By Christopher Mediros
Before the start of the NBA all-star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers were sure to send out a warning shot to all thirty teams in the NBA. After one of the biggest trade deadline moves ever sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, Channing Frye and more all to different teams, Cleveland was left with a radical new roster that had to adjust on the fly to prepare for the Celtics game in Boston. In their first big test, Cleveland obliterated Boston with a final score of 121-99. Boston has not been the same team since Marcus Smart punched a picture frame and has been absent for ten games. In addition, Boston made no moves at the trade deadline other than the signing of big man Greg Monroe, who hasn’t quite jelled with his new team yet. With Boston losing Gordon Hayward at the start of their season, they were not pressured into making a move for any one-year rental. After beating the Celtics, Cleveland rolled into Oklahoma City to face off against Russell Westbrook and Paul George and the Thunder. Beating them handily 120-112, Cleveland continued on with the same rallying call they’ve had since Lebron James came back to the Cavs. NBA player Patrick Beverly put it best when he said “Any team with Lebron James on it is a lock to come out of anywhere,” including third place. The Celtics are no longer in first place after losing to both the Cavs and Toronto, with Toronto taking the top spot after the Celtics lost to the Clippers. The Toronto Raptors look like the strongest team in the east after beating down the Celtics, and their bench has beaten more than one team alone. Look for the Raptors to hold on to the top seed in the east as they hold a six game lead over the Cavs, and don’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
The West Conference continues to show that it still reigns when it comes to having the best teams in the NBA. For the first time in three years, the Golden State Warriors are not atop the Western Conference. That title belongs to the Houston Rockets, half a game ahead of the Warriors. Houston reloaded over the summer trading for Chris Paul, and its worked even better than expected. Neither of the top two teams made any moves at the trade deadline, and look for them to trade places at the top of the division for the rest of the season. The San Antonio Spurs continue to be the model of consistency, but it will be interesting to see if they can reach 50 wins without their star Kawhi Leonard. Coach Gregg Popovich continues to coach his talent up like no other, but look for the Spurs to be quiet if Kawhi does not return. Perhaps the team with brightest future ahead of them, the Denver Nuggets and their star center Nikola Jokić, hope to continue to their great play after making a move at the trade deadline trading Emmanuel Mudiay away to the New York Knicks. And maybe the biggest underdog story that looks to make the playoffs is the Utah Jazz. After trading Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson away, the Jazz have continued their hot streak of ten wins in a row, being carried by the best rookie so far in the 2017 draft class, Donovan Mitchell. Look for the Jazz to really make some noise in the NBA playoffs.