15 scenarios to follow during the second half of the NBA: will the Lakers participate in the playoffs? How long will James Harden's set of goals last?

The NBA season has been fierce so far, and some monster trading on the deadline seems to have prepared us for an even crazier finish. The stretching series is scheduled to begin Thursday with the return of the teams after the break of the stars. Here are 15 great stories to keep an eye on the rest of the way.

1. Will the Lakers participate in the playoffs?

Before LeBron missed 17 games with this groin injury, the Lakers appeared to be threatening to rank in the top four. They are now 27-28, placing them three eighth overall with 25 games to play against one of the 10 toughest remaining calendars – which includes 13 road games and dates with the Rockets, Nuggets, World Cups. Celtics, Raptors, Thunder, Warriors, Blazers, Clippers and two games against Jazz and Bucks, leader of the East.

To reach 50 wins, the Lakers must go 22-3 against this schedule. Do not happen. To reach 47 years, which seems to be the bare minimum to have a chance to participate in the playoffs, they must go to 19-6, and all that that could mean is a seed number 8 and a first round beaten by the Warriors .

In discussion with a source close to the trade saga Anthony Davis, the Lakers include the Lakers. If other offers failed, they would be willing to offer the same package for AD this summer that they had proposed at the trade deadline. . The league sources with whom I spoke think that the Lakers, regardless of their attitude, will offer the same package, regardless of the type, but if they do not play in the playoffs, they will still more desperate.

All the talk about patience when the Lakers acquired LeBron has always been nonsense. At each stop since his departure from Cleveland in 2010, there are two common certainties: the coach is on the hot seat and the young players are almost immediately on the block. It's always about "now" when you have the best player in the world and, through this goal, not even participate in the playoffs with LeBron James, who made the FINALE EIGHT STRAIGHT NBA (!!!!!!! ) in the East. , would be a stage four disaster for Los Angeles. Luke Walton would almost certainly have left, and these young players might not be far behind even though they can not get an agreement for Davis.

2. How will the summit of the East emerge?

The Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Celtics are the top four teams in the East. But for the moment, Indiana, seeded third at the release, throws a veil on the plan that these four people will meet in the semifinals of the conference. In the current state, the Sixers and Celtics, leading series 4 and 5, should play in the first round, and the loser of this series would have serious questions to ask themselves while the teams would lose their time in free arbitrator.

Would Kyrie really stay in Boston if they went out in the first round? Will Jimmy Butler and / or Tobias Harris leave Philly if the same happens to them? For the Sixers and Celtics, overtaking the Pacers is a major concern. At least make sure you go home in the first round and leave from there.

If we get these four in the semifinals, who has what seed, and therefore a home field advantage in these matches, will be huge. It's almost impossible to separate these four teams, and the slightest detail could be the difference between a second-round exit and a trip to the NBA Finals.

3. Can the Rockets get back to last season's form in no time?

James Harden has kept Houston afloat, but now that Chris Paul is back and Clint Capela is on his way, the Rockets will try to assert themselves as a legitimate title contender that's been the season last. Can they do it? The people of the league with whom I spoke at the All-Star weekend believe that the arrival of Iman Shumpert is the closest to the Rockets in their many attempts to replace Trevor Ariza.

Coming out of the break, Houston moved ahead of Portland for 4th place with only one game in the loss column, giving them a field advantage in the first round. This is the good news. The bad news is that it would probably involve a second-round clash with the Warriors, assuming they remain at the top of the rankings. If the Rockets want to avoid that, they must access the third seed, currently occupied by Oklahoma City with a cushion of four games over Houston.

The most important thing is that Houston manages to regain the pace he got in last season's playoffs on both sides. The defense must be present to try to defeat Golden State. If that happens, most of the league people I've talked to still think that Houston is the biggest threat to the West Warriors.

4. Will Dallas lose enough for the taste of Atlanta?

I recently asked Atlanta Hawks General Manager, Travis Schlenk, which team he would monitor more closely during the last two months of the NBA season: His Hawks, or the Mavericks. He's laughing. I did not answer But somehow. The Mavs are very clearly on Schlenk's radar.

When the Hawks exchanged their rights on Luka Doncic against Trae Young at the repechage night, they did so on behalf of the multiple asset acquisition, the first round choice of Mavs in 2019 being also performed in Atlanta. This choice is protected in the top five, which means that if the Mavericks were in the top five this summer, they would keep it.

In this scenario, the Hawks should settle for Dallas' first-round pick next year, which is likely to be a worse choice. The Mavs should become a much better team with the services of Kristaps Porzingis performing the magic of pick-and-pop. Beside Doncic – not to mention the player, or the combination of players, they are able to sign up with the maximum pay gap that they have freed by exchanging Harrison Barnes to the Kings.

At the moment, the Mavericks should have the 10th choice if the lottery balls fall as expected. Schlenk said the Dallas pick should be the eighth best by Atlanta. So, he has already fallen some. Atlanta can no longer afford to fall. In other words, the Hawks are now in full scoreboard mode, prompting the Mav to lose a lot of games, whereas before they wanted them to lose, but not to the point of risking falling into the top five.

