The best scenarios to follow during the second half of the NBA, including LeBron's playoff pursuit and the Most Valuable Player Race



After a three-day hiatus, the NBA will be back on Thursday for a frenzied sprint at the end of the league's regular season. Over the next seven weeks, various scenarios will follow, telling not only how this season will unfold, but also what will happen this past season and beyond.

Here is a list of the six greatest stories to follow when the ball comes back:

The race to the summit of the East

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After the The Golden State Warriors, the top four teams, are all part of the Eastern Conference: the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.

This should make the last two rounds of the Eastern playoffs as convincing as they have been for decades, assuming of course that the Indiana Pacers can not hold on to the third seed and force two of those teams to face in the game. first round. The next few weeks will also be a fight between the four teams to ensure the field advantage in the playoffs.

Milwaukee holds first place – and with it, the home field advantage throughout the East playoffs – since he leads to Toronto by two games in the losing round. Because the Bucks have won the series of the season and therefore the tiebreaker, it is a technical advance of three defeats. Given that the Bucks and Raptors have the fourth and second easiest schedules, it's hard to see the Celtics or the Sixers (tied for fourth place at 5.5 games in Toronto) catching up.

The home stretch will start with the Celtics Bucks on Thursday, which could be a preview of a second-round playoff series. Counting this game, there are five games left between certain combinations of these teams. The others: Celtics at Raptors on February 26, Celtics at Sixers on March 20, and two between the Bucks and Sixers – in Milwaukee on March 17 and in Philadelphia on April 4.

All will be broadcast on national television and each of them will be examined for clues telling us what lies ahead in what will surely be a fierce fight to escape east this spring.

Will the Lakers play in the playoffs?

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When LeBron James chose to migrate to the Western Conference last summer by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was universally admitted that he would see his series of NBA finals come to an end eight times in a row. Few, however, have considered the possibility that another set of difficulties – 13 consecutive appearances in the playoffs – also ends.

Everyone is thinking about it now.

With 25 games to go, the Lakers are 28-29 and rank 10th in the Western Conference standings. They have three games behind their Staples Center co-tenants, the Los Angeles Clippers, for the eighth and final playoff spot.

To say that the Lakers have their work cut out is a euphemism. According to projections by ESPN Stats & Information (the Clippers' calendar, in comparison, ranks 19th), they have the fourth toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, with 16 of those last 25 games against playoff teams.

If the Lakers want to qualify for the playoffs, they will almost certainly have to make up for those three games on the Clippers – and even more – before the schedule is announced in April. The Lakers then play a brutal final on five occasions: in Oklahoma City, where they will face Golden State and the Clippers (second half in a row) and at home against Utah and Portland.

If the Lakers are to gain ground by then, their chances of doing so would seem weak.

It will be essential for the Lakers to sweep their last eight games against teams ranked in the last eight of the NBA (including three potentially against the Pelicans without Anthony Davis). Whereas the Lakers have already lost three games against the humble Knicks, Cavaliers and Hawks – and if they had won, they would be tied for eighth place today in the West – they can no longer to afford to lose.

Who will stay away from the warriors?

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That the Lakers can qualify for the playoffs will not be the only thing to watch in the West. It will be the same to avoid Golden State as long as possible.

Because the NBA does not re-seed its playoffs, being second, third, sixth or seventh – on the other side of the Warriors' most likely range – is much more appealing than being the same aside that Golden State.

Oklahoma City, currently in third place in the West, has three runs ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and leads the Houston Rockets by four, but faces the toughest schedule of all. NBA teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Meanwhile, the Jazz and Spurs are tied for sixth place. They go one game behind the Rockets in fifth place and one ahead of the Clippers in eighth place.

All this will make it easier to see the appointments every night in the West during the last 25 games of the season. Indeed, a series of six games Trailblazers (fourth) to the Lakers (10th) means that the ranking will fluctuate virtually every day.

With the opportunity to be on the same side as the team led by the team led by a team of three rounds or led by a team (Denver) who has not participated in the playoffs for five years, these fluctuations will have huge consequences.

The ridiculous race of MVP

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Last season, James Harden was seen as a virtual lock to win the league MVP before the end of the season after leading Houston to the NBA record. This season, however, there should be a vigorous debate over who will be crowned this time around.

Harden will be in the conversation again. He is currently in the middle of a winning streak – 31 consecutive games with 30 points or more – that only Wilt Chamberlain has equaled (which, given the absurdity of Chamberlain's career, is pretty much nearly as good as the one who has never done it before). . The fact that Harden resurrected the Rockets after a very bad start with Chris Paul spending a good part of that injured stretch will also help him.

