The NBA resumes regular season action on Thursday following an extended six-day All-Star break. Here's a look at several playoff-hungry teams that are staring down a busy weekend as they begin the stretch run.
Sacramento Kings (32-25, third in Western Conference)
The Kings dragged their heels prior to the break, dropping two of their last three games including a particularly tough defeat in Phoenix as the Suns pulled within 1.5 games of Sacramento atop the Pacific Division. Now the Kings begin a tricky stretch that will see them play three games in four nights, in three different cities beginning Thursday at home against the Blazers. Sacramento is near the top of my second half fade list as regression is to be expected given it currently leads the league in points per game and offensive rating and stood pat at the trade deadline (save for a minor deal to acquire Kessler Edwards).
Golden State Warriors (29-29, ninth in Western Conference)
Like the Kings, the Warriors will also tip off the stretch run with a three-in-four situation, starting with a trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers before hosting a pair of winnable games against the Rockets and Timberwolves on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Golden State limped into the break on the heels of three losses in four games. Note that Friday's game against Houston will mark the beginning of a five-game homestand where the Warriors will look to gain some ground in the Western Conference standings, where they currently sit in ninth place but just a single game back of the sixth-place Mavericks (teams in spots seven through 10 will take part in the play-in tournament).
Denver Nuggets (41-18, first in Western Conference)
Keeping with the Western Conference theme, the first-place Nuggets will play three games in four nights from Thursday to Sunday and it's a difficult stretch that will take them all over the map. It starts with a trip to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Thursday before heading to Memphis on Saturday and back home for a matchup with the Clippers on Sunday. Given their tendency to employ strict 'load management' with their stars over the course of the season, it will be critical to keep an eye on the nightly injury reports. Heading into the break, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon were both dealing with nagging injuries. Newly-acquired Reggie Jackson is likely to make his debut when Denver returns to the court on Thursday.
Cleveland Cavaliers (38-23, fourth in Eastern Conference)
The Cavs have perhaps the most manageable three-in-four situation of the teams I've mentioned. They'll return to game action on Thursday when they host the Nuggets before making the trek to Atlanta on Friday. Following an off day on Saturday they're back home for a game against the Raptors on Sunday. While the Cavs have gone 13-17 on the road this season, they're an impressive 25-6 at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland will want to make the most of this weekend's proceedings before beginning a stretch that will see it play five of its next seven games on the road.