Followers and media alike historically deal with the All-Star break as the midpoint of the NBA season, however thanks to the league’s changes to the calendar lately, the precise midpoint comes a lot sooner. In reality, after tonight, each staff could have performed at the least 41 video games, greater than a month earlier than the All-Star festivities in Charlotte, North Carolina.
So with that in thoughts, we glance forward to the largest storylines to watch for the second half of the season, whether or not your staff has championship aspirations or has already circled the draft lottery on the calendar.
Extra West standings mayhem
Issues aren’t fairly as compressed high to backside as they had been only a few weeks in the past, however the West remains to be very a lot a 14-team race for eight playoff spots. The Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors have created a little bit of a cushion for themselves above the remainder of the convention, however the third-place Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder and eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers are separated by simply Three video games heading into Saturday. Three video games additionally separate the eighth-place Lakers from the 14th-place Grizzlies. One prolonged successful or dropping streak by any of these groups might see an entire upheaval of the convention standings.
The tightness of the race signifies that any recreation between two West groups in the season’s second half is virtually a must-win, not solely to assist your personal playoff hopes, however to damage these of your opponent. And selecting up wins in opposition to the few non-playoff contenders in the league — the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns — is crucial.
Right here is how BPI sees issues taking part in out:
The East race is down to 5
In contrast with the West, the Jap Convention has issues found out for the time being, at the least when it comes to the battle for residence court docket in the first spherical of the playoffs. 5 groups — the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics — are at the moment preventing for the high 4 spots. This is a take a look at the place BPI initiatives every of the convention’s high groups:
The race for the No. 1 choose
Byron Scott, Chiney Ogwumike and Amin Elhassan react to Duke star Zion Williamson saying he hates being categorized as a dunker.
With an thrilling 2019 draft class headlined by Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, the NBA’s basement dwellers are already placing themselves in place for a excessive lottery choose. This is a take a look at the race to the backside as the NBA hits the midway level, in accordance to ESPN BPI:
Draft protections to watch
Cleveland will ship its choose to Atlanta if it falls outdoors the high 10
Dallas will ship its choose to Atlanta if it falls outdoors the high 5
Memphis will ship its choose to Boston if it falls outdoors the high eight
LA Clippers will ship their choose to Boston if it falls outdoors the lottery
Denver will ship its choose to Brooklyn if it falls outdoors the high 12
Will James Harden repeat as MVP?
Jay Williams explains why he thinks James Harden is main the MVP race regardless of dropping to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks Wednesday evening.
Early in the season, it seemed like the Houston Rockets may miss the playoffs, as James Harden slumped following his MVP season of a yr in the past. That is in the distant previous now, as Harden has been on a sizzling streak not seen since the days of younger Kobe and T-Mac.
Harden’s numbers for the previous 15 video games, a run that began when he dropped 50 factors on the Lakers final month, seem like one thing out of a online game: 40.5 PPG, 7.Three RPG, 9.5 APG whereas taking pictures 40.5 % from past the arc and 88.6 % from the line (on 13.5 free throw makes an attempt per recreation). Harden is simply the fifth participant in NBA historical past to rating at the least 30 factors in 15 consecutive video games. He is already set the Rockets’ single-season file for 40-point video games with 13 (together with the 43 he scored in opposition to the Cavaliers in simply 30 minutes Friday evening), and he is had 4 40-point triple-doubles this season; the whole remainder of the NBA has mixed for one. Maybe extra essential than Harden’s particular person numbers is the Rockets’ staff success. Houston has gone 12-Three throughout Harden’s 30-point scoring streak, regardless of being with out Chris Paul for the final 10 of these video games.
As for the MVP trophy itself — one Harden lately declared was coming again to him — there’s loads of competitors. Giannis Antetokounmpo is dominating the paint in a approach not seen since Shaquille O’Neal’s prime and main the Bucks to the high of the East in the course of. Former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has made the Raptors’ wager in buying and selling for him repay. Paul George is trying increasingly like the league-leading two-way participant he was on monitor to be in Indiana earlier than his devastating leg damage. After which there are former MVP winners LeBron James and Stephen Curry, each of whom may’ve missed an excessive amount of time with accidents, however have performed like MVPs once they’ve been on the court docket.
