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Every NBA Team's Biggest Question Down the Stretch

Bleacher Report NBA Staff

As we enter the 2023-24 NBA season's stretch run, there are legitimate questions still facing each of the league's 30 teams.

And yes, that includes top-tier title contenders like the Boston Celtics, LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets.

With action back in full swing after the All-Star break and teams jockeying for position across the standings, Bleacher Report's NBA staff set out to find those questions, and in some cases, answer them.

Find your favorite team below, organized by division, then hit the comments to share the biggest question you have for your squad down the stretch.

Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics

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Will Kristaps Porziņģis Be Healthy for the Playoffs?

Kristaps Porziņģis has missed 15 of the Boston Celtics' 55 games. Over the seven seasons between this one and his rookie campaign, he's averaged just 47.1 appearances per year. If an injury creeps up this postseason, Boston's title pursuit will undoubtedly be impacted.

The Celtics have still been good (maybe even great) without KP on the floor this season, but he supercharges their net rating to 11.6 when he plays.

His ability to command defensive attention from opposing bigs when he's several feet behind the three-point line dramatically opens up the floor for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Derrick White. When opponents try to counter by putting a smaller defender on him, Porziņģis has proven capable of punishing him in the post.

Though he isn't quite the rim protector he was in his first couple seasons, Porziņģis is still blocking 1.9 shots per game and impacting the team's point differential far more on that end of the court.

Boston is good enough to make a deep playoff run without him available, but it starts to look like an overwhelming favorite to come out of the East when he plays.

—Andy Bailey

Atlantic Division: New York Knicks

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Will Everyone Be Healthy for the Playoffs?

On paper, the New York Knicks look like a real threat to represent the East in the NBA Finals, but their injury report has gotten mighty crowded in recent weeks. Mitchell Robinson has been there for a while, and he's now been joined by OG Anunoby, Julius Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein and Bojan Bogdanović.

A few of those players were just starting to get into a groove when the injury bug bit.

On the season, the team is a whopping plus-26.1 points per 100 possessions when Randle and Anunoby are on the floor with Jalen Brunson. The first-time All-Star has been one of this season's breakout stars (even after he broke out last season too), and he's already proven capable of helping pull a team to the conference finals (as he did with the Dallas Mavericks his last season there).

Brunson, however, will need some help in an Eastern Conference that includes the juggernaut Boston Celtics and a struggling-but-dangerous Milwaukee Bucks team with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.


Atlantic Division: Brooklyn Nets

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What Now?

The Brooklyn Nets find themselves in something of a basketball purgatory. Losses are piling up, but prior trades surrendered control of their own picks to other teams.

It's clear now that Mikal Bridges, the best player Brooklyn received in last season's Kevin Durant deal, probably isn't a bona fide No. 1 option on a good team, but the Nets reportedly declined to get some of their picks back for him from the Houston Rockets.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the organization fired head coach Jacque Vaughn and moved Kevin Ollie into the interim role.

Underlying all of this is the whole Ben Simmons debacle. He is, by far, the team's highest-paid player. He appeared in 42 games last season. He's played in 12 this season. And he's still terrified to shoot outside the paint or go to the free-throw line.

All that said, there is some interesting young(ish) talent on this roster. Cam Thomas, Nic Claxton and Bridges (in a more appropriate role) would fit that description, but the team as a whole is completely rudderless.

While it might be difficult for an interim coach or a hot-seated front office to reverse years of dysfunction and transience, that's what the organization is faced with right now.


Atlantic Division: Toronto Raptors

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Is Scottie Barnes Ready?

Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett should figure into the Toronto Raptors' long-term plans, but trading OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam (and letting Fred VanVleet go last offseason) signals one thing above all else: They're ready to build around Scottie Barnes.

That calculation isn't hard to understand.

Barnes is 22 years old. He's a dynamic, multi-positional defender. He has the size of a power forward and a well-rounded statline of 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. His outside shot still leaves something to be desired, but a 35.3 three-point percentage is near the league average and a massive improvement over his first two seasons.

