As the weather gets warmer and the glitz and glamour of NBA All-Star Weekend fades away into the sunset, 26 teams (better luck next year Philadelphia, Phoenix, LA Lakers and Brooklyn) will fight tooth and nail to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs and give their team a chance to contend for the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Much like the NHL and MLB, the NBA kicks into high gear immediately following the all-star break.
At this point in the season, most teams have played over 50 games. And as the trade deadline looms large, there are a number of storylines hogging up the headlines. None is bigger however than the Golden State Warriors' quest for a second consecutive championship.
While the Warriors have garnered much of the attention in the Western Conference, the Spurs are putting together a remarkable season by their own high standards. Has Gregg Popovich figured out a formula when it comes to distributing minutes and resting players in hopes of postseason success? We will find that answer out when playoffs get underway in mid-April.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the headlines prior to the All-Star Game for all of the wrong reasons. They fired head coach David Blatt while they were in first place in the conference. Shocking, really. Can Cleveland maintain the same level of play post-all-star break and hold off both Toronto and the surging Celtics for the one-seed in the East?
There are always more questions than answers at this point in the season, so let's look at a few storylines that will be sure to dominate any sports-news network for the remaining month and a half of the NBA season.
Golden State 's Quest for 73 Wins
This would have been an extremely bold prediction in October.
Now it is a very realistic possibility.
The Warriors have taken the league to the woodshed this year. Every single game is complete domination. Their four losses are mere blips on the radar compared to the damage they have inflicted to every single team in The Association. No one rivals them. They are averaging 115 points per game and show no signs of slowing down. Steph Curry is shooting the ball at an astonishing rate and Draymond Green is a triple-double machine. He has already churned out 10 such performances in 51 games. I have not even mentioned Klay Thompson yet, and he can kill a team in a quarter with his smooth stroke and his ability to net triples and mid-range jumpers.
Golden State currently sits with a record of 48-4. The record for most wins in a season is 72 and was set by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. The Bulls had a record of 47-5 after the same 52-game mark.
For the Warriors to at least tie the 72-win record, they would need to win 24 of their final 30 games. Based on the eye test, the Warriors are the best team in the league. Based on their remaining schedule, the Warriors have to navigate a six-game road trip coming out of the all-star break. That will be tough. However, they play 17 of their final 30 games at home, which bodes well for a team with a 24-0 home record.
The only opportunity I see for the 95/96 Bulls to be optimistic about their 72-10 record standing for another season, is rest. Resting players is becoming commonplace in the NBA, and the Warriors are already in a great position to lock up the No.1 overall seed in the league as well as home-court advantage. It is highly likely that we will see Steph and Co. get some time off in the final couple of weeks of the season.
The End of an Era In Oklahoma City?
The Oklahoma City Thunder's championship aspirations may have slipped them by without anyone in the organization even realizing it. The Thunder, for all of their athletic ability and talent, have never gotten over the hump for two key reasons in my opinion. The first reason being maturity and the second being discipline.
The two key cogs, Durant and Westbrook, have been together for eight seasons and have always fallen short when it mattered the most - in the playoffs. The duo has one finals appearance between them, and that was in 2012 when LeBron and his marionettes in Miami easily beat them in five games.
After the Thunders impending post-season failure once again, all eyes will turn to Kevin Durant and his impending free agency. The Washington native and former Texas Longhorn would be a key addition to any team in the league given his deft scoring ability. He will be highly courted by several teams, including his hometown team, the Wizards, who will have the cap space to offer him a max-sized contract. With the Lakers, Knicks and Heat all said to be interested in bringing KD35 to their respective city; it is anyone's guess as to where he will end up.
There is an alternative option which nobody may see coming. Durant has the power to resign with OKC on a two-year contract and hit the free-agent market with his backcourt pal Westbrook, who will be a free agent in the summer of 2017.
What makes the most sense for Durant? Play hard for a city who has loved you from day one or test the waters and pull a LaMarcus Aldridge?
Only time will tell.
Hitting the Unemployment Line
The only people who like when coaches are fired are those who support the team it is happening to. As a Raptors fan, I was very happy when the Raptors finally parted ways with Jay Triano in 2011 and brought in a winning coach who gets his jollies off by watching his team play defense. God bless Dwane Casey.
Fans of Washington and Milwaukee might just get to experience the same joy I felt back in 2011.
I get it, Washington has had a ton of injuries this season with John Wall and Bradley Beal missing extended periods, but in the weaker of the two conferences, sitting 10th, five games below .500, will not endear you to the general manager. While Randy Wittman might cling to sweeping the Raptors in round-one last season, missing the postseason this year will surely send him packing. The team has too much potential to flounder in the bottom half of the conference.
If the Wizards are floundering, the Bucks are pretty much road-kill. A record of 22-32 is good enough for 13th in the East. The roster looks ugly from top to bottom with the exception of Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was always a difficult situation taking the Bucks job for Jason Kidd. Always destined for failure, Kidd is going to need a new place to call his NBA home come the start for the 2016 season. On a lighter note, Jason Kidd is a genius. Remember when he spilt his drink on purpose in order to get an extra time while coaching Brooklyn? What a beauty.
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