During the All-Star break, The Post’s basketball team examines the most intriguing questions and issues of the second half, the playoffs, and the upcoming offseason.
Right now, the MVP should go to…
Nikola Jokic — Peter Botte — Joker is the first three-time MVP since Larry Bird, averaging a triple-double for the Nuggets, the best team in the West.
Nikola Jokic, according to Zach Braziller — For the best team in the Western Conference, he’s averaging a triple-double of 24.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 10 assists while shooting an absurd 63.2 percent from the field.
Brian Lewis: Nikola Jokic — The Nuggets’ slick-passing 27-year-old center is leading the Western Conference and appears to be the favorite to win a third straight MVP award.
Nikola Jokic, Ian O’Connor — When a player has won MVP twice in a row, you almost look for reasons not to award him a third time. However, Jokic is averaging a triple-double, and his team is currently leading the Western Conference. I just can’t say no to him.
Nikola Jokic — Mike Vaccaro He may be the most unlikely three-peat MVP in NBA history, but he is appointment television.
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The team to keep an eye on in the second half is…
Suns — Peter Botte Phoenix has already risen to fifth place in the Western Conference, and this is before the debut of newly acquired superstar Kevin Durant.
Clippers, Zach Braziller — They are now healthy and loaded, ripping off a 10-4 run before the break.
Brian Lewis: Suns — Now that Devin Booker is healthy, the fourth-seeded Suns should be on the rise, and Kevin Durant is expected to make his debut after the All-Star break.
Ian O’Connor: New York Knicks (just to avoid the obvious answer, the Phoenix Suns) — Josh Hart will be a huge help, and I expect the Knicks to leapfrog the Nets into fifth place in the East, putting them in a potentially winnable first-round series against Donovan Mitchell’s Cavaliers.
Bucks — Mike Vaccaro It’s no surprise that the Bucks forgot how to lose as soon as they got healthy.
The team that will falter in the second half is…
Nets — Peter Botte Mikal Bridges isn’t going to score 45 points every night, and the Nets will fall to the 7-10 play-in group.
Kings — Zach Braziller The teams that follow them, particularly the Clippers and Suns, are superior. They still play the Bucks, Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers, and Clippers (twice).
Nets — Brian Lewis They’ll be 10 games over.500 when the season ends, and they’ll need it because they’re two games ahead of the sixth-seeded Knicks and two games ahead of the seventh-seeded Heat.
Ian O’Connor: Dallas Mavericks (just to avoid the obvious answer, the Brooklyn Nets) — Dallas will still make the playoffs or the play-in game, but ball-dominant issues between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving will prevent the Mavericks from repeating last year’s thrilling run to the conference finals.
Nets — Mike Vaccaro They’ll still make the playoffs, but they’re no longer considered a factor once they get there.
This season, Kevin Durant’s time in Phoenix will result in…
A run to the Finals for Peter Botte — The combination of KD, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul gives the Suns a legitimate shot at their first championship.
Zach Braziller is out in the second round of the playoffs — With the Durant trade, the Suns depleted their wing defense, and they won’t have enough to advance past the Nuggets after defeating Dallas in the first round.
Kevin Durant will attempt to lead the Suns to an NBA championship.
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Brian Lewis has qualified for the Finals — They could beat the Kings and possibly even the Grizzlies, but what they do in the playoffs in May or even June will be more important.
Ian O’Connor: a trip to the Finals, but no cigar — I’m picking the Celtics to win it all. However, I believe Durant will get his in the desert. Though KD was reminded of how difficult it is to win a ring with the Nets, despite a star-studded roster, it will be nearly impossible for him not to win at least one with Devin Booker.
Mike Vaccaro: Conference Finals defeat — There will be some great moments between him and Chris Paul, but it will all come down to a loss to the Nuggets.
This season, Kyrie Irving’s time in Dallas will result in…
Kyrie Irving averaged 28.3 points in his first four games with the Mavericks, but things always seem to go wrong for the former Nets star.
Zach Braziller: a first-round playoff defeat to Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns — When it counts, the Mavericks can’t defend well enough. Irving and Luka Doncic will average 70 points per game combined, but those will be hollow points.
Brian Lewis: a playoff exit in the second round — There will be some spectacular offensive highlights, but there will be little defense.
Ian O’Connor is out of the playoffs early. Following that, he will sign as a free agent with the Lakers. Irving will finally be reunited with the league’s most coveted player, LeBron James.
Mike Vaccaro is out in the first round. — Dallas has realized that Mark Cuban effectively swapped Jalen Brunson for Irving.
Kyrie Irving’s time in Dallas could be limited.