But Toronto is 7-17 since the Anunoby deal. It's 3-11 since Siakam was sent to the Indiana Pacers. For the entire season, Barnes' scoring efficiency takes a fairly significant dive when he's on the floor without those former teammates.

All of this could simply be growing pains. Again, he's 22. There's time for the shot to improve. His point forward skills should continue to get better. But the immediate aftermath of this season's trades may inspire at least a hint of concern in Raptors fans.


Atlantic Division: Philadelphia 76ers

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Can Joel Embiid get to 100 percent before the postseason?

This is probably the most obvious question of the entire slideshow.

Before his meniscus injury, Joel Embiid was scoring at a rate we hadn't seen since Wilt Chamberlain's 50.4-point-per-game season. That one and Embiid's 2023-24 are the only two on record in which a player had more points than minutes.

When he's on the floor, Philadelphia looks like a title contender. When he's off, the team is a very middle-of-the-road plus-0.5 points per 100 possessions.

That version of the Sixers, or even one with Embiid still slowed by the injury, isn't likely to beat the Boston Celtics in a series. It probably wouldn't be favored against the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers or New York Knicks, either.

Having a fully healthy Embiid presents a different story, but the team has been cagey about updates to his health all season. Adding Buddy Hield at the trade deadline suggests they have some confidence he'll be back, but there's no way to know when or whether he'll get to 100 percent before the playoffs.


Central Division: Chicago Bulls

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Following a Quiet Trade Deadline, What's the Plan, Exactly?

Running back the same core to begin this season was an obvious mistake for the Bulls. While it was a few months too late, the trade deadline at least brought some hope that Chicago would finally realize its blunder, shake up the roster and get some much-needed draft compensation back for some vets.

Instead, the Bulls did nothing.

No adding. No selling. Just happy to be in ninth place playing sub-.500 basketball. Again.

This is, of course, the worst thing a team can do in the NBA today. The Toronto Raptors recognized their own purgatory and made the smart move to reset the franchise around younger players while adding multiple first-round picks.

So, what the hell is the plan?

The core of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Coby White and Nikola Vučević registered a net rating of minus-12.9 in 969 total possessions together before LaVine was lost for the season to foot surgery. DeRozan will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Vučević hasn't shot the ball this badly in seven years.

This franchise is a car in need of an oil change, new tires and brakes, yet it continues to sputter down the road, passing mechanic after mechanic with a wave saying, "No thanks, we're good!"

A plan—any plan—would be nice.

—Greg Swartz

Central Division: Cleveland Cavaliers

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Is this a Feel-Good Story or Start of Something Special?

Cleveland is the hottest team in all of basketball right now, winning 18 of its last 20 games before the All-Star break. The Cavaliers recently saw Evan Mobley (who's shooting threes now!) and Darius Garland return from injuries, and as a result, they look deeper than ever.

Still, memories of a horrific first-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks linger. We've seen this offense get too simplified at times with its heavy pick-and-roll scheme and a lack of playmaking outside of Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

We know this, however. The defense is legit, anchored by Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Mitchell is giving terrific effort and is second in the NBA in steals (1.9) and Isaac Okoro has become one of the premier point-of-attack stoppers in the league.

Cleveland has a 2.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 2 seed in the East, something that seemed impossible as injuries piled up in the middle of December.

While the Cavs were scrambling to find even a few bench guys who could play meaningful playoff minutes, this rotation can now go 10 deep and has an open roster spot to add a veteran off the buyout market.

We're not ready to say that Cleveland can win a title yet, but this group certainly looks like it can advance into the second or even third round of the playoffs this time around.


Central Division: Detroit Pistons

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Can Troy Weaver Still be Trusted to Turn Detroit Around?

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has made his share of positive moves for the franchise since taking over in 2020, although the misses are starting to stand out far more in this 8-46 season.

Trading Bojan Bogdanović, one of the most sought-after players on the market and Alec Burks and not getting a single first-round pick back at the deadline was unfathomably bad. Quentin Grimes is a fine player, but his value had sunk this season. Getting Grimes and a pair of second-rounders back after reportedly turning down two first-round picks for Bogdanović last year is also a bad look.

