The NBA's closest playoff race in decades
The NBA returns tonight after its weeklong All-Star break, as a league defined by extreme parity prepares to embark on what could be the most wide-open playoff race in decades.
By the numbers: The Boston Celtics (42-17) are on pace to finish with a league-best 58 wins. If that holds, this would be the first 82-game season since 2000-01 without a 60-win team — and just the second such season in the past 44 years.
- For the first time in the 27 seasons that the NBA has tracked net rating (point differential per 100 possessions), there are fewer than three teams with at least a 5.0 in that stat, per ESPN. Only the Celtics (6.2) and Cleveland Cavaliers (5.8) currently exceed that mark.
- Translation: A bunch of very good teams, but no great ones.
Where it stands: Just four teams are more than four games out of a spot in their conference's play-in tournament: the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons in the East and the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets in the West.
- The West is particularly intriguing, with just nine games separating the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies (35-22) and No. 13 Los Angeles Lakers (27-32).
- And the West should only get more jumbled in the aftermath of a wild trade deadline that saw numerous stars change conferences, to say nothing of players like Steph Curry and (hopefully) Zion Williamson eventually returning from injury.
The bottom line: The final two months of the regular season should feature a furious and exciting race to the finish.