If Dallas were somehow running and falling in the late lottery, it would be a blow for the Hawks. Even though Trae Young has looked in certain areas, Atlanta needs to be at least halfway through the top 10, to be able to give up Doncic, who already looks like an All-Star and is on the way to the superstar.

5. Will the Clippers give priority to their 2019 lottery picks?

The Clippers owe their 2019 first-round pick to the Celtics, EXCEPT if it falls to the lottery, which means they have to miss the playoffs to retain their pick. If they act in this way, it would add to the mass of asset projects that they have acquired in addition to the two maximum salary spaces that they have released. Is it really worthwhile to play in the playoffs just to be strangled by the Warriors in the first round if it means losing a lottery pick?

The first sign that the Clippers are looking to retire from the playoffs and keep that choice is when they traded their best player, Tobias Harris, to the Sixers. The thing is: the Clippers have never been on a player. They were, and still are, about a whole bunch of solids. Danilo Gallinari can get closer to Harris's production. Lou Williams can always win a game on his own. The Clippers will not disappear completely from the map unless they do it on purpose.

Until now, they do not do it. They won two of three games before the all-star break, including a win over Boston. Entering the race, they are eighth in the points classification and are just two games behind the number 6 Jazz.

Anyway, it has real implications. If Boston gets this choice, it's another asset he can throw in New Orleans for Anthony Davis. If the Clippers keep it, they could go after Davis and STILL have two maximum places. Keep an eye on that. My money says that the Clippers know what's best for them and end up retiring from the playoffs, which may well be the break the Lakers need to enter. L.A.'s teams will face the last week of the season. Could this be an effective game? Do not exclude it.

6. How much will Anthony Davis play for pelicans?

It's going to be embarrassing like hell. New Orleans clearly does not want to let Davis suffer a serious injury while it will probably have to trade it this summer for a maximum value, but the league is certainly not going to like it. one of his best players takes good scratches when people paid a lot to see him play. It's a terrible look. Will Davis be limited to one minute? Will he even play hard for the minutes he's going over there? What kind of fictitious injuries will pelicans do to prevent them from entering? It will be funny and clumsy and sad at the same time.

7. Will the Kings put an end to their drought in the playoffs?

If the Clippers argue and it's not the Lakers who take their place, the Kings, who are tied in the loss column for eighth place at the end of the all-star game, are there to participate in the playoffs. Sacramento has not made the playoffs since 2006. The franchise has been a joke going on for a decade. Suddenly, the Kings – led by their nuclear backs from De'air Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, who is one of the few candidates in the lead of the most improved player – constitute one of the most exciting teams in the league. It would be a huge accomplishment to participate in the playoffs, even if it is only a drink in the first round for Golden State. This team is on the rise.

8. The Wild West Wild

After Golden State, there is no second best consensus team in the West. If the Lakers were to enter, the other seven Western playoffs could be reasonably defined as fit for the conference finals. As we enter Thursday's game, there are four games separating the top seeds from 4 to 8, and the way these fights are going to take place will help us a lot in determining who has the best chance to play in the playoffs. Once again, all these teams are there with each other. Some compare better, or worse, with others. Who has home court can separate two teams relatively even. This is going to be a fight for sowing.

The Nuggets have probably built a cushion big enough to feel pretty secure against a seed among the top three. If it stays where it is, it will be No. 1 Warriors and No. 2 Nuggets, the real fight starting at number 3, as this would allow you to avoid Golden State – again, provided that & # 39; They remain at the top of the rankings. – in the second round. The Thunder are currently in 3rd place and have the home run to stay with a three-game lead in the losing column against 4th Portland, but they have a tough schedule ahead.

The race becomes really interesting at No. 4, the last place for the home court of the first round. It could be the Thunder, the Blazers, the Rockets, the Jazz, the Spurs, the Lakers or anyone in the Western playoffs, really. Buckle your belt.

9. The Zion contest

A source close to the trade saga Anthony Davis told CBS Sports that one of the main reasons that the Pelicans refused to reach an agreement is that there is still valuable information on the market, including the choice of number one worldwide. – which could either be used to get a leading player (most people think Duke Zion Williamson), or as a massively valuable chip.

In recent years, the Suns were in pole position to get the No. 1 pick with the worst league record, percentage points worse than the Knicks. But remember, the structure of the lottery has changed. The last three teams now have the same 14% chance of winning choice # 1, reducing the incentive – in theory – to surrender completely to the will.

It does not matter. Suns and Knicks are falling apart. The same goes for the Cavs and the Bulls. If it's not because they're trying, it's simply because they smell bad. Basically, four teams compete for the last three places. We will see who will be punished for having won too much. Which system.

10. Will James Harden win his second best player?

At the end of the break, Bovada.com has Harden as a favorite at -250, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo at +350. It's probably a two-horse race right now, but personally, I would reverse this trend. I think Giannis is the MVP right now. The Bucks are the best team in league record and have been for much of the season. His numbers are off the charts. I can not go far beyond 37% of Harden's mark on 37 points or 44% overall.

