With Week 20 of the NBA season fast approaching, here are four things to watch out for, with a special focus on Kevin Durant, as well as the latest on the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers.
From Maryam Naz
12:58 PM, United Kingdom, Saturday 25 February 2023
As Week 20 of the NBA approaches, we’re looking at the players worth keeping an eye on and the teams that could be struggling ahead of the playoffs and play-in picture.
Durant back in business?
Kevin Durant has set a date for his return to the NBA, but fans will have to wait a little longer for him to take the field in the Phoenix Suns colors.
The former Brooklyn Nets player sat out the 72nd All-Star Fight in Salt Lake City while recovering from an MCL injury. He was initially targeting a return after the three-day break, but the team plans for him to debut on March 1 against the Charlotte Hornets instead.
They’ll need him at his best as they tackle the third-toughest remaining schedule in the Western Conference, with clashes against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks and Kings yet to come.
The good news is that Durant has looked pretty good every time he’s returned from an extended absence. Let’s not forget the 68 points he scored in his first two games after suffering a similar injury last March.
When that’s all, expect a fiery return to the action.
The nuggets knuckles down
You It might feel like the Denver Nuggets have nothing to worry about, but we can guarantee you head coach Michael Malone doesn’t.
Yes, his team sits pretty near the top of the Western Conference, but they still have six games against their closest rivals, two of which fall this weekend.
They were already doing light work with the faltering Cleveland Cavaliers. All eyes are now on the trip to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Saturday.
Will be Ja Morant and his teammates ‘Fine’ with it? It doesn’t seem so. In fact, we would go so far as to say that things seem very un-finewhat with their nine losses in 13 games.
They managed to undo some of that damage on the other side of the All-Star break, but now they have the Sacramento Kings breathing down their necks ahead of Week 20.
Cavs continue to lick on defense
One might forgive the Cavs for slipping up against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Thursday, but there’s no explanation for earlier in the week’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who arrived in Cleveland incoherently through the firing of their head coach Nate McMillan.
The grim truth is that this franchise has been on a downward trajectory since Christmas, 1-5 against the league’s top 10 offense and conceding 121.6 points per 100 possessions in each of their last six games. It doesn’t make reading easy.
If there’s one reprieve to hope for, it’s that Donovan Mitchell and company have good motivation to earn home-field advantage in the postseason. They have one of the easier schedules in the league and are buoyed by the return of Ricky Rubio.
The Pöltl effect
In the three games Jakob Poeltl has played, the Toronto Raptors were 27.8 points per 100 possession better and it’s no secret why.
Despite being one of the more traditional centers in the league, the big man has proven he can do all the little things too, from connecting with Pascal Siakam and his role as an elite offensive rebounder to providing Gary with the perfect screen Trent Jr seamless dribbling.
Will it be enough for the team to dig out its claws and defend its place in the Eastern Conference rankings? Stay tuned to find out.