3 Key NBA Storylines For Final Stretch Of 2023-24 Season

Following a much-needed break for the league's 30 teams, the NBA is set to resume with just under eight weeks of games remaining to settle playoff seeding as the closing date of April 14 slowly approaches.

With the standings in both conferences as tight as they are and so much across the Association still yet to be determined, here's a look at three key storylines to monitor closely for what should be an exhilarating race to the finish line.

Are The Golden State Warriors Taking Their Final Curtain Call?

Trying to maximize what could be the last run for the Golden State Warriors' dynasty threesome of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, while also setting up the roster's younger talent for more substantial roles, was always the blueprint for this campaign and how it was expected to unfold. 

Such a balancing act has resulted in Golden State being just a game over the .500 mark after 53 games SU, and it took an 8-2 stretch over its last 10 outings leading into the All-Star break to even reach that point.

Thompson was recently moved to the second unit by head coach Steve Kerr, who plans on keeping the 34-year-old sharpshooter there following a 35-point outburst off the bench in a loss to the Utah Jazz on Feb. 15. With Thompson set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, no longer being a starter for a franchise he's helped capture four championships for could play heavily into whatever decision he makes concerning his future.

Green also missed a significant stretch this season due to a suspension stemming from punching Phoenix Suns big man Jusuf Nurkic. With a storied history of similar incidents, one never knows when a hot-headed talent like Green may need to be away from the Warriors yet again.

Golden State currently has a 49.4 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs with +5000 odds of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June. A postseason berth is looking like a flip of the coin, and in the stacked Western Conference, adding another title to the mantle appears to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

This may very well be it. 

Will The Milwaukee Bucks, Doc Rivers Figure It Out?

Relieving former first-year head coach Adrian Griffin of his duties to replace him with Doc Rivers on a $40-million contract hasn't been a seamless transition for a Milwaukee Bucks team that, despite their record, has fallen well below expectations.

A 35-21 record SU looks perfectly acceptable on paper, but digging deeper will uncover several issues plaguing a roster with championship aspirations. While the defense has improved under Rivers, jumping from 18th in the Association to 10th with him on board, Milwaukee is still far from the defensive powerhouse it was a season ago when it finished fourth overall by allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions. 

An embarrassing 113-110 defeat at the hands of the remnants of whatever is left of the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 15 was arguably the low point of the season, and certainly the most humbling result of the Rivers' era.

Superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has never been one to shy away from voicing his frustrations, and even Rivers has questioned the front office's decision to fire Griffin in the first place.

Home-court advantage in the opening round at Fiserv Forum isn't guaranteed for the Bucks, who own just a two-game lead over the No. 5 seed in the East. If the season ended tomorrow, Milwaukee would also be matched up with the Indiana Pacers who are 4-1 against them SU with a key victory in the In-Season Tournament, as well. 

Another early exit akin to 2022-23 when the Bucks lost in five games to the Miami Heat cannot happen again. Perhaps the break came at the most opportune time to get the team back on track, but as we've witnessed with Milwaukee all year, the one thing that's for sure is that nothing's for sure.

Who Really Is The Most Valuable Player?

What once seemed like a surefire second Most Valuable Player nod for Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is now officially out of the question due to a meniscus injury that could keep him out of action for the rest of the regular season. 

What oddsmakers once viewed as a fluctuating three-player race between Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which Embiid led more often than not, has now turned into a two-player battle with Jokic currently slotted as a heavy favorite.

Nikola JokicDenver Nuggets-125
Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderOklahoma City Thunder+210
Luka DoncicDallas Mavericks+850
Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks+900
Jayson TatumBoston Celtics+2900

Jokic is a two-time winner of the hardware, and likely could have won three in a row until Embiid was named the recipient in 2023. He's just over an assist away from averaging a triple-double, and the reigning champion Denver Nuggets are right in the thick of it competing for the No. 1 seed in the West, making Jokic's case extremely strong and compelling.

Denver doesn't have a better win-loss record than the Oklahoma City Thunder, though, and that's thanks in large part to the contributions of Gilgeous-Alexander. Coming off the first All-Star start of his young career, the 25-year-old Canadian star currently ranks third overall in scoring and first in steals with a player efficiency rating that blows away anything he had previously achieved. 

The likes of Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brunson, and Donovan Mitchell are undoubtedly deserving of consideration, although oddsmakers would lead you to believe their chances of actually winning are incredibly low. 

A 65-game rule in the collective bargaining agreement which requires players to meet a preset quota of games and minutes played to qualify for end-of-year awards could always rear its ugly head again should injuries occur, which is what removed Embiid from the conversation. 

Jokic may be the frontrunner now, but with Gilgeous-Alexander right on his tail, and a number of other talents looking to get more involved in the race, the 2024 MVP winner truly has yet to be crowned. 

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