NBA All-Star Weekend was ok. The game had its moments, the three-point contest is the star, and the dunk contest… we can get into that some other time. But now it’s time for fans to start focusing on the second half of the season. The trade deadline is still ahead of us while close playoff races in both conferences should lead to plenty of intriguing storylines between now and the end of the season. Let’s take a closer look at where you should be focusing your attention during the second half of the NBA season.
Where They Stand
In the Eastern Conference, the 76ers, Nets, and Bucks have started to separate themselves from the pack at the top of the standings. Most believe that Brooklyn will ultimately finish atop in the Eastern Conference (more on that in a second). But it’s not out of the question that the 76ers, Bucks, or another team could keep the pressure on them for the top seed.
Meanwhile, just one game separates the Raptors in the final playoff spot from the Hawks, who are 11th in the conference standings with the Bulls and Pacers in between. Of course, only two games are separating the fourth-place Celtics from the Raptors, meaning there could be as many as five playoff spots in the Eastern Conference up for grabs during the second half of the season.
In the Western Conference, all eyes are on the Utah Jazz, who currently have a somewhat comfortable 2.5-game lead for the top spot. Of course, Utah lost three out of four games heading into the All-Star Break, so things are far from settled with the Suns, Lakers, and Clippers all poised to challenge the Jazz.
Toward the bottom of the standings, the playoff race in the Western Conference is not quite as congested as the East. There are already five teams that look like a long shot to make a serious playoff push. That leaves just 10 teams competing for eight spots. At the moment, the Grizzlies and Warriors are on the outside, although only a game behind both the Spurs and Mavericks, which should give us a tight race for those last couple playoff spots during the second part of the season.
As mentioned, there are great expectations for Brooklyn given the abundance of talent the Nets have on their roster. Not only did James Harden join the duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but now Blake Griffin has jumped onboard. Of course, the question is how those four superstars will be able to share the ball and develop chemistry before the playoffs. Durant has also been hindered by injuries, limiting the trio of Durant, Harden, and Irving to just seven games together. Brooklyn is 5-2 in those games but will need more time to develop the kind of continuity that can dominate in the playoffs.
The Lakers without Anthony Davis
The defending champions aren’t dominating the Western Conference the way some expected them to this season. The injury to Anthony Davis has been the team’s biggest hindrance, causing the Lakers to win just three of their final 10 games before the All-Star Break. The Lakers should have no trouble making the playoffs without Davis. But would they consider rushing him back before he’s 100% to help their seed? Also, what is the possibility of trading for a replacement so they don’t have to rush Davis back? Those are important questions the Lakers will have to answer during the second half of the season.
That leads us to the all-important matter of the trade deadline. At the moment, it’s difficult to foresee any major blockbusters that will have a profound impact on the playoff race. Plus, it’ll be tough for any trade to top Harden going to the Nets. Also, there may only be a couple of bonafide sellers in the Eastern Conference and no more than a handful in the Western Conference. That being said, keep an eye on players like Derrick Rose, Marvin Bagley, JJ Redick, PJ Tucker, Lonzo Ball, George Hill, and Victor Oladipo, who could all be on the trade block before the deadline.