Detroit is somehow still in the negative in terms of future first-round picks, owing a protected selection to the New York Knicks and possessing no incoming firsts from any team. The Pistons don't even have their second-round pick in 2024.

The James Wiseman-Saddiq Bey swap of last deadline looks like a bust, Detroit had to give up multiple picks to get off the contract that Weaver gave to Marvin Bagley III and Killian Hayes, the No. 7 overall pick in 2020, was just waived altogether.

Is Weaver's time in Detroit already running out?


Central Division: Indiana Pacers

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Is There Enough Time for Pascal Siakam and the New Pieces to Mesh?

The Pacers pulled off the blockbuster trade of the season, bringing in Pascal Siakam to serve as a running mate for Tyrese Haliburton. But while Indiana wants this to be a long-term partnership, is there enough time for the Pacers to win immediately as well?

The early results have been just OK so far.

Siakam and Haliburton have a net rating of plus-7.7 in 474 possessions together, yet they're just 4-6 together overall. The Pacers, currently possessing the No. 6 seed and final guaranteed playoff spot, will need to attempt to hold off the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic until April 14.

The rest of the year is about meshing the two All-Stars together, along with Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin, Aaron Nesmith and others, while trying to find the best starter and rotation combinations.

Indiana has just 26 games remaining to figure out how to best utilize its new star, find some answers defensively and get Haliburton back on his normal minutes schedule on a full-time basis.

Is there enough time?


Central Division: Milwaukee Bucks

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Is This Still a Championship-Caliber Team?

The Bucks have largely been a mess ever since the Miami Heat knocked them out of the first round of the 2023 playoffs.

The Damian Lillard trade shocked the world—and was still the right move to make—although his acquisition has been one of many big changes for Milwaukee over the past nine months.

From multiple coaching changes, an assistant coach quitting right before the season, a brand-new backcourt, new defensive schemes and even change in ownership, the Bucks could really use some stability right now.

The good news is that Giannis Antetokounmpo is still one of the very best basketball players on the planet and should be extremely motivated to win a second title. Lillard is coming off a huge All-Star weekend and is perhaps the league's best No. 2, while Doc Rivers and staff have now had some time off to review the team's mistakes after going 3-7 during their past 10 games.

Milwaukee is currently the No. 3 seed in the East, and No. 2 seed is still within reach, meaning the Bucks could potentially avoid the Boston Celtics until the conference finals.

This certainly hasn't looked like a championship-caliber team over the past few weeks, although we're not counting Antetokounmpo and company out just yet.


Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks

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Can This Core Convince the Front Office to Keep It Together Any Longer?

The Hawks were front-and-center of the biggest pre-deadline buzz, yet they didn't make a single move. Were they simply unable to find an offer to their liking, or did this front office decide to give this nucleus another crack at figuring things out?

Externally, folks tend to think the time is already up for this core. The shadows of the deadline hadn't even cleared before an Eastern Conference executive was relaying to The Ringer's Howard Beck that All-Star guard Trae Young is "available." Major changes may not have happened yet, but outside observers still think they're coming soon.

So, is that actually cemented? Can anything happen between now and the offseason to give this group another chance? Quin Snyder still hasn't coached 82 regular-season games in Atlanta, so maybe there is hope of the puzzle pieces aligning yet.

—Zach Buckley

Southeast Division: Charlotte Hornets

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Can LaMelo Ball Generate Any Kind of Momentum?

As impressive as rookie Brandon Miller has looked, LaMelo Ball remains the franchise player in Charlotte. All of the Hornets' highest of high-end hopes for the future revolve around their 6'7" floor general staying on the floor and ascending toward superstardom.

It would be nice if the ball could at least get rolling that direction in the second half.

For now, Ball is trudging toward his second successive injury-derailed season. He suited up just 36 times in 2022-23 and only appeared in 22 of the team's 54 games before the break amid his ongoing ankle injury issues.

