02/20 12:15 CST The NBA playoff push starts now with All-Star break ending
The NBA playoff push starts now with All-Star break ending
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) --- Golden State is still the favorite for a fourth title in five
Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Denver, can
all go ahead and cancel those mid-April vacation plans if they were foolish
enough to have made them in the first place.
For LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, some work awaits them.
The All-Star break ends Thursday, with about one-third of the season remaining
for most clubs --- and that means the playoff push now gets very serious.
Nobody has officially clinched a spot yet, though it would take a highly
improbable series of events for the current top teams in the Eastern and
Western Conferences to miss the postseason.
"Every year is a new challenge, different circumstances," Golden State guard
Stephen Curry said. "We are motivated. We understand what's at stake."
James has been to the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons, all out of
the East --- four with Miami, four with Cleveland. His Los Angeles Lakers
currently are 10th in the West, three games behind the Clippers for the final
James has been to the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons.
"I hope that first off, we all get healthy," Lakers President Magic Johnson
said. "This has been one of the worst seasons I've ever been around Laker
basketball as far as injuries are concerned. When we were healthy, we were in
fourth place. Now we're like 10th place. But when you've got LeBron James,
anything is possible."
The Miami Heat are part of a six-team, three-spot race in the East, and Wade is
hoping for one last postseason trip out of his 16th and final season. Heat
President Pat Riley said he thinks the way the Heat ended its pre-All-Star
schedule --- with a 2-3 road trip, though one where Miami could have won four
of the games --- is a good sign.
"It looks as though there's something happening here," Riley said.
Sacramento is right in the race to end the NBA's longest current playoff
drought; the Kings haven't been to the postseason since 2006. Phoenix's drought
will hit nine straight seasons, but Orlando --- currently holders of the
third-longest drought at six seasons --- hit the break with a five-game winning
streak and is in the East mix.
"I think we feel good about ourselves," Magic All-Star forward Nikola Vucevic
said. "I know we have good confidence."
Here's some other things to know going into the final third of the season:
LEBRON AND MICHAEL
LeBron James is finally going to pass Michael Jordan.
In scoring, at least.
While the debate will rage forever about which player is better, James will
soon have scored more points than Jordan. James is 211 points shy of passing
Jordan (32,292) for the No. 4 spot in NBA history. When he gets there, each of
the top four spots on that list will be occupied by current or former Los
Angeles Lakers --- No. 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,392), No. 2 Karl Malone
(36,928), No. 3 Kobe Bryant (33,643), and James.
SCORING AND PACE
Unless every team drastically changes the way it plays over the next two months
--- which won't happen --- the league will finish this season with its highest
scoring average and fastest pace in 30 years.
Teams are averaging 110.7 points and 100 possessions per game this season.
That's the best scoring number since 1984-85 (110.8 points per game) and
fastest pace since 1988-89 (100.6 possessions per game).
All 30 teams are on pace to average at least 100 points per game this season.
The last time every team in the league averaged 100 was 1986-87, when the NBA
had 23 franchises.
3'S ARE WILD
The NBA is on pace to see records in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted.
If that sounds like an annual statement, it is: This will be the seventh
consecutive season where both marks fall.
Houston's James Harden has a shot at the record for 3s in a single season. He
has 274 (which would be fifth-best for a season already), putting him on pace
for 401 if he plays in all 25 of the Rockets' remaining games. Golden State's
Stephen Curry holds the mark with 402 makes from deep in 2015-16.
Harden seems like a lock for the 3s-taken record --- Curry took 886 in his
record-setting year, Harden has 733 now and is on pace for 1,072.
The Houston All-Star is in the throes of a historic offensive season.
Harden's current scoring average --- 36.6 points per game --- would be
eighth-best all-time, and the best mark since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1
points in 1986-87. Jordan (once), Elgin Baylor (once) and Wilt Chamberlain
(five times) are the only players to finish a season with a higher average than
the one Harden is toting now.
Harden leads Oklahoma City's Paul George by 7.9 points per game in this year's
scoring race. That is an enormous number. To put that in perspective: If George
stays at his current scoring rate, 28.7 per game, Harden would remain the NBA's
scoring leader even if he went scoreless in each of his next 14 games.
Already with 43 wins this season, it's already safe to say this the best year
for Milwaukee in a long time.
The Bucks won 44 games last season, and 46 in 2009-10. This will almost
certainly be Milwaukee's first 50-win year since 2000-01 (52-30), and the Bucks
could flirt with their first 60-win year since 1980-81. Bucks coach Mike
Budenholzer says he joined Milwaukee at the perfect time.
"The fans there, the energy in our arena, it's off the charts," Budenholzer
said. "New practice facility, a roster that's in a great place, ownership,
front office --- everything is just really, really set up to have great
David Fizdale, the very likable and highly respected first-year Knicks coach is
overseeing a team that's on pace for 16 wins --- which would be the worst
record in franchise history. Obviously, it's all about the draft and free
agency for the Knicks, who are in position to be major players when the NBA's
annual superstar-shopping window opens on July 1.
Phoenix is also on pace to have its worst season ever. Chicago and Cleveland
probably won't hit all-time rock bottom, but look like they'll come close. In
all, four teams will likely finish the season with a winning percentage under
.250 --- the most since six teams were that bad in the 1997-98 season.
The draft lottery is May 14, and that's when the Knicks, Suns, Bulls and
Cavaliers could declare this season's suffering worthwhile.
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