Storylines to Follow in the Second Half of the NBA Season
The NBA All-Star break offers an opportunity to pause, reflect, and look ahead to what is to come. As action gets underway tonight and the second half of the season begins, here are some of the major storylines to follow.
The MVP race looks way too close to call at the moment. Three players have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack and depending on how things unfold, any of the three can come out on top.
Giannis Antetokounmpo seems like the slight front-runner at the moment. He is averaging 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and six assists per game while playing some of the best individual defense in the league and leading his team to the best record in the NBA.
James Harden, while not the defensive force that Giannis is, has put up absolutely historic numbers on the offensive end. He is on an unprecedented 30-game run of scoring at least 30 points, averaging 36.6 points per game. He is on pace for the most prolific scoring season in 32 years. Perhaps most impressively, is the fact that he is putting up these numbers and shooting 40.3 percent! To strengthen his chances, the Rockets will need to climb up the Western Conference standings.
Paul George has come on strong as of late and has firmly entered the MVP conversation. His scoring efficiency and disruptive perimeter defense has made him arguably the best two-way player in the NBA. George leads the league in Real Plus-Minus and were it not for him the Thunder would like be fighting for a playoff spot.
Who is the top dog in the East?
Speaking of too close to call, odds for which team comes out of the East could not be any closer, as between the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics, there is very little.
The Bucks have been the most consistent team but you have to wonder if they may be a season away for being title contenders due to their inexperience in the playoffs. The Raptors have the necessary experience but have had some ups and downs lately and will need to quickly integrate their new pieces. Likewise for the 76ers, who are still trying to figure out how their new pieces fit and will be hoping that the Embiid injury is not serious. The Celtics, while perhaps being the most talented team, showed some really worrying signs before the break.
The Eastern Conference semi-finals are going to be must-watch basketball!
The Fultz Reclamation Project in Orlando
The acquisition of Fultz was a low-risk, (incredibly) high-reward move, aimed at giving the youngster a chance to get out of the spotlight and try to find himself in a low pressure environment. There will be plenty of minutes for him too, as the Magic are thin at point guard and lack back-court playmaking.
With that said, the Magic are playing their best basketball of the season, winning five straight before the break. Perhaps, they will be hesitant to disrupt the chemistry and won’t rush Fultz back. Time will tell, either way, Fultz will have a legitimate chance of proving whether or not he has a real future in the NBA.
Are the Lakers playoff bound?
It is rather unfathomable to envision a LeBron-led team not making the playoffs. I mean after all, it seems like he’s been part of the NBA Finals for the last 20 years. But a quick look at the standings shows that the Lakers are 3 games out of the 8 spot with only 25 games remaining. Piece of cake right? Not really, when considering that a) they have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the league and b) The Kings pose a real threat to them. LeBron is up for the challenge, stating that playoff mode is activated and he will be looking to elevate his game.
Rest versus Rust & Tanking
As the season winds down, teams will have difficult decisions to make, as the age-old question of rest versus rust will come to the surface. Do some of the primary contenders push for first place in the conference/home court advantage or do they occasionally rest some of their main guys to ensure they are fresh entering the playoffs?
On the other end of the spectrum, the Tanking is in full swing. For teams like the Cavaliers, Knicks, Suns and Bulls, their fans will be following closely, passionately rooting for losses. If you are betting the NBA, be sure to frequently check team news and line-ups late in the season, as there will be more and more mysterious last minute injuries and absences.