2023-2024 NBA season surges ahead after All-Star break: Here's what to know


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The NBA All-Star break ends Thursday when 24 teams return to the court and begin the home stretch of the 2023-2024 season.

There is still a ton to play for, and those who are on the outside looking in to the play-in tournament still have time to turn into playoff contenders.

MVP candidates will begin to make themselves clear as time goes on, and those who are injured will be expected to heal up as quickly as they can and rejoin their respective teams for the postseason push.

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Here’s what you need to know about the rest of the NBA season.

Championship contenders

Jayson Tatum vs Nets

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, left, is defended by Brooklyn Nets guard Dennis Schroder during the second half, Feb. 13, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

As long as the Boston Celtics can remain healthy, there’s no reason why the team can’t come out of the Eastern Conference and make its second NBA Finals appearance in three years.

At the break, Boston held a six-game lead over the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers with a 43-12 record. The team is 26-3 at TD Garden and 17-9 on the road with a plus-10.1 average point differential.

The Cleveland Cavaliers kept Donovan Mitchell at the trade deadline, and with Darius Garland getting back to speed, the team could be asking, “Why not us?” as the playoffs near.

The Western Conference is a bit more compact at the top.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are 39-16 and at the top of the conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t far behind with a 37-17 record. Both teams are extremely young and may not have the playoff experience that could help them get to the Finals. It will be interesting to see how they are with a lot of pressure building on them.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are built for the playoffs. The Clippers made the move to get James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers and have never looked back as they hang around the top of the conference. The Nuggets won the whole thing last season behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Staying healthy will be the name of the game for Denver moving forward.

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Potential stunners

Jalen Brunson vs Grizzlies

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson reacts after shooting a three-point basket during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies, Feb. 6, 2024, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

How about those New York Knicks?

The Knicks have been a great surprise this season behind the emergence of Jalen Brunson. The guard has emerged as a star on the biggest stage in sports. New York is 10 games behind Boston but has a plus-4.6 point differential average, which is good for third in the conference. Starting the stretch run with a win will be huge.

Don’t forget about the Phoenix Suns.

With how powerful the West is, it’s easy to forget the Suns have Kevin Durant and Devin Booker on the same team with Bradley Beal reportedly getting ready to return. The Suns built the team for the stretch run and could go on a tear and build momentum for the playoffs.

Best of the rest

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo

Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, left, and Bam Adebayo (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The Miami Heat stunned the basketball world with their run to the Finals as a No. 8 seed last year behind Jimmy Butler’s stellar playoff performance.

Now, the Heat are in seventh place behind the 76ers and the Indiana Pacers. Miami has shown they can make magic happen in the postseason and shouldn’t be counted out just yet.

The No. 7 through No. 11 seeds in the Western Conference are extremely tight. The Utah Jazz, who are 11th in the West, are only 6.5 games behind the No. 7-seeded Dallas Mavericks, with the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and the 2022 champion Golden State Warriors in between.

There’s going to be a lot of movement in the bottom half of the standings over the next few weeks.

MVP watch

Anthony Edwards vs Bucks

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards tries to get past Milwaukee Bucks’ Malik Beasley during the second half, Feb. 8, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

With the NBA 65-game policy enacted, Joel Embiid will not win the MVP award for the second straight time as he recovers from surgery to repair his left meniscus. He leads the NBA in points per game with 35.3.

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (34.2), Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31.1), Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.8) and Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (28.4) are among those in contention and also round out the top five in scoring.

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Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has showed out for his team by averaging 26.3 points, 5.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. With Minnesota at the top of the West, he could easily garner some consideration when the voting ends.

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