The All-Star break is over, which means the countdown to the postseason is truly underway. There are just over 20 games left for the draft lottery and playoff seeding to be decided which means each passing game has more at stake than the one before.
Houston Rockets @ Los Angeles Lakers – Friday 22nd February 2019
The L.A. Lakers currently sit outside the playoff positions and if they cannot put a run together then it would be the first time since 2005 that there would be no LeBron James in the playoffs. Playing the Houston Rockets in their first game after the All-Star break provides the Los Angeles ball club with the perfect opportunity to show they are a playoff ready team and can take one of the final positions in the postseason.
James Harden’s 30point streak currently sits at 31 games, the All-Star game not withstanding. He provides a great challenge to the Lakers on the defensive end, as he continues to get to the line regularly. The Rockets lost their final game before the All-Star break, but have a great opportunity to get back in the win column and start their push for home court advantage in the first round.
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks – Friday 22nd February 2019
Kyrie Irving played in the All-Star game despite not taking part in a Celtics game in the week running up to the break. Danny Ainge made it clear that it was not a problem for him, and would not impact on their relationship throughout the rest of the season. Ainge will need ‘Uncle Drew’ at his best when they take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday as he should return to the line-up.
Giannis was a captain at the All-Star game and he will be hoping that is not the only reward he receives for his stellar season so far. His Bucks team currently hold the tiebreaker over the second seeded Toronto Raptors, they will need to keep on winning though if they are to keep their place atop the Eastern Conference.
Utah Jazz @ Oklahoma City Thunder – Saturday 23rd February 2019
Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz hold just a two-win lead over the ninth seeded Sacramento Kings and having lost their last game, will need to bounce back when they travel to take on the Thunder. Their losing record on the road will be of the biggest concern for the Jazz and a win over the Thunder can put them at .500 on the road and help them secure their place in the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook has been on a tear recently along with his All-Star partner Paul George. With an 8-2 record over the last 10 games they are trending in the right direction as the playoffs come into view. A win in this game will put pressure on the second seeded Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference. Paul George will also seek to continue his MVP calibre performances of late.
By Sonny Cohen