The NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us. With it comes the pomp and excitement for the game’s best to showcase their talent. But, it also offers a chance to reflect on what’s been another eventful season to this point.
Let’s check in on the playoff picture and all of the biggest storylines from the first half of the season.
The Bucks had a truly historic first half of the season. Sitting at 46-8 at the break, they are currently on pace to become only the third team in NBA history with 70 wins in the regular season. Both teams to accomplish that feat, the ’95-96 Bulls and 2015-2016 Warriors, made it to the Finals. Milwaukee’s 12.11 point margin of victory is the highest since that Bulls team and would be the fourth-highest in NBA history.
The recipe to success for the Bucks has been Giannis Antetokounmpo and their immense positional depth. The defending MVP is averaging 30.0 PPG with 13.5 RPG on just 30.9 minutes per game. The contrast there is ridiculous, and looking at the Per 36 minutes leaders can offer more perspective on that feat.
Giannis ranks first in the NBA with 34.9 points per 36 minutes, just edging out Rockets guard James Harden. To put that in perspective, Harden has averaged 37.1 minutes per game.
Simply put, Antetokounmpo is instrumental to the success of this team. And, he might become the 12th player in league history to win back-to-back MVP awards. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their rotation is now two-deep at every position. With the addition of Marvin Williams from the Hornets, the Bucks boast even more depth from their rotation featuring Middleton, Lopez and Bledsoe.
Los Angeles Lakers
Coming into the season, all eyes were on the Lakers and Clippers for a mouth-watering battle for the city. The Clippers own the series 2-0 against the Lakers, but it’s been the Lakers that have dominated the West to this point.
At 41-12 on the season, the Lakers are the overwhelming favorites to win the championship. Caesars Sportsbook has the Lakers at +180 odds to win it all, followed by the Bucks at +275 and the Clippers at +325.
The championship drive of the Lakers was on display in their final game before the break Wednesday night. Los Angeles edged the Denver Nuggets on the road in a 120-116 overtime thriller. Lebron James and Anthony Davis each posted 30 points and 10 boards, with James recording his 12th triple-double of the season.
James knew the break was coming, but kept his focus for this final game.
The Lakers and Nuggets could be destined to meet in the conference finals, but this much is uncertain. What is certain is that Anthony Davis and Lebron James have been playing at an unmatched level on par with the offseason hype they generated.
Scramble for the East
The Bucks are overwhelming favorites in the Eastern Conference, but that leaves a lot of room behind them. The Raptors, Celtics and Heat are currently rounding out the second, third and fourth positions, respectively. But, perhaps no team is more unpredictable than the Philadelphia 76ers.
At 34-21, the 76ers have shown flashes of dominance, but also great flashes of vulnerability. This break will offer coach Brett Brown a chance to regroup before a playoff push. It will also be an opportunity for star Joel Embiid to figure out the drama that he’s flared up in the past week or so.
Brown said he is assured of the talent of his team.
Embiid posted a mysterious photo on Instagram, leaving some fans to question his intentions with the team.
Since then, he’s posted on Twitter claiming that these posts have been “All Love.”
Regardless, it should be interesting to see how the playoff picture falls into place in the East.
Shuffle for Dominance in the West
The Clippers and Nuggets are neck and neck for the second-place spot in the West as we go to the break. The Clippers are just a game back of Denver and five games back from the Lakers. The Utah Jazz fill the number four spot, leaving the Rockets, Thunder and Mavericks at fifth, sixth, and seventh in the west, respectively.
The Houston Rockets are in unusual territory, with their “small-ball lineup” after they traded for Robert Covington. Houston is attempting to win without a traditional big man inside the paint. According to Tankathon.com, the Rockets have the easiest schedule remaining. (.467 combined winning percentage of opponents)
For the Mavericks, Luka Doncic has been an absolute star in his second season with the team. The 20-year old is tied with Lebron for most triple-doubles with 12 while averaging 28.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Here We Go
The All-Star Break definitely offers an opportunity to reflect. It’s been an exciting season so far, with a lot of fantastic moments.
But, the break gives fans, players and coaches alike the chance to take a deep breath and get ready for a playoff push. The next couple of months will be crucial for these teams that have worked hard to put themselves in playoff position. From making big transactions to tightening up rotations, now is the time to make those adjustments.
Buckle up because it’s going to be a fun ride.