PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 04: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here are five story lines to watch as the regular season wraps up.

Will LeBron’s Lakers make the playoffs out West?

Currently sitting 10th in the West, LeBron James’ Lakers (28-29) sit three games back from crosstown rivals L.A. Clippers (32-27) in eighth.

A matchup between the two on April 5 (all times AEST) could play a pivotal role in deciding the final playoff seed.

LeBron, who has appeared in the last eight consecutive NBA Finals and has not missed the playoffs since the first two seasons of his career, faces an uphill battle with the Lakers facing a tough run home.

The Lakers play Oklahoma City, Golden State, the Clippers, Utah and Portland in their final five games, all of which currently sit in playoff spots.

Can LeBron keep his playoff streak alive with this young Lakers group in the wild, wild West?

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 22: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 143-142 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on October 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Which powerhouse gains ascendancy in the East 

With only six and a half games separating Milwaukee (43-14) in top spot and Philadelphia (37-21) in fifth, everything is up for grabs in the Eastern Conference.

Will MVP contender Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks or Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors (43-16) pull away, or will the Pacers (38-20), Celtics (37-21) and 76ers close the gap?

It’s clear that the Bucks, Raptors and Sixers all mean business too, after bolstering their squads ahead of the trade deadline.

Every game carries significant meaning for the Pacers, Celtics and Sixers down the stretch, as one extra win here or there could be the difference between meeting one another, or earning home court in the postseason.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – FEBRUARY 11: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks moves against Shaquille Harrison #3 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 11, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bucks defeated the Bulls 112-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

 

The race for the MVP

The race for the 2018-19 MVP will be a fascinating one, with three genuine contenders battling it out.

Heading into the All-Star break, Paul George was averaging 34 points in his past 15 games to help boost the Thunder to 37-20 and third place in the West.

George leads the NBA in steals with 2.3 per game, causing teammate and former MVP Russell Westbrook to declare the six-time All-Star the “front-runner” for this year’s award.

Meanwhile, James Harden is in the midst of a historic scoring streak.

The Rockets guard has scored 30 or more points in 31 consecutive games, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest such streak in NBA history behind the Hall of Fame centre’s 65-game run.

During the streak, Harden is averaging a staggering 41.5 points and has scored nearly 1,300 points.

In the East, Giannis has the Bucks sitting pretty atop the standings.

The Greek Freak is averaging 27.2 points on 58.1 per cent shooting, to go with 12.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.

No one has dominated games like Antetokounmpo this season, with the 7 foot phenom declaring himself unguardable. What’s more, imagine if Steph Curry or Kevin Durant went on their own wild run and guided the Dubs to the league’s best record. The MVP is still well and truly up for grabs.

PHOENIX, AZ – NOVEMBER 16: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a three point shot against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 16, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

How the AD “dumpster fire” plays out

After Davis requested a trade in January, the Pelicans knocked back a monster-offer from the Lakers that reportedly included Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and two first-round draft picks.

As a result, Davis was left stranded at New Orleans, with the club considering whether to shut down the All-Star centre.

Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps declared that Davis would be free to play to “preserve the integrity of the game and align our organisation with NBA policies,” which came after the league reportedly threatened to fine the franchise $US100,000 for every game the star centre sits.

Even Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry admitted the entire fiasco was a “dumpster fire.”

In the team’s home win over Oklahoma City on Friday, AD played a miserly 15 minutes after hurting his shoulder.

With the firing of Demps as Pelicans GM since, uncertainty remains around the scope of Davis’ role for the remainder of the regular season. Davis’ tendency to get hurt further complicates matters, given an injury could vastly decrease his trade value.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 10: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts against the Brooklyn Nets in the first quarter during their game at Barclays Center on February 10, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The tanking battle for Zion 

With Scottie Pippen declaring Duke’s Zion Williamson the best college basketball prospect since Michael Jordan in 1984 on ESPN’s The Jump, speculation surrounding this year’s draft lottery is understandably intense.

Under NBA draft lottery rules, the teams with the three worst records in the league will receive a 14 per cent chance of receiving the No.1 pick, while fourth and fifth receive a 12.5 and 10.5 per cent chance respectively.

Currently the Phoenix Suns hold the worst record at 11-48, followed by the New York Knicks (11-47) and Cleveland Cavaliers (12-46).

However, Chicago (14-44) will be keen to throw a spanner in the works, joining the three as the only other team with a win per percentage below .320. Who would have thought watching a host of teams purposely lose would be so entertaining? Get your popcorn ready.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – FEBRUARY 12: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates in the 71-69 win over the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)