The Hornets need these final two months to help generate hope, and nothing would get Buzz City buzzing again more than having Ball work his basketball magic on a nightly basis. He needs to develop trust in his ankles to hold up and chemistry with the young teammates who will hopefully help him chase a playoff spot in the not-too-distant future.


Southeast Division: Miami Heat

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Is There Enough Offense to Support Another Surprisingly Lengthy Playoff Run?

After previously staking their hopes of finding more offensive oomph on their offseason pursuit of Damian Lillard, the Heat have instead counted on their incumbents and newcomer Terry Rozier to give them that jolt. So far, it hasn't happened. They are technically better than last season at least, but climbing from 25th to 22nd in offensive efficiency isn't exactly a breakthrough.

Is this a fatal flaw in this roster—yes, they reached the Finals last season, but they posted putrid offensive numbers in that series (96.4 points per game on 40.7/34.3/85.7 shooting)—or can Miami find a way to field at least an average attack? Because if the Heat have a mediocre offense, that might be enough to win big given the way they defend and how hard they play.

They'll always be a bit squeezed for spacing given how little shooting they get from the Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo tandem, and they've yet to see Tyler Herro consistently produce like a premier perimeter option. They have talent, though—especially once Rozier gets healthy—and coach Erik Spoelstra is the best in the profession at maximizing the players at his disposal.


Southeast Division: Orlando Magic

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Is this Young Roster Ready for the Spotlight?

Last season, the Magic hinted at a possible breakout by playing winning basketball over the final four-plus months (29-28). However, that run only came together after an atrocious 5-20 start, meaning it happened away from the watchful eyes of the hoops world and featured zero stakes.

Orlando's 30-25 start to this season is entirely different.

There's a real opportunity attached to the winning, plus all of the pressure that comes along with it. They will punctuate this campaign with at least a play-in tournament appearance, but they have a chance to bypass that event and score a top-six seed. In fact, the eighth-seeded Magic are closer to the fourth-seeded New York Knicks (three games back) than they are to the ninth-seeded Atlanta Hawks (four games up).

Orlando also has the easiest remaining schedule in the league, per Tankathon, meaning if it can't capitalize on this opportunity, it will only have itself to blame. The Magic are young and unproven, but they can't let that dictate the direction of their stretch-run showing. They need to seize this moment, even if so many of their key contributors are experiencing it for the first time.


Southeast Division: Washington Wizards

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The Biggest Question: Can Deni Avdija Sustain this Surge?

As recently as perhaps just a few weeks ago, it seemed as if the rebuilding Wizards might have a single building block on the roster in 19-year-old lottery pick Bilal Coulibaly.

Deni Avdija's recent heater suggests he should be held in similar regard, provided, of course, that he can keep this up. Now, he doesn't have to average 28.3 points (on 61.5/50/75.9 shooting) and 11.5 rebounds like he did over his final four outings before the All-Star break, but his trajectory aims way higher than anyone thought if he retains even 80 percent of this newfound scoring punch.

"For me, it's only the start," Avdija told reporters after his 43-point eruption before the break. "I feel like I'm still getting better."

Washington's rebuilding project appears as daunting as any in the entire Association, since the franchise only recently adopted the strategy and therefore has less ascending talent than its fellow bottom-feeders. An Avdija breakout can only change things so much, but the Wizards can take plenty of positives from this stretch run if they're developing two long-term keepers instead of one.


Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks

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What's the Frontcourt Rotation?

The Mavericks were one of the bigger movers at the NBA's trade deadline, adding P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford without giving up major rotation players outside of Grant Williams. Dallas' "issue" is a good one, in that they arguably too many players in the front court.

Coach Jason Kidd needs to find the right rotation to maximize his talent. The options include holdovers Dereck Lively II (one of the brighter rookies this season and an excellent fit alongside Luka Dončić), veteran Maxi Kleber and Derrick Jones Jr., who has been a vital glue guy in the starting lineup. It may be impossible for Kidd to get the most out of each player, but the best teams in the NBA often win because of individual sacrifice.