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A player who isn’t an All-Star this year but will be next is…
Jalen Brunson — Peter Botte As long as his scoring totals continue to rise, all of the snub talk surrounding the Knicks’ $104 million point guard will earn Brunson a spot next season.
Jalen Brunson — Zach Braziller He should’ve been an All-Star this year, filling the Knicks’ decades-long void at point guard. The same error will not be repeated in a year.
Devin Booker — Brian Lewis After Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox, and Pascal Siakam were late additions, Booker was the biggest omission, and if he stays healthy, that will be rectified next season.
Jalen Brunson — Ian O’Connor This year’s omission will help him become a regular pick in the future. Being the best quarterback in the biggest market never hurts.
Jalen Brunson, Mike Vaccaro — After being passed over this year, there’s no way he won’t be on the team next year if he’s healthy — perhaps even as a starter.
The Lakers and LeBron James are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs.
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The Los Angeles Lakers will…
Peter Botte: I’m out of the playoffs — Their deadline moves provided a better supporting cast for LeBron and Anthony Davis, but that won’t even guarantee the Lakers a 7-10 play-in berth.
Zach Braziller’s goal is to make the playoffs — They are only two games behind the Thunder in 10th place, and they now have a suitable supporting cast for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Furthermore, their remaining schedule is flexible. The rest of the way, they’ll face teams with a.483 winning percentage.
Brian Lewis: make the playoffs — They may have missed out on Irving (the merits of their trade offer are a topic for another article), but they pivoted well and gave LeBron James enough to get in and win a play-in game.
Ian O’Connor: qualify for the playoffs as a play-in team — They definitely improved, as evidenced by their victory over the Pelicans, but they dug themselves too deep a hole to finish in the top six by the end of the season.
Mike Vaccaro: sneak into the playoffs as an 8- or 9-seed — they’ll make everyone believe the Nuggets need to take a breather before Denver sweeps them.
The outcome of the NBA Finals will be…
Bucks vs. Suns — Peter Botte Giannis Antetokounmpo and a healthy Milwaukee Bucks team will beat Boston and Philadelphia in the East before putting an end to KD’s run in the Finals.
Zach Braziller picks the Celtics over the Clippers in the Doc Rivers Bowl. The matchup of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be an exciting spectacle of superstar wings.
Brian Lewis picks the Celtics over the Suns — Yes, a Bucks-Suns rematch would be exciting, and Phoenix should hold its own, but the Celtics have shown they can keep Durant at bay.
Ian O’Connor predicts a Celtics victory over the Suns in six games. So much for Ime Udoka destroying his team. The Celtics will benefit from last year’s Finals experience, and Jayson Tatum is ready to join the storied franchise’s lords of the rings.
Mike Vaccaro: Nuggets vs. Bucks — It will take seven exciting games, and the stars of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic will never shine brighter.
The next NBA player to be traded is…
Peter Botte: Joel Embiid — If the Sixers miss the playoffs again, James Harden will opt out of the final year of his contract, and Philadelphia will blow it up and trade Embiid to reload.
Anthony Davis: Zach Braziller — He has missed 24 games, as expected, and there are rumors that he is unhappy in Los Angeles. After next season, the injury-prone forward will be a free agent.
Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby — Brian Lewis Both were attracting a lot of interest at the trade deadline, and the Raptors managed to keep both, but will that be the case in the summer?
Pascal Siakam of the Raptors makes a pass USA TODAY Sports
Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan, according to Ian O’Connor — Their collaboration isn’t working, and the Bulls may not even qualify for the play-in tournament.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Mike Vaccaro It would be illogical for the Thunder not to try to maximize a return for a player on the verge of elite status.
The biggest offseason storyline in the NBA will be…
Peter Botte: another Knicks swing — The summertime story in New York will be whether the Knicks’ front office can add a top-tier star after falling short last year in their pursuit of Donovan Mitchell.
Zach Braziller: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving’s reunion — That could include a sign-and-trade that sends Anthony Davis to the Mavericks. It’s no secret that Irving aspires to be a Laker, and after a disappointing postseason, that dream will become a reality this summer.
Kyrie Irving’s final destination, according to Brian Lewis — Assuming James Harden stays with the 76ers, Irving’s free agency in Dallas will dominate the headlines, with destinations such as the Lakers (and possibly the Suns) looming.
Ian O’Connor: the new collective bargaining agreement, or lack thereof — And the load management negotiations, which must be resolved for the sake of the fans and future media rights deals.
Mike Vaccaro: What will LeBron James and Kevin Durant do? Will they stay in Los Angeles and Phoenix? Or will they wiggle their way somewhere else?»NBA: Season review and final prediction«