Marathon to a sprint: NBA regular season enters final month
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, right, lays up in front of Minnesota Timberwolves' Kris Dunn during the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
By Brian Mahoney, Associated Press
The marathon that is the NBA regular season is headed toward its final sprint.
With less than a month remaining until the final night of the season on April 12 (April 13, PHL time), the races for MVP and Rookie of the Year are wide open, and there is seemingly no clear-cut favorite to win the championship.
Much was already settled by this time last season. Stephen Curry had long since wrapped up what became the first unanimous MVP award in NBA history, and Karl-Anthony Towns had left Kristaps Porzingis behind in the Rookie of the Year chase.
There's far more intrigue now in a season that began with what seemed a forgone conclusion, that Golden State and Cleveland would meet in the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
And this time, the MVP race could be headed toward a narrow finish among the likes of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. Joel Embiid's season-ending injury has put the rookie race up for grabs, with Philadelphia teammate Dario Saric and Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon perhaps emerging as the best of the leftover candidates — unless voters believe Embiid did enough to win in just 31 games.
Golden State was headed toward an eventual NBA record for wins last season; now the Warriors aren't winning at all. Their three-game skid and Curry's slump have left San Antonio just a half-game back for the NBA's best record.
Also still to be sorted out in the final month:
INJURY ISSUES: Kevin Durant's loss has left Golden State vulnerable and Kyle Lowry's absence has Toronto reeling. Both could return near the end of the regular season, which could give their teams enough time to mount serious playoff runs.
RACES FOR 8TH: Milwaukee has surged into playoff position in the Eastern Conference with six straight wins, with Miami and Chicago both within 1.5 games of the Bucks' lead for the eighth and last postseason spot. Denver occupies No. 8 in the West, with Portland, Dallas and Minnesota close behind.
HOME-COURT HOPES: Toronto is clinging to a one-game lead over Atlanta for the No. 4 seed in the East and home-court advantage in the first round. Out West, Utah's lead over the fifth-place Los Angeles Clippers also is one game.
The only thing that seems settled is the race for the worst record. Brooklyn is eight games worse than anyone else, which will almost certainly give the Boston Celtics the best shot at the No. 1 overall pick, because they have the right to swap spots with Brooklyn.