—Eric Pincus

Southwest Division: Houston Rockets

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Is Jalen Green a Fixture in Houston?

While the franchise may try to deny it, competing executives say the Rockets made Jalen Green available in trade before the deadline. Houston wasn't trying to dump him, but multiple sources say he was available. And that fits the team's recent profile of moving away from younger talent to veterans like Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks.

Green remains in Houston and if the playoff push has stalled (TBD), he has a few more months to prove himself to the franchise. He's extension eligible this offseason, and if Green isn't going to get a deal with the Rockets, both sides may want to up his value to facilitate a trade in the offseason.


Southwest Division: Memphis Grizzlies

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What's Salvageable from this Lost Season?

Last year, the Grizzlies were among the best teams in the league. But injuries (along with Ja Morant's suspension to start the year) have torpedoed the promising franchise.

The front office also invested heavily in the roster with the Marcus Smart trade and Desmond Bane extension. But the team has already begun to pivot, by moving Steven Adams, Xavier Tillman Sr. and David Roddy via trade.

How much of the existing roster needs to be back, and can the franchise field a competitive roster above next season's luxury-tax threshold of roughly $171 million? Was this season an aberration, or should the team go entirely in a different direction? Perhaps the next couple of months will help the Grizzlies answer a complex set of questions.


Southwest Division: New Orleans Pelicans

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Who is the Point Guard?

The Pelicans have yet to break through for a long playoff run. When healthy, the team is loaded with talent, but it has rarely been at full strength for the postseason.

Still, a larger question remains at point guard...who exactly is the team's point guard?

Coach Willie Green has experimented successfully with Zion Williamson, but is that viable in the postseason? CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram are scorers more than true facilitators. Jose Alvarado is a defensive pest (meant as a compliment), but is better suited off the bench.

The Pelicans have a lot to work with, but when defenses get tighter in the playoffs, will the team respond without a true floor general?


Southwest Division: San Antonio Spurs

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What's Best for Victor Wembanyama's Development?

The Spurs went all-in last year on being as awful as possible to ensure they had the best chance to get Wembanyama in the draft. Now that they have someone who looks to be a franchise player, the rest of the season is about helping him grow and develop.

So far, coach Gregg Popovich has taken it slowly, playing Wembanyama 28.4 minutes a game (fourth highest on the team). Initially, Zach Collins started at center, allowing Wembanyama to acclimate to the NBA as a forward. Now, he's a full-time NBA center and growing into a clear All-Star.

While Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan have been solid, Wembanyama is everything moving forward for the Spurs. The future concern is adding a true lead guard to help Wembanyama get the ball where he can best punish teams, but that solution is more likely to be addressed this summer.

In the meantime, the Spurs can try to win as many games as possible. The draft class of 2024 isn't top-heavy with a Wembanyama-like star. The Spurs should be able to add a fine player, even if they don't get a top-three pick.


Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets

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How Important is Home-Court Advantage?

The Denver Nuggets have had their moments when they looked like the reigning champions. Handing the Boston Celtics their first loss at home in January was one of those. An 8-1 start to the season was nice, too.

But those moments and stretches have often been buried by uninspiring effort through other portions of the season. They're outside the top 10 in both offense and defense, and the entire roster outside of Nikola Jokić has just 5.4 wins over replacement player, while Jokić himself has 19.2.

In spite of all that, Denver is fourth in the West with three more matchups against the conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves. There's still a chance the Nuggets get the top seed, but coach Michael Malone told reporters "it's not a top one or two priority."

He went on to explain that the health of the core players is more important, and that may be true, but home-court advantage has long been a particular strength of high-altitude teams like the Nuggets and Utah Jazz. Denver had home-court advantage in every series and was 10-1 at home during its title run, with the lone loss coming in the Finals.

Whether the team acknowledges it or not, securing that advantage would be huge for its chances to repeat.


Northwest Division: Oklahoma City Thunder

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Are They Too Young?

Even with the addition of Gordon Hayward at the trade deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter the postseason as one of its least experienced teams.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has only appeared in two playoff series, and the last one was in 2019-20, long before he'd developed into the MVP-caliber player he is now.

