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15 things to look down on the season's stretch: Will the Lakers make the playoffs? How long does James Harden's streak last?

This has been a wild NBA season so far, and some monster deals in the deadline seem to have set us up for an even more crazy finish. The route is set to start on Thursday as the teams return to action after the All-Star break. Here are 15 great stories to keep an eye on the rest of the way.

Will the Lakers make the playoffs?

Before LeBron missed 17 games with this groin injury, the Lakers saw as a threat to earn a top four seed. Now they are 27-28 and put them three games out of No 8 with 25 games to play against one of the 10 hardest remaining schedules – which includes 1

3 road games and dates with Rockets, Nuggets, Celtics, Raptors, Thunder , Warriors, Blazers, Clippers and two games against Jazz and East-leading Bucks.

To reach up to 50 wins, the Lakers have to go 22-3 against this schedule. Don't happen. Just to get to 47, which feels like the absolute minimum to have any shot on the playoffs, they have to go 19-6 and all that can mean is a No. 8 seed and a first round road beaten by Warriors.

Speaking to a source close to the Anthony Davis trade story, one of the things the pelicans are expecting is the Lakers, whose other offerings were to fall through and be willing to offer the same package to AD this summer. as they offered at the trade deadline. League sources I've talked to believe the Lakers will definitely offer the same package, no matter what, but if they don't do the playoffs, they will be in even deeper desperation fashion.

Everything talked about patience when the Lakers acquired LeBron, was always nonsense. At each stop since leaving Cleveland in 2010, there have been two common security issues: The coach is on the hot seat, and the young players are almost at the helm. It is always about "right now" when you have the best player in the world, and through this lens you even fail to make the playoffs with LeBron James, who made Eight Real NBA FINALS (!!!!!!!) in the East, would be a phase-four disaster for Los Angeles. Luke Walton would almost certainly be gone, and the young players can't be far behind even though they can't get a deal for Davis.

How will the top of the east shake?

Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Celtics are the four best teams in the East. But right now, Indiana, who the No. 3 seed comes out of pause, throws a wrinkle in the plan, as the four will meet in the semifinals of the conference. As it stands, Sixers and Celtics as No. 4 and 5 Seeds would play in the first round, and the loser of that series would have serious issues coming into a big offseason for their respective teams in the form of free agency.

Would Kyrie really stay in Boston if they went out in the first round? Will Jimmy Butler and / or Tobias Harris bolts from Philly if the same happens to them? For Sixers and Celtics, pushing past Pacers is premium concern. Make sure you at least come home at home in the first round and go from there.

If we get the four in semis, who has what seeds, and thus a home advantage in these matchups, will be huge. It is almost impossible to separate the four teams and the smallest edges can be the difference in another round exit and a trip to the NBA Finals.

Can Rockets Reclaim Last Season's Form Over Time?

James Harden has kept Houston afloat, but now with Chris Paul back and Clint Capela on his way, Rockets will look to assert himself as the legitimate title leader they were last season. Can they do that? People in the league I spoke to on All-Star weekend believe that the addition of Iman Shumpert is the closest that the Rockets have come in the many attempts they made to replace Trevor Ariza.

Out of the break, Houston Portland jumps to No. 4 seed by just one game in the tab column, which would give them home ground advantage in the first round. That's the good news. The bad news is that it will probably mean another round matchup with Warriors, provided they hang on top of the seed. If the rockets want to avoid it, they need to get to the No. 3 seed, which is currently occupied by Oklahoma City with a four-pillowcase over Houston.

The most important thing is that Houston gets right with the result that the rhythm they rolled into the playoffs with last season at both ends. The defense must be there to get a shot to beat the Golden State. If that happens, most of the leagues I'm talking to will still think that Houston is the biggest threat to the warriors in the playoffs.

Will Dallas lose enough to Atlantas taste?

I recently asked Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk, which team he would look more intense during these last two months of the NBA season: His Hawks or Mavericks. He laughed. Did'nt answer. But so did it. Mavs are very clear on the Schlenk radar.

When the hawks changed the rights to Luka Doncic to Trae Young on draft night, they did so to acquire more assets, with Mav's first rounds also going to Atlanta. That choice is top-five protected, which means that if Mavericks were to end up with a top-five choice this summer, they would keep that choice.

In this scenario, the gardens would have to settle for Dallas first round selection next year, which is likely to be a worse choice with Mavs, which is expected to be a significantly better team with the services of Kristaps Porzingis ongoing pick-and-turn pop magic at next to Doncic – not to say anything about any player or combination of players, they are able to sign with the maximum wage they cleared by trading Harrison Barnes to the Kings.

At present, Mavericks is expected to have the 10th choice if the lottery balls fall flat. When Atlanta made the deal, Schlenk said the Dallas pick was expected to be No. 8 by best guess. So some have already fallen. Atlanta can't afford it to fall. In other words, the hawks are now in full scoreboard monitoring mode praising Mavs to lose many games while before they wanted them to lose, but not so much that they risk falling into the top five.

