When the NBA regular season resumes Tuesday after the All-Star break, it will be a sprint to the finish.
Some teams Washington, Phoenix, Cleveland, New Orleans, the Kings, etc. can all but forget about the playoffs. Others, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia, are hoping injured players return to give them a boost to make a playoff push.
Then there's the Miami Heat, the reigning champions poised to ride LeBron James, the league's best player, back to the NBA Finals.
Oh, and in case you hadn't noticed, the San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the NBA.
How things finish is anyone's guess, so let's take a guess at how some story lines will play out.
WILL A LEGITIMATE THREAT TO MIAMI EMERGE IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE?
If you're looking for serious contenders to challenge Miami, look at New York and Indiana. But does anyone believe either has a legitimate chance to cool off the Heat?
The Knicks can control the paint with Tyson Chandler, and have a top scorer in Carmelo Anthony. But do they have any chance of controlling James or Dwyane Wade?
Indiana has an emerging star in Paul George, a solid point guard in George Hill and a veteran power forward in David West. But that might not be enough to topple James, who is at the top of his game.
Chicago would be in the mix if Derrick Rose were healthy, but it's uncertain when he might return from his torn ACL.
CAN THE SPURS KEEP THIS UP?
The Spurs keep piling up wins. Their blend of experience (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili), youth (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green) and an MVP candidate (Tony Parker) will lead them to victory most nights, and they likely will have the top seed in the Western Conference again. That wasn't good enough to beat Oklahoma City in the playoffs last season, and the teams are on course for a rematch in the conference finals.
WILL THE LAKERS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
Yes barely maybe.
The Lakers are 3 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and their biggest advantage size has been reduced because of injuries to Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. Hill is out for the season, and the luxury tax-wary Lakers haven't used their injury exception to sign another big (like Kenyon Martin).
It's hard to imagine the Lakers rising from 10th place to finish ahead of Portland, Houston or Utah. And if they do, the Spurs will be waiting in the first round.
HOW FAR CAN BOSTON GO WITHOUT POINT GUARD RAJON RONDO?
The Celtics are 8-1 since Rondo tore his ACL. But don't be silly Boston is not better without Rondo. Seven of the wins were at home, so the Celtics have to prove they can keep up their level of play away from TD Garden. The Celtics have enough to make the playoffs, but a first-round matchup against Miami or New York would mean a quick ouster.
IS THERE A PLAYER WHO COULD CARRY HIS TEAM IN THE POSTSEASON WHO ISN'T BEING TALKED ABOUT?
Zach Randolph is Memphis' go-to guy after the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay, and he's capable of carrying the team. And he needs to do that in the postseason if management hopes to quiet fans who are angry about Gay being traded.
AND THE CHAMPION WILL BE
The Heat. James will lead Miami past San Antonio in the NBA Finals.