We've reached the NBA All-Star break, which means there's roughly 20 games left in the regular season. Here are the top-five storylines for the final stretch.
No. 5: Mavericks' potential implosion -- Dallas has tried and failed to give Luka Doncic a dynamic running mate, creating a need for a wild card like Kyrie Irving. Every destination Irving has ever landed in has ended terribly, with him both frustrated and detached. The Cavaliers saw it. So did the Celtics. And so did the Nets. Why would it be any different for the Mavs? But it takes time for Irving to bubble over. So, the next four months could be a magical run for the Mavs. Yes, it'll always end with Irving. But, for now, it might work well enough to make a deep playoff run.
No. 4: Nikola Jokic enters the pantheon -- The Nuggets' sensation has already earned back-to-back MVPs, plus he's favored by the books to tally a triple-double every game. Denver owns the best record in the West. The only thing left for Jokic is to win. If the Nuggets make the NBA Finals or win a title, he'll vault into a rarefied place in league history. Plus a summer that ends with Jokic earning a third-straight MVP and the Larry O'Brien trophy would cement him as an all-time NBA legend.
No. 3: Kings prove they're for real -- The upstart Kings are currently the three-seed in the West -- a shocking revelation, considering where they've been for the last 15 years. But the reality might be sinking in. Sacramento is just .500 over the last 10 games, and the squad's 32 wins would be tied for seventh-most in the East. The Clippers, Suns, Mavericks, and Warriors could all overtake the Kings in the final 20 games, thus pushing them into the play-in tourney. In the meantime, there's hope in February for Cow Town, which is more than they've seen since De'Aaron Fox was in elementary school.
No. 2: Celtics finish what they started -- They've been the best team in the league since the start of the season, looking to grab a trophy they let get away last summer. Boston will have to navigate a dangerous Bucks team, and a powerful Sixers team, or both (if they fall out of the top seed) in the Eastern playoffs. Right now, the Celtics' chances of hanging another banner are ripe.
No. 1: Kevin Durant and the Suns -- There's no excuse for not winning a title this summer. A squad with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton adds the most lethal scorer in the NBA, and now it's a pressure cooker. The mandate for all parties is to finish what they haven't been able to do before. Phoenix's cast couldn't close the deal in the last two seasons. Durant hasn't been the final piece of a team that had yet to win a title without him. So, the time is now for the Suns.