The NBA All-Star break has come to an end, and we now look forward to the remainder of the season. There are a lot of storylines to watch for as we move quickly towards the Playoffs. Here are a few that I will be watching intently.
1. The Westbrook Effect- Since the start of January, Kevin Durant has treated the league like he’s playing on rookie level on 2K14. Everything has looked entirely too easy. Give him an inch and he is knocking down a cold-blooded three. Play him too close, and he’s going around you to a dunk or layup, or set up a teammate for one. He has done it all with the calm of a silent assassin. It has been a beautiful thing to watch. The question being floated around is, will this continue when Russell Westbrook returns from injury? This writer believes that it will. This thought is based on the assumption that Westbrook will understand that Durant is playing at an otherworldly level, and not try to play hero ball when he returns. Should he choose to serve as a compliment to the work Durant is doing, the Thunder will be scary, and tough for anyone to beat going forward.
2. Tanking For The Draft- The upcoming draft class has been anticipated for a couple of years. The big names, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Julius Randle have done nothing to change that thought. Players like Joel Embiid and Tyler Ennis have helped add to the depth of this class. With a class this good, teams that know they have no shot at making the playoffs, may now take as many losses as possible to increase their chances in the draft lottery. The Philadelphia 76ers, who overachieved throughout the season, took a turn towards Tanksville with two losses of forty points or more prior to the All-Star break. Look for more teams to begin to play at a less than impressive level in hopes of landing one of the big fish in the draft. Condolences to all who have tickets to games involving teams with no shot at the playoffs.
3. Stay Healthy- Each year there is a major injury that changes the complete outlook of the playoffs. Here’s hoping that this year will be different. The Eastern Conference will be a two horse race between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been fortunate to be mostly healthy throughout the year. The Heat have been dealing with nagging injuries, and resting players to make sure they are right for the playoffs. Hopefully, both teams will be as close to 100% as possible for the rest of the season, and entering the playoffs. The Western Conference is much more wide open. There have been many injuries to important pieces of teams that have Finals aspirations. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Manu Ginobili are just a few names that have missed major time so far this season. They are all vital cogs and will be needed if their teams truly wants a shot at the Finals. As a fan of the game, it would be nice to see everyone full strength throughout the rest of the season.
In addition to those few, I will also to see if there are any trades this week to change the landscape of the league, How the KD/LeBron MVP race goes, and whether or not the Andrew Bynum experiment is a success for the Pacers. The NBA season is going to fly by from here, and we will soon be talking about the playoffs. Until then, enjoy the next couple of months as teams jockey for playoff seeding, and chances at the first pick in the draft.
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