We are officially in the final month of the NBA regular season, which wraps up on April 12.
With the playoffs right around the corner and award season heating up, here are five predictions for how the rest of this NBA year will shake out.
LeBron James will take a week off — and still win MVP
J.R. Smith is back, Kevin Love isn't far behind him, and the rest of the NBA is reeling.
March seems like a perfect time for the King to kick up his shoes and take a few games off before he has to carry the Cavs in their title defense this postseason.
Yet I'm guessing MVP voters won't hold a little bit of rest against LeBron when it comes time to pick this year's best player. If anything, Cleveland looking out of sorts without LeBron could add to his case.
Unless Russell Westbrook averages a 30-point triple-double for the rest of the year or Kawhi Leonard leads the Spurs to the NBA's best record despite LaMarcus Aldridge being sidelined, LeBron should win his fifth MVP award this season.
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Russell Westbrook will average a triple-double for the season
That might not feel like a particularly bold prediction, but we're talking about literally one of the rarest feats in NBA history. Just because Westbrook is this amazing doesn't make his potential accomplishment any less stellar.
The Thunder point guard has the points portion of his triple-double wrapped up. Rebounds should be pretty easy, too, as he needs to 8.0 boards per game to tally double-digit boards for the season.
The question is assists, as he's currently at an average of 10.1 per game for the season. Westbrook is averaging 9.0 assists per game in the month of March, and fell below 10 dimes a game in two out of the last three full months. He's 151 assists away from 820 for the year with 16 games left, meaning he needs to average just above 9.4 per game.
I fully expect Russ to do everything in his power to secure that triple-double average, mostly because it's the Thunder's best shot at winning games — but also because he knows what's on the line.
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The Lakers will finally start turning this franchise around
Probability argues against this prediction, but what did math ever do for any of us anyway?
The Lakers are going to end up with the second-worst record in the NBA, they're going to somehow wind up with a top-three pick in the draft, the teams in front of them are going to pass on Lonzo Ball, and the UCLA standout is going to lead Los Angeles back to championship glory as we turn the page into the 2020s — and holy lord, we're so old, everyone.
Joel Embiid will win Rookie of the Year
Dario Saric could derail this prediction if he maintains his current level of play through the final month of the season, but otherwise I'd give the award to Embiid.
To me, Rookie of the Year should go to the most outstanding first-year player in the NBA — and that's clearly Embiid, no matter how many games he missed.
The Warriors will finish with the best record — and win the title
All the hand-wringing over whether Golden State has what it takes to win the title this year is the ultimate proof the NBA season is far too long.
Let's not put too fine a point on this: The Warriors are the most talented team in the Association. They have two of the top-five (or top-10, if you're not a Stephen Curry fan) players on the planet and one of the game's smartest, most versatile stars in Draymond Green.
Assuming Durant is back and healthy for Golden State in time for the second round of the postseason, the Warriors should be considered favorites to win the 2017 title. It won't be easy; I think a Finals rematch against the Cavs is a 55/45 proposition at best for the Dubs. But I still have faith in this team, even if I'm the only one.