After a one-week hiatus, the NBA regular season is back in a big way.

While All-Star weekend was a bit of a letdown – as has been the case in recent years – the second-half stretch run, which is only about 35% of the regular season, is sure to live up to the hype. 

What should fans be monitoring as teams gear up for the playoff push? Here are seven storylines to watch during the NBA second half:

1. Do the Lakers and Warriors Have Anything Left?

After the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors secretly tried to negotiate a potential earth-shattering trade involving LeBron James, they’ve shown a pulse of late. 

Heading into the All-Star break, the Lakers won six of their final seven games and 11 of their last 16 overall.

Their offense looked unconscious while ranking No. 23 in offensive rating prior to Jan. 15, but it’s been fourth in the NBA since then. A big reason for the reawakening has been a bump in 3-point percentage, as the Lakers rank third (39.9%) in their last 16 games after being just 20th (35.8%) in their first 40 games.

Will this hot shooting hold? Probably not, although adding guard Spencer Dinwiddie certainly helps. But if it does, the Lakers become a worthy playoff opponent.

As for the Warriors, they won eight of 10 games before the NBA All-Star Game. The resurgence has largely been tied to the return of Draymond Green (eighth in the NBA in defensive DRIP) and the leap taken by third-year forward Jonathan Kuminga (14th in DELTA). 

That duo has helped unlock the newest iteration of the Death Lineup,” which is comprised of Green, Kuminga, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins. In 132 minutes together, the five-man unit has a plus/minus of plus-8.8 per 100 possessions. 

When you substitute Thompson out for rookie Brandin Podziemski, the Death Lineup gets another power-up, posting a +26.1 net rating.

Will these improvements continue the rest of the regular season? More importantly, will either the Lakers or Warriors make noise this postseason?

2. Cleveland’s Wonky Fitting Stars

The Cleveland Cavaliers come out of the All-Star break with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and the fourth-best net rating in the NBA, but what if we told you their best lineup in terms of plus/minus doesn’t include franchise focal points Darius Garland and Evan Mobley? Would you believe us?

This season, the lineup of Donovan Mitchell (tied for third with reigning MVP Joel Embiid in DRIP), Max Strus, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade and Jarrett Allen has a +25.3 net rating in 236 minutes together.

2-21 DRIP Leaders

Cleveland got on a run when Garland and Mobley were sidelined by injuries, creating a bit of a wonky fit when they returned alongside Mitchell and Allen.

Ever since Garland returned to the lineup on Jan. 31 – he came back one game after Mobley – the Cavaliers are 8-1 with the third-best net rating (+13.9). 

Can the Cleveland coaching staff figure out how to blend all these conflicting skill sets and parlay this strong stretch into a deep postseason run? Or will the suboptimal fit between the four stars be this team’s downfall yet again (thereby inducing an offseason shake up)?

3. Is There a Sleeping Giant in Sacramento?

After the Sacramento Kings were everyone’s favorite team last season, it feels like hardly anyone is talking about them. This seems odd, especially when you consider they have a better win percentage right now (.574) than they did at the same point last season (.561). 

The Kings are eighth in the Western Conference playoff race, compared to third last year. And they’re 18th in the NBA our adjusted team ratings. However, they are only 1.5 games behind the West’s fifth spot that’s held by the Phoenix Suns.

No matter the strength of any defense, every NBA team gives up wide-open 3-pointers. Given the 3-point shot is incredibly volatile, some teams have better “luck” against opponents’ wide-open 3s than others. For instance, the New Orleans Pelicans have the best opponent shooting luck in the NBA, as teams are shooting just 35.4% on wide-open 3-pointers against them (per

Anyway, the Kings have the worst opponent shooting luck in the NBA, with teams making 42.8% of wide-open 3s against them (that’s 1.1 percentage points higher than the second unluckiest team in basketball – the Brooklyn Nets).


How different does the Kings’ record look if their opponent shooting luck regresses to the mean as it tends to do? What about if the Pelicans’ (a team ahead of them in the standings) luck runs out?

Can the Kings climb all the way to the fifth seed? Or will their misfortune continue, forcing them to fight for their playoff lives in the NBA’s play-in tournament?

4. Just How High Can Wembanyama Fly?

Coming into the season, San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama was dubbed as the best prospect since LeBron James. But even The Chosen One didn’t reach All-Star status until his second season.

