NBA Take Meter: The Stretch Run, Part One

Only one quarter of the 2018-19 NBA season remains. What is there to understand? Our staff dissects the most pressing catches before the start of the playoffs. (Part II will be held on Thursday.)

1. The Lakers will miss the playoffs.

A. Tattoo the hold on the back of my calf.
B. As here for Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
RE. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. Anthony Davis is in New Orleans.

Dan Devine: (C) I was in the "barely believable" camp when we first raised this issue in October, with a major caveat: "Unless it's the year LeBron ceases to be indestructible. "Thanks to a nasty groin injury, James is now at 18 games missed and counting, and the Lakers are under the .500 mark and three games on the eighth seeded with 25 games to go in. If I had to bet one way or another, I was going to lean for LeBron to come back from the All-Star refueled team for a race that could push the Lakers beyond the Kings. and Clippers among the top 8. I would prefer that your salary be mine.

Kevin O'Connor: (C) The Lakers would be "a little privately a bit worried" because LeBron may not be completely cured of his groin strain and that he might not be able to push the # 39 team to participate in the playoffs. This is a very good concern: if Ken Griffey Jr. was not immune to the injuries that derailed his 30 years, LeBron is not immune either. However, the only thing that would prevent the Lakers from playing in the playoffs against the Kings or Clippers would be LeBron's absence. If LeBron plays, the Lakers are present.

Justin Verrier: (D) The strong hope is that kings come in, if only to restore karmic balance in the universe. But James has almost as many consecutive games in the playoffs (13) as the top five players in the Kings total this season (Buddy Hield, De-Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nemanja Bjelica, Bogdan Bogdanovic) have combined seasons . (15). I think he'll be fine.

Zach Kram: (B) I believe in maths.

Danny Chau: (C) LeBron must bow to the numbers in front of him at one point, right? The Lakers have one of the 10 toughest schedules in the league, and nearly half of them are on the road, where they have a winning percentage of .414. The King has averaged a triple-double in all five games since returning from injury to the groin, but with a young team swept away by a wave of psychological mutilations caused by the delay, a serious series of playoffs with this team could be one of the most painful. James's career endeavors.

Haley O'Shaughnessy: (C) Here are some important rankings for the Lakers, Clippers and Kings, the three closest teams to the eighth seeded in the West: The Clippers rank eighth in the West with the 23rd With the schedule remaining the toughest, the Kings are ninth (one game back) with the 21st remaining toughest program, and the Lakers rank 10th (three games back) with the ninth most difficult schedule. The Lakers seem to be a significant disadvantage, but the game levels when you consider the playoff experience of each team. Sacramento exchanged for Harrison Barnes before the deadline, which gave them a player who started for a championship team but is no longer a player of caliber. Doc Rivers did not have a clear link with Tobias Harris on the list; now that Harris is gone, the Clippers are even more likely to disappear prematurely. Then there are the Lakers, who have LeBron James, a man who has fooled his skeptics many times. If James can capitalize on two teams, it's those who have little experience in the playoffs and stars in the making, although not yet adults. That is, if James returns to the game, that is to say something other than a player who passes over the pass and delegating the shots to Kyle Kuzma, after the break of the match of the stars.

Jonathan Tjarks: (D) It all depends on LeBron. He will have to play as he did in Cleveland last season, when he did not miss a match and was a one man offensive machine. I believe that he has it in him. But we still have to see him in Los Angeles.

Paolo Uggetti: (C) That this is a legitimate question. 57 games since the start of the Lakers season crystallize what LeBron's maiden trip to LeBron's roller coaster was in LA Three games separate the Lakers and Clippers, the current group of eight seeded, but this last team exchanged his best player. The Kings, meanwhile, have only one game late and have the most difficult schedule they have left to live. The Lakers have the ninth most difficult schedule left and have not improved much at the trade deadline. This is the moment of LeBron-or-bust.

2. If James Harden averages 37 points per game, he is the most valuable player.

A. Tattoo the hold on the back of my calf.
B. As here for Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
RE. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. Anthony Davis is in New Orleans.

Houston Rockets - Phoenix Suns

Photo of Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Hot: (A) The Beard will have to score on average more than 38 points per game in each of the Rockets' last 25 games to beat Michael Jordan's modern record with an average of 37.1 points per game, a record since Wilt Chamberlain in the years 60. At one point, history cancels victories in the MVP race; For Harden to win his second consecutive trophy, he will have to cross the same threshold that his former teammate, Russell Westbrook, had crossed in 2017. Nothing less leaves room for doubt.

Tjarks: (C) As impressive as Harden's offensive fireworks are, a new king has risen to the east. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best full NBA player outside Golden State. That's his price to lose. What Harden will not really matter if Giannis continues in this direction.