The next nine players on the roster in total minutes played this season have a combined 199 in the playoffs for their careers—all from Luguentz Dort and Isaiah Joe.

The need for postseason reps has been axiomatic in the NBA for decades. Most teams don't make a deep run in their first playoff stint together.

SGA, Hayward, Dort, Joe and all the players without any postseason minutes upending that tradition may not be likely, but few teams have as much raw talent as OKC, and these young players may not know any better. If anyone can buck the trend, it might be them.


Northwest Division: Portland Trail Blazers

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Are There Any Young Stars on the Roster?

The Portland Trail Blazers' record may be slightly better than expected this season, but that has more to do with Malcolm Brogdon and Jerami Grant than any members of the young core.

Anfernee Simons has been solid, at least on offense, but he's only appeared in 31 games. Deandre Ayton is averaging a modest double-double, but his field-goal percentage is well below his career mark, and the Blazers are getting walloped in his minutes. Shaedon Sharpe is posting a way-below-replacement level box plus/minus for the second time in two years. Scoot Henderson is having an historically bad rookie campaign, shooting 40.8 percent on twos and turning the ball over 3.0 times per game in just 27.0 minutes.

It's certainly too early to give up on any of the above, but Blazers fans have to be looking for signs of hope from anyone between now and the end of the season.


Northwest Division: Minnesota Timberwolves

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Is KAT Ready for a Playoff Breakout?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have the best record in the West and the No. 1 defense in the NBA. They're first among teams in their conference in title odds in Basketball Reference's projection system and second in ESPN's.

By plenty of metrics, they're a juggernaut, and with Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley on the roster, the "they're too young to make a run" analysis is pretty hollow. Even Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have played in two playoff series together now.

But living up to the standard Minnesota is currently setting for itself is going to require a playoff breakout from KAT.

For his regular-season career, Towns has averaged 23.0 points while shooting 40.0 percent from deep and has a 4.6 box plus/minus.

In the playoffs, those marks are 18.6, 33.3 and minus-0.8.

Without his floor-spacing and passing abilities operating at capacity, the Wolves could be in for another first-round exit. With it, Edwards' slashing lanes will be wider. Ditto for Gobert's rim-running lanes. KAT's shooting loosens everything up on offense, and Minnesota needs those shots to go in this postseason.


Northwest Division: Utah Jazz

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What Now?

The Utah Jazz's front office has followed a similar pattern in each of the two seasons following the mega-trades of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

They were better than anticipated in both 2022-23 and 2023-24, and just ahead of both seasons' trade deadlines, they shipped out important rotation players without getting any win-now help in return. Last season, it was Mike Conley. This time, it was Kelly Olynyk.

In the meantime, Lauri Markkanen has emerged as a bona fide star. Several others on the roster, including Collin Sexton and Walker Kessler, look ready to contribute to winning teams now.

While there's certainly plenty of value in rebuilding teams accumulating long-term assets, the players who are ready to compete now have to be wondering if their pre-deadline efforts from the past two seasons were in vain, especially since the wins they've piled up keep pushing them to the middle or back of the lottery.


Pacific Division: LA Clippers

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Can Tyronn Lue keep Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Healthy Heading into the Postseason?

Throughout the Leonard/George era, nearly every season has been a "this is their year" vibe until one of the two stars invariably went down with injury. James Harden, who has willingly embraced the role of shot creator, has helped change who the Clippers are. Leonard and George don't have to work as hard to get their shots. LA's offense is extremely difficult to stop.

Russell Westbrook was willing to move to the bench, so the Clippers have high-level distributors on the floor (Westbrook has his flaws, but he can still rack up assists) throughout entire games. They have size in Ivica Zubac, Mason Plumlee and Daniel Theis. Terence Mann provides wing defense; Norm Powell brings wing scoring. The team is a load.

But will they be healthy? Because the answer has invariably been "No." The solution may or may not be in load management. Maybe it's fundamentally luck. If Lue can find an answer (a big if), the Clippers may reach new heights in the playoffs.


