The NBA is approaching the tail end of the 2020-21 regular season, and as we set our sights on the playoffs, there's still plenty of storylines to keep an eye on as the final month of the season approaches. Some teams are firmly out of the playoff picture, like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, while others are still competing for seeding and have a foot in the door for that play-in tournament to decide the final two seeds in each conference.
Some stars could make a return from injury in the final month, and their presence could make all the difference for their respective teams. Other players unable to return from injuries, however, could heavily influence who wins Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. Let's take a look at some of the biggest questions to focus on as the regular season wraps up.
1. Will the Lakers make a late push for home court in first round?
The Los Angeles Lakers are currently trying to stay afloat while their two franchise stars nurse injuries that have kept them sidelined for a significant chunk of time. Entering Wednesday, Anthony Davis has missed 26 games, while LeBron James is going on 13 missed games. While the team managed to fare well without Davis, the Lakers have gone 6-7 in LeBron's 12-game absence, and sit just 2.5 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers as the fifth seed out West.
Fortunately, the Lakers expect to get Davis back within 10-14 days, while LeBron could be "right behind him" in a return. If that's the case, then a late Lakers run could be coming with the season winding down, especially after news broke of Nuggets guard Jamal Murray tearing his ACL, which means the West standings are even more up in the air. Denver sits just a half-game ahead of the Lakers in the West, and if Davis and James return in the next couple weeks, they could fight for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
However, if A.D. and LeBron are out a bit longer than what's been reported, the Lakers risk the chance of falling further down the standings. If they fall to the sixth spot, that could set up a potential first-round matchup against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers, which wouldn't be ideal for either team in the opening round. If they fall even further to the seventh spot, that'd mean the Lakers would have to participate in the play-in tournament, adding more games before the postseason even starts. There's several directions the Lakers' season could go from this point forward, and it all hinges on when Davis and LeBron return.
2. Can the Celtics finish in the top four in the East?
Boston has had a pretty underwhelming season, given the preseason expectations. This was a team fresh off a conference finals run with two incredibly versatile young wing players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Being hit with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the league certainly didn't help, as Tatum struggled mightily to overcome the lingering effects of the virus. Then there was an injury to defensive stalwart Marcus Smart, which showed just how much of an impact he makes on this team, both from a defensive perspective and leadership standpoint as well.
However, after a tough March which saw them go 6-8 on the month, the Celtics are trending up at the perfect time and are just a game back of the No. 4 spot in the East. Tatum has been electric in the last month of action, averaging 29 points, 8.5 rebounds and nearly 40 percent from deep. His play has helped the Celtics to a 6-1 record in April with big wins over the Nuggets and Blazers.
The talent the Celtics possess is good enough to get to that No. 4 spot, but with an upcoming schedule that features the Blazers and Heat twice, the Suns and the Nets, it won't be easy. Getting home-court advantage for at least the first round could be a difference-maker for Boston, as it has struggled on the road this season, going 12-16.
3. Who wins race for home-court advantage throughout East playoffs between Nets and 76ers?
The Philadelphia 76ers looked like they were going to run away with the No. 1 seed in the East at the start of the season, as Joel Embiid had them looking like world beaters. But then the Nets traded for James Harden ... and signed Blake Griffin ... and LaMarcus Aldridge. Now, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are tied atop the East standings with Kevin Durant back in the lineup and James Harden not too far behind on his return. These two teams face each other on Wednesday in what is sure to be an exciting matchup that could end up being the difference between who gets that No. 1 seed.