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All 30 NBA teams have interesting situations as season hits home stretch

All 30 NBA teams have interesting situations as season hits home stretch

One month from now, we will all be enjoying the NBA play-in tournament, a precursor to the postseason.

But until then, we are enduring what is known in the Association as “dog day” games, in which there is no telling exactly what will be compelling. 

So tonight, we aim to change that by making every team interesting. Every single NBA team has something interesting going on, from the very best to the very worst. So let’s have a look at all 30 of them, starting with the East before tackling the West.

Consider this a reset/refresher column as we all prepare for the final 24 days of the regular season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PHILADELPHIA 76ers (39-19): A home loss to Phoenix last night kept them from picking up a game on the Brooklyn Nets, who remain a half-game behind the Sixers. Ben Simmons (illness) was not available to defend Stephen Curry on Monday or Chris Paul on Wednesday, and those missed games won't help his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. The team has a measuring stick game against the Milwaukee Bucks tonight.

BROOKLYN NETS (39-20): It has now been more than two weeks since they put together back-to-back wins, which is understandable because their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have not been together on the court since the dead of winter. Mike James of CSKA Moscow was released from his contract and will be joining them next. 

MILWAUKEE BUCKS (35-22): They and the 76ers have lost back-to-back games, but one of those skids will end tonight after they play each other in Milwaukee. This is their second game of the season vs. Philly, and the teams end their season series on Saturday afternoon. If the Bucks win both home contests, they will be only one game back of Philly in the loss column. But that seems to be asking a lot of a Milwaukee team that has allowed 128 points in each of its last two games.

NEW YORK KNICKS (33-27): They are the hottest team in the NBA right now with an eight-game winning streak, which means it is time to resume the conversation of Tom Thibodeau as the leading candidate for Coach of the Year. The Knicks have the NBA’s stingiest defense (allowing 104.7 points per game) and have the likely Most Improved Player, Julius Randle, who has scored 32 or more points in five of the last six games. The seven-year playoff drought is ending. They have not won a second-round series in 21 years.

ATLANTA HAWKS (32-27): Nate McMillan is 18-7 since taking over for Lloyd Pierce, Clint Capela has shot no worse than 65.8% in the past 12 games and is leading the league in rebounds per game (14.7), and Bogdan Bogdanovic is averaging 21.6 points per game this month while shooting 49.1% on threes. There's a big stretch upcoming: Miami, Milwaukee and two vs. Philadelphia among Atlanta's next five games. 

BOSTON CELTICS (31-27): Eight wins in nine games seemed to straighten them out before they lost Wednesday night to Chicago, but entering the playoffs with a head of steam is a tried-and-true formula for success. Last night’s loss was excusable given the absences of Marcus Smart, Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams. The Celtics have two games left vs. Charlotte and two vs. Miami. Fourth place is within reach.

MIAMI HEAT (31-28): Let’s not forget that nobody saw them coming last season, so doubt them at your own risk. We go into Thursday night’s games with one game separating the No. 4 to No. 7 teams in the loss column, and let’s not forget that these guys were 11-17 a little more than two months ago. The Heat's schedule is easy until four of their final five are against Boston (twice), Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

CHARLOTTE HORNETS (28-29): The Hornets franchise has not won a playoff series since 2001-02, but is currently the eighth seed in the East. Terry Rozier is not being discussed in the Most Improved Player debate, but he is averaging a career-high 20.7 points and his field goal percentage is up four-and-a-half points to 46.8%. The best news for Charlotte? LaMelo Ball is expected to return very soon.

INDIANA PACERS (27-31): They are looking like a play-in game team, and they are 0-1 against their likely (as of now) No. 10 opponent, Washington, although they have two games remaining against the Wizards. Caris LeVert is getting up a lot of shots, but not making them at a particularly good clip. Except for his field goal percentage, Malcolm Brogdon is having a solid April production-wise, most notably with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.0. 

