The NBA prepares for the final stretch of the season

When the break for the All-Star Game ends, the last pull will begin.

There isn’t much time left in the NBA season. The All-Star Game took place when some teams had played 60 games, well past the middle of an 82-game season. It will be a sprint to the finish and the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers need to prove they have what it takes.

The Nets could have Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons on the floor very soon. But the Lakers might not have Anthony Davis for another month with a foot injury, putting all the pressure on LeBron James.

With injuries and inconsistencies, neither team knows for sure what to expect in the postseason. Both have had performances below expectations. The Lakers are 27-31. But a winter slump can be easily forgotten if they heat up in the spring like the Bucks did last year.

“As a team, we started to play better towards the end,” acknowledged Giannis Antetokounmpo. “Maybe we can do it again. Who knows? We are in a good moment”.

The Bucks sit in fifth place, but that means little in a packed Eastern Conference. Miami and Chicago are tied for the top and surprisingly Cleveland and Philadelphia are 2 1/2 games behind. Milwaukee is a bit behind.

The gap is wider in the West, and Phoenix has a 6 1/2-game lead over Golden State after winning a record seven straight for a 48-10 record.

But even those teams are worried. Phoenix will have to prepare for a lengthy absence from Chris Paul and Golden State is still without Draymond Green with a back injury.

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Injuries are a part of every season, but this season they added to the coronavirus woes.

There is still time to climb, but not much.

Some things to note towards the end.

PAUL’S PAIN

The star point guard injured his right thumb in the Suns’ last game before the break and wore a splint over the weekend. He could miss the rest of the regular season.

RACE TO MVP

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets has a strong case for repeating as MVP, but Antetokounmpo could win his third. Both could be chasing 76ers center Joel Embiid, the league’s leading scorer at 29.6 points per game.

THE SURPRISES

All-star Ja Morant has powered Memphis to 41-19 and third place in the West, while Cleveland unexpectedly is 35-23. They don’t have postseason experience, but Green doesn’t think this hurts young teams.

“We won a championship in my junior year,” he said of the Warriors’ 2015 title.

IN THE EAST

Miami tried to win four straight NBA titles between 2011 and 2014 when James was there, but that conference wasn’t as strong as it is this year.

AND IN THE WEST

Is it on the air at the other conference?

“No, we’re going to win it,” Green warned. “Seriously”.

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