1. It's a League Pass free preview weekend!
Basketball is back in session as of last night and things really pick up tonight with a nine-game slate. Thankfully, you don't have to miss any of the stretch run goodness (for the next three days, at least) as there's a League Pass free preview all weekend. We'll get into Friday's key matchups soon, but don't sleep on some of what's cooking Saturday (Mavs vs. Hawks at 7:30 ET & Rockets vs. Jazz at 9 ET) and Sunday (Pacers-Raptors, 6 ET and Spurs-Thunder, 7 ET).
2. Another big win on tap for Denver?
The Nuggets, lest you had forgotten, were one of the NBA's hottest teams entering the All-Star break. They were 8-1 in their last nine games and rung up victories against the Jazz (twice), Bucks, Spurs and Blazers in that stretch. They'll have to keep proving themselves as they have one of the toughest stretch run schedules in the NBA, something that starts in earnest with a trip to Oklahoma City (8 ET, ESPN). Keep an eye on the number of mid-range shots in this game as both teams rank in the top five in percentage of shot attempts from that distance.
3. Lakers start their stretch run
Los Angeles is 41-12, has a five-game lead on Denver for No. 1 in the West and is 28-6 overall against West foes. Life is basically as good as its ever been in a long time for Lakers fans, but there's no time to rest as well. Mike Trudell of Lakers.com digs into the storylines to know for L.A. as it hosts Memphis to start the post-All-Star break portion of the schedule (10:30 ET, League Pass). After the Lakers face the Grizzlies tonight, they'll only have four more home games against West teams currently in the playoff mix.
4. Opportunity knocks for Magic
Yesterday's news that Kyrie Irving is done for the season is hardly what anyone (especially Nets fans) wanted to hear. However, the season waits for no one and Orlando may be poised to benefit from Brooklyn's latest dose of bad news. The Magic trail the Nets by 1 1/2 games for No. 7 in the East (and the chance to avoid Milwaukee in the first round) as they host the Mavs tonight (7 ET, League Pass). The stage is set up well for Orlando to rise in the East as it has the second-easiest remaining schedule in the conference.
"I’m just looking to help my team. That’s what I want – I want us to be a great team and (give) ourselves and opportunity to win deep into the playoffs."https://t.co/7p9VLZ0lUf— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 21, 2020
5. Jazz warming up again
Given that we've seen win streaks of 18 games (Milwaukee) and 15 games (Toronto) this season, a four-game streak pales in comparison. However, Utah has done just that and was on that small roll before the All-Star break (scoring wins over Portland, Dallas, Houston and Miami). The Jazz host the struggling Spurs (9 ET, League Pass) in a somewhat easy stretch for Utah as six of its next 10 foes are under .500. The West is as intense as ever and the Jazz can't afford to get on a skid (they lost five in a row before this four-game win streak) if they want to rise the ranks in the playoff chase.
6. Lillard out as Blazers begin playoff push
The 2019-20 season has not been without its difficulties for Portland, and that isn't about to let up now, either. All-Star guard Damian Lillard is out the next three to five games with a groin injury, which puts the Blazers at a decided disadvantage as playoff-hopefully New Orleans visits (10:30 ET, ESPN). This game is mostly about saving face for Portland as it has already lost the season series and any potential head-to-head playoff tiebreaker (should it come into play). It's not all doom and gloom for the Blazers, though: they have the second-easiest and most home-heavy schedule in the West down the stretch, which provides chances to gain some ground.
7. On this date: Carmelo heads to N.Y.
In the 2010-11 season, the NBA world was abuzz about Carmelo Anthony's trade destination. On Feb. 21, 2011, that chatter ceased as the Nuggets traded Anthony (and Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams) to the New York Knicks in exchange for Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, $3 million in cash, and a 2014 first-round Draft pick.