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6 NBA things to know for Feb. 20

Some key storylines and NBA tidbits to know for the day ahead

Jeff Case, NBA.com

1. Goodbye All-Star break, hello stretch run!

It’s been a minute (or more accurately, a week) since we’ve had NBA games to watch. The All-Star break is behind us (hope you had a nice rest — we sure did around here) and the last 30 or so games of 2019-20 get rolling tonight. We’ll get into the best matchups in a second, but before you go any further, give this amazing, team-by-team breakdown of things by our man John Schuhmann a look. If it doesn’t get you thinking about the playoff picture and how 2019-20 could shake out, nothing will.

2. Can Sixers succeed with Horford in reserve?

When Philadelphia added Al Horford in the offseason, the thinking was he and All-Star center Joel Embiid would be a nightmare for other starters to cover. It hasn’t quite worked out that way and just before the All-Star break, the Sixers bumped Horford to a backup role. After a 29-20 mark with Horford as a starter in 2019-20, Philly is 1-0 with him as a reserve (a role he took on in their Feb. 11 win vs. the LA Clippers). The banged-up Brooklyn Nets are visiting next (8 ET, TNT) and Horford sounds optimistic about the season and his role. We’ll see how it all plays out, though, on the court.

3. Milwaukee’s pursuit of 70 wins continues

The Bucks — like perhaps no other team this season — have maintained the same focus since its opening night. They are well on pace for a 70-win season (which would be the NBA’s first since 2015-16) as they take on a Pistons team (7 ET, League Pass) that is very clearly looking ahead to 2020-21. Standing in the way of Milwaukee getting to 70 is a schedule that features a ton of games against teams currently No. 2-6 in the East.

4. Grizzlies’ playoff push begins

Few expected Memphis to be a serious playoff contender when 2019-20 began and even now, as the No. 8 seed in the West, they have a less than 25% chance of making the playoffs (per ESPN and FiveThirtyEight). No team in the West has a harder road to the postseason the Memphis, whose remaining foes have a win percentage of 55.4%. The Grizzlies’ playoff hopes could get a short-lived boost, perhaps, if they can drop the struggling Kings tonight (10 ET, League Pass). Sacramento has been erratic all season: it is 15-19 vs. West teams over .500 … but two of its last four wins have come against playoff teams (the Miami Heat and LA Clippers).

5. Rockets in prime position to rise

Inconsistency and roster change have been the name of the game for Houston this season, which is going all-in on small ball/3-and-D players to finish the 2019-20 regular season. For all the talent Houston has, it is 20-9 against sub-.500 teams this season — the second-worst mark among West playoff teams. All that said, Houston has a chance to charge up the West standings thanks to it having one of the most favorable stretch-run schedules out there. The Rockets open things up by paying a visit to their old rivals, the Golden State Warriors (10:30 ET, TNT), and eye a much easier road in March.

6. Happy 57th Birthday, Charles Barkley!

Whether you know him as the outspoken NBA analyst on “Inside The NBA” or the former NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer or the celebrity pitchman, Charles Barkley has left a lasting legacy on basketball and pop culture. He’s turning 57 today and lest we get caught up in the Barkley of today, don’t forget that upon his retirement, “Sir Charles” was one of only four players in NBA history to have compiled at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists.

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