There is also Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been the face of a remarkable burst of the scene by the Bucks. Milwaukee currently has the best record in the NBA. Antetokounmpo accumulates absurd numbers (27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.4 volley and 1.4 blocks) and has no other big star by his side, although Khris Middleton has played his first all-star game this season. Houston will travel to Milwaukee on March 26 for a nationally televised game that could play a role in determining the winner if one or the other player has a huge match on such a big scene.

Over the past few weeks, Paul George has forcibly engaged in a conversation with an incredible length of play. George may well be the favorite to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, and the Thunder is staggering 22 points out of 100 possessions, which is better when he's on the field than when he sits – without any doubt the best brand in the league.

This debate is meant to be both entertaining and frustrating. The three players have convincing arguments and, from their point of view, one can reasonably argue to finish in any order.

This debate will rage for the next seven weeks – and probably the next two months until the NBA awards come up at the end of June.

What will happen with Anthony Davis?

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Since Agent Rich Paul released Davis' request for an exchange on January 28, the Pelicans are in a frenzy.

They spent the next 10 days constantly dealing with reports on the cornerstone of their franchise, but only so that it could go nowhere. Then, after not exchanging it, the pelicans agreed to allow Davis to return to the team, leading to an uncomfortable dance that saw his minutes vary and fluctuate and created even more discomfort in New Orleans.

That culminated Thursday, when Davis left the arena before New Orleans finished his Oklahoma City victory to get an MRI on his shoulder. The next day, the Pelicans separated from general manager Dell Demps, and Danny Ferry was appointed acting replacement. Then Davis gave an extraordinary press conference at Saturday's All-Star Weekend in which he stated that his intention was to continue playing the rest of the season (in addition to everything he had said about the future possible destinations).

Will Davis play again for pelicans this season? If so, how much will he play and for how much longer? Some in the league think that he played his last game now that the star game is in the rearview mirror. But whether or not it is, the only certainty in New Orleans is that this situation will not stop being bizarre until Davis is sent packing – presumably this summer.

The hunt for choices

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Although the various races for the playoffs are the subject of much attention in both conferences, there will be just as many quarrels to position themselves at the other end of the rankings. The combination of the NBA's new probabilities for its lottery project and various protection choices will allow many people to pay attention.

We will start from the bottom of the lottery, where the Suns, Knicks, Riders and Bulls all play to take advantage of the new NBA chances. The rule changes put in place for this season have the three worst teams in the league sharing even a 14% chance of getting the top pick, the top four picks selected by the lottery process. The Knicks and Suns are currently tied with 11 wins, the Cavaliers have 12 and the Bulls in 14. There are several other games between them, including the Cavaliers welcoming the Suns on Thursday. Phoenix hosting New York on March 6 could also be a pivotal game.

Meanwhile, there are two teams in the middle of the lottery – the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks – who will spend the next few weeks positioning themselves to keep or abandon their picks this season, depending on the situation. Memphis will send his choice to Boston if it is outside the top eight, as part of an exchange for Jeff Green five years ago, and Dallas will give his choice to Atlanta when he gets himself. sits outside the top five, as part of the Trae Young- Luka Doncic exchange during the draft of last year.

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The Grizzlies occupy sixth place in the lottery standings with 23 wins, 5-20 in their last 25 games and were sold by the trading deadline, including franchise icon Marc Gasol. But Memphis is only one victory over the Washington Wizards in seventh and three places behind the Mavericks and Pelicans, who are tied for eighth place. If Memphis could surpass them all, the Grizzlies could send their pick this year, provided they do not jump to the lottery themselves.

Given the fact that Memphis is starting a rebuild, it would be in the interest of the Grizzlies to attempt to move a weaker choice this year, given that it is among the top six protected of next season and that it is is more protected in 2021.

Dallas, meanwhile, would like to retain his first round pick. To impose in the top five and still get a young talent to pair with Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis would be huge for the Mavericks, who traded two other future players in the first round (and the first-round pick 2017, Dennis Smith Jr.) to the Knicks this month in the Porzingis case.

Each team that Mavericks can miss in the next few weeks will increase their chances of doing so. Rather than giving the Hawks a mid-lottery pick this season, you could send one out of it in 2020 if Dallas can make a difference. playoffs behind Doncic and Porzingis.

Then there are the Clippers, who will send their pick to the Celtics if they play in the playoffs. Although the Clippers weakened by eliminating Tobias Harris by the deadline, they then added two strong contributors to Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green and should remain in the game until the end of the season.


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