NBA stretch run reset – Where title contenders and playoff hopefuls stand proper now

There has been little purpose to take the Los Angeles Lakers significantly as a contending workforce this season. The Lakers sit thirteenth within the Western Conference, that means they must leapfrog at the least three groups to get into the play-in event.

But when LeBron James was requested whether or not his Lakers will be harmful in the event that they attain the postseason, he did not hesitate.

“I’ve always been confident in any club that I’ve been on once we got into the playoffs that we can compete with anyone, and I feel no different now,” James stated throughout All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City. “With the roster, the way we’re shaped up right now, if we can finish off this regular season on the right foot, then we can compete versus anyone in the Western Conference, if not the whole league.”

It can be truthful to dismiss James’ feedback as the everyday confidence of any athlete in his place. But because the second-half schedule kicks off Thursday with 9 video games, the NBA is as large open because it has been in at the least a era.

It units up a stretch drive that would play out in myriad methods.

Across the previous 27 seasons — the interval throughout which has superior stats out there for groups — at the least three groups have completed the common season with a internet ranking of at the least 5.0 in every of the earlier 26.

This season? There are simply two: the Boston Celtics (6.2) and Cleveland Cavaliers (5.8). There are none within the Western Conference; there hasn’t been a single season with fewer than two over the previous 26 seasons.

Couple that with the likelihood that the defending champion Golden State Warriors (29-29) and the James- and Anthony Davis-led Lakers (27-32) may emerge from the play-in event to face the highest two seeds within the first spherical, and the West has by no means felt extra unpredictable.

“If [the Warriors] get into a playoff series, we know what Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] and Draymond [Green] and Andrew Wiggins are capable of doing. [And] right around the trade deadline, I wake up and I see Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have come to the Western Conference,” Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone stated throughout All-Star Weekend.

The Eastern Conference, for its half, is prone to see the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks jockeying for the No. 1 seed for the remainder of the season. The deadline blockbuster of Durant to the Phoenix Suns, in the meantime, has despatched ripples all through the center of the East race.

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“I think this playoffs is going to be the craziest playoff in a long time,” Malone stated. “I think there’s going to be upsets. I think there’s going to be literally a lot of teams that you could say make a strong case that they could win the NBA championship this year.”

The West, the place hazard lurks in all places

Malone’s Nuggets (41-18) definitely hope to be a type of groups within the championship hunt. The previous two seasons, Denver has entered the playoffs with no significant likelihood to make a deep playoff run, particularly after Jamal Murray tore his ACL in April 2021 and missed 18 months.

But Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are wholesome. Nikola Jokic, who’s attempting to grow to be the primary heart to common a triple-double for the season and be a part of Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the one gamers to take action, is the clear front-runner to win a 3rd straight MVP. Denver, in the meantime, is taken into account greater than a 96% favourite to safe the highest seed within the West, based on ESPN Basketball Power Index.

“We know what we’re doing,” Jokic stated throughout All-Star Weekend. “We believe in the basketball system that we have built over the years, so it works.

“It’s nonetheless working. Nothing can have an effect on us from exterior. We are enthusiastic about ourselves and simply how you can get higher.”

There are similar pressures elsewhere throughout the West.

And then there are the Dallas Mavericks (31-29), who tried to repair their mistake from final summer season, when it allowed Jalen Brunson to get away in free company, by sending Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and a first-round decide to the Brooklyn Nets to pair Luka Doncic with Irving — creating arguably the league’s most explosive 1-2 scoring punch.

“I feel very strongly about our ambitions to winning a championship,” Irving stated throughout All-Star Weekend. “I’m grateful that I’m in the Western Conference now because they said it’s the best conference. It’s loaded with guys, loaded with talent. …

“Of course, the Eastern Conference is aggressive — I might have cherished to remain there, too — however being within the Western Conference is the problem I wanted.”

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The East, where clear contenders have emerged

While Irving might believe the West presents more of a challenge, the data shows Boston (42-17) has been the league’s best team virtually all season. The Celtics are the only team with a top-5 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, thanks to star power at the top in wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, combined with a rotation that goes 10-plus deep with versatile options for newly promoted head coach Joe Mazzulla.

Only a half-game back of Boston, however, are the Bucks (41-17), who have barely had their full complement of players available this season — a reality that will linger a bit longer as Giannis Antetokounmpo deals with a right wrist injury. Milwaukee pushed Boston to the brink in the East semifinals last year, and that was without the injured Khris Middleton.

At full strength, Milwaukee’s core four — Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez — can go toe-to-toe with any group in the league. But the Bucks also have the potential free agencies of Middleton and Lopez hanging over them, and Holiday can be a free agent in 2024.

“Obviously, yearly, it is in all probability like 4 groups [that can win],” Antetokounmpo said during All-Star Weekend. “This yr, it is in all probability 4 to 6 groups which have an opportunity to win a championship. I imagine we’re one among them. But nothing is assured.

“I have never seen anybody that just showed up and they gave you a championship. You have to earn it.

“But it is undoubtedly open.”

There’s certainly hope for the Philadelphia 76ers (38-19), who have, in Joel Embiid’s opinion, the best team he’s been a part of during his time in Philly. He and James Harden have formed a devastating pick-and-roll combination, Tyrese Maxey has embraced a sixth man role and De’Anthony Melton has slotted perfectly next to Harden in the backcourt.

Will all of it be sufficient to see the 76ers break via within the playoffs after dropping within the East semifinals 4 of the previous 5 years? And, like so many of those groups, there’s potential for change this summer season: Harden can grow to be an unrestricted free agent, including an additional layer of stress to Philadelphia’s playoff run.

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Brooklyn’s alternative to maneuver on from Durant and Irving has additionally created chaos — and raised the stakes for the center floor within the East, the place 4 groups — the Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and the Nets — discover themselves jockeying for the fourth via seventh spots within the standings.

  • The Heat (32-27) signing Kevin Love after he agreed to a buyout with the Cavaliers opens the likelihood for an especially juicy first-round collection — if, that’s, Miami can get to fifth place.

  • Ditto for Brunson and second-time All-Star Julius Randle getting up that prime and main the Knicks (33-27) right into a playoff collection in opposition to Donovan Mitchell — the participant they had been anticipated to land in a commerce, just for Cleveland to make the dramatic blockbuster cope with the Utah Jazz in September.

  • The Nets (34-24) plan to permit Bridges the chance to be their main perimeter scoring choice. He confirmed flashes of his potential in that function with 45 factors in a win in opposition to Miami proper earlier than the break.

  • And then there’s Cleveland (38-23), the workforce that hasn’t made the playoffs with out LeBron James since 1997-98 and hasn’t gained a playoff collection with out him in three a long time. The concept of simply making the playoffs being seen as successful for the Cavaliers has given option to what must be, presuming well being, Cleveland being a presumptive favourite to win a spherical when the playoffs get underway.

“I think at the end of the day we have a group of guys that they put the time and the work in throughout the regular season,” Mitchell stated throughout All-Star Weekend. “That will point to success in the playoffs. And I think, for us, it’s not putting too much pressure on that moment. And I think we have a lot of guys that are really good at that.”

There is loads of strain to go round. The commerce deadline noticed 49 gamers moved — probably the most in league historical past and greater than 10% of the league — and all however the Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls made offers.

All of which units the stage for a six-week dash to the tip of the common season, with an all however sure whirlwind postseason to comply with.

“I think it’s going to be a wild and crazy postseason,” Malone stated. “And if you’re an NBA fan, how exciting is that? Because anything can happen.”