The NBA returns: 10 things to know entering the second half

AP – The All-Star break, such as it was, is over.

The NBA returns early today with a pair of games: Washington at Memphis and San Antonio at Dallas. Another 21 teams start their second-half slates early tomorrow, and the five remaining teams get back on the court the following day.

Here’s 10 things to know about what’s happening, what might happen and what to watch the rest of the way:

NO MORE ADVANTAGE

Home teams have gone 285-248 this season, a .535 winning percentage. It’s on pace to be the lowest in NBA history.

The record in that department is .551, set last season — and it was trending that way even before the pandemic. The bubble and playing the final 88 regular-season games without fans had nothing to do with that change; in fact, “home” teams in the bubble won 56 per cent of their games at Walt Disney World.

But this year, teams believe the lack of fans factors into home-court advantage not meaning much. Plus, road teams are getting more rest than usual — they’re often in one city for multiple days to play a pair of games and typically can’t leave their hotels for anything other than basketball.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s few players who thrive in the mid-range game. PHOTO: AP

HEAVY CROWN

Utah has the best record at the All-Star break, which obviously suggests the Jazz are a title contender.

Recent history says otherwise.

In the previous 11 seasons, nine teams that had the best record at the break didn’t win the championship. The only exceptions: Miami in 2012 (the Heat were tied with NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City that season at 27-7 during the break), and Golden State in both 2015 and 2017.

3’S STILL WILD

Even with shortened schedules — teams playing 72 games instead of the usual 82 — there is a chance the record for three-pointers made league-wide in a season gets broken.

NBA teams are on pace to make 27,731 three-pointers this season. That would be just 224 shy of the record, which is 27,955 set in 2018-19.

Teams are averaging 12.8 made threes per game, so the league is on pace to break that record for the ninth consecutive season. They’re also averaging 34.9 attempts from three-point range per game, which will be a record for a 10th consecutive season — and nearly double the rate from a decade ago.

EAST BEASTS

Washington’s Bradley Beal leads the NBA in scoring at 32.7 points per game, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is second at 30.2 per contest.

The Eastern Conference having the leaders in this category is a new twist.

No player from an East team has won a scoring title since Carmelo Anthony did for New York in 2012-13. And the last time the East had the league’s two leading scorers for a full season was 2008-09 — when Miami’s Dwyane Wade won the title, and Cleveland’s LeBron James was second.

SECOND-HALF SPURS

There are four teams with active streaks of at least five consecutive seasons with winning records after the All-Star break.

Toronto has five, Portland seven and Houston eight. And they’re all light years away from San Antonio.

The Spurs have a winning post-All-Star record in 22 consecutive seasons — a streak so long that it predates the last time the league didn’t have an All-Star Game. The Spurs went 22-12 after the break in 1997-98, there was no game because of the shortened season in 1998-99, and the San Antonio streak has kept going every year since.

The Spurs are 449-192 in the last 22 post-All-Star stretches, a 70 per cent winning clip.

HECTIC TIME

The first half was hectic. There were 533 games in the season’s first 72 days (excluding December 24, always an off day for the NBA), for an average of 7.4 games per day.

The second half could be busier. If every remaining game gets played — in fairness, that’s a very big ‘if’ — the league would have 547 games over 68 days in the second half, or an average of just over eight games per day.

RISING SUNS

Phoenix hit the All-Star break with the league’s second-best record at 24-11. It is a major turnaround.

The Suns’ records at the last five All-Star breaks were awful: 22-33 last season, preceded by a league-worst 11-48 in 2018-19, 18-41 (tied for worst in the league) in 2017-18, 18-39 (29th out of 30 teams) in 2016-17 and 14-40 (tied for third-worst) in 2015-16.

The last time the Suns were over .500 at the break had been 2014-15, when they were 29-25. And the last time they were this good by the break was 2007-08, when they were 37-16 — with current Brooklyn assistant Mike D’Antoni coaching, current Golden State coach Steve Kerr running the front office and current Nets head coach Steve Nash playing point guard.

CP3 NEARS 10,000

Another note on Phoenix: Chris Paul remains elite.

He’s 47 assists away from 10,000 in his career, a milestone only five other players — John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson — have reached.

This is Paul’s 16th season. The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets had a losing record in the games that he played over his first two seasons, a difficult time for that franchise following the relocation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

His teams have done nothing but win big since.

This will be the 14th consecutive season in which Paul’s team has a winning record when he plays; the Suns are 23-11 with him in the lineup this season.

All five of Paul’s teams over those past 14 seasons — the Hornets, the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Oklahoma City and now Phoenix — have at least a .600 winning percentage in his regular-season appearances. Combined, his teams over those 14 years have won 66.4 per cent of their games when he plays.

WORST BEST

It’s not an easy season for any team, with the games coming very quickly, not a lot of practice time and rosters tending to be in flux because of virus-related matters.

Perhaps that’s why no team has some sort of super-gaudy record at the break.

Utah’s 27-9 mark after the first half is the league’s “worst best” mark since Sacramento was 37-13 to lead the league going into the 2004 All-Star Game.

JIMMY’S ART

Miami’s Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s few players who thrive in the mid-range game.

That includes the unguarded 15-footer.

Butler might do something the league hasn’t seen in 12 years. The last time someone averaged at least 20 points per game and got at least 35 per cent of those points at the foul line was 2008-09 when Sacramento’s Kevin Martin did it — averaging 24.6 points, getting 36.4 per cent of them at the stripe.

Butler is averaging 20.5 points this season, 35 per cent of that from free throws.

Last season, Butler came close, with 37.9 per cent of his points from the foul line. But he averaged 19.9 points, only three points shy of averaging exactly 20.0.