5 Storylines to Look Out for During Second Half of NBA Season

NBA
Storylines for NBA's second half of regular season Joe Robbins/Getty

The NBA will begin its unofficial second half of the regular season Thursday, following the league's All-Star Game last weekend. The event gave teams time to rest, but now they must bear down and focus on finishing the final two months to make a push for the playoffs. Newsweek has detailed some of the notable storylines for fans to look out for during the rest of the season.

Can the Milwaukee Bucks win 70+ games?

The Eastern Conference-leading Bucks have been on a tear this season, with 46 wins and only eight losses coming out of the All-Star break. A few weeks prior to the break, the Bucks were 40-6 and many speculated that they could potentially tie or break the Golden State Warriors regular season win record of 73 from the 2015-2016 season. The Bucks eventually fell behind the Warriors' mark of 48 wins at the All-Star break but could still win plenty more games.

To break the Warriors' record, they would have to win all 28 of their remaining games. If they win 24 out of 28, they will become the third team in NBA history to hit the 70-win mark during a regular season, joining the Warriors and the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. They will look to reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to help them during the second half of their season where they will run into multiple Eastern Conference matchups, including three games against the Toronto Raptors and two games each against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat. The Bucks will play their first game from the All-Star break Thursday against the Detroit Pistons.

NBA Rookie of the Year race

At the start of the season, many assumed that New Orleans Pelicans' number one overall pick, Zion Williamson, was going to run away with the Rookie of the Year trophy. But after suffering an injury during the pre-season, Williamson was forced to sit out, leaving the floor open for Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant. That was the case until Williamson made his NBA debut in late January and has truly lived up to his expectations in just 10 games so far. Morant, who has played the majority of the season, is currently averaging 17.6 points, 7.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds, and has helped his team move into a playoff spot, despite being projected to finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference. On the other hand, in 10 games, Williamson is averaging 22.1 points, 2.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds. As the NBA season enters its unofficial second half, and both the Pelicans and Grizzlies fighting for a playoff spot, the Rookie of the Year battle between Morant and Williamson is sure to be a spectacle.

Houston Rockets' small-ball lineup

Prior to the NBA's trade deadline, the Rockets dealt away center Clint Capela, ushering in a new, small-ball lineup with their nine-player rotation consisting of players who are 6' 7" or shorter. While the idea of a small-ball lineup has worked for teams in the past such as the Warriors, it is unclear how it will affect the Rockets as the enter the second half of their season and look to make a deep playoff run. Led by the NBA's leading scorer, James Harden, the small-ball lineup could reap great benefits for the Rockets considering that it opens up passing lanes and allows for players to shoot more three-pointers. While the small-ball lineup may help the Rockets during the second half of their season, they could face issues in the playoffs when they are forced to play teams with 7-foot centers in a seven-game series. The Rockets will return from the All-Star break and play their first game against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Philadelphia 76ers road play

The 76ers have all the talented pieces to make a playoff run but have struggled severely when playing on the road. Ranked as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers have a 34-21 record, but are 9-19 when playing on the road. On the flipside, they have been nearly unstoppable when playing at home, with a 25-2 record. The 76ers will most certainly be looking to avenge their previous season, which ended on a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but will need to improve their play on the road. They are led by young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and will resume their season Thursday when they host the Brooklyn Nets.

Possible shakeup in top seeds of Western Conference

While the Los Angeles Lakers lead the Western Conference with a record of 41-12, they are followed closely by a number of other teams. The Denver Nuggets, fronted by center Nikola Jokic and a young core of complementing players, are just behind the Lakers in second, trailing by only four games. Coming in third are the Los Angeles Clippers, who are behind by five games, and the off-season additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could help them surge to the top during the second half of the season. Adding even more competition, the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets place themselves in the fourth and fifth spots of the Western Conference. The Jazz are only 5.5 games behind the Lakers, followed by the Rockets at 7.5 games. With all of these teams possessing highly-talented players, the season's second half is sure to be highly competitive in the Western Conference.