WASHINGTON WIZARDS (25-33): At least we can always count on Russell Westbrook filling up the stat sheet, and Bradley Beal, when healthy, showing why everyone always wants to trade for him. They are going to have to hold off Chicago and Toronto for the No. 10 spot, and the Raptors have suddenly strung together four-straight wins. The Wizards have won six in a row and eight of nine, so keep that “head-of-steam” thing in mind.

TORONTO RAPTORS (25-34): They have an absolutely brutal schedule the rest of the way, playing the Clippers (twice), Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers, Knicks, Nets, Grizzlies and Mavericks. The Raptors have played every single one of their games on the road, having temporarily relocated to Tampa from the still-on-lockdown province of Ontario, so making the top 10 will be especially difficult. Their end-of-winter stretch of 15 losses in 17 games was a killer.

CHICAGO BULLS (24-34): Billy Donovan is tasked with assimilating several newly-acquired rotation players into the lineup on the fly, and the Bulls are 5-10 since the trade deadline. The No. 10 spot is the goal, and Washington is only one game ahead of them in the loss column. But 13 of their final 14 are against East teams with better records. They will not play any more West teams. 

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (21-37): Out of the rotation with a fluctuating role, Cedi Osman has scored in single digits in nine of his last 10 games and has missed 27 of his last 30 three-point shots over that span. That, to use a nice word, is peculiar. In addition to the first season of his contract, will make roughly $31 more million by the time his contract expires, unless whoever he plays for in 2023-24 declines the $6.7 million option in the final season.

ORLANDO MAGIC (18-40): They are 3-11 since the fire-sale/trade deadline, and there is not a lot to be positive about when looking ahead to next year (aside from the hope that Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac recover successfully from their injuries). At least the players can ditch their winter clothes for a while. The Magic have only one cold-weather city road game ahead, and that's May 11 in Milwaukee.

DETROIT PISTONS (18-41): Troy Weaver got rid of all the dead money, which is Step 1 in a rebuild. Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes are the main building blocks, and the Pistons will have a very good lottery pick. Weaver has his work cut out for him.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

UTAH JAZZ (44-15):  Nobody makes this argument, but a guy who studies this stuff believes Joe Ingles is a better Sixth Man of the Year candidate than Jordan Clarkson. He cites Ingles' superior three-point numbers (49.4% to 35.0%), double the assists (4.4 to 2.2) and better overall field goal percentage (52.5% to 42.4). On a broader note, the Jazz are ahead in the West by one-and-a-half games over Phoenix, with one game against the Suns remaining. Phoenix is 2-0 against Utah and owns the tiebreaker.

PHOENIX SUNS (42-16): They are 31-7 since Feb. 5, and nobody in the league can touch that type of stretch over that long of a period. (The Jazz have lost 10 games over that span). So why exactly are we not talking about Monty Williams for Coach of the Year? Nobody on this team is in the MVP conversation because none of them are doing the type of night-in, night-out spectacular things that Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Steph Curry do, but doubt the Suns at your own risk. They could have the No. 1 seed.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (42-19): They are 16-3 in their last 19 games, and are 25-10 against Western Conference teams – tops in the West in terms of winning percentage. They are 11-1 in the second half of back-to-back games, winning again last night with Amir Coffey in the starting five, as Ty Lue used his 22nd different starting lineup. The Clippers would lose the tiebreaker with the Jazz and win the tiebreaker with the Suns; still, they are almost locked into the No. 3 seed. They have litmus-test games left vs. the Suns, Lakers and Nuggets.

DENVER NUGGETS (38-20): With Steph Curry having a bad shooting game last night, perhaps the “Steph-for-MVP” bandwagon lost a wheel. Nikola Jokic is two-tenths of an assist away from averaging a triple-double this month, as the Nuggets have gone 9-2. Denver still must play road games against the Clippers, Jazz, Lakers and Blazers, but for now seem locked into a No. 4 seed with a likely first-round matchup against a Lakers team that is getting Anthony Davis back on Thursday and LeBron James soon after. 