Pacific Division: Los Angeles Lakers

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Do the Lakers Have Enough Size at Center?

The Lakers' biggest issue this season was the loss of Gabe Vincent to a knee injury. The team let Dennis Schröder go in free agency, choosing to pay the former Miami Heat guard instead. But Vincent has barely played, and the Lakers have desperately lacked a basic ball-handling guard. Fortunately for the team, Spencer Dinwiddie became available after the trade deadline. Now, the Lakers are almost whole.

Yes, the team has some lingering injuries (Jarred Vanderbilt, Cam Reddish, Vincent, etc.), but one issue may remain. With Anthony Davis at center and just Jaxson Hayes (220 lbs.) and Christian Wood (214 lbs.) behind him, the Lakers lack bulk at the position. Will that work against potential playoff opponents with real size, like the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves?

The Lakers also have a full roster of 15 players—none they would willingly waive on expiring contracts. The solution isn't clear, but the team has a couple of months to decide if it's worth finding an out-of-the-box answer.


Pacific Division: Phoenix Suns

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Will Bradley Beal be a Consistent, Everyday Player for the Suns?

The Suns made a significant financial commitment in acquiring Beal from the Washington Wizards (in addition to the draft capital and players sent out), but Beal has only played in 30 of the team's 55 games. Phoenix is a top-heavy team, and Beal will be vital for postseason success.

Fortunately, the injuries haven't been significant (most recently, hamstring soreness). As powerful as Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are as scorers, Beal as the third option rounds out what could be an unstoppable offensive power in the West. The trade-deadline addition of Royce O'Neale gives the team another dependable veteran defender and shooter. Jusuf Nurkić and Grayson Allen have been tremendous this season.

But coach Frank Vogel needs all of his stars for the postseason—a common thread throughout the league. The NBA playoffs can be a war of attrition. Beal had struggled to stay healthy with the Wizards; Phoenix knew the risk. So far, the results have been mixed, but Beal's availability from April through June is much more important than October through March.


Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors

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Can Steve Kerr Find the Winning Rotation for a Successful Playoff Push?

The Warriors have been an elite NBA team for a long, long time. But the team has struggled this season, currently at No. 10 in the Western Conference. Golden State may be able to avoid the play-in with a strong finish, but the margin for error is slim.

Kerr has begun to toy with his rotations, benching stalwart Klay Thompson for rookie Brandin Podziemski. He also has the emerging Jonathan Kuminga ahead of Kevon Looney—and Chris Paul remains sidelined until early-to-mid March. Somewhere in Kerr's combination of players should be a viable rotation, but he also needs greater consistency from players like Andrew Wiggins and Thompson.

If the answer stays Thompson as a reserve, does Paul's return displace Podziemski, or does the veteran bolster the team's bench alongside Thompson and Looney? The Warriors may look vulnerable (they are vulnerable), but no one wants to face Stephen Curry in a one-game play-in. Write them off at your own risk.


Pacific Division: Sacramento Kings

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Do the Kings Bring Enough Defensively to Win in the Postseason?

Coach Mike Brown has built his career off his reputation as a defensive-minded coach, but he learned a lot about offense as Steve Kerr's lead assistant over many years with the Warriors. Brown is coaching a Kings team built to score, but getting stops is more of a challenge. Domantas Sabonis is one of the best offensive bigs in the NBA, but he's not especially mobile as a defender. Brown has to work some magic to win without a rim-protecting center, and some of the answer remains, "Score more than the other team."

But usually in the playoffs, series swing on just a handful of possessions, often requiring a defensive stop. The Kings are No. 18 with a 116.1 defensive rating (per NBA.com). That's better than just the Warriors (116.6) in the Pacific Division. What's concerning for the Kings this season: they've maintained almost the same defensive rating as 2022-23 (116.0), but their offensive rating has dipped from a league-best 118.6 to 116.6 (No. 14) this year.

If Sacramento isn't getting stops and doesn't have an elite offense, a playoff run may be forgettably brief.



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