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2nd Half NBA Storylines

   by ASA - 02/22/2008

The NBA All-Star Game and its corresponding festivities take place this weekend, marking the unofficial halfway point of the season. While the All-Star game has lost some of its appeal in recent years, what follows will have a direct impact on how the rest of the season plays out. The second half of the season will bring the trade deadline, playoff pushes and lottery-bound tankers. Here’s a look at all of the second-half storylines to watch and how each will affect the stretch run:

Trade Deadline
The NBA’s trading deadline is Thursday and with it could come some season-changing deals. The biggest deals – Pau Gasol to Los Angeles, Shaq to Phoenix and Jason Kidd possibly to Dallas – are likely done but with those deals could come some countermoves. The rest of the Western Conference needs to keep up with the Lakers, Suns and possibly the Mavs and could be more willing to make a blockbuster move.

Every Western Conference contender will be looking to upgrade and will likely raid the league’s non-contenders for their best parts. The Lakers have been the early winners with their fleecing of Memphis but another team could step forward to make the Western race even tighter.

Injuries
In the crowded Western Conference, one single injury could send even the top-seeded team tumbling out of playoff contention all together. Injuries can happen at any time and should be monitored daily. Los Angeles, with Kobe Bryant’s dislocated right pinky and Andrew Bynum’s sprained right knee, could potentially see the biggest fall depending on how Bryant handles his injury.

Kevin Garnett’s abdominal injury has kept him out nine games and has been said to be an ailment that doesn’t heal quickly. Not that it has slowed down the Celtics much as they’ve gone 7-2 SU and 6-2-1 ATS with him sidelined. Increased workloads for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, in an effort to make up for Garnett’s absence, could come back to haunt Boston down the stretch, though.

Other significant players missing time with injuries include Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, Chicago’s Luol Deng, Dallas’ (or New Jersey’s) Devin Harris, Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal and San Antonio’s Tony Parker. And there’s always the chance for more.

Players returning from injuries could also make a big difference down the stretch. Washington’s Gilbert Arenas is expected back in mid-March and would give a struggling Wizards team a much-needed playoff push. Additionally, despite the Clippers being out of playoff contention, the potential return of Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston could put Los Angeles in prime spoiler position.

Tanking
The prospect of landing either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant led many teams to tank down the stretch last year, whether those teams want to admit it or not. This year’s draft may not have the name-power of last year’s but it does have a much deeper pool of players. There are numerous teams already showing signs of cashing it in to get better draft position and it’s important to identify those teams early when making bets.

Memphis’ giving away of Gasol, along with the potential trading of Mike Miller and Kyle Lowry, will leave the Grizzlies with a lot of youth and little chance of providing much resistance. Additionally, there are a ton of teams that could potentially kick off the tanking in the upcoming weeks. Even though most of the Eastern Conference is still technically alive in the playoff race, teams like Miami, Milwaukee, Charlotte and New York could commence with the tanking shortly.

Western Conference playoff race
The Eastern Conference is pretty much a two-horse race between Boston and Detroit. Three teams currently under .500 own the sixth, seventh and eighth playoff seeds in the East with Orlando, Cleveland and Toronto taking up the other three spots. Ultimately, the Celtics and Pistons are the cream of the crop with the East providing little else. The Western Conference is a completely different story.

There are currently 10 teams in the West with records of at least four games above .500 and there’s a legitimate possibility that a 50-win team could miss the playoffs. Unlike the East, the Western Conference is extremely balanced. Only 4.5 games separate the currently top-seeded Hornets from the out-of-the-playoffs Nuggets. That makes every game for the top 10 teams in the conference extremely important from here on out.

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