Wembanyama didn’t start the season playing like a top-25 player, but as the months have gone on, he’s making a strong case for being one. 

We cited our DELTA metric earlier. This statistic is useful because it tracks the change in a player’s DRIP score from the beginning of the season until now. According to DELTA, no player has grown more this season than Wembanyama (DELTA score of 4.1). 

NBA Second Half DELTA Leaders

(Sidebar: DELTA heavily indexes toward rookies because they are often the players who improve the most over the course of a single season. Still, even compared to other rookies, Wembanyama’s in-season growth is in a class of its own).

Entering the second half, Wembanyama’s DRIP is tied with Kevin Durant for the NBA’s 19th-best mark. 

Wembanyama has a legitimate argument for being a better rookie than James, but how much further can he climb up the league hierarchy in his first season? Could we be debating whether Wembanyama is a top-15 player by the end of the season?

5. An Implosion in Milwaukee

The last couple weeks have not been very fun for the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans.

To recap, since Jan. 23, the Bucks have fired rookie coach Adrian Griffin, replacement Doc Rivers has said he doesn’t know why they hired him, guard Damian Lillard suggested he’d rather play with Bam Adebayo than Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Antetokounmpo said he doesn’t watch much basketball. That’s all without mentioning the roster deficiencies that keep them from having a strong defense. 

Over their last 10 games, the Bucks are 3-7 with an uninspiring 24th-ranked offense (the part of the game they are supposed to be good at) and a 19th-best net rating during that stretch. 

When you factor in their poor play, all the drama brewing around the team, and the red-hot runs being made by the Cavaliers and New York Knicks, the Bucks seem poised to take a nosedive in the East playoff standings. They now have just a 5.7% chance of winning the title (seven teams have a higher probability), according to our supercomputer.

A collapse would be heavily disappointing for a team that pushed all of its chips to the middle of the table to acquire Lillard this offseason

It isn’t all dark, though. There is also a world in which the Bucks avoid disaster, get on track in a big way and make a deep playoff run, looking like geniuses for trading for Lillard and making a midseason coaching change.

Which version of events transpires on our timeline? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

6. Is the Pistons’ Young Core Any Good?

Despite being in a full-on rebuild mode for years, the Detroit Pistons continue to be one of the NBA’s worst teams. Heck, there was a point when they were challenging for the title of worst team in NBA history after setting the single-season record of 28 straight losses.

This raises questions about just how good the Pistons’ young core of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Ausar Thompson, Jaden Ivey and Marcus Sasser can wind up being. Yes, these players are still young and growing, but if they are to be reckoned with in the future, they surely need to produce more wins.

Prior to the NBA trade deadline, Detroit’s lineup was plagued by flawed one-way players, so the Pistons couldn’t improve on one side of the ball without losing value on the other side. 

Now the Pistons have Quentin Grimes, Simone Fontecchio and Troy Brown Jr. (among others). They aren’t game-changers, but they’re also two-way players.

With the better supporting cast, can the Pistons’ young core flash more potential during the second half of the season? The Pistons better hope so. 

7. OKC’s Gordon Hayward Matters More Than You Think

In a recent study of NBA championship lineups, the Oklahoma City Thunder were one of the teams that didn’t have one with a similar statistical footprint to past champions. 

Oklahoma City has the top-end talent to compete with the best of them – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams are in the top 70 in DRIP – and our supercomputer loves the Thunder, giving them the fourth-best odds to win the championship. 

NBA Second Half Championship Odds

The problem is they don’t have an elite closing five. Luguentz Dort’s physicality and improved outside shooting (career-high 39% 3-point shooter) have earned him a spot in that lineup. 

But who should be the fifth player? Josh Giddey (32.5% 3-point shooter) isn’t a good enough shooter or defender to be trusted in this role. Isaiah Joe is the plus/minus king, but his frail frame and questionable handle make him a shaky option. 

That’s where Gordon Hayward comes in.

A calf injury has kept him from making his Thunder debut since the trade deadline, but when he does – likely in Thursday night’s return of NBA games – Hayward should be (in theory) the perfect blend of shooting, size, ball handling and defense that this team needs to complete their closing five and create a championship lineup.

Or at least that is what the Thunder are hoping he can do.

Will this actually be how it plays out in practice? The remainder of the second half will provide the answer.  

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