Uggetti: (A) If we give a player a player par excellence because of counting statistics, as we did in 2016-17 with Westbrook, we certainly should not deny another player a second player par excellence it's marked at a level that has not been reached. has been seen since Michael Jordan in 1986-87. With the return of Chris Paul and the return of Clint Capela to the return of his injury, Harden's scores will certainly fall, but it will be difficult to remember this season for anything other than his stifling course. If he stays above 35 points per game, he should be the most useful player.

O & # 39; Connor: (C) I doubt that the voters will reward James Harden of the MVP when Giannis will lead the first team of the East and so many people find the season centered on Harden's disgusting isolation. Personally, I find the game of Harden innovative and beautiful, but the case of Giannis is solid.

Kram: (D) The last player to achieve an average of 37 points was Jordan in 1986-1987, who lost the MVP's race to a multipositions threat, averaging 24 points, 12 assists and six rebounds per game on a team of 65 wins best record. So, if Jordan is the Harden in this analogy, Magic Johnson is Giannis – a multipositions threat that averages 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists per game on a team destined for more than 60 wins and the best league record . Harden could win, but breaking the 36-point barrier at 37 will not win him the trophy.

O'Shaughnessy: (C) One player averaged 37 or more points in a season five times, and of those five players he only won the MVP award once: Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-1960. Chamberlain scored four goals (five, if you finish his 1963-1964 season with an average of 36.85, and Oscar Robertson winning the MVP title) and Michael Jordan once, in 1986-1987, which earned Magic Johnson to win the MVP first prize. But this generation is more likely to be blown away by what Harden is doing (currently at 36.59 points per game); It has been more than 30 years since we have seen such a goal, and we have never seen such a roadblock go by as much as three points. Harden has a historic season, but two factors could separate him from the award: the media market in Houston will not have one of the 100 media league ballots because the NBA has decided two years ago to withdraw votes from media managed by teams; the Rockets, at 33-24, have a much worse record than the teams of other MVP contenders; and finally, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The unicorn of the Bucks adds 1.4 blocks and 1.4 flying with his line 27-13-6, and he is the deciding factor for a team with a record of 43-14 which is the first in the East. A difficult break for the beard.

Verrier: (C) I think it's a travesty if we allow the stench of Westbrook's victory from two years ago to reduce one of the biggest individual achievements of the sport over the last three decades. That said: (1) Harden is unlikely to maintain this historical pace and (2) I do not appreciate Harden's recent attempt to qualify his drinking points as altruistic. Hitting a 3 with 52.9 seconds to go after a possible 16-point win to extend your run is not something you "had to do because of our situation".

Guess: (E) I've already talked about it in my "All-Star" column on the Most Valuable Player's Run: Of the seven cases in the history of the NBA in which a player has had an average of goals in a season higher than that of Harden, only one player was rewarded. with a trophy MVP (Chamberlain in 1959-1960).

The others have all lost to a player from a better team with a better record … like, for example, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the 43-14 year old Milwaukee Bucks. Harden absolutely could always win, but reaching a certain score threshold will not be a fait accompli. (Unless it happens to, like, 40.)

3. The Sixers are the best team in the East.

A. Tattoo the hold on the back of my calf.
B. As here for Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
RE. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. Anthony Davis is in New Orleans.

O'Shaughnessy: (B) When Philadelphia added Jimmy Butler, the best possible result was that he, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were able to find their own positions in the offensive, although everyone needed a place in the painting. The Sixers found themselves in the last row of the East even though Butler took the amount of 3s that Brett Brown wanted and with their three stars obstructing the paint. But acquiring Tobias Harris mitigates some of these weaknesses: Harris draws 43% of the depth, which leaves the offensive more leeway and is a more than competent ball handler in the pick-and-roll : Prior to his craft, Harris was, as noted by Tom Haberstroh, of NBC Sports, the league's eighth most efficient player this season in this role (minimum 250 games). The question of whether the Sixers will be the best team in the playoffs is however a separate issue with a different answer: Simmons and Embiid have only two series to their credit, the second of which was a complete failure exposing their weaknesses ; and they could be tripled against the wrong match in a best-of-seven scenario.

Kram: (E) Here is a list of all Easian Conference teams with a higher point-per-game differential than Bucks this season:

Bulls 1995-96
Bulls 1996-97
Bulls 1991-92
2007-08 Celtics

That's it: four champions and four teams of legends. Of course, coach Mike Budenholzer's teams in Atlanta failed in the playoffs, but the Hawks did not get Giannis and, thanks to Nikola Mirotic, the Bucks improved faster than the 76ers.

Verrier: (C) Even after going bankrupt, to strengthen their top five teams with two All-Star caliber wings, the Sixers still have the most vivid point of JJ Redick's defense. As good as Al Horford was last week in this Philly win, the highlight of the match was that the Sixers were already hiring Redick into defense as soon as possible. Maybe they can hide Redick from Marcus Smart (that Reddick kept a third of the time last week, for what it's worth), but that he keeps watch Malcolm Brogdon or Danny Green? A little dicier.