Westbrook’s triple-double triple play
Russell Westbrook’s offensive points have been well-documented this season, however the 2016-17 MVP is but once more averaging a triple-double (21.2 PPG, 10.Three APG, 10.eight RPG). That season, Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson as the solely different participant in historical past to common a triple-double for a complete season. He then repeated the feat final season for the Thunder.
Can Russ do it once more? As his soar shot comes and goes this season, Westbrook has been selecting it up in different areas to hold OKC close to the high of the West and the “triple-triple” pursuit intact.
The return of Boogie Cousins
With DeMarcus Cousins set to make his debut for the Warriors, try what he brings to the Bay Space.
For all the hand-wringing after the two-time defending champion Warriors signed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in July, we have nonetheless but to see Cousins play a minute in a Warriors uniform. That may change subsequent week, when Cousins makes his season debut in opposition to the LA Clippers. Nevertheless, it stays to be seen simply how efficient the massive man might be, after not having performed for almost a yr due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. The monitor file for gamers coming back from that damage is not nice, and Cousins may be the largest participant, bodily, to try such a comeback.
Assuming he may be efficient, Cousins arrives simply in time for a Warriors staff that trails the Denver Nuggets for the high spot in the West, and has ranked amongst the NBA’s worst groups when it comes to manufacturing from the beginning heart place. Including to the relative ineffectiveness of Damian Jones (who’s now out with a torn pectoral muscle), Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell is the proven fact that Draymond Inexperienced has been in a season-long stoop that has seen his scoring dip to rookie-year ranges. So Cousins, who has averaged at the least 22 factors per recreation in every of his previous 5 seasons, might be a welcome addition to Golden State’s lineup.
Is LeBron’s postseason streak at risk?
Jalen Rose breaks down why having a tricky remaining schedule is not a lot of an element for the Lakers.
Whereas his NBA Finals streak — eight years and counting — will get all the consideration, LeBron James hasn’t missed the postseason completely since 2004-05. That was his second yr in the league, when his Cavaliers completed in a tie for eighth in the East with the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets, however misplaced the tiebreaker, forcing James to wait till 2006 to make his playoff debut. He hasn’t missed the playoffs since, and in reality has superior to the second spherical for 13 consecutive years. Whether or not that streak comes to an finish this yr may rely upon how soon James returns from his groin damage. He has missed the Lakers’ previous 9 video games and can sit out at the least two extra. L.A. was in fourth in the West prior to his damage and has slid all the approach to eighth in his absence.
It is not unprecedented for a star like James to miss the playoffs in his prime, even in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant’s 2004-05 Lakers staff failed to qualify for the postseason, as did the 1975-76 staff led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his first season with the Lakers.
Commerce deadline and buyout market
Stephen A. Smith explains why Anthony Davis could have to demand a commerce from the Pelicans if he desires an opportunity at carrying a Lakers uniform earlier than 2020.
It might sound arduous to imagine, since the calendar simply turned to 2019, however the commerce deadline is lower than 4 weeks away. Groups have already been lively in the commerce market, thanks partially to a compressed Western Convention that has 14 groups separated by lower than 10 video games.
The title everybody might be watching, even when he is unlikely to transfer, is Anthony Davis. The Pelicans massive man has been linked to the Lakers, Celtics and even Warriors — regardless that he does not develop into a free agent till 2020 and could possibly be eligible for a supermax extension this summer time. No matter Davis’ availability, if LeBron and the Lakers really really feel they’re at risk of lacking the playoffs, do not count on them to let February go by with out making a transfer.
