Blogtable: What storylines will you be monitoring in the season's final month?
Jockeying for Play-In position and the Kia MVP race are among the topics our writers will be watching closely during the stretch run.
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A few things you will be watching closely during the final month of the season?
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Steve Aschburner: Health, first and foremost. For players who are fine now, can they avoid playoff-altering injuries. For those hurt, can they heal and return to effectiveness. That means James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball, John Collins, Joel Embiid and on and on. Then I’ll be watching the positioning for the Play-In games near the bottom of the bracket. At least in the West, how that plays out could present some decent first-round challenges to heavyweights such as Utah, Phoenix and even the Clippers. Dallas, Memphis, San Antonio, Golden State and New Orleans all could surprise with a bit of momentum coming in.
Shaun Powell: Other than the jockeying for Play-In position? Well, it’s the Kia MVP race, which is getting interesting. Does LeBron seize upon the sense of urgency with the Lakers and deal himself back in? Or is this a two-center race between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? Or maybe a darkhorse lurking somewhere?
1. Most important is the ability of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and James Harden to return to full health and mobility. We already know that one of the league’s eight contenders will be missing one of its best players, so hopefully, the other seven get and stay healthy.
2. The Bucks have two-game series against both the Sixers (Apr. 22 and 24) and Nets (May 2 and 4). If Antetokounmpo is back, those will be interesting measuring-stick games.
3. The Sixers’ offense remains a fascinating study. Joel Embiid is the matchup that can derail the Nets’ run to The Finals, but his ability to deal with double-teams will remain under the microscope.
Michael C. Wright: It truly hurt to watch Murray go down with the knee injury on Monday against the Warriors, taking away a major component of arguably the most dynamic offensive trio in the league with the guard playing alongside Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. Jokic is already averaging the best numbers of his career, and you wonder what more the Kia MVP candidate can give as Denver attempts to close out the season. We’re about to find out, and you can probably expect Porter’s usage numbers to increase as well. Monte Morris and Facu Campazzo will need to do more, too, along with new addition Aaron Gordon. The second thing to keep a close eye on is the competition among the bottom of the Western Conference playoff hopefuls. Memphis, San Antonio, Golden State, and New Orleans are all within a game of one another at eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively, which means one of those teams will be left out in the cold once the Play-In Tournament commences. The Spurs have the most difficult remaining schedule among these squads, while the Pelicans and Warriors appear to be heating up for the stretch run.