Analyzing the New-Look NBA Landscape Down the Stretch After the All-Star Break & Trade Deadline
The NBA returns tonight with 18 teams in action after a lengthy All-Star Weekend pause, and it’s officially time to tip-off the stretch run. Teams have played (roughly) 60 games out of the 82-game season, which means we’re entering the fourth quarter of the regular season. What have we learned so far? The East is top-heavy with four teams posing as serious title contenders — Celtics, Bucks, 76ers, and Cavaliers — while the West is wide open behind the Nuggets.
NBA Playoff Picture
1. Celtics (42-17)
2. Bucks (41-17)
3. 76ers (38-19)
4. Cavaliers (38-23)
5. Nets (34-24)
6. Knicks (33-27)
7. Heat (32-27)
8. Hawks (29-30)
9. Wizards (28-30)
10. Raptors (28-31)
In the Hunt: Bulls (26-33), Pacers (26-34), Magic (24-35)
1. Nuggets (41-18)
2. Grizzlies (35-22)
3. Kings (32-25)
4. Clippers (33-28)
5. Suns (32-28)
6. Mavericks (31-29)
7. Pelicans (30-29)
8. Timberwolves (31-30)
9. Warriors (29-29)
10. Thunder (28-29)
In the Hunt: Jazz (29-31), Blazers (28-30), Lakers (27-32)
1. What Teams Look Different?
While we can analyze the first 3/4 of the season, the trade deadline and playoff push shifted the mentality for a number of teams. After a flurry of deals at the deadline that revamped some rosters and prepped others for draft season, the league is eyeing a few teams with new pieces. In the West, it’s the Suns (Kevin Durant), Mavericks (Kyrie Irving), and Lakers (multiple changes) that have a heightened sense of urgency. In the East, the Cavaliers and Bucks made a few additions, but the Heat (Kevin Love), Hawks (coaching change), and Knicks are looking to leap the Nets for the 5-6-7 seeds in the East.
2. KD or Kyrie: Who Gets Last Laugh?
While the love between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving appears to be alive and well, fans can’t help but watch the Suns-Mavericks storylines down the stretch (and in the playoffs). Both players gave up on trying to win a championship together. Which one will have the better situation and better postseason positioning when it’s all said and done?
3. Which L.A. Team Will Turn It Around?
The Lakers made more moves than anyone in the past few weeks, acquiring Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba while shipping off Russell Westbrook — who ultimately ended up down the hall in the Clippers locker room. With LeBron now 38 years old, is his final championship window closing? And can the loaded Clippers make it work with Westbrook and finally get to the promised land? The Clippers are the 4-seed and the Lakers are currently 13th, but they’re separated by just five games.
4. Can Anyone Bust Up the East?
Those four teams at the top of the East — Celtics, Bucks, 76ers, and Cavs — are head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the conference, but the Knicks, Heat, and Hawks have the star power to make waves. I think it’s Boston and Milwaukee on a crash course for the East Finals, but one of those Eastern Conference sleepers may have something to say.
Tonight’s Marquee Games
Nuggets at Cavaliers (7:00 pm ET)
Celtics at Pacers (7:00 pm ET)
Grizzlies at 76ers (7:30 pm ET)
Warriors at Lakers (10:00 pm ET)
Yahoo! Sports: NBA Predictions for Season’s Second Half
B/R: Fresh NBA Playoff Predictions & Championship Odds
CBS Sports: NBA Power Rankings: Celtics Lead Pack After All-Star Break
Photo: Chris Coduto / Getty Images