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NBA Season Update: East still lead the way

The trade deadline has passed and the All-Star weekend is near, so we’re right on the edge of the regular season run-in.

Even with just two months left of the regular season, the Play-off picture is uncertain and there’s no clear title favourite.

However, the trade deadline has shifted things across both conferences, so here is a look at where the main contenders stand heading into the regular season’s final straight.

Western sides make moves

There’s little doubt that the last week of NBA trades was won by the Western Conference, with Kevin Durant’s switch from east to west enough on its own.

However, Kyrie Irving’s move to Dallas along with deadline-day deals for both Los Angeles-based teams has really added to the tension in the Western Conference.

The Denver Nuggets looked like the side to beat but their path to the Finals is now much harder. They’ve opened up a four-game lead at the top of the standings, but they could still end up with a tough first-round match-up.

The Nuggets could end up landing the New Orleans Pelicans or Golden State Warriors - who are both on course for the Play-in tournament. The LA Lakers are just two games shy of a Play-in place and they’ve added enough depth to be a postseason headache too.

As it stands, the first round of the Play-offs will feature a Brooklyn Nets reunion, with Kyrie’s Dallas Mavericks in fourth and the Phoenix Suns in fifth. Given that both traded away their best defensive asset for those two high-scoring stars, that potential encounter would make for a thrilling series.

While we have yet to see Durant suit up in a Suns’ uniform, his new team are 19/10 for Western Conference glory.

That the Memphis Grizzlies - on course for consecutive top-two finishes - are 7/1 tells you all you need to know about the competition the Nuggets will face this term.

The LA Clippers produced some under-the-radar deals, with moves for Bones Hyland, Eric Gordon and Mason Plumlee improving their guard depth, adding a wing defender and more cover at centre.

That kind of depth behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George makes the Clippers a threat, but fitness concerns over their two stars leave them at 5/1 to make the Finals.

Celtics and Bucks impress

While the West got stronger, it’s still the Eastern Conference sides who lead the way overall. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have the two best records in the league, with only one game splitting them.

The Celtics are the only side in the league to hit 40 wins so far, with recent weeks seeing them return to the standard of defending which inspired their run to the Finals last year.

The Celtics lead the way at 13/4 for the title, with the Bucks 5/1. However, the Bucks have put together a 10-game winning streak to reel in the Celtics, with Giannis Antetokounmpo in blistering form.

Giannis has averaged 37.3 points per game across that run, recording a triple-double and eight double-doubles. There’s little doubt he’s the best player in the world right now, he just needs the Bucks to click around him.

The deadline-day move for Jae Crowder could look like a masterstroke by the end of the season. The Bucks’ last title came with an elite defence which included PJ Tucker and they’ve been searching for a replacement since the following offseason.

Crowder is a perfect fit for this team and he’s exactly the kind of player that they needed in last season’s 4-3 exit to the Celtics.

Can anyone stop Jokic's MVP chase?

While Giannis is looking dominant, the MVP award looks set to go to Nikola Jokic. The Denver Nuggets’ man is 5/8 to claim the award for the third season running, which would be an incredible achievement.

The Nuggets look unassailable in the west and that’s down to Jokic once again. Luka Doncic’s chances have been hurt thanks to Kyrie’s trade, while Giannis tends to miss games down the stretch as the Bucks try to save him for the postseason.

Joel Embiid is pushing to win the award for the first time at 12/5, but he just can’t match a man who is averaging a triple-double across 49 games this term.

In other awards betting, keep an eye on Jacque Vaughn at 6/1 to be named Coach of the Year. The Nets’ exodus does hurt any award chances they had - including Nic Claxton who has drifted to 9/2 to be named Defensive Player of the Year.

However, Vaughn already showed he could make the KD/Kyrie axis almost unplayable. The early signs suggest he can keep this defensive Nets side competitive without them and if he can then he’s a standout in that market.

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