In the East, the Celtics, who might doubtlessly have as many as 4 first-round picks in the 2019 draft, have each the belongings and the motivation to make a transfer. Kevin Love turns into commerce eligible on Jan. 24, and with the Cavs far, far out of playoff rivalry, they could look to transfer him to a contender that wants taking pictures. Jimmy Butler, who has already been dealt as soon as this season, could possibly be on the transfer once more if the 76ers determine he isn’t becoming in with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Talking of the 76ers, there’s additionally little readability on the way forward for Markelle Fultz, who might find yourself needing a commerce to get a contemporary begin. And if the Wizards determine to blow issues up, hold an eye fixed not solely on All-Star Bradley Beal, however position gamers Jeff Inexperienced, Markieff Morris and Trevor Ariza, who like Butler has already switched groups this season.
For groups that do not make a commerce, there’s at all times the choice to enhance by the veteran buyout market, with exiled gamers like Carmelo Anthony, Chandler Parsons and J.R. Smith — all of whom are additionally candidates to be traded — seemingly to find yourself obtainable to doubtlessly assist a contender. Different buyout candidates who’re truly contributing to their groups at the moment to some extent embody Hawks Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter, massive males Robin Lopez and Enes Kanter, and the Mavs’ duo of DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews, if Dallas falls out of the playoff race by late February.
One final word to groups: Please keep in mind to verify each the first and final title of the participant you’re buying and selling for.
All-Star 2019 in Charlotte
This time, the revolution might be televised.
Not like final season’s debut of the playground-style format, which did not reveal the picks made by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry till hours later, followers will get to witness each choice play out reside on TNT. Friendships might be challenged and emotions might be damage — actuality TV at its most interesting. As of now, James would repeat as captain — this time representing the Western Convention — whereas Giannis Antetokounmpo is on monitor to be the high vote-getter from the East. The 2 would then draft, first selecting from the pool of starters earlier than shifting on to the reserves, and the respective groups would face off on All-Star Sunday. A yr in the past, Staff LeBron beat Staff Stephen, thanks to some clutch last-second protection from James and Curry’s Warriors teammate Kevin Durant.
Key All-Star dates
Jan. 24: All-Star starters introduced
Jan. 31: All-Star reserves introduced
Feb. 15: Rising Stars, Celeb recreation
Feb. 16: All-Star Saturday evening (expertise, 3s, dunk contests)
Feb. 17: 2019 NBA All-Star Sport
Milestones to watch
Some future Corridor of Famers are chasing historical past in the second half. And sure, LeBron has fairly a number of greats on his radar:
LeBron James: 327 factors away from passing Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring listing; 74 assists away from passing Andre Miller for 10th; Three triple-doubles away from passing Wilt Chamberlain for fifth most all-time; 36 steals away from passing Kobe Bryant for 15th all-time; 2 Three-pointers away from passing Steve Nash for 19th on the all-time listing
Dirk Nowitzki: 189 factors away from passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the all-time scoring listing
Vince Carter: 51 factors away from passing Jerry West for 21st on the all-time scoring listing; 16 Three-pointers from passing Jamal Crawford for sixth on the all-time listing
Chris Paul: 51 assists away from passing Gary Payton for eighth most in NBA historical past; 14 steals away from passing Mookie Blaylock for 11th on the all-time listing
D-Wade’s farewell tour
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hug it out then swap jerseys after the Lakers beat the Warmth in the pals’ final matchup.
Each Miami Warmth recreation might be an occasion, as the music fades on Dwyane Wade’s “One Final Dance.” He’s retiring after the season — as is longtime Warmth teammate Udonis Haslem — and his farewell tour has included some classic moments, some unimaginable receptions round the league and loads of jersey swapping. Listed below are the noteworthy regular-season video games remaining in Wade’s 16th and last NBA season:
Jan. 19: Warmth at Bulls (Wade’s last recreation in his hometown of Chicago)
Feb. 13: Warmth at Mavericks (last recreation in Dallas, the place Wade won his first Finals)
March 22: Warmth at Bucks (last regular-season recreation in Milwaukee; Wade performed two seasons at Marquette)
April Three: Celtics at Warmth (last regular-season recreation in opposition to Celtics; he confronted Boston 4 instances in the playoffs)
April 9: 76ers at Warmth (last regular-season residence recreation)
April 10: Warmth at Nets (last regular-season recreation)