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (35-23): Their regular-season record means absolutely nothing, because there have been a total of zero games in which Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Andre Drummond have been on the court together. The Lakers have alternated wins and losses in their past 12 games, and they’ll probably be at full strength for their final 10 or so games to figure each other out prior to the playoffs. One would imagine that Drummond, Davis and Montrezl Harrell can combine to contain Jokic in the first round.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (32-26): They'll want to hold off the Mavericks for sixth to avoid the play-in tournament – unless they would prefer a first-round matchup with Phoenix instead of the Clippers. The Blazers have the tiebreaker over the Mavs from winning the season series 2-1, and the schedule-makers have given them three of their next four games against the Memphis Grizzlies. The two components that they did not have a year ago -- when Jusuf Nurkic was hurt -- are a rebounding machine at backup center (Enes Kanter) and a stud perimeter defender (Robert Covington).

DALLAS MAVERICKS (31-26): They are only .500 (14-14) at home and .500 (17-17) against Western Conference teams. Kristaps Porzingis has only 15 double-doubles after having 21 in his rookie season under Derek Fisher, when Phil Jackson was running the New York Knicks franchise. Assuming they are a play-in team, Luka Doncic will still make it a must-watch No. 7 - No. 8 game, even for casual fans. The Mavs have already clinched the season series against Memphis.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (29-28): If only they played in the East... The Grizzlies are 17-8 against teams from the opposite conference, 12-20 against the West. There are enough cupcakes left on their schedule to keep them safe, so it is probably a matter of whether they finish No. 8, 9 or 10. Oh, and welcome back, Jaren Jackson Jr. Eight of their players are averaging double figures in points, and Desmond Bane is 0.5 points per game away from making it nine. Jonas Valanciunas has missed a double-double in two straight games after doing it in 16-straight, and missing the last two contests with a concussion.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (29-30): Steph Curry’s streak of 30-point games ended last night at 11, but one would imagine that he will have another good game sometime soon. His MVP odds were 100-1 last Sunday and are 17-1 today. Whether the Warriors end up in the No. 7 - No. 8 game or the No. 9 - No. 10 game in the play-in tournament, we will not want to miss it. The Warriors' final regular-season game is against Memphis, and it could be a tiebreaker game. The Grizzlies are 1-1 vs. GSW.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (28-29): Gregg Popovich will eventually get a haircut... we think. But in all seriousness, Pop has done quite well with a team that will likely undergo a roster overhaul in the offseason, and presumably, he and San Antonio CEO R.C. Buford will address a position other than point guard. They have lost 8 of 12 and 13 of 19, but eight of their final 15 games are against East teams. They will not play a West team at home until a home back-to-back vs. Phoenix to end the regular season.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (25-33): If not for their current four-game losing streak, they would have caught the Spurs by now.  The Pelicans have a must-win game Saturday against San Antonio because it would clinch the season series, but four games in the loss column is a lot of ground to cover over the remainder of the season. The schedule is packed with road games, and there are only two easy opponents: Orlando on Thursday and Minnesota on May 1.

SACRAMENTO KINGS (24-35): They have lost 10 of 12, so it would take a miracle for them to climb to No. 10. Buddy Hield is only a shade above 40% from the field, which is not what you want from your shooting guard who just signed a huge extension. A massive offseason overhaul seems likely, as the playoff-free streak probably reaches 15 years in late May. 

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (20-39): When you have nothing to do, Google “McLovin” and “Aleksej Pokusevski” and see if that looks like a match. Jeff Sherman of LV Sportsbook says the Thunder have a power rating worse than the tanking Sixers from back when Sam Hinkie was running the team, but they certainly will be entertaining on draft night when general manager Sam Presti (presumably) starts packaging multiple future first-round picks for better first-round picks and/or players.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (16-44): They have a new ownership group coming in that will keep the team in its current location, which means expansion is coming to Seattle and a second city (Las Vegas? Kansas City? Louisville?). Those expansion teams will help the current owners mitigate the financial losses they have sustained the past two seasons during the pandemic. 

HOUSTON ROCKETS (15-44): They are a pleasure to watch when the only alternative is the Home Shopping Network. The Victor Oladipo thing really did not work out, and they are now stuck with John Wall for the next two seasons. It'll be a long rebuild for the Rockets.

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