If Dallas were to somehow go on a run and fall to a late lottery spot, it would be a hawk's gown. As much as Trae Young has looked in areas, Atlanta needs to choose to be at least the top 10, even halfway justifying giving up Doncic, who already looks like an All-Star and is on fast track to superstardom.

Will Clippers prioritize their 2019 lottery pick?

Clippers owe their 2019 first round pick to Celtics unless it falls into the lottery, which means they have to miss the playoffs to keep picking. If they do, it will add to the credibility of draft assets they have acquired beyond the two maximum payrolls they have cleared. Is it really worth making the playoffs just to be scattered by Warriors in the first round if it means losing a lottery pick?

The first sign that Clippers is angling to bend out the playoffs and keep that choice was when they traded their best player, Tobias Harris, to Sixers. Thing is: The Clippers were never about a player. They were and still about a whole lot of regulars. Danilo Gallinari can approach Harris production. Lou Williams can still win a game alone. Clippers will not just fall away from the map unless they do it on purpose.

So far they do not. They won two out of three in the All-Star break, including a victory over Boston. Entering the line occupies the No. 8 seeds by percentage point and are only two games left of Nr. 6 Jazz.

But this shakes out, it has real consequences. If Boston gets that choice, it's another asset it can throw at New Orleans for Anthony Davis. If Clippers hold it, they could go after Davis and still have two max spots. Keep an eye on this. My money says that Clippers know what's best for them and ultimately fall out of the playoffs, which may be the break that the Lakers need to enter. The L.A. teams play each other last week of the season. Could it be an effective play-in game? Don't rule it out.

How much will Anthony Davis play for the pelicans?

This will be awkward as everything. New Orleans will definitely not let Davis suffer a serious injury when they are likely to trade him this summer for maximum value, but the league certainly does not like one of its best players taking healthy scratches when people pay good money to watch him play. It's a terrible look. Will Davis be in a minute's limitation? Will he even play hard for the minutes he's in there? What kinds of false injuries will the pelicans bring to keep him out? This will be fun and awkward and sad all at once.

Will the kings end their drought?

If Clippers fall out and it is not the Lakers taking their place, Kings who are tied in the No 8 lost column spot coming out of All-Star break are right there to make the playoffs . Sacramento has not made the playoffs since 2006. The franchise has been an ongoing joke for a decade. Suddenly, the kings – led by their nuclear backcourt by De & # 39; Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, one of the few leading candidates for the most improved player – is one of the most exciting teams in the league. Getting into the playoffs would be a tremendous achievement, even though it is only to serve as a leading appetizer for the Golden State. This team is on its way.

Wild Wild West

After Golden State there is no consensus second best team in the West. If the Lakers were to enter, all seven other Western playoff participants could reasonably be defined as conference finals. Enter Thursday, four games separate seed 4-8, and how these matchups shake out will go a long way to determining who has the best chance of making a playoff round. Again, all these teams are right there with each other. Some fit better or worse with others. Who has the home court can share two relatively equal teams. This will be a battle for sowing.

Personally, I think Thunder is too right, but they are only three games up on Portland and have a hard plan coming down the line. Denver has built a large enough pad to feel pretty safe in a top three seed. It will be interesting at No. 4, the last place for home ground in the first round. It may end up being Thunder, Blazers, Rockets, Jazz, Spurs, Lakers or anyone in the playoff mix really. Everyone wants to avoid the Golden State for as long as possible, so these teams will at least gorge on No. 3 seed. Assuming that the Golden Stats remain at No. 1, it would keep them separate from the conference finals.

Zion Sweepstakes

A source close to the Anthony Davis trade story told CBS Sports one of the main reasons why the pelicans kept on making an agreement is still valuable information out there yet to be identified, including who will End No. 1 overall choice – which could either be used to get a top flight player (most people think Duke's Zion Williamson) or as a massively valuable trading chip.

In the past few years, the suns would be in pole position to get number 1 choice with the worst record in the league, percentage points worse than Knicks. But remember, the lottery structure has changed. The bottom three teams now have the same 14% chance of landing No. 1 picked, which reduces the incentive – theoretically – to completely bottom out for that purpose.

Whatever. The suns and knicks are tied out. Then Cavs and Bulls – if not because they try, are simply because they stink. Basically, we see four teams fighting for three bottom points. We want to see who is being punished for winning too much. Which system.

Will James Harden win his second straight MVP?

Out of pause, Bovada.com has Harden as a favorite of -250, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo on +350. It is probably a two-horse race right now, but personally I would have turned it around. I think Giannis is MVP right now. Bucks is the best team in the league record-wise and has been too much of the season. His numbers are out of the charts. I cannot move past the Hardens 37% 3-point mark or 44% mark collected from the field.

I don't think many guys on average 36 points a game that Harden is, even though they shot as freely as he does. But there are certainly some who could, and they are the same players who were better than Harden before all those crazy scores started and they are getting better despite it. In this way none of this has changed where Harden is in the league's pick order. It should not guarantee him the price.

