Top storylines for the NBA’s stretch run

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We are now officially less than two weeks away from the end of the NBA regular season. It’s been more of a marathon than anything else.

There’s also a lot yet to be decided as teams play their final handful of games. Here’s a look at the biggest storylines around the Association as the season draws to its conclusion.

Blazers injuries and seeding

Portland currently finds itself as the No. 3 seed in the Western conference heading into the second-to-final weekend of regular season action. At issue here is the overwhelming belief that injuries could derail a once-promising season.

Star center Jusuf Nurkic went down with a devastating leg injury earlier in the week and is lost for the season. He was averaging career highs in points (15.6) and rebounds (10.4) prior to going down. Star guard C.J. McCollum has missed each of the past six games to a knee strain. While he’s expected back soon, this has to be cause for alarm. Portland hopes to ward off other contenders for home-court advantage in the first round.

Battling for a spot back east

A total of five teams are currently going for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. As it stands right now, Detroit, Brooklyn and Miami would be in line for those spots. However, Orlando and Charlotte remain very much alive. Only 2.5 games separate the Magic and Hornets.

What’s intriguing here is the late-season matchups between these squads. The Nets host Miami in the final day of the regular season. That could very well be for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Magic and Hornets could be in the midst of a do-or-die game at the same time.

Oklahoma City’s struggles

Russell Westbrook and Co. are almost assured of a playoff spot. In no way does this mean the team is in a great position right now. OKC had lost five of seven games heading into Friday night’s outing against the Denver Nuggets. The team is now battling with San Antonio for the seventh seed.

Either way we spin it, the Thunder are going to be in for a huge task come Round 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs. They could be forced to take on either the above-mentioned Nuggets or two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Closing out the season against Houston and Milwaukee could tell us a lot about this team heading into the playoffs.

The Brooklyn Nets’ dynamic

We absolutely love what this young team has done under the prominent duo of general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson. Brooklyn heads into the second-to-final weekend of action at .500 and currently in playoff positioning.

The team has posted a 30-20 record since an 8-18 start to the campaign. For comparison’s sake, this is a better record than the Celtics have posted during that span. In a log jam for one of the final three spots back east, all six of Brooklyn’s remaining games come against Eastern Conference Playoff contenders. That includes matchups with Boston, Milwaukee (twice) and Toronto.

Battle for the top seed out west

Unlike last season, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has noted that it’s important for his team to earn home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference Playoffs. Unfortunately, the Dubs have been pretty average as of late. Prior to Friday night’s game against Minnesota, Golden State had posted a 10-8 record in its previous 18 outings.

This has left the door open for Denver to grab the No. 1 seed. Right there with Golden State atop the Western Conference, the Nuggets gaining said advantage would be huge. After all, they boast a 31-6 record at home. The matchup between these two teams in Oakland on April 2 could determine who has the upper hand heading into the playoffs.

Once last dance for Dwyane Wade

The objective NBA fan would love to see Wade and his Heat earn a playoff spot as the future Hall of Fame guard closes up shop on a stellar career. The reception Wade has received from opponents and fans on the road this season tells us a story of one of the game’s most-respected players.

Fortunately for Wade and those in South Beach, Wade as a real chance of making this happen. The team heads into this weekend’s action as the eighth seed back east. The bad news? Five of Miami’ final seven games come against playoff contenders, including a back-to-back pairing with Boston next week.

The Rockets’ red flag

For as good as James Harden has been this season, there’s still a major red flag when it comes to this Rockets team. They are quite literally a one-man show. Consider this. Houston is just 5-3 this season when Harden goes off for 50-plus points. Can any other member of the team step up when it counts the most? That’s a huge question.

Defense tightens in the playoffs. Fouls are not called as often. An an hypothetical matchup against a lock-down defender like Klay Thompson, this could be an issue. How the remainder of the season plays out in this regard will not just tell us if Houston is ready for the playoffs, it will determine whether the team is a top two or three seed.