AS another NBA regular season winds down some teams will happily welcome the end of a gruelling year while others are preparing for playoff action. The Raptors, Warriors, Rockets and Celtics have all sewn up playoff spots, but aside from them, the standings remain a mess. With a dozen games left in the 2017-18 campaign, I still have questions that need to be answered.

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Can the Denver Nuggets make the playoffs?

PUTTING it bluntly, nope. Denver only has themselves to blame for sitting on the outside looking in after woeful losses to the Mavericks and Grizzlies in recent times. Their 11-22 road record warned us that the Nuggets were in trouble as they finished the season with 13 of their last 21 games away from the Pepsi Center. With road trips to Washington, Oklahoma City, Miami, Philadelphia and Toronto still to come they seem lottery bound once again.

9 Questions That Need Answering During the Final Stretch of the 2018 NBA Season 1Image from denverstiffs.com

Will the Philadelphia 76ers get a top-4 seed in the East?

PHILLY has easily the softest batch of remaining games based on opponent win percentage. Dates with cellar dwellers Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando should give the Sixers plenty of confidence they can earn home-court advantage through the first round of the playoffs. At 38-30 they are just one game behind the Wizards for 4th in the Eastern Conference and while the health of their young core will take priority heading into the playoffs, they are more than capable of claiming a high seed.

Who will ‘win’ tankapalooza?

THE race for the bottom of the league is almost as interesting as the playoff race right now. There are some teams who clearly in ‘good loss/bad win’ mode as they try to increase their chance of a high pick in June’s NBA draft. The seven teams who have already been eliminated from postseason action are separated by just four games, meaning the tanking sweepstakes will go right down to the wire!

Phoenix Suns v Memphis GrizzliesImage from nba.com

Can Russell Westbrook average a triple-double again?

IT’S amazing to think that Westbrook is averaging very similar numbers to last season and yet, there is no one talking about his eye-popping numbers. Part of this is due to the higher expectations this OKC team had to start the season, but 25.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 10.2 assists (league best) is nothing to be sneezed at. Over Westbrook’s final 12 games he needs to grab 141 rebounds (11.7 per game) and dish out 103 assists (8.6 per game) to secure the historic feat. If anyone is capable of pulling it off, it’s the reigning MVP.

Are the San Antonio Spurs done?

THERE are few certainties in life. Death, taxes and the Spurs winning 50+ games in the regular season. Sitting at 40-30 another three losses would see San Antonio record less than 50 wins for the first time since the 1996-97 season (not including the lockout-shortened season in ’98-’99). With Kawhi Leonard’s peculiar availability still up in the air and a rough slate of games on the horizon, we may have to accept the reality that the Spurs are in fact mortal.

Which All-Star’s injury is the biggest concern?

SPEAKING of injured All-Star’s we are getting to the important stretch of the season and some teams are still starring at their superstar in street clothes. Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love and of course, Golden State’s trio Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson lead the list of players battling health worries to close out the year. Butler’s availability will be crucial for the Timberwolves, who have lost five of their last seven and appear destined to play Houston or Golden State in the first round. Ouch.

Who is the Defensive Player of the Year?

THE majority of the awards have clear-cut favourites who, barring anything exceptional will take a trophy home. When it comes to crowning the league’s best defender though there is a cloud of uncertainty. Notable names like Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and last year’s winner Draymond Green are all being tabbed as potential winners, but for one reason or another, they can’t separate themselves from the pack. I think in the final three weeks of the season one of these guys will take the leap to emerge as the favourite. My monies on Draymond to repeat.

Do the Cleveland Cavaliers’ losses actually matter?

PERILOUSLY close to dropping out of the top four seeds in their conference the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to puzzle us. After a rollercoaster season that has reached great heights and the lowest of lows, the Cavs seemed ready to cement their credentials as a championship team after the All-Star break. A pedestrian 6-7 record since then means they are in danger of losing home court advantage not only for the first-round but the majority of the playoffs. With LeBron James in uniform there is no real reason for panic, but with head coach Tyronn Lue battling health issues, injuries taking their toll and new-ish players still trying to carve out their role things aren’t looking rosy in Cleveland. Then again, we’ve been here before…

Can Jrue Holiday perform as Anthony Davis’ Robin?

WHILE Davis has been getting all the accolades for his dominant play of late, Jrue Holiday deserves a ton of credit. Since the midseason, break Holiday has ably stepped up in the absence of injured All-Star DeMarcus Cousins by posting per game averages of 21.5 points and 7.5 assists. Considering the holes throughout the rest of their roster the production from their starting guard will be a big determinant in their postseason narrative. If he can continue to shine it might be the difference between the Pelicans making the playoffs or ending yet another year in the lottery.

Peace ✌

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