Thursday night marks the return of the goals of the NBA, with teams entering the homestretch of their season. Some are fighting for their lives in series, while others will try to avoid a late collapse. And for a handful of other people, playing basketball again seems to be a good thing, if only to divert the conversation from the turmoil that could occur off the field.
In this spirit, we analyzed five of the league's most interesting scenarios as we prepare to dive into the second half of the season.
What will happen with the Celtics?
Even after the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard and the Sixers have Jimmy Butler, the Celtics had high expectations this season. As a club having reached the seventh game of the final of the conference without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, coming back at least at this point with the two in good health seemed almost a given.
Fast forward to now, though, and it is clear that there is no guarantee they will go so far. The Bucks have joined the elite league. The Sixers did everything. Raptors are solid on both sides.
What complicates things further is the fact that Irving, a future free agent, is no longer wants to commit to long-term the idea of being a Celtic – a situation in which journalists and fans treat each of his words in interviews. (Irving's exit would make it more difficult for the team to prompt Anthony Davis to stay in Boston in the long run if the Celtics rolled the dice and traded against him.)
No, Jaylen Brown was not as impressive as in his second year. And Al Horford, a defensive pillar of the past years, has not always been so good on this end of this season.
Always, Hayward, whose mental blockages this season had left him struggling to look alike, showed positive signs in the end. And more importantly, the Celtics – despite all their difficulties early in the season – remain in the top 10 of the two offense and defensewhich usually means a real competitor.
The key is to know if they can keep their promise. because of the drastic way their composition could change this summer, for better or for worse.
Can rebuilding the Bulls be a project for a team like the Hawks?
The Bulls season was far from excellent. fired their coach early and then saw the players initially take issue with their difficult charge replacement. But the club has has shown progress in the last two weeks since the trade of winger Otto Porter, who seems to have a good fit on both sides with the first players like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
Some supporters did not like the move, as Porter's big deal almost eliminated the Bulls from the race. max-level free agent this summer. But it is useful to acquire solid players that can complement your new core. The best evidence up to now: the Bulls have recorded a net score of 14 – which means that they outsell opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions – in 110 minutes that Porter, LaVine and Markkanen have shared on the terrain up to now. Not too bad for a club that was beaten 8.5 points per 100 games over the year.
The first returns from Chicago could serve as a model for the reconstruction of the Hawks, who have young talent budding in John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. The young people each had their moments of offensive brilliance, but the trio, defensively disputed to put it mildly, was outperformed by 5.6 points for 100 possessions.
Find veterans who can always defend at a high level to play next to them, and the development of these three players in D will help a lot to determine when and if Atlanta can change the game.
MVP race could fall on the wire
Give meaning to this year's MVP race was a challenge. At the very moment when Giannis Antetokounmpo seemed to be clearly the price leader, given his brilliant figures for the team with the best sport recordJames Harden came bursting through like the Kool-Aid Man, forcing himself into the conversation with a series of historical scores.
Harden's offensive dominance over the last two months has changed the narrative that promised to be a leap forward for Antetokounmpo. However, it should be checked whether a certain level of voter fatigue (Harden won the award last year, while Antetokounmpo was never a harbinger before) comes in. And there is those who do not like From Harden iso-heavy styleeven though he had no choice but to rely on that, given the injuries sustained by his team.
It is not surprising that Antetokounmpo is finally recognized, especially if the Bucks finish first.
LeBron can the Lakers in the playoffs?
It would be shocking to see the great LeBron James move from the NBA finals eight years in a row to do not even do the series in his first season in the West. But it's more than just a possibility at this stage: FiveThirtyEight's projection model currently has the Lakers with only a 26% chance of reaching the playoffs.
We would not be surprised at all if James could put the Lakers on the line of playoffs. Aside from its own individual size, the Lakers are completing a difficult stage of their calendar this month, with seven of their nine games toppling on the road. Their fortunes seem to improve when the calendar will turn to March.
The biggest question is whether it's worth it in the end for James to move up a gear simply to rank 8th and in the first round with the two-time defending champion Warriors. Like his five weeks injury earlier in the illustrated season, James does not get any younger. And while it is almost certain that he will not let go of the foot of the pedal Because of the Lakers' position in the standings, it can be said that his energy would be better spent next season, once L.A. will have another leading player to play with him.
Will Denver become the main challenger for Golden State in the West?
Denver has been near the top of the ranking all year long, while clubs like Thunder and the Rockets started slowly before getting back on track to play the field advantage in the first round.
The Nuggets apparently deserve the benefit of the doubt in this discussion. In addition to leading the conference standings earlier in the season, they still have West's best record against quality competition – even slightly better than the Warriors mark against teams of .500 or better. Their the defense was not as good as she was to start the season, but they still have enough balance – in their first and second units – to get the job done. And after Golden State, Denver is basically neck to neck with Oklahoma City in net scoring in the West.
If anything lets us pause about the Nuggets, it's their lack of playoff experience. It's rare for a team that did not participate in the playoffs to suddenly make a serious race when it arrives, which could explain why our model feels better in a team like this. Houston, Oklahoma City or even Utah.
But the beauty of all this, of course, is that Denver – after to be eliminated in the last game of the regular season in 2018 – will have the opportunity to stand out in these last 25 games.
Discover our latest NBA forecast.