Top NBA story lines after the All-Star Break: Lakers, Simmons, and the Sixers
We are almost back in action for the final portion of the NBA regular season. Here are the biggest stories to keep an eye leading up to the playoffs.
The first three quarters of the season set the stage for what will be a very interesting last couple months before the NBA Playoffs. There are plenty of story lines that have captivated us since the start of the season, and the next eight weeks will help tie up those loose ends.
In both the Eastern and Western Conference there will be plenty of talking points dominating the headlines and the talk shows until we reach the Play-In Tournament in the middle of April.
Here are the headlines you should be keeping your eye on once NBA action returns on Thursday night.
Harden in the City of Brotherly Love
It was the blockbuster of the trade deadline as James Harden from the Nets to Eastern Conference rival, and contender the Philadelphia 76ers. Even if you have been off the grid since the NBA offseason you still probably know that Ben Simmons and the Sixers relationship had taken such a bitter turn that a trade was the only solution to the situation.
The Sixers come out of the All-Star Break two games back of the one seed Miami Heat who lead the Conference at 38-21. Keep in mind that they did this without Ben Simmons. The trade offloads the dead weight that was Simmons and bring in the 2018 NBA MVP.
Joel Embiid is the current front runner, and self proclaimed MVP of the league, and getting Harden in the back court will only make him and the Sixers stronger. The only question is will Harden have enough time to get healthy and stay healthy in order to form an on the court bond with Embiid and the rest of the team?
Brooklyn back on the map?
The original Big Three in Brooklyn has dissolved, and they did so without even making it to the Conference Finals. It was a team that was built to bring a title to the Barclay Center, but KD, Kyrie and Harden never found the time or the rhythm to create a championship chemistry.
So it’s out with the old and in with the new. James Harden was dealt to the Sixers, and Simmons brought into Brooklyn after missing the first 50-some-odd games of the season. There are plenty of questions as he gets set to make his Brooklyn debut. Is he in game shape? Can he, Kyrie and KD be a cohesive unit that will compete after being thrown together last minute? But most important of all, will the Nets make the Playoffs?
They currently sit in 8th place in the East at 31-28, and if the season ended today they would have to survive the Play-In Tournament. All indications would suggest this team will make the playoffs with a certain amount of ease.
There is still plenty of time left, and all sorts of scenarios could play out, but how sweet would it be if Philly and Brooklyn met in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Phoenix has looked like the best team in the league since the opening tip. Last year’s NBA Finalists won’t have a chance to break the NBA record for best record ever after losing their tenth game of the season in Atlanta at the beginning of the month, but no team has looked stronger.
They won 18 of their last 19 games going into the All-Star Break and have a comfortable lead over Golden State for the top seed in the West. We saw the Suns go from not making the playoffs in 2019 to going to the Conference Finals last year. This is a team that seems to improve exponentially under Monty Williams and Chris Paul at point guard.
Devin Booker and CP3 are the best one-two punch in the back court, and Deandre Ayton has a whole post season under his belt, which will come in handy once the Suns get into crunch time.
MVP race down to the wire
This is one of the tightest races for the MVP in recent memory. Joel Embiid has claimed the Kia MVP trophy is his, stating his numbers speak for themself. The Philly big man is netting 29.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg and 4.5 apg coming out of the All-Star break and now with James Harden as his sidekick those numbers should only go up.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a shade under Embiid in points, but edging the big man in assists, as he is averaging 29.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg, and 6 app for the 5th seeded Bucks.
Nikola Jokic looks prime to defend his reign as the league’s MVP with his impressive stat line of 26 ppg, 13.8 rpg, and 7.9 apg, which is hard to tell if it’s better than his 26.4, 10.8 and 8.3 per game his posted last year in route to winning the award.
Steph Curry might be “suffering” though the worst shooting season of his career, but he’s still scoring 25.8 ppg, and dragging down 5.3 rpg and dishing 6.3 apg while leading the Warriors to the second best record in the league.
Memphis making moves
The Grizzlies squeaked into the playoffs last year after advancing though the Play-In Tournament with an overtime win over the Warriors. This year is doesn’t look like they will have any such problem.
Ja Morant has been not only one of the most exciting players in the league, but also one of the most impactful players in the league. The turnaround in Memphis has been swift, but now the Grizzlies will have to show they are a team ready to make a run deep in the playoffs.
There are a lot of big name teams at the bottom of the Western Conference. They might be looking at a first round matchup with the Blazers, Lakers or Clippers.
Los Angeles lacking
So far, all the hype has been for not. The Lakers have built a super team with one thought in mind, bringing a title back to LaLa Land for a second time in three years.
Not Russell Westbrook, not Anthony Davis, not even LeBron James have been enough to keep the Lakers from falling deeper and deeper down the Western Conference standings.
If last year serves as any warning, the Lakers should know that they have to pull things together before the end of the regular season. There was always the narrative throughout LA’s season last year that if they just made the playoffs they would cruise into the Western Conference Finals. They drew the Suns in the first round and were bounced before they even had time to blink.
They currently sit in 9th in the West meaning they will have to climb three spots just to avoid the Play-In Tournament. Even if they make it through, there is a difficult match up almost surely awaiting them in the first round.