NBA: Picking up from where it left off in 2016

What does 2017 have in store for us? With a few months of the regular season having gone by, many interesting plots have developed. Here are some of the most intriguing ones to follow.

Russell Westbrook... a phenomenal triple-double across scoring, rebounds and assists categories while leading the League in scoring and coming second best in assists.   -  AP

San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan speaks to fans during his jersey retirement ceremony on December 10, 2016. The absence of Duncan, who retired from the game during the recent off-season, is a major challenge for the Spurs in their quest for a place in the Playoffs.   -  AP

What an exciting 2016 it was for NBA fans, what with the Golden State Warriors’ historic 73-9 stand, Stephen Curry’s unanimous MVP award and LeBron James leading Cleveland Cavaliers to their first pro sports title in 52 years. The 2016-17 season, too, started off with a bang, courtesy Russell Westbrook’s insane triple-doubles, James Harden’s metamorphosis into a scoring point-guard par excellence, and the even more deadly Golden State Warriors’ acquisition of Kevin Durant.

So what does 2017 have in store for us? With a few months of the regular season having gone by, many interesting plots have developed. Here are some of the most intriguing ones to follow:

Can the Clippers break the jinx?

The Los Angeles Clippers have made it to the Playoffs over the last few years, but they are yet to make it to the Western Conference Finals, or beyond. They have showcased their intentions by assembling a good crop of players over the last few seasons, getting Doc Rivers to helm the side, but have somehow come apart during playoff time. This season, too, they started well, going 14-2, but injuries have now left them struggling. Should the Clippers do any worse than making it to the 2017 Western Conference Finals, there is a chance that the franchise may head for a dramatic makeover in the 2017 off-season.

How many triple-doubles will Westbrook have this season?

At the time of writing this piece, Russell Westbrook has already accumulated 15 triple-doubles, three fewer than the 18 he tallied all of last season. He is averaging a phenomenal triple-double across scoring, rebounding and assists categories while leading the League in scoring and coming in second best in assists. Even with Kevin Durant’s exit from the franchise, few expected this kind of a dominating display by Westbrook. Just how many more triple-doubles will he post, makes every Oklahoma City game worth the watch.

 

San Antonio after Tim Duncan

The 2017 postseason should see San Antonio make yet another Playoffs appearance. But this will be the first time in 16 years that the Spurs will look to make their Playoffs push without the services of a certain Timothy Theodore Duncan. The Spurs legend bid adieu to the game in the recent off-season and had his jersey retired by the franchise just a few weeks ago. The Spurs seemed to have moved on, what with the second best regular season record in the Western Conference standings and the best road record two months into the regular season. But the Playoffs are a different affair. And playing without the championship steel of Duncan is a void that the Spurs will be challenged to overcome. How they deal with it should be interesting.

James Harden for MVP?

If there is one player who can derail Westbrook’s MVP season, it is former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mate James Harden. Currently playing for the Houston Rockets, Harden has fit seamlessly into the point-guard role given to him by new head coach Mike D’Antoni.

He leads the league in assists (this for someone who averaged 1.8 apg in his rookie NBA season) while averaging 27.7 ppg and has the Rockets among the top four in the Western Conference. He has 26 double-doubles in 2016-17 when he had 23 all of last season. Harden has tallied six triple-doubles in the last couple of months, when he had nine in total in the previous seven NBA seasons.

Two seasons ago, Harden finished behind Stephen Curry in the 2015 MVP race. With the Rockets feeding off his sizzling play this season, Harden would be keen to win his first MVP award.

Will Cleveland and Golden State meet again in the Finals?

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have clashed in June over the last couple of years, with both NBA Finals being riveting. Golden State beat Cleveland in six games in 2015, while Cleveland won in seven in 2016. The two teams also served up a lip-smacking encounter on Christmas Day.

The Christmas Day match-up had it all: terrific individual performances by James, Kyrie Irving, Durant and Klay Thompson, with the game itself being decided in the final few seconds on the back of a heroic play by Irving.

The path to the Finals won’t be easy for either team, but should they get there, it will most certainly be an intriguing clash, and fans across the basketball universe can most certainly expect a spectacle for the ages.