Team in decline: Atlanta. The Hawks have lost 5 straight and 12 of their last 19. They are missing Al Horford for the rest of the season. With teams like Detroit, Cleveland, and New York fighting to get in, they are the most likely to fall out.
Team on the rise: Memphis. I won’t be surprised if the Grizzlies catch and pass the fairy-tale Suns for the last spot in the Western conference. The Grizz are finally healthy, getting Conley and Gasol back, and might even make a trade to improve their odds.
Division Race to watch: Southwest. Can Houston (2 games back) catch San Antonio? The Rockets have won 7 straight games going into the break and Spurs, despite their excellence, are notorious for prioritizing health over regular season record. The difference between a 2-3-4-5 seed could be huge out West.
Player in the spotlight: Russell Westbrook. It’s two-fold. First, how is his health? Has he recovered? A 100% Westbrook makes the Thunder the favorites out West. Second, how does he effect the MVP-efforts of Kevin Durant. This will be a popular topic on TV and radio.
Tank race over? Milwaukee seems impossible to catch having won only 9 games thus far. They are 4 games worse than Philly and 5 worse than Orlando in the loss column. They’ll be hard pressed to win more than 5 games the rest of the season. Seems like they got the most lottery balls locked up.
Tank race not over: The Sixers, Magic, Celtics, Kings, Lakers, and Jazz will be the moving pieces. The order of 2-7 could end up being very important, even in a deeper draft.
Individual honors lacking drama: Scoring race: over. MVP is Durant’s to lose. Defensive player of the year will be a tough debate, but not sure an exciting one. Rookie of the year is over as long as Michael Carter-Williams plays (if you didn’t know, he lead all rookies in PTS, REB, and AST!). Coach of the year always has 5 good choices.
Is he done? Kobe Bryant. If he returns, how does he play? If he doesn’t, how much does he have left?
Are they done? Heat and Spurs. Aging rosters will be big conversation and whether each can win 16 games in the postseason.
3-peat? Can LeBron James and the Miami Heat make history? What it means if they do and if they don’t.