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NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Burning questions for all 30 teams out of the All-Star break

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Pascal Siakam (NBA Canada Illustrations)

Less than two months stand between now and the start of the playoffs as two-thirds of the regular-season games are in the books.

Every team has fewer than 30 games left, which means it's time to start searching for answers.

Are there questions about rotations or roles? Are there matchup concerns as it relates to potential playoff opponents? Are there significant holes which could be filled in the buy-out market?

For teams not eyeing the postseason, are there bigger-picture questions that can be answered in the coming weeks that will have ripple effects for years to come?

This week's Power Rankings attempts to ask each team's biggest question heading into the home stretch.

10. Dallas Mavericks

Record: 33-22

Burning question: Will Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis emerge as the West's most dynamic duo?

The fit has been better on paper than on the floor for the majority of the season and yet the potential exists for Doncic and Porzingis to emerge as the type of two-man powerhouse capable of toppling anyone. Here's some fun, small sample size action to chew on: in the 27 minutes they've shared the floor in February, the Mavericks posted a net rating of +43.3. That's on the heels of a January in which Dallas was outscored with its cornerstones sharing the floor.

9. Miami Heat

Record: 35-19

Burning question: Will the Andre Iguodala trade pay off?

The Heat's big move at the trade deadline was acquiring Iguodala. The idea of Iguodala on this team makes a lot of sense - he gives them another playmaker who can space the floor and match up with just about anyone on defence - but Miami has quite a lot riding on a 36-year-old forward who has already racked up a ton of miles in his NBA career. Time will tell if Iguodala can help turn this team into legitimate contenders.

8. Houston Rockets

Record: 34-20

Burning question: Can the Rockets actually win a championship playing small ball?

It's perhaps the most interesting question in the league right now. The early returns have been encouraging, but it's one thing having success against a few teams, it's another doing it through four rounds, especially if the Rockets do have to go through the likes of Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert - three All-Star big men - to make the Finals.

7. Utah Jazz

Record: 36-18

Burning question: Will the real Mike Conley please stand up?

When the Jazz added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic last summer, they signaled to the rest of the league that they were ready to graduate into the class of the big boys. While Bogdanovic has been as advertised, Conley has meandered through a season-long slump with Utah's best stretch of the season coinciding with Conley out of the lineup. His last four games prior to the All-Star break in which he averaged 20.3 points per game on 47% shooting perhaps is a sign that Conley is ready to snap out of his season-long funk and emerge as the ceiling raiser Utah thought it was getting from Memphis.

6. Denver Nuggets

Record: 38-17

Burning question: Is Michael Porter Jr. ready to become the badly needed third scoring option?

Are the Nuggets truly contenders with a late-game offence that relies on Nikola Jokic posts ups and a two-man game with Jamal Murray? So far this season, that's been the only semblance of down the stretch scoring and although it's worked from time to time, they still don't have a reliable one-on-one perimeter threat capable of getting a shot against and over any defence. If Michael Porter Jr. proves ready to fill that role then Denver could be ready to graduate into legitimate title contenders.

5. LA Clippers

Record: 37-18

Burning question: Can the Clippers count on Paul George?

George has been great when he's been healthy. On the season, he's averaging 21.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game on 39.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. However, injuries have limited him to only 34 games. This team will only go as far as he and Kawhi Leonard can take them, so the Clippers will need him to return to full strength before the playoffs.

4. Toronto Raptors

Record: 40-15

Burning question: What's their ceiling if they get healthy and stay healthy?

No team currently in the top eight in either conference has missed more games due to injury than the Raptors. And while they deserve credit for winning games in spite of that, there's still lingering doubt about just how good this team can truly be with everyone healthy and in the lineup. They've only had their top seven available in 17 games so far this season.

3. Boston Celtics

Record: 38-16

Burning question: Can Jayson Tatum become the second-best player in the East by the time the playoffs start?

Tatum put the league on notice with his final game before the All-Star break in which he stared down Kawhi Leonard and led Boston to a resounding double OT win. If that's the version of Tatum which shows up more often than not, the Celtics will feel confident entering any playoff series knowing it has someone capable of going toe-to-toe with the best of the best.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 41-12

Burning question: Who will finish games for the Lakers?

Will the Lakers be able to settle on a consistent closing lineup? Questions remain about maximizing the fit around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Outside of Danny Green, there's not much consensus about who the Lakers will ultimately turn to. Will they play another traditional big? Does Kyle Kuzma see the floor? Is Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley or Alex Caruso the answer? Frank Vogel has 29 games to figure it out before the playoffs get underway.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 46-8

Burning question: Will the regular-season success translate to the playoffs?

