Top NBA storylines to watch down the stretch of the season


The NBA season is heading down the home stretch.

With roughly six weeks remaining in the regular season, there are plenty of storylines around the league as marquee teams attempt a playoff push and star players adapt to new franchises. 

Kurt Helin of NBC Sports joined Michael Smith and Natalie on Peacock's “Brother from Another" to discuss the top storylines to watch down the stretch of the regular season, involving both the playoff and MVP races, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and more.

Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on...

Will LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers miss the postseason again?

It was less than a year ago that LeBron James vowed to never miss the NBA playoffs again.

James was stuck watching the playoffs from home last season after his star-studded Lakers failed to qualify for the postseason, or even the play-in.  On April 23, James tweeted, "I can/will NOT miss the post season again for my career! This s*** HURT. Ok back to watching these games."

That tweet has since been deleted. And now just 10 months later, James is in jeopardy of missing the postseason again. He has done so just four times over the first 19 years of his career, and only back-to-back once -- in his first two seasons in the league. The Lakers, with 22 games remaining, are 1.5 games out of the final spot in the play-in.

They have won two straight since trading Russell Westbrook for D'Angelo Russell (who suffered a sprained ankle in Thursday's game). They have added role players with the acquisitions of Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Mo Bamba, and have a healthy Anthony Davis back in the fold. We'll see if that's enough to get LeBron and the Lakers back into the playoffs.   

Who will win NBA MVP?

Only three players in NBA history have won three consecutive MVP awards: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird. Nikola Jokic is knocking on the door that leads into that exclusive club.

The Denver Nuggets center is in position to win his third-straight MVP this season. Jokic is on pace to become the first center in NBA history to average a triple-double (24.7 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists as of Feb. 24) and he has led the Nuggets to the best record in the Western Conference.

In ESPN's recent NBA MVP Straw Poll, Jokic earned 77 first-place votes and had 913 total points to sit comfortably ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 11 first-place votes and 552 points. They were followed by Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers (490 points), Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics (410 points) and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks (218 points).   

How will newly-added star players impact the Western Conference?

Go West, young man.

That old phrase applied to some of the NBA's biggest stars at the trade deadline. Those moves could shift the balance of the power in the Western Conference and reverse the super-team trend after dismal failures in Los Angeles and Brooklyn.

Former Net Kevin Durant reportedly is expected to make his Phoenix Suns debut on Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks or Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets. That will leave Durant and the Suns less than 20 regular-season games to get acclimated before the playoffs, where anything less than an appearance in the NBA Finals will be a disappointment.

Durant's former Brooklyn teammate Kyrie Irving has gone 3-3 with the Dallas Mavericks since being traded in early February. Irving and Luka Doncic earned their first victory as a tandem on Thursday after dropping their first three games playing alongside one another.

Russell Westbrook is set to play for his fifth team in five years when he debuts with the Los Angeles Clippers. At least with this trade, and after being waived by the Utah Jazz, he only had to move down the hall at Arena. But will he help or hurt the Clippers? 

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