The NBA All-Star break is behind us and the remainder of the regular season is set to get underway tonight.
With teams set to either make one last push for the playoffs or battle for seeding in their conference playoff picture, there's plenty to look out for in the back end of the season.
Our NBA.com staff each selected one storyline in particular that we're keying in on the most for the rest of the season.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Will the Milwaukee Bucks win 70 games?
It's only been done twice before in the NBA's entire history; 70 is a lot of wins.
Still, because of the sheer dominance displayed by the Bucks prior to the All-Star Break, it's gotten to the point where I fully expect them to reach that plateau.
Just think about it: Milwaukee entered the break at 46-8 (.852) - right on pace for 70. To get there, it would have to close the season 24-4 or better. Funny enough, it opened the season with a record of 24-4 through 28 games.
While the Bucks have the fifth-strongest remaining schedule among all NBA teams (per Tankathon), they also have the league's best player and reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
How hard will they push to get to 70? We saw the Golden State Warriors come up short after winning 73 games in 2016 while the Chicago Bulls completed the job after winning 72 in 1996.
Which side of history will the Bucks find themselves on?
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): The health of LeBron James and Anthony Davis
I've been wrong about the Los Angeles Lakers.
Count me in the camp that was dubious that:
- They had enough shooting and playmaking in the backcourt.
- They could stay healthy.
Ultimately, we won't know about that first item until the playoffs roll around even if LeBron essentially playing point guard full time alleviates some of those concerns.
The health factor is impossible to predict, yet the most important of all. Anthony Davis has long had some avoiding the injury bug and while LeBron has once more returned to Iron Man status following last year's uncharacteristic issues with a lingering groin injury, he's still in his 17th season, the same point in which Kobe Bryant injured his Achilles late in the season amidst a playoff push.
MORE: Kobe's tragedy a reminder to Appreciate Greatness
The Lakers emerge from the All-Star break with a four-game cushion atop the West would should be enough to take the foot off the gas and earn some much-needed rest ahead of what's sure to be a perilous road through the playoffs. That places both of the Lakers' superstars in the best possible position to stay healthy in gearing up for what could be a run to the NBA title.
One last word on LeBron: don't take this for granted.
Who knows how many more times we'll collectively get to see him perform at an MVP level on a bonafide championship contender. A healthy LeBron is a win for NBA fans everywhere regardless of rooting interests.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): The race for the No. 2 seed in the East.
The Toronto Raptors 14-game win streak shot them up the Eastern Conference standings just before the All-Star break, owning a 1.5-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the No. 2 seed heading into the back end of the season.
The explanation behind why the No. 2 seed is so important isn't exactly necessary, so simply put, to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks for as long as possible. The Bucks are a runaway train eying 70 wins and Giannis Antetokounmpo is well on his way to his second-consecutive MVP award. No one wants to have to deal with that until the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Raptors have given themselves a tiny cushion over the Celtics, with the Miami Heat (4.5 games back from No. 2 seed) and Philadelphia 76ers (6.0 games back) left with some ground to cover.
According to Tankathon, the Raptors and Celtics are neck-and-neck in terms of strength of schedule remaining, ranking 11th and 12th-toughest, respectively. As for the Sixers and Heat, they both rank inside the top-five for the easiest sechedules remaining, so the Raptors and Celtics have their work cut out for them if they're going to earn that two-seed.
Avoiding the Bucks until the Conference Finals gives teams a chance to pick up some steam, winning two playoffs series to try and gain some momentum to take down the top team in the league. Earning that No. 2 seed could be the difference between a run to the NBA Finals or watching the playoffs from your couch after the second round.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Will the Clippers have enough time to figure it out?
Vegas still believes the Clippers will win the title. Many experts including some who work right here on NBA.com think they'll claim their first title, but can they actually do it?
Montrezl Harrell called out the team's effort after a blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the season. It could've been a turning point in the season where the team rallied around Harrell's rant and proved to the rest of the league that they're the team to beat in the NBA.
Since the January 4th lost to the Grizzlies the Clippers have the seventh-best record in the league.
We're still waiting. We're still waiting to see this team dominate and pump fear into the rest of the league. We're still waiting to see Paul George healthy. We're still waiting to see Kawhi Leonard play as hard as he did in the last five minutes of the All-Star game. On paper the Clippers are great, but this is a franchise that hasn't won anything. In fact, they haven't even made a Conference Finals. Heck, the Buffalo Braves never made a Conference Finals!
How this team comes together in the last 26 games of the season - learning on the fly how to play with pieces that haven't played a ton together in crucial situations - will be fascinating.
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