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NBA Talking Points: Rockets vs Warriors, LeBron James, Milwaukee Bucks and more

Watch Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning (1:30am)

Wednesday 13 March 2019 13:27, UK

James Harden faces off with Stephen Curry
Image: James Harden faces off with Stephen Curry

Join the conversation as we present a handful of the biggest current NBA talking points - including Rockets vs Warriors, LeBron James, the Milwaukee Bucks' dominance - and invite you to have your say.

Rockets the biggest threat to Warriors?

Last season's Western Conference finalists meet again in the early hours of Thursday morning as the Golden State Warriors visit the Houston Rockets, live on Sky Sports Arena.

Live NBA: Golden State @ Houston

The defending NBA champions have led the West for much of the season while the Rockets have spent the season playing catch-up after a poor start and injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capela.

Right now, though, it's the Rockets who look unstoppable having won nine straight games, while the Warriors have lost six of their last 10 games and are coming off a humbling home loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns.

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Suddenly Golden State look (ever so slightly) vulnerable, while Houston - powered by the relentless scoring of James Harden - look like a souped-up version of the team that came so close to knocking off the champions in the 2018 Western Conference finals.

Will the threat of the Rockets shake the Warriors from their regular season slumber?

Time to shut down LeBron for the season?

A dejected LeBron James reacts to another Lakers defeat
Image: A dejected LeBron James reacts to another Lakers defeat

Turn out the lights, the party is over for the Lakers this season. In 11th place in the West with a 31-36 record, and young stars Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram ruled out for the rest of the season, there's nothing left for the team to play for.

LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth place on the NBA all-time scoring list as the Lakers stumbled to another loss to the Denver Nuggets on March 5. With that individual landmark achieved (in front of an underwhelmed Staples Center crowd), there's nothing left for James to aim for individually in this campaign either.

preview image 2:28
The panel discuss LeBron James' legacy after 'The King' passed Michael Jordan on the NBA all-time scoring list

With an eye on the future, the Lakers should shut LeBron down until next season. The benefits of this are two-fold. James would receive an extended period to fully recuperate from a turbulent season in which he suffered the first serious injury of his career. In addition, the injury-decimated Lakers would likely lose more games in James' absence, increasing their odds of landing a high pick in the Draft lottery.

Rookie of the Year debate alive again?

Trae Young and Luka Doncic are the leading candidates for the Rookie of the Year award
Image: Trae Young and Luka Doncic are the leading candidates for the Rookie of the Year award

Over the first half of the season, there was no debate over the destiny of the Rookie of the Year award. It was sure to end in the hands of Dallas Mavericks' teenage sensation Luka Doncic who hit the ground running, putting up first-season numbers not seen since LeBron James' first year in the NBA.

Hawks @ Celtics free on Sky Sports

Hawks @ Celtics free on Sky Sports

Watch Atlanta Hawks take on the Boston Celtics via a free live stream on Saturday at 4:30pm

Despite Dallas falling well away from the Western Conference playoff picture, the 19-year-old Doncic is averaging 21.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game and has established himself as the Mavericks' floor general.

But, thanks to the recent play of Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young, Doncic's coronation is no longer a foregone conclusion.

Trae Young scores with a lay-up against Chicago 1:43
Relive Trae Young's scoring duel with Zach LaVine as the Chicago Bulls outlast the Atlanta Hawks after four overtime periods

Since the All-Star break, Young is averaging 26.1 points and 9.0 assists per game. He's made 41.4 per cent of his threes and 89.4 per cent of his free throws. He scored 49 points in the Hawks' quadruple-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, dropped 36 points on the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves in wins and racked up a triple-double in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

While Doncic's Mavs have fallen down the standings, Young's Hawks have battled their way out of the basement in the East. It's likely the two team ends the season with similar records.

Bucks best bet to win the East?

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores at the rim against Dallas
Image: Giannis Antetokounmpo scores at the rim against Dallas

The Milwaukee Bucks own the NBA's best regular season record and recently became the first team to reach 50 wins this season.

Their star player Giannis Antetokounmpo is, along with James Harden, the favourite to win regular season MVP. Their coach Mike Budenholzer has taken a roster that won 44 games in the 2017/18 season and guided them to what looks likely to be (at least) a 60-win season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes at the rim against Indiana 1:21
Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 29 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to victory over the Indiana Pacers

Those dominant numbers suggest a smooth ride through the Eastern Conference playoffs to the NBA Finals, but it might not be as simple as that.

NBA Primetime on Sky Sports

NBA Primetime on Sky Sports

The 76ers visit the Bucks on NBA Primetime - watch live on Sky Sports Arena on Sunday at 7:15pm

The Toronto Raptors are just two-and-a-half games behind the Bucks and remain a threat to take the No 1 seed. The Philadelphia 76ers, boosted by return from injury of star man Joel Embiid, have moved up to third in the East. The Boston Celtics, despite their turbulent season, still have time to pull themselves together in time for the post-season. Even without the franchise star Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers are hanging tough in the East's top-four spots.

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks begins his pre game routine against the Charlotte Hornets on March 9, 2019 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 0:30
Eastern Conference heavyweights collide on NBA Primetime - watch Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks live on Sky Sports Arena on Sunday from 7:15pm

All four of those teams have as much or more playoff experience than the blossoming Bucks. The Sixers and Raptors added All-Star level players at the trade deadline. In Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have a player who made clutch shots to win an NBA Finals series. Without Oladipo, the Pacers have become greater than the sum of their parts.

Will the Bucks' regular-season dominance continue in the postseason?

Youth, experience, development or scoring volume for NBA's most improved?

De'Aaron Fox soars to the rim against the Knicks
Image: De'Aaron Fox soars to the rim against the Knicks

The list of contenders for the NBA's Most Improved Player award is every bit as competitive as the scrap for regular season MVP honours, with young players vying with veteran All-Stars at the head of the field.

This is a notoriously difficult award to judge. After all, how do you compare the respective seasons of a second-year floor general (De'Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings) with a veteran player who earned his first All-Star appearance (Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic) or a superstar player who made a leap into the MVP conversation (Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder)?

Zach LaVine erupted for 39 points against the Philadelphia 76ers 1:56
Zach LaVine erupted for 39 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to victory over the Philadelphia 76ers

How do you assess the rapid development of an emerging two-way young player on a contending team (Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors) against the more one-dimensional but equally impressive output of a big-time scorer (Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls) playing for a struggling squad?

De'Aaron Fox skies to the rim for a dunk against the New York Knicks 0:21
De'Aaron Fox threw down an acrobatic windmill dunk as the Sacramento Kings defeated the New York Knicks

To make matters even more confusing, shouldn't dramatic improvement be a natural progression for a second-year player like Fox? Or is it just as big a leap as George's jump from All-Star to MVP contender?

Without question, voters have a broad choice when it comes this year's Most Improved Player award. Who would you choose as your winner?

Watch the Golden State Warriors take on the Houston Rockets, live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning at 1:30am.

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