They might win 70 games and yet the Bucks will still enter the postseason with plenty of skeptics. Can Khris Middleton really be the second-best player on a title team? Can Eric Bledsoe really shake his recent postseason struggles? Can Mike Budenholzer really make the adjustments needed to win big? No matter what happens, Milwaukee might be the biggest "wait-and-see" contender in recent memory.

Rest of the NBA

11. Philadelphia 76ers (33-22): Are the 76ers really this bad away from home?

Coming out of the break, the 76ers are just 9-19 on the road, which is the same as the New York Knicks. For a team that many considered preseason favorites to come out of the East, that's discouraging especially given the fact that they currently would be without homecourt in any round of the playoffs. The last team to come out of the East with a road record remotely as bad was the 2002-03 New Jersey Nets who were 16-25.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (33-22): Will OKC emerge as a legitimate threat to win a first-round playoff series?

Chris Paul has been healthy and the game's best closer. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has turned heads as a potential future All-Star. Dennis Schroder is the likely front runner for Sixth Man of the Year. Danilo Gallinari is once more pumping out over 19 points per game. Steven Adams remains an immovable oak tree in the paint. And yet it feels as if nobody is taking the Thunder seriously as a threat to actually win a playoff series. They've caught the Mavericks and are suddenly in the mix for the 4-5 matchup, which means OKC should be considered more than simply a feel-good fringe playoff team.

13. Indiana Pacers (32-23): How long will it take Victor Oladipo to be Victor Oladipo again?

14. Memphis Grizzlies (28-26): Can the Grizzlies hold on to the eighth seed despite having the hardest remaining schedule in the league?

15. New Orleans Pelicans (23-32): Can Zion Williamson catch Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year race?

It only feels right that Grizzlies and Pelicans are attached at the hip in power rankings. They'll be talked alongside each other the rest of the way as part of the multi-team race for eighth seed while Williamson could provide oxygen to a Rookie of the Year race that felt all but over following Morant's strong first half. The Pelicans won the first two meetings with two more on the docket for late March.

16. Portland Trail Blazers (25-31): Will Jusuf Nurkic return this season?

Whether or not Portland emerges ahead of the pack for that eighth and final spot could hinge on the return of Nurkic. Although Hassan Whiteside is quietly averaging a double-double while leading the NBA in blocks, there's little doubt that Nurkic would significantly enhance Portland's chances of sneaking in the back door. It was Nurkic - not CJ McCollum - who was Portland's second-best player for long stretches last season prior to his horrific leg injury.

17. San Antonio Spurs (23-31): Is this the season San Antonio's playoff streak ends?

The Spurs are searching for their 23rd straight playoff appearance, which would set a record for the most consecutive playoff appearances in NBA history. Coming out of the break the Spurs sit five games out. FiveThirtyEight's playoff odds currently give San Antonio just a three percent chance of making it in.

18. Brooklyn Nets (25-28): How will the Nets evaluate the rest of the roster around Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant?

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Brooklyn will enter next season with its sights set on competing to win the East. Assuming Kevin Durant comes back at full strength, which itself is a big assumption, the clock is ticking for the Nets to figure out the optimal roster to place around him and Irving, the latter of whom has only played in 20 games this season.

19. Phoenix Suns (22-33): Do the Suns have one more playoff push in them?

20. Orlando Magic (24-31): Has this Magic roster already hit its ceiling?

21. Sacramento Kings (21-33): Will Buddy Hield return to the starting lineup?

22. Washington Wizards (20-33): Can the Wizards defend well enough to actually make the playoffs?

23. Chicago Bulls (19-36): Can Zach LaVine sustain his strong play leading into All-Star Weekend?

24. Detroit Pistons (19-38): Are the Pistons gearing up for a big rebuild?

25. Charlotte Hornets (18-36): Will Devonte' Graham be named the league's Most Improved Player?

26. Atlanta Hawks (15-41): Can Clint Capela and John Collins co-exist?

27. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-37): How potent of a one-two punch is D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns?

28. New York Knicks (17-38): Can RJ Barrett help Knicks fans stop losing sleep over Zion Williamson and Ja Morant?

The Knicks fell to third in a draft that appears to have two transcendent stars. And while Williamson and Morant continue to set the bar astronomically high, Barrett still has the chance to become a dynamic player, which could ease the sting felt by some Knicks fans daydreaming "what if" scenarios. Moreso than even the drama in the front office, nothing is more important right now for the Knicks than the continued development of Barrett.

29. Golden State Warriors (12-43): Will the return of the Splash Brothers set the stage for a 2021 return to contention?

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-40): Are Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Andre Drummond the future?

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

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