The second half of the 2020-21 NBA season will begin on Wednesday, March 10.
With that in mind, our NBA.com Staff shares which storylines they have their eyes on between now and the end of the regular season.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I mean, it's got to be the Brooklyn Nets, right?
The Nets entered this season as the most interesting team in the league and they've only gotten more interesting in the months since. There's no doubt that they have what it takes to win it all, but we've barely seen their Big Three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant play together. (According to NBA.com, they've shared the court for a grand total of 186 minutes together, which ... isn't much). The Nets have the best offence in the league despite that, so it's scary to think about how much damage they can do when they're all healthy.
Of course, it remains to be seen if their defence can hold up against the best of the best. Also, whether or not Blake Griffin has anything left in the tank and if there's still one more move to be made ahead of the playoffs, whether it's via trade or in the buyout market. (Are they actually in the running for Andre Drummond if he gets bought out?)
Put it all together, and the Nets continue to be the biggest story in the NBA.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm going to go in a different direction in the Eastern Conference - it's the Miami Heat.
After making an impressive and unexpected run to the NBA Finals last season, the Heat entered the 2020-21 season with high expectations. Returning nearly an identical roster, the assumption was that Miami would remain one of the most dominant teams in the East. Getting out to a 7-13 start through their first 20 games, the Heat were far from reaching those expectations. The team was ravaged by injuries and health and safety protocols - according to Spotrac, they've missed 144 man games to injury/health protocols, the third-most in the league - and it was hard to get into any sort of a rhythm in the first half of the season because of it.
Even with their slow start, Miami ended the first half of the season by winning seven of its last eight games to return to .500 and insert itself right back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. With Jimmy Butler finally healthy, they're looking much more like the team that came two wins away from the NBA Finals last season and I'm looking forward to seeing if they can carry that momentum into the second half of the season and beyond.
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): They've been one of the most intriguing stories of the first half of the season, but can the New York Knicks keep this up?
Prior to the season, did anyone expect to see the rebuilding Knicks sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference and above .500? The last time they were above .500 at the beginning of March was 2012-13, the last season they made the playoffs!
Tom Thibodeau has his young squad playing hard every night, especially on the defensive end where they've put together the second-best defence in the NBA, are allowing the fewest points per game (104.4), the lowest opponent field goal percentage (43.5%) and the lowest opponent 3-point percentage (33.3%). Playing one of the easiest schedules in the league through their first 36 games, the real test comes for the Knicks after the break, beginning with matchups against the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in three of their first four games.
Per Tankathon, they have the fifth-toughest run home and we'll find out whether they've been fool's gold or are genuinely a team on the rise. Just 3.5 games separate the fourth-seed Knicks and the 11th-seed Atlanta Hawks, with the race for playoff seeding in the East set to go down to the wire.
The Nets may be the best show in town, but New York has a big opportunity to take a leap this season and these next 36 games will show us exactly what they're made of.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I've got my eye on how much the Denver Nuggets can rise in the West standings.
I think we all came into the season expecting Denver to build upon its magical run to the Western Conference Finals by coming out of the gates firing but instead, we saw the team lose four of its first five games and hover around .500 for the first month of the season.
In the time since, the Nuggets have racked up some impressive wins … and had a few head-scratching losses, leading me to question what this team's identity will actually be for the second half of the season. It does help that they entered the break on a four-game win streak, including a 31-point road win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, the team finds itself holding the West's sixth seed - one game ahead of seventh and two games out of fourth.
Nikola Jokic is without a doubt playing at an MVP level but on a larger scale, the consistency hasn't quite been there across the board for the team. If Jamal Murray continues to round into form and Michael Porter Jr. can continue to unearth his potential, the Nuggets might have a noteworthy second-half run that places them comfortably in the top half of the West.
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