10 Big Questions Following the 2024 All-Star Break

With Joel Embiid (knee) out indefinitely, is the 76ers' season in jeopardy?

The All-Star break is here, and so are the questions. With the league suspended until Thursday, it's time to rest, reflect and plan. So, here are the league's 10 most important questions entering the home stretch:

1. Are the Sixers play-in bound if Joel Embiid doesn't return?

Short answer: It's very possible. How much he means in the grand scheme of things. It's not just his numbers, it's his presence. Game planning for Philly just got a lot easier.

This means more double-teams coming Tyrese Maxi's way, and while the young All-Star is somewhat used to it by now, it's a big burden to carry.

2. Which team will have the best record in the West?

Well, let's rephrase the question – how bad do the Clippers want it? If the hottest team from early December makes it a priority, back LA. Still, given their history, it wouldn't be a shock if the Clippers pumped the brakes and rested their stars in the final few weeks.

As well as the defending champion Denver Nuggets. But not the Minnesota Timberwolves or the Oklahoma City Thunder, young and hungry teams that will want the status that comes with first place and, more importantly, the advantage of home-court advantage.

3. Can bucks rescale under dock rivers?

The initial process of getting to know yourself under a new coach went flat beer in Milwaukee as well. Perhaps this is to be expected, he said. Rivers arrived in the Middle Ages out of necessity. Roles need to be redefined. A system must be established.

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It's a society of thin patience, and when you add the sense of urgency expressed by the resident owner, the pressure thickens. It all depends on three factors: Can the Bucs (along with Patrick Beverley) prioritize defense, can Damian Lillard cut down on his tricky shooting nights, and can Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton slow their slumps?

4. Is the worst finally over for the Warriors?

Last month they fell five games under .500 and in trouble. Golden State is now active and, dare we say it, starting to flex a little.

So yes, maybe the worst is over. That doesn't mean the Warriors are suddenly ready to face off. Dependent on Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, two players who have seen their production dip to start the season.

The good news is that young players, especially Jonathan Kuminga and Brandin Botzimski, are proving worthy of crunch time minutes. The Warriors' goal is to survive the play-in competition, but they will have to overcome some decent teams.

5. Is the worst finally over for the Lakers?

After the postseason, the Lakers collected themselves. Lucky for them, they didn't lose much ground in the West during those dark days. Nothing a five-game winning streak can't cure.

The Lakers squandered the good health of LeBron James and Anthony Davis during that stretch. Now Los Angeles just has to cross its fingers, hope for a continuation of health, and take advantage of it this time around.

Can Spencer Dinwiddie make a difference in the buyout market? In some ways, yes, but he's not an impact player, otherwise he wouldn't have been available. The Lakers need help from the team — and less of a burden on their two stars.

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6. Will the Mavs' top picks help them avoid the play-in tournament?

Daniel Gafford and PJ Washington made the Mavericks a big winner at the trade deadline, if only because Dallas added exactly what it needed — some frontline balance to a star-studded backline.

Gafford in particular gives the Mavericks added size, and they'll have a great way to use him and Derek Lively II, who is having an encouraging rookie season.

More rebounds and more paint presence on both ends will help. Of course, if Luka Doncic looks like a GIA MVP finalist, Dallas will be significantly elevated.

7. Which team will be on the spot in March and April?

Last season, the Sacramento Kings were a good story in the NBA. They lit the beam and finally broke the playoff hex. So imagine if they missed the playoffs entirely and followed through.

That leaves a sour taste in Sacramento. The city and the franchise came into this season with a next-level mindset, and missing the postseason would mean backsliding for De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.

Now they're in play-in tournament territory, a place where anything can happen.

8. Which team can still salvage a poor start?

It was a coin flip between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, with both teams opting to keep their key pieces at the trade deadline, which was surprising. In terms of losing records and roster structure, both teams appeared to be sellers.

Now it's all about salvaging what's left of a broken season and making the playoffs. Give the edge to the Hawks because the Bulls don't get Zach LaVine back. Trae Young and DeJounte Murray have another shot at redemption in Atlanta.

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9. Will anyone catch the Celtics in the East?

It doesn't seem so. The Sixers are minus Embiid and the Bucks are still working on defense after four months.

The Knicks will be without injured OG Anunoby and Julius Randle next month. That leaves only the Cleveland Cavaliers trailing — and the Celtics trailing by six games at the end of the All-Star break.

The East will surely lose the Celtics, and a upset won't seem realistic until Jayson Tatum and a deep roster refuse to allow any hint of a slump. Six of their last seven are at home, where Boston has lost just three times all season.

10. Who will finish with the worst record in the NBA?

Although the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets have snuck in, it appears to be a two-team race between the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, both weakened further after accumulating assets through the trade deadline and acquisitions.

What a season for both. Losing streaks aside, the Pistons and Wizards haven't seen much growth on the roster, which is the most important phase of the rebuild.

Coincidentally it's the Pistons or Spurs tossup for worst record, and they meet in the season finale. wait

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Shawn Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here and Follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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