I do not think many guys could have an average of 36 points per game, unlike Harden, even though they were shooting as freely as he did. But there are certainly some who could, and these are the same players who were better than Harden before the start of this crazy scoring and they remain better despite this. In this way, none of this changed, which allowed Harden to rank in the hierarchy of the league. That should not guarantee the price.

If the Rockets leave late and find themselves, for example, among the first three heads, given all the injuries they suffered, then Harden will be, and will be, the real winner on the run. But if we are talking about a guy who has won a million strokes to score a million points to end up with the number 6 seed in the West, and Giannis continues to do that. he's doing it to lead the Bucks – the Bucks !!! – for the best basketball record, the prize should be his.

The sleeper in all this is Paul George. As of Tuesday, Bovada has George at +1800. Seriously? This is a serious value for a guy who plays incredible basketball for a team that is about to finish with a seed of the top three. If OKC tries here late and secures second place in the stacked West Conference, and that George continues to kill, it's not unreasonable at all to think that he'll get a serious consideration for the price. I would think of a future prospectus wager here.

11. How long will the Harden 30-point series continue?

At present, Harden has scored at least 30 points in 31 consecutive games, which ties him to Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest series in the history of the NBA. The record, also held by Chamberlain, is 65 in a row. Harden said that Rachel Nichols of ESPN in Charlotte was only a necessity product, that is, that he did not choose to play as he does for a reason other than him. He had to do everything in his power to keep the Rockets afloat when Chris Paul and then Clint Capela were injured. It's hard to argue. The Rockets were out of play when the series started and they are 21-13 since. They climbed to fifth place in the West just after Portland for the home game in the first round.

What will be interesting, is if Harden really adjusts his aggression or how far, Paul being back in training and Capela en route, maybe as early as Thursday, when the Rockets will face the Lakers. Even if Harden reduces his attempts at shooting, his disguise is the factor x. Every night he can easily get to the line 15-20 times. If it's making even 80%, it will not have to accumulate a lot of buckets to reach 30 points relatively easily. This series could last a long time. Say what you want about it, but it's something that many people have never seen in their lives and it's really something to follow the rest of the season.

12. Will Deandre Ayton do the story?

If the season ended now, Ayton would be the only rookie in NBA history to score an average of at least 16 points and 10 rebounds while shooting at least 58% of the field, referring to basketball. If he had to keep these numbers, it would be a kind of success for a guy who was largely overshadowed by fellow rookie sensation, Luka Doncic.

Ayton also has some leeway to ensure this story. If he falls to 56% of the field but keeps his numbers per game at 16 and 10, he will only be joined by Shaquille O Neal, who got a monstrous average of 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds when a successful shot of 562% in 1992. -93. While the Suns continue to lose at a ridiculous pace, it's at least something positive to watch with this team.

13. Can Steph Curry finish in the 50-45-90 club?

Let's be clear, this represents at least 50% of the field, 45% against three and 90% of the line of free throws. Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Curry, who did it in 2015-16 scoring 402 points at 3, have become the single most valuable player in history.

Given the volume and difficulty of Curry shots, this 2015-16 season is probably untouchable. Even for Curry. But it's only his own standard, he's pursuing it now, and even against this bar, he's got another season that's shaking his head. But he must make a slight jump from the last 25 games, both for his overall shooting percentage and for his percentage of 3 points, to join the exclusive club. When he returned to play Thursday, Curry scored 48.8% on the field and 44.4% against three. It has roughly the percentage of free throws blocked at 92.2%.

14. Who will "win" 6 to 8 seeds in the East?

At the end of the break, these places are occupied by the Nets, Hornets and Pistons – the last two not being even 500 teams. Who finishes in these places is only interesting in the sense that a series race is at least slightly interesting, right? In fact, do not answer that.

It's almost comical that the Wizards, after the season they've had, are arguing for a playoff spot at 24-34 and four games from eighth place in the column. losses. Other competitors are Miami (tied with Detroit, No. 8) and Orlando. Seriously, try to contain your excitement as you wonder why, on behalf of all logical things, the NBA has not yet moved to a 1-16 playoff format.

At best, conferences are useless and, in the worst case, harmful to the product and the players. And spare me your speech on tradition and travel. Neither holds back water. In the end, we are looking very realistically at the playoffs WITHOUT LeBron James, Anthony Davis and WITH Hassan Whiteside. Please tell me who wins in this situation. Even Heat fans do not want to watch Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs. Adam Silver must act.

15. Goodbye to Dwyane and Dirk

Wade is retiring for sure, and although Nowitzki has not engaged in one way or another, most people think that he probably did it after that. season too. What a privilege to watch these two guys play. Wade, for my money, is one of the three best shooters of all time – behind Jordan and Kobe – because the actual positions have been a reality for most of his career.

Dirk is one of the most revolutionary players of all time. The real big men shooting like guards changed the game, and many started seriously with Dirk. When these guys finally dress up for their last game, even though Wade may not be able to know that it's his last if the Heat is in playoffs, he can not miss things. This is definitely something to be hoped for and appreciated, although I doubt that any of them will lose 60 points in their final as Kobe did.

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