Warriors, Hawks on top, LeBron set to chase when NBA resumes
NEW YORK, United States — LeBron James isn’t used to looking up at so many teams at the All-Star break.
The Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks occupy his former perch atop the standings, and Stephen Curry and Paul Millsap think that’s where their teams belong. The Western Conference is loaded as usual — so good that All-Star Game MVP Russell Westbrook wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if they started now.
There are three teams between the Hawks and fifth-place Cleveland in the East, putting James in the rare position of chaser.
He can’t wait to try.
“I’m excited. I’m excited what our team can accomplish,” he said. “We entered the break playing some really, really good basketball; winning 14 of our last 16. I’m going to take these next couple of days off and get back in the gym on Wednesday a little bit, go hard on Thursday and get ready to play Washington on Friday.”
The NBA has a longer midseason break than usual this season, with play not resuming until Friday. That gives Westbrook extra time to rest after pouring in 41 points Sunday in the West’s 163-158 victory at Madison Square Garden.
His Oklahoma City Thunder have overcome injuries to he and Kevin Durant to win three straight, but they are still just outside the West’s top eight. No such worries for the Warriors, who rolled into the break with a 42-9 record and an MVP candidate in Curry.
“It’s fun right now. We have a great team that has aspirations this year. I think it’s something that we’re poised to go after,” Curry said.
“You want to just embrace the higher expectations that we put on ourselves and that are surrounding our team. We talk about what we’re trying to do this year. We want to back it up.”
It won’t be easy, with challenges throughout a rugged West where defending champion San Antonio will try to mount a charge from seventh place.
The East was widely expected to come down to Chicago and Cleveland, and maybe it still will. Besides the Cavaliers’ strong run to the first-half finish, with James looking healthy and Kevin Love appearing more comfortable, the Bulls won their last four to surge into third place.
Neither is likely to catch the Hawks, who rode an undefeated January to a 43-11 record. Their balanced team play put four players in the All-Star Game, and in two months they can try to prove it would work in the postseason.
“I’m not going to look too far ahead,” Millsap said. “We’re going to try to take care of the regular season first, but we feel like there’s still room for improvement. We still feel like we haven’t played our best basketball. It’s shocking to say, but we feel like we can still get better and still have a lot to work on.”
Here are some things to watch when play resumes this week:
TALKING TRADES: The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, and teams such as Cleveland and Memphis have already shown this season how the right moves can pay off.
MORE MELO: With the Knicks last in the league and the All-Star Game in his home arena over, Carmelo Anthony will have to decide how much more to play — if he does at all — after battling a sore left knee much of the season.
WATCHING WADE: Dwyane Wade is expected to return from a hamstring injury that knocked him out of the All-Star Game on Friday at New York. The Heat need him, barely holding on to eighth place in the East. “We’re ready to attack the second half,” Heat All-Star Chris Bosh said. “We’re looking forward to having him back.”
EAST’S ELITE: Friday’s schedule could feature some East playoff previews. Toronto and Atlanta, the top two in the conference, square off, and the Cavs visit Washington — just as they would if the postseason opened that night.
SEEKING STOUDEMIRE: Cut Monday by the Knicks after requesting a buyout, Amare Stoudemire could be attractive to a playoff contender once he clears waivers.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Zach LaVine, Minnesota: 50-50–100. The rookie’s perfect start to the dunk contest had the building buzzing during All-Star Saturday night and sent him soaring to slamming stardom.