It’s halftime in the NBA: 10 things to watch from here


By Tim Reynolds - AP Basketball Writer



Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) and Draymond Green celebrate a score against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)


Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James,front left, looks to pass as Minnesota Timberwolves' Jimmy Butler defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)


Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)


MIAMI (AP) — It’s halftime in the NBA.

Officially, Thursday night’s Cleveland at Toronto game was the 615th on the NBA schedule for this season — the exact midway point on the 1,230-game regular-season slate. Everyone tends to call what follows the All-Star Game as the second half, but it’s more like two-thirds of the season that will be in the books before that showcase in Los Angeles next month.

Here’s a look at 10 storylines for the second half:

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TRADE DEADLINE

Always a big deal, this seems even bigger this year.

The deadline is Feb. 8, 15 days earlier than a year ago and that means teams will have to choose to be a buyer or a seller before the All-Star break.

Watch the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be on a free-agent spending spree this summer and might want to deal now. DeAndre Jordan and Nikola Mirotic are known to be trade targets for several clubs, and New Orleans might decide to shop DeMarcus Cousins.

The guess? The market will move super slowly until about Feb. 6, when several NBA general managers will risk arm injuries by holding their phones to their ear for 66 consecutive hours.

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PLAYOFF WATCH

There will be races all the way to the end.

Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Minnesota, Boston, Toronto and Cleveland can go ahead and start printing playoff tickets. Going into Thursday, seven teams were within five games of each other for the final five playoff spots in the East — and six teams within five games are in the mix for the final four spots out West.

That’s why the trade deadline decisions will be so interesting this year. The NBA is like baseball with the second wild-card playoff berth now: More teams than usual will have a realistic mathematical shot of getting into the playoffs when the trade window closes.

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THE WARRIORS

Adversity has finally hit Golden State, with injuries to Stephen Curry and other key players.

And they’re 33-9, still leading the NBA.

The Warriors have already lost more regular-season games at home (six) than they did in all of last season (five), but also are the only team that hasn’t so much as lost two in a row this season.

Translation: Still the overwhelming favorites for a third title in four years.

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LEBRON JAMES

Going into Thursday, he was 126 points shy of 30,000 for his career.

He’s almost certain to finish among the top-five vote-getters in the MVP race for the 13th consecutive/season, and might even win the award for what would be a fifth time. How much energy will he need to reserve in the second half to have the best shot at reaching the NBA Finals for an eighth straight year?

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3 CRAZY

The leaguewide 3-point record is going to get shattered, again.

Houston is well on its way to breaking the record it set for most 3s by a team, done last season, and done in the previous season by Golden State. There’s no fewer than 15 franchises that are on pace to make more 3s this season than ever before.

Stephen Curry’s record for 3s in a season — 402, done two seasons ago — isn’t in jeopardy. But this could finally be the year where he makes more 3s than 2s: Right now, he’s made 116 3-pointers, 130 2-pointers. (He was so close two years ago, making 403 2-pointers.)

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INDIVIDUAL RACES

Houston’s James Harden has a very comfortable lead over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the scoring race, and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (who could average a triple-double again) has about a one-assist-per-game lead over Harden and Washington’s John Wall in the battle for the assist title.

Watch the rebounding race: The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (15.1) leads Detroit’s Andre Drummond (15.0) by the slimmest of margins.

For MVP, the vote could be close: Harden, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Antetokounmpo all clearly deserve consideration.

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THE PROCESS

No longer the league’s No. 1 losers, the Philadelphia 76ers are right in the mix for an East playoff spot.

They’re a very respectable 10-10 on the road, but need to figure things out at home. The Sixers are only 9-9 in Philadelphia this season.

Reason for concern: Philadelphia entered Thursday 1-5 in games decided by three points or less, and 1-7 in games where it doesn’t score 100 points.

Reason for optimism: They’re holding teams to 44 percent shooting this season, and the defense keeps looking better.

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ALL-STAR

It’s a new format for the All-Star Game this season, with captains picking teams in what will surely lead to some wildly overblown stories about how this person didn’t pick that person and whatever.

Most players in the league will get about a week off, and everyone is assured at least three full off days between games — after the All-Star Game on Feb. 18, no teams are back in action until Feb. 22.

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PREDICTION

For as good as Boston is, for as shaky as Cleveland has looked at times, for as explosive as Houston is, it’s hard to still not envision Warriors-Cavaliers IV in the NBA Finals.

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More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) and Draymond Green celebrate a score against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
http://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/01/web1_119615438-1509e8261bb54a25a04c35e0841b405b.jpgGolden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) and Draymond Green celebrate a score against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James,front left, looks to pass as Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
http://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/01/web1_119615438-7d7bf57e1974476fb0843fff1f92748f.jpgCleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James,front left, looks to pass as Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
http://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/01/web1_119615438-0c5b2b1c43a147e59c124343e36b6730.jpgOklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

By Tim Reynolds

AP Basketball Writer