NBA Stock Watch: The East Is Heating Up, James Harden Is Cooling Off

It’s All-Star Weekend and most of the NBA is either in New Orleans or settled in on an exotic island somewhere. This is a good opportunity to pause and take a look around as the NBA heads to the home stretch. Stock watch. Let’s go.

UP: The East

The Cavs are still the favorites. It’s important to be clear about that up front. Stupidly talking ourselves into various half-serious East challengers has become a rich tradition of the LeBron era, and it always ends badly. No matter what the Celtics or Wizards do or what Serge Ibaka does in Toronto, LeBron James still plays in Cleveland, and that’s probably all that matters. So there is the disclaimer.

Still… This could get fun. The Celtics and Wizards are hitting on all cylinders, and both could make moves before the trade deadline. The Raptors upgrading to Ibaka took their greatest weakness—the disastrous power forward spot—and made it a strength. Now they can go small with Ibaka and Patrick Patterson, and close games with a lineup that should scare everyone.

Meanwhile, LeBron is playing inhuman minutes at 32 years old, and Kevin Love is out until the playoffs. If Love’s not 100% when he returns, all disclaimers still apply, but the Cavs could be more vulnerable than any LeBron team in years.

It’s not just that Cleveland could be beaten, though. What’s different this year is that we actually have multiple teams talented enough to pose a threat. Usually there’s only one team that tricks basketball fans into thinking they have a chance (the Raptors, the Hawks, those Pacers teams). Now there are actually multiple teams that are worth watching, and there’s real drama across the top four, and it’s not just because of what they may or may not do against Cleveland. Finals run or not, a Celtics-Wizards series could be phenomenal

If it seems like we’ve lowered the bar to congratulate the East, please, that’s not correct. The bar was already low. It’s been so low, for so long, that the prospect of multiple entertaining playoff series feels like a miracle. But now we’re here.

Everyone who lived through the seven game Raptors-Heat rockfight a year ago, rejoice. We may not have to live that life again.

UP: The Warriors

There’s one team in the NBA that’s definitely not upset about LeBron’s life suddenly becoming more complicated, because you know, the Warriors deserved to have a couple things break their way.

The longer this season goes, the wider the gap seems between Golden State and every other team in the league. If they stay healthy, they’re winning in June.

For now, this picture explains everything:

DOWN: The Pacers

Beginning at the end of January, the Pacers won seven straight games, and it looked like they were turning the season around. Granted, most of those wins came against sub-.500 teams, but there were wins against the Rockets and Thunder sprinkled in. It was progress. It was hope. Was it real?

The test was supposed to come through the first two weeks in February, with four games against the Cavs and Wizards, plus home games against the Bucks and Spurs. The Pacers went 0–6, heading into the All-Star Break with last night’s double-digit loss to the Wizards.

We’re not quite…