Guess: (D) Milwaukee earned this distinction. I am also more comfortable choosing a more consistent Raptors team, much deeper and endowed with a better end-game shooter than anything Philly can offer. I'm not sure the Celtics are better, in a purely paper sense, as the Sixers, but they continue to offer evidence of the opposite in face-to-face fights. There is a burden of proof here. The Sixers have not yet provided it.

Tjarks: (E) All roads to the east pass through Milwaukee. Giannis has the length of Joel Embiid, the staging of Ben Simmons and the defensive capacity of Jimmy Butler. And he has a deep and talented support cast that has integrated their roles around him. Nothing in this last sentence applies to Philadelphia.

Uggetti: (B) If you look at the top of each conference, one trait stands out among the teams: continuity. The Sixers are the anti-continuity team. Their entire team was overthrown more than Jeremy Renner's homes. And yet, I want to believe it, because I can not watch this starting formation and not see a candidate in the final, especially when the rotations will be shortened during the playoffs. The last 25 games or more will be an important glimpse of how they fit together.

Hot: (E)

O & # 39; Connor: (C) The Sixers are currently the fourth best team in the East. It is difficult to predict that they will get this status by the end of the regular season, while the three teams that preceded them also have room for improvement. There is always a chance with their high-end talent, but I would not bet for them to win that designation before the playoffs.

4. Al Horford is the most precious Celtic.

A. Tattoo the hold on the back of my calf.
B. As here for Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
RE. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. Anthony Davis is in New Orleans.

Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics

Photo of Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Tjarks: (A) Horford is still underestimated, even after all the pieces that have been written on his underrated. This is a 6-foot-10 version of Draymond Green that consistently plays bigger centers in the playoffs. The question that arises in Boston is how will he react to his own medicine: does he still have the juice in his legs to run with Pascal Siakam or Giannis at 5?

Kram: (C) Horford at his best student all the Boston team, but it's hard to reconcile this potential with the fact that the Celtics have been better with Horford on the ground this season. The on / off division of Big Al places it in the lower half of the players in the rotation of the team. Although it may be the Celtics' best chance to beat the 76ers, I'm sorry to inform you. The ringThe Philly contingent that the 76ers are not the East team to beat.

Hot: (B) Thinking of the Celtics is like thinking of the agonizing minutiae that contribute to the concept of "replacement level". The team, from top to bottom of the list, is stored with powerful and switchable attackers. He has bold playmakers in many positions. But there is only one Horford: a player who can play the role of main facilitator, spacer and Kryptonite embiid.

O & # 39; Connor: (C) Horford is essential for Boston at both ends of the floor, but Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer and he runs the show. The Celtics need both of them to be their best version, but Irving's remarkable score gives him a leg up.

Guess: (B) When the Celtics need a bucket, Irving is their man; I am in no way downgrading this. When they need literally nothing elseHowever, a way to block a locomotive in transition, an antidote to the most dominant player in the league, a cheat code to force a solid home defense, etc., turn to Horford. I do not think it's a good idea to suggest that Boston's chances of reaching the final are more dependent on his health than on Kyrie's.

O'Shaughnessy: (D) Horford is the key to defeating the Sixers, giving the Celtics the lead in all playoffs against Philly, but Irving's offensive cap will decide whether Boston can overtake the other top teams in the league. 'Is. Kyrie must be the most important player on the team because he will dictate whether they can finish an opponent late in the fourth quarter or collapse in the last possession. Horford is a stabilizing element, but he will never be the talent that can push a playoff team where it needs to be.

Uggetti: (D) Wait, that do not have already been published on The ring? Listen, I know we've done everything possible to make Horford look like Embiid to Ian Mahinmi for the umpteenth time, but the only acceptable answer here is Irving. The Celtics may look more like a well-oiled machine when Irving is on the ground, but their ceiling gets bigger as soon as he touches the ball. Boston has 8-2 when Irving scores more than 30 points. The record for the Horford season is 24 points. And yes, Horford's game is about anything but goals, but who's going to get the ball down with five seconds at the clock? Not Horford.

Verrier: (E) Curved ball – it's Brad Stevens. While Anthony Davis stays in New Orleans after the deadline, the Celtics are in a position to eat the whole cake: they can go to the bottom of the playoffs to replace all their young players (thank you for keeping Kawhi, Jaylen!) For Pelicans & # 39; All-Star Anxiety. But it's hard to envision him without him, because Kyrie Irving, Davis's friend, will appeal to his future in Boston before an AD agreement can be executed. So it's up to Stevens to make everything work – to win games, to keep young players at a high level, to appease Kyrie – over the next three months.

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