With just 10 days left in the NBA regular season, there’s still a lot to be determined and decided. Records can be broken, playoff fates will be sealed and the season will be mercifully be over for several hopeless teams around the league.
With the regular season reaching its last days, we give you the 10 most important questions that needs to be answered before the postseason begins. It’s going to be YUGE.
1) Will the Golden State Warriors get to 73 wins?
Friday night’s home loss to Boston complicates this question for the 68-8 Warriors. Golden State can now only sustain one more defeat if it wants to break the all-time single-season record for wins held by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
There will be three very tough games for the ‘Dubs among the final six contests. They play San Antonio twice and host Portland on Sunday night. Golden State should beat Memphis twice and have no trouble with Minnesota. But it’s those three difficult games against the Spurs and Blazers that separates Golden State from immortality.
2) Will Spurs go undefeated at home?
The problem? San Antonio’s remaining two home games are against Oklahoma City and Golden State. It would be very unlike Gregg Popovich to sacrifice potential playoff success for a regular season record. So maybe he rests his players at home against likely future postseason opponents. That wouldn’t be far-fetched at all.
But maybe Pop sees the historical significance in going 41-0 at home and goes all out to get that. It’ll be great to watch either way.
3) Will the Philadelphia 76ers tie their own record for futility?
Things got interesting on Saturday night when Philly was tied with playoff hopeful Indiana with a little over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. Luckily for the doomsayers, the Sixers fizzled out late and remained stalled at nine wins.
If Philadelphia loses out and finishes 9-73, that would tie its own record for fewest wins in an 82-game season, set back in 1972-1973. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your rooting interests here, the 76ers have some winnable games over its final six.
With Anthony Davis out, a Tuesday home contest against New Orleans can be won. Then they host the Knicks on Friday, who we all know have nothing to play for. A home game on the 10th against Milwaukee is conceivably attainable, too.
Philadelphia’s last two games are against Toronto, who they may not be able to beat even if Dwane Casey rests his players, and Chicago on the final night of the season. If the Bulls are eliminated from playoff contention at that point, the Sixers may be able to get to double figures.
Now that I’ve written more about the Sixers in these paragraphs than I have the entire season, their potential worst season ever scenario will be one of the top storylines over the final 10 days.
4) Should the Warriors care about who they play in the first round?
But they probably don’t want to play Utah.
Due to the Jazz’s length and playing style, Golden State has had trouble against Utah this season. The Jazz have been able to control the pace against the W’s, something few teams have been able to accomplish this season.
Golden State’s two wins in Salt Lake City this season have been by a combined 10 points, one of those coming in overtime. That’s notable in this ludicrous Warriors season.
Would Utah be able to tire the Warriors out in the first round? Maybe. Houston’s lack of focus and effort this season would probably be appealing for the Warriors, though perhaps the talented Rockets would flip the switch if they get a re-match of last year’s Western Conference Finals. Dallas would be an easy sweep.
Golden State won’t really care who they play, but Utah would be a slight nuisance.
5) Can the Toronto Raptors really challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Many columns, features and think pieces have been written about Cleveland’s dysfunction over the last month or so, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Cavs flipped the proverbial switch and played at a different level in the playoffs.
Toronto will be the second seed in the East playoffs, and they would pose a matchup problem for Cleveland. LeBron James has played more power forward lately, but playing small ball against Jonas Valanciunas and the Raptors would be difficult.
Cleveland lost both of its meetings at the Air Canada Centre this season and would be at a significant disadvantage in the backcourt against Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series in 15 years and would need to get to the conference finals first.
If they do, there would be some things Cleveland would need to address against Toronto and would take a much more expansive look than the one provided in this quick snapshot.
6) Who takes the fifth seed in the West? Is it a death sentence?
To the future winner of the fifth seed in the Western Conference, we’ve got good news and bad news.
The good news? You get to play the combustible Clippers in the first round and get to avoid the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder in the first round. The bad news? A date with Golden State in the conference semis.
Memphis has sustained injuries like no other team in recent memory, setting a record on Friday for the most players used in a single season. Portland is charging hard, a half game behind the Grizz. Who wants the fifth seed? Maybe neither?
Memphis has to play the record-chasing Warriors twice, so advantage Blazers.
7) Who is the NBA coach of the year?
Does the league give Steve Kerr the award despite missing half the season recovering from complications following back surgery? Would the league give Stephen Curry the MVP if he missed half the season?
San Antonio set its franchise record for wins in a season, but Popovich won the award last season and voters have historically tended to spread the wealth. Toronto’s Dwane Casey got jobbed out of coaching the East All-Stars in his home city, and he’d certainly be deserving of the award.
Those would be the two most likely candidates, but two dark horses would be Charlotte’s Steve Clifford and Memphis’ Dave Joerger. The Hornets have been the best team outside of Golden State and Cleveland since February, and has instilled a winning, tough-nosed and accountable culture in the Queen City.
Joerger has dealt with an unfathomable plague of injuries to stars like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and still has the Grizz fifth in the West. This might be the toughest question to answer.
8) What happens in Chicago and Washington if they miss the postseason?
It seems like major changes will come for Chicago regardless of a playoff appearance in Fred Hoiberg’s first season. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol will both be free agents and the team will likely look to get out of the final year of Derrick Rose’s contract and build around Jimmy Butler.
For the Wizards? Harder to say. Randy Wittman will likely be let go, and Scott Brooks would be the logical choice in Washington’s chase of hometown hero Kevin Durant (although there have been whispers all season that he is haded to Houston). In other words, a lot is going to down for these two disappointing franchises.
9) Who will finish second in the MVP voting?
Sheridan has Russell Westbrook listed there in his latest rankings, but perhaps it should come down to LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Take a look at the player comparison, via Basketball-Reference.
James bests Leonard in the traditional categories: points, assists and rebounds per game. They have they same exact field goal percentage, 51 percent from the field, but Leonard destroys James in 3-point field goal percentage, has more win shares and annihilates him in offensive and defensive rating.
It’s going to be fascinating who the voters choose behind Steph.
10) Will Kobe get the send-off he deserves?
It certainly looks like he will. The Lakers host Utah in the final game, which will be televised on ESPN. They’ll likely pull out all the stops to pay tribute to Kobe, one of the league’s all-time greats.
But if Utah’s playoff hopes hinge on beating L.A. on the final night of the season, it could take some of the attention away from Bryant’s swan song. Despite that, Kobe deserves the royal treatment he’ll receive in his final farewell.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.