthy and play at their best, they could challenge the Warriors. James Harden has been playing at an absurd level lately, and if he keeps this level of play up he could be on his way to becoming the NBA’s second-ever unanimous MVP.

That said, I think the Rockets championship window might have closed after last season, with the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute serving as the final nail in their proverbial coffin. I’m giving the Thunder and the Lakers a better chance of going further in the playoffs than the Nuggets, despite the fact the Nuggets will probably finish with a better record.  

The only chance the Lakers have of winning multiple playoff series is if they pull off a trade for a big star.

While this iteration of the Warriors is surely one of the greatest teams ever assembled — it’s equal parts sad and awe-inspiring that one team has arguably four of the best players at their positions — I would like nothing more than for someone to beat the Warriors, but at this point I’ll settle for a captivating postseason.

 Sean Blevins is a columnists. Contact him at [email protected].