The second half of the NBA season opens Wednesday night with a light schedule. There are only two games, but the four teams involved offer an interesting window into this year's unique playoff race.
The new play-in tournament offers the ninth- and 10-place teams in each conference the opportunity to compete for the final two playoff seeds with the seventh- and eighth-place teams. And with the standings so tight, more teams than ever can plot a viable path to the postseason. Anyone can vault up the standings with one modest winning streak.
The Washington Wizards resume play Wednesday in 12th place in the East, but they're just 1½ games out of 10th and four games out of fourth. Washington faces the Memphis Grizzlies, who are 10th in the West but only five games out of fourth place.
Just ahead of Memphis, the San Antonio Spurs (seventh) and Dallas Mavericks (eighth) open the second half against each other Wednesday with the same chance to make a move up the standings.
Bradley Beal and Luka Doncic are looking to lead the Wizards and Mavericks to big playoff pushes in the second half. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
With that in mind, here are six teams that could make a big second-half surge ahead of the playoffs:
1. Mavericks: They're getting healthy, and the offense is finding its rhythm after a slow start. Luka Doncic is the type of star who can carry the team.
2. Warriors: The same can be said of Steph Curry, who's playing like an MVP again. Golden State, currently ninth in the West, could also be active at the trade deadline.
3. Spurs: Gregg Popovich has made a mix of promising young players and veterans work in his system. Depth will be key, with 40 games left, tied for most in the league.
4. Pacers: They've stumbled in the last two weeks, losing five of six, but Indiana expects Caris LeVert to make his debut later this month.
5. Grizzlies:Jaren Jackson Jr.'s return from knee surgery will be a huge boost, especially if he's back to form quickly. The schedule will be brutal, with 40 games left.
6. Wizards: Bradley Beal has been sensational and leads the league in scoring. They endured a COVID-19 outbreak early in the season and won eight of 11 at the break.
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