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Five teams to watch in the NBA’s stretch run

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After a brief hiatus, the NBA returns to regular season action Thursday night. The 82-game schedule is around 2/3 over with some teams playing as a few as 26 games before the regular season officially ends on April 15. The postseason picture is becoming clearer, but a number of questions remain. As the home stretch of the season nears, here are five teams to watch particularly closely over the next eight weeks.

Houston Rockets (34-20)

It’s more than likely you didn’t need prompting to watch the Rockets during their final 28 games of the regular season. Year in and year out around this time of the season they continue to be among the league’s most interesting teams. Now, in Mike D’Antoni’s fourth year as head coach, the team is in what feels like it’s fourth different configuration. Following a trade just days before the deadline that shipped Clint Capela to the Hawks, Houston has made the decision to close the 2019-20 year playing lineups mainly consisting of players between 6’3’’-6’8’’. No center, just guards and wings playing up a position, maybe two. Thus far, since Capela initially missed the Rockets’ Jan. 31 game with an injury, the Rockets are 5-2 in recent center-less games, with one of those losses coming by a just single point at the hands of the Utah Jazz. Over that seven-game stretch they have outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possession, good enough for No. 7 in the league, and maybe even more impressively been the league’s No. 15 defense. But that’s admittedly a small sample and they were No. 4 in offense before the deal for what it’s worth.

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