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Bold predictions for second half of NBA season

Matt Johnson

The NBA schedule kicks off Thursday and the second half of the 2021-’22 season promises to be thrilling. From award races to teams battling for playoff spots and conference positioning, the intensity will be far greater than before.

We’ve touched on the top NBA storylines fans will be following after the All-Star Break and they will all impact the final standings. From the Chris Paul injury to the on-court impact of the James Harden and Ben Simmons trade, the remainder of the regular season is going to feel very different.

Fans will also be keeping a close eye on the award races with NBA MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year and the playoff seedings all determined in the upcoming weeks.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into our bold predictions for the second half of the 2021-’22 season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo wins MVP

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The latest odds certainly favor Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic to take home MVP honors and both players are deserving. However, the two superstars also have factors working against them that might swing the final vote. It’s why we’re looking elsewhere for our MVP pick.

Embiid is the MVP pick right now, but that’s likely going to change. Like it or not, Harden’s arrival is going to hurt Embiid’s overall production and it’s going to take time for these two stars to gel. Harden also seems to be in a place where he both wants to be the star and he also doesn’t want to do everything. He’s likely going to try and force it early in Philadelphia, taking away from an absolutely dominant season from Embiid. This isn’t to say there can’t be a long-term fit, but friction in the adjustment period will hurt Embiid’s MVP standing.

As for Jokic, the case against him really isn’t his fault. Back-to-back MVP winners happen, but it takes extraordinary circumstances due to voter fatigue and it still feels like Denver’s star doesn’t have universal respect to overcome that. He’s arguably playing better than last season, but Denver being the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and Jokic not being elite defensively might swing voters.

It leaves us with Antetokounmpo. he received the consensus appreciation from MVP voters after winning the NBA Finals. He’s also arguably the best candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, all while averaging 29.4 ppg and making tremendous strides at the free-throw line. All of those things matter and Milwaukee winning the No. 1 seed might earn him a third MVP award.

Brooklyn Nets earn No. 2 seed in Eastern Conference

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If the NBA playoffs started right now, the Brooklyn Nets would participate in the play-in tournament. That’s not where this organization expected to be entering the year. Fortunately, Simmons and Kevin Durant are returning.

Durant, an MVP candidate before the injury, already makes Brooklyn one of the best teams in the league. Now add Simmons into the mix, who provides the versatile defense, rebounding and passing that the Nets wanted alongside Durant and Kyrie Irving. Simmons excels in the transition offense and having two elite shooters in Durant and Irving pairs with him perfectly.

Related: 50 Top NBA players of 2022 – Stephen Curry leads the charge after brilliant season

Frankly, Brooklyn could make a push for the No. 1 seed. It just all comes down to exactly when New York City lifts its vaccine mandate and allows Irving to play home games. Because it isn’t happening immediately and due to the level Antetokounmpo is playing at right now, we’ll pick the Nets to finish right behind the Bucks. It will all set up for a fantastic series in the Eastern Conference Finals.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings last appeared in the playoffs in 2006. Putting that drought in perspective, Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett led the NBA in rebounds, Steve Nash led the league in assists for the Phoenix Suns and Shaquille O’Neal still played for the Miami Heat.

There’s a season the Kings traded Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis. It likely will be a long-term loss for the franchise, but this team is desperate to snap its playoff drought. Sacramento came out of All-Star Weekend 3.5 games back of the No. 10 seed for the final play-in game spot.

A team with Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barmes can surpass the Trail Blazers and there’s an argument they are a better team than the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans. The Kings also have a lot more depth than before, using a bench that includes Jeremy Lamb, Richaun Holmes, Donte DiVincenzo and Justin Holiday.

Facing an easier remaining schedule than the Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento can snag a spot in the play-in tournament.

Zion Williamson never plays again for the New Orleans Pelicans

NBA: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson’s last appearance in an NBA game came on April 4, 2021. He dominated in his second season, demonstrating the talent to be a superstar. The New Orleans Pelicans had plenty of reasons to be excited entering the summer, but foot surgery derailed everything.

Everything derailed after that moment. Williamson completely missed even the most pessimistic timelines for a return, suffering setbacks and drawing scrutiny over his increased weight. New Orleans dug itself out from the bottom of the NBA standings, climbing back into playoff contention. Unfortunately, buying even more time hasn’t made a difference for Williamson’s potential return.

The writing is on the wall. When JJ Redick – a Duke alum with his own issues related to Pelicans’ executive David Griffin – calls Williamson out in support of the franchise, that’s an alarming sign. It’s evident that Willson doesn’t want to be in New Orleans anymore. Not only will we not see him play for the Pelicans this season, he’ll likely demand a trade this offseason and never suit up for the franchise again.

Los Angeles Lakers clean house after missing playoffs

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Media Day
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty of blame to go around with the Los Angeles Lakers. Anthony Davis is proving not only that he can’t stay healthy across a full NBA season, but that he also can’t handle being the star of a team. As for Rob Pelinka and Frank Vogel, both have done inadequate jobs in the past year. LeBron James, the person arguably most responsible for the construction of the current roster, also deserves a lot of criticism.

Maybe the Lakers make the play-in tournament and are labeled the team no one wants to face. However, we’ve seen nothing from the Lakers to suggest they’ll deliver when things matter. This is a mediocre team with worse coaching and a bad front office. When the season ends, we expect the Lakers to part ways with Vogel and Pelinka. LeBron will stick around, but only for one more season.