10 important questions as we begin the final stretch of the season:
Will the Milwaukee Bucks (currently 44-14) finish with the best record in the NBA?
The Bucks have not been a dominant team like this for a long time. Now that they have a well-established superstar, they are in a position to succeed in the near future as well as long-term. The front office has also surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo with a more-than-adequate supporting cast and excellent depth with the addition of Nikola Mirotic.
Where will the Houston Rockets (currently fifth seed) finish in the standings?
The Rockets average 54 wins over the five years previous to this season. Sitting at just 33-25 right now, they are not on pace for 50 wins but should not be counted out. How much does the regular season really mean in this bloodbath of a Western Conference? We have every reason to believe they will surpass Portland. Although Denver is 6.5 games ahead, the Nuggets have the second-hardest schedule remaining.
Will the Boston Celtics overcome their locker room issues?
Boston, currently fifth seed in the East, was considered by many to be a significant favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals. Now it’s suddenly looking like a toss-up between the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors and Sixers. From all the speculation on Kyrie Irving leaving this summer to Marcus Morris admitting the team is not having fun playing together, Boston has some things to figure out and time is running short.
Will the Los Angeles Lakers (29-30) make the playoffs?
This is only a serious question because LeBron James has missed 18 games with a groin injury. This was apparently his longest injury since he was in junior high, which is a little scary. L.A.L. has the ninth-toughest remaining schedule including both matchups with the Bucks as well as Denver, Boston, Toronto, Utah, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Portland.
Will the Brooklyn Nets (31-30) hold onto sixth seed?
From Caris LeVert to Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets have battled an injury bug all season long. We’re not there quite yet but getting back to the postseason should feel quite relieving for this organization. Fourth-year floor general D’Angelo Russell finally seems to have broke loose. He is no longer an average starting point guard that shows flashes of greatness but now consistently operates a smooth-flowing offense.
How will the New Orleans Pelicans continue to manage Anthony Davis’ playing time?
It’s no secret that the Pels have surrendered this season and possibly next year depending on what they’re looking for in exchange for Davis. We would like to think they would make the wise decision in building for the future. Do they really have any other choice with the current state of the Western Conference? This storyline shouldn’t be overstressed but is worth keeping an eye on.
Can the Philadelphia 76ers’ new “big four” share the ball without problems?
Jimmy Butler’s locker room issues have been well-documented throughout the past few years of his career. An upcoming free agent this year, there’s no guarantee he ends up staying in Philly. Joel Embiid also grumbled about his diminishing role with Butler’s arrival. The addition of Tobias Harris presents the team with an even greater challenge. A team usually goes as far as its talent takes them, but only to a certain extent.
Will the Denver Nuggets finish with the best home record (currently 25-4)?
Three of the Nuggets’ four home losses have come against Golden State, Houston and Milwaukee. They are known for having an electric atmosphere at home and thrive with a high-powered offense. However, their effective team defense has been a pleasant surprise and risen their overall status in the league to new heights. Denver is not first-round proof by any means as its a young team with little playoff experience.
Will the Indiana Pacers retain homecourt in the first round without Victor Oladipo?
Indiana has won eight of nine games after dropping four consecutive following the injury to Oladipo. The Pacers have an obstacle to overcome in any of their possible first-round matchups. It would be nice for them to somehow claim third seed and face a team like Brooklyn, Charlotte or Detroit. The Pacers trail only OKC in defensive efficiency and their impact on that end has continued despite Oladipo’s absence.
Will the Sacramento Kings (currently 31-28) finish over .500?
I changed this question a bit since I already discussed the Lakers making the playoffs. The main idea is that those two teams might be dueling for eighth seed in the West. The Kings have one of the top five toughest remaining schedules in the league. Like the Nuggets, their downfall in the postseason would be their inexperience. All in all, this organization took a giant step forward this season.