The first half of the 2021-22 NBA season is quickly coming to an end. After an unusual and slightly shorter season last year, things are finally back to normal with a full 82-game season. Of course, the league remains as exciting and unpredictable as ever. As we prepare to take a short breather for the All-Star Game, let’s take a look around the league at what’s happened around the league thus far so we can start looking ahead toward the second half of the season.
Where Do They Stand?
In the Eastern Conference, it looks like a five-team race. The Heat, Bulls, Bucks, Cavaliers, and 76ers are all within a couple of games of one another at the top of the standings. Each is looking good for the playoffs but it figures to be a tough fight for the top seeds down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Raptors, Nets, and Celtics look destined to fight it out for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot. That leaves the Hornets, Hawks, Wizards, and Knicks battling it out for the final two spots in the play-in tournament.
Things look a little different in Western Conference, where it’s the Sun and Warriors and then everyone else. Golden State is within striking distance of the top seed, but the reigning Western Conference champs aren’t going to give up that spot easily. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies and perhaps the Jazz appear to be the only other locks for a playoff spot. The Mavericks, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Clippers, and Lakers are all jumbled together. Granted, all of those teams should at least give themselves a chance in the play-in tournament. But there should be a good fight for the no. 5 and 6 spots. Finally, there should be another good fight for the no. 10 seed and the final spot in the play-in tournament. Even the lowly Rockets have an outside shot at that spot. However, it’ll likely be the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Kings in serious contention for the final play-in spot.
Naturally, injures are bound to play a role in the NBA during the second half of the season. The Clippers have struggled without Kawhi Leonard, who’s likely done for the season. The Cavs, on the other hand, have found a way to stay amongst the top teams in the Eastern Conference despite playing without Collin Sexton. Meanwhile, the Jazz recently lost Joe Ingles to a season-ending injury, which shouldn’t hinder Utah’s chances of making the playoffs but could be a big deal when they get to the postseason.
What to Watch
Coming out of the all-star break, it’ll be interesting to see if some of the surprise trends of the first half of the season can carry over during the full 82-game season. For instance, can Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Mobley continue to help make Cleveland a serious contender in the Eastern Conference? Can the Memphis backcourt of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane help the Grizzlies make the Western Conference a three-team race? Finally, what team will improve itself the most at the trade deadline by making a trade that propels them deep into the playoffs? With more than half a dozen legitimate championship contenders right now, we’ll just have to sit back and watch to learn the answers to these questions.