If the rockets go on a late race and end with, say a top 3 seed, considering all the damage they have endured, then the Harden and will be the runaway rightful winner. But if we're talking about a guy who jacked up a million shots to score a million points to end up with No. 6 seed in the West, and Giannis continues to do what he's doing to lead Bucks – the Bucks !!! – For the best record in basketball, the price should be his.

The sleeping in all this is Paul George. From Tuesday, Bovada George has +1800. Seriously? It's a serious value for a guy who plays incredibly basketball for a team that is on the move to finish with a top three seed. If OKC makes a late push here and secures No. 2 seed in the stacked Western conference, and George keeps killing, it's not at all unreasonable to think he's getting serious consideration for the prize. I'd think of a flier future game here.

How long will Hardens 30-point stroke continue?

As it stands, Harden has scored at least 30 points in 31 straight games that tie him with Wilt Chamberlain to the second-most stripes in the NBA story. The plate, which is also by Chamberlain, is 65 straight. The harden is on average over 41 points a game during the stream, which he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols in Charlotte, is just a product of necessity and that he does not choose to play the way he does for whatever reason he had to do whatever he had to. do keep the Rockets afloat when Chris Paul, and then Clint Capela, crashed. It's hard to argue. The rockets were out of the playoffs when the stream started and they are 21-13 ago. They have risen to No. 5 in the West, right on the heels of Portland at home in the first round.

What will be interesting is whether the Harden actually adjusts his aggression, or to what extent with Paul back in the lineup and Capela on the road, perhaps as soon as Thursday when the Rockets meet the Lakers. Even if Harden scales his shot attempts, his miscalculation is the x factor. On a given night, he can easily reach the line 15-20 times. He even creates 80 percent of them, and he doesn't really have to pick many bucks to reach 30 points. This strip could continue for a long time. Say what you want about it, but that's something many people have never seen in their lifetime, and it's definitely something to track the rest of the season.

Will DeAndre Ayton make history?

If the season were to end right now, Ayton would be the only rookie in the NBA history to average at least 16 points and 10 rebounds while shooting at least 58 percent off the pitch, per second. basketball-reference.com. If he were to keep these numbers up, it would be a kind of performance for a guy who is largely overshadowed by other rookie sensations Luka Doncic.

Ayton also has a breath. If he falls to 56 percent from the court, but retains it per. Play numbers of 16 and 10, he will only be joined by Shaquille's Neal, which averages an impressive 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds on .562 percent shoot in 1992 -93. There are some selected companies for Ayton, and as the suns continue to lose at a ridiculous price, it is at least something positive to keep an eye on this team.

Can Steph Curry join the 50-45-90 club?

To be clear, it's at least 50 percent off the pitch, 45 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line. Only three players have achieved these slots while playing in more than 30 games: Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Curry, who did it in 2015-16 when he made 402 3-pointers and became the only unanimous MVP in history.

Given the magnitude and difficulty of the shots Curry takes, season 2015-16 is probably immobile. Even for Curry. But it is only his own standard, he is hunting now, and even against the bar he has another main shaking time. But he must make a small leap over the last 25 matches in both his total shot percentage and 3 point percent. Enter Thursday's return to action, curry shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three. He has largely free-throw percentage points unlocked at 92.2 percent.

Who will "earn" the 6-8 seeds in the east?

Out of pause, these sports are obsessed with nets, horns and stamps – the latter two are not even .500 teams. Who ends up in these spots is only interesting in the sense that any kind of playoff race is at least mildly interesting, isn't it? In fact, you should not answer it.

It's almost comical that, after the season they've had, the guides are actually in a fair claim for a playoff spot of 24-34 and four games back of the number 8 seed in the tab column. Other contenders are Miami (bound with No. 8 Detroit on record) and Orlando. Seriously, try to contain your excitement when you consider why in the name of all things logically, the NBA has not gone to a 1-16 playoff format now.

Conferences are, at best, unnecessary and even harmful to both product and players at worst. And please save me your talk about tradition and travel. Neither holds water. The bottom line is, we look very realistic on a playoff without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and WITH Hassan Whiteside. Tell me who wins in this situation. Even Heat fans don't want to see Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs. Adam Silver is going to act.

Goodbye to Dwyane and Dirk

Wade will certainly return, and although Nowitzki has not committed somehow, most people feel that he is probably also finished after this season. What privilege has been to see both of these guys playing. Wade, for my money, is a top three all-time shooting guard – behind Jordan and Kobe – as the actual positions were a real thing for most of his career. Dirk is one of the most revolutionary players ever. Real big men who shoot as guards have changed the game, and much started seriously with Dirk. When these guys finally fit their last game, although Wade may not know it's his last if Heat is in the playoffs, there won't be a better story happening in the NBA. It is certainly something to look forward to and appreciate, even though I doubt that one of them will lose 60 in their final as Kobe did.

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