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Six storylines heading into this weekend’s NBA action

It’s March, meaning the time of year when folks look away from the NBA and toward the so-called March Madness.

Call it an understandable mistake, though, because this is right when the NBA season really kicks into high gear with not only playoff spots swinging in the balance, but with lottery picks beginning to form and reshape the long-term future of the Association.

This weekend boasts a loaded slate starting Friday with an encounter between the Portland Trail Blazers and ending Sunday with a meeting on the other end of the spectrum between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the events unfold, here’s a look at the top storylines to watch.


Middling Bulls

The Chicago Bulls stand as one of the most interesting teams of the month because Jimmy Butler and Co. now sit eighth in the Eastern Conference at 32-30 with a miserable 5-5 mark over their last 10 games.

Speaking of Butler, the Bulls still don’t have him back and he’s not a sure thing to even suit up this weekend, a terrible turn of events for the Bulls given the schedule. The team revealed he’s getting more information on the nagging issue:

About the schedule. The Bulls have to deal with the Miami Heat Friday, the fourth team in the conference. Call it one of the most important games of the month for the Bulls because then it’s the Toronto Raptors Monday to conclude a brutal stretch. If the Bulls cannot get Butler back and play well, the team will only continue to sink in the conference.


Lakers and the Lottery

The Lakers find themselves in the headlines once again for an odd reason. This time it’s because head coach Byron Scott and the front office apparently decided it would be a good idea to let the young talent run wild—even if it means giving up a lottery pick by winning games. Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times revealed the sudden change in approach:

This is a huge deal because of the major implications this could have on the rest of the league. If the Lakers keep winning games and don’t pick above fourth, they give the pick away thanks to the Steve Nash deal.

Either way, expect this weekend to feature a heavy dose of Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.


Wide World of Dwight

This looks like a fun weekend for Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard.

One could talk about how important this weekend is for the Rockets, who sit eighth in the Western Conference at 32-32 and just .500 over their last 10 games. But what fun is that?

No, this weekend is more about Howard, who saw his name come up plenty in rumors before the NBA trade deadline passed. Howard encounters the Boston Celtics Friday on the road, one of those teams that came up often in discussions about him thanks to Danny Ainge’s ability to stockpile picks. Saturday it doesn’t get any easier for Howard, who then takes a road trip to Charlotte for an encounter with the Hornets—perhaps the team that came closest to actually trading for D12.

It’s going to be fun to see how Howard performs against these opponents. After all, the games could stand as an audition of sorts given the fact Howard could opt out of his contract this summer and look for a new home.


Battle of the Rebuilders

Remember the mention of the Knicks-Lakers showdown in the intro?

While it seems silly to bring up an encounter between two tanking teams, keep in mind these are historic franchises intimately tied to one another in quite a few ways.

For one, there’s the whole lottery process thing. Who wants to win more? Or lose? Keep in mind Phil Jackson, who has done a great job with the Knicks when it comes to steering the franchise out of cap purgatory, still has strong ties to the Lakers. In fact, if the Knicks decided to part ways with him this summer, the Lakers would be the first to bring him back.

It doesn’t end there. These two franchises will find themselves fighting one another this summer for the biggest free agents such as Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Howard and more. The Knicks need a point to run the offense and dish the ball to Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers need a presence down low. Both could use Durant. It goes on and on.

Both teams will flash a little bit of the future Sunday night as a nice capper on a strong weekend lineup.


Golden State’s Run

The Golden State Warriors lost to those future-focused Lakers one weekend ago.

It seems like years ago now.

Stephen Curry and the Warriors sit on a 57-6 record, having bounced back from the loss by beating the Orlando Magic 119-113 and then brutalizing the Utah Jazz in 115-94 fashion. Against the Jazz, Curry poured in 12 points, Klay Thompson 23 and Draymond Green 17 to effectively smother the ninth-place team.

The schedule gets a little trickier this weekend, though, thanks to the mentioned encounter with the Trail Blazers Friday followed by a visit from the hot Phoenix Suns Saturday, a team that has won two of three and appears to have found a groove, at least compared to earlier in the season.

Questions swirl around these Warriors going into the weekend. Will the team chase the 1995-96 Bulls’ regular-season wins record? They’re just 17 games off the mark. Or will Curry, coach Steve Kerr and everyone else decide it best to ignore the history there and begin to rest starters in the hopes of hitting the playoffs with fresh legs?

Rest assured this weekend’s opposition prefers the latter.


Boogie Automatic Suspension Watch

For a moment, DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings looked and sounded ready to make a serious push toward the postseason.

Instead, it seems things have somewhat unraveled. The team sits 11th in the Western Conference at 25-38, losers in seven of their last 10. Wednesday, the Kings took a nine-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and in the process, Cousins picked up technical foul No. 15 on the year. Sean Cunningham of ABC10 provided context surrounding the latest incident:

Long story short, Cousins now stands one technical away from an automatic suspension.

The Kings take on Orlando Friday and Utah Sunday, a rather uneventful slate were it not for the latest issues surrounding the Kings and Cousins. The NBA’s best big man makes any Kings game worth watching, but issues with the team and an automatic suspension looming push things over the top this weekend.

Chris Roling

About Chris Roling

Chris is an Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism graduate and associate editor here at TSD. He also covers breaking news and the NFL at Bleacher Report and resides in Athens (OH) with his wife and two dogs.