The All-Star break is over, which means NBA teams are gearing up for the second half of the season. Fortunes can change quickly in the second half, with mediocre teams getting back into contention, or surprise teams falling back down to earth. One of those surprising teams earlier in the season is the Chicago Bulls, who have exceeded expectations during the first half of the NBA season with a 16-18 record. Now that doesn’t seem like something to celebrate at first glance, but it most certainly is for the Bulls. They were horrific last year under head coach Jim Boylen, who seemed to be lost coaching a young team. New coach Billy Donovan has breathed life into the organization and its players, who are playing harder and much better this season.
A couple of teams have been disappointing to start the year, but are poised for a turnaround here in the second half. Sometimes things just don’t click and run smoothly out of the gate, or maybe guys that were hot the previous year cooled off after some time off and needed to get their feet wet. Whatever the reason may be, there are a few teams to keep your eye on over the rest of the season who are getting healthier.
When it comes to playing competitive basketball, the Bulls have gone from an F to an A if you were to give them a grade for their performances. In a pretty pathetic Eastern Conference, Chicago should be able to maintain its position within the East, or even move up when other teams start to falter.
The Bulls have the third-highest point differential relative to their average Vegas spread. Basically, that means that they have been making oddsmakers look like fools by crushing the books and performing much higher than projected.
You may not know it, but the Bulls have actually turned into a pretty decent defensive team as of late. They rank ninth in the league in points given up per possession over the past month, which is a dramatic improvement from 27th, which is what they were before. They have been making every team earn their points on each possession, which is much more than we could have asked for or expected out of this squad.
To go with that improving defense, Zach LaVine was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. He has been playing lights out offensively, scoring points in buckets and propelling the Bulls to many victories.
Chicago does have one of the hardest schedules in the second half of the season, sixth hardest according to OddsShark. You can expect there to be at least some regression in their spread-beating prowess, but they have played above expectations all season long, and they should be able to keep doing so as long as everyone stays healthy.
You can find the Bulls currently at DraftKings to make the playoffs at +310. If the Bulls manage to stay in it long enough to make a play-in game, their chances of making the playoffs are pretty high.
If you haven’t heard, the Nuggets have been struggling this year so far. They haven’t been bad, per se, as they have a winning record. Just disappointing after last year’s run to the Western Conference Final. The Nugs have a legitimate MVP candidate in C Nikola Jokic, who has been dominating through the first half.
However, it’s Denver’s other star that we should be keeping our eye on. Over his last 15 games, PG Jamal Murray is averaging over 25 points on an insane 52/44/90 split. He has struggled with injuries so far this year and hasn’t been able to live up to expectations after his bubble run in last year’s playoffs. But he’s been on fire lately and seems to have found that guy that stunned us all a season ago.
The Nuggets, like the Bulls, have also been better on the defensive end recently. They rank 16th in the league, which is the middle of the pack, but it is an improvement. The schedule will get easier for Denver over the second half, so we should see an increase in these stats.
Denver is currently sitting in the sixth seed in the West, and they are only two games out of fourth. With the Nuggets having the fifth easiest schedule out of the All-Star break, expect them to come roaring back to life.
The Celtics have not looked pretty to start the season. They have been getting crushed on the glass, giving up a ton of points in the paint, and getting out-rebounded almost nightly. They need someone in the middle who can play some defense and grab rebounds at a high rate.
Enter Andre Drummond. If the Celtics manage to acquire him from the Cleveland Cavaliers or pick him up after he would get bought out, it would instantly improve their team down low. Boston has the ability to do so, and I believe Danny Ainge does something before the trade deadline.
All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown have been spectacular this season. Tatum has been averaging 24.9 PPG, while Brown is right behind him at 24.7. The health of PG Kemba Walker has been a huge issue to start this season, as he hasn’t been able to stay on the court for the Celtics. However, he has been playing more recently and is still getting back into the groove of things.
The same issue can be said about Marcus Smart, the Celtic’s terrific defender, and all-around player. His return will be a welcome one as the second half starts, as they need a lockdown guy upfront since they cannot seem to guard the paint.
Boston also has an easier schedule in the second half than they did in the first. With the East being so poor overall, it would be easy to see them coming back and making a top-3 seed. OddsShark gives them the 13th easiest remaining schedule in basketball.
I’m not saying the Celtics are surely going to make a trade to improve their team, but it is very possible. With the return of Smart and Walker and the possibility of an improvement down low, Boston should be able to make a run down the stretch.