The NBA season is coming down the home stretch with just about a month of games remaining on the regular-season schedule. Both conferences still have the top seeds up for grabs: The Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets battling it out in the Western Conference while the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors are going blow-for-blow in the East. There's also the heated playoff race involving the numerous teams desperate to make the cut, including LeBron James and the Lakers.

The action is really starting to heat up with so many playoff positions being decided. With less than a quarter of the season to go, our NBA experts took a shot at some predictions for the stretch run leading into what promises to be a very exciting postseason.

Rockets round into No. 1 challenger for Warriors -- again

On Dec. 8, the Rockets lost to the Dallas Mavericks to drop to 11-14 and 14th place in the West. It seemed like the Rockets' championship window had long since passed. Well, it hasn't been a linear path since then, with injuries and trades and James Harden turning into a supernova, but the Rockets have since morphed into something along the lines of the team that took Golden State to the brink last season. Since Dec. 8, the Rockets have gone 28-11 and now sit in a tie for third place in the bunched-up West. And the 3-seed is exactly where they would need to be to set up a potential showdown with the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. The biggest difference for the Rockets has been a recently spry Chris Paul. Since he returned from injury on Jan. 27, Paul has rounded into his old All-Star self, averaging 17.0 points, 8.9 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 36.2 percent from three. -- Reid Forgrave

Celtics fall short of top-four seed in East

While everyone is waiting for the Celtics to make their move up the Eastern Conference standings, the truth is Boston has been very underwhelming for much of the season. Yes, the Celtics pulled out their best win to date by routing the Warriors at Oracle on Tuesday night, but it came after a 1-5 stretch following the All-Star break. They currently sit fifth in the East, and that is where they will remain. The top two spots are basically locked up by Milwaukee and Toronto, and Philadelphia and Indiana will end up in the third and fourth spots, in some order. By finishing fifth, the inconsistent Celtics won't have home-court advantage in a single series in the postseason, which would be a shock after such lofty expectations heading into the season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

LeBron James, Lakers miss the playoffs

The Los Angeles Lakers have been trending downward ever since LeBron James' groin injury on Christmas Day and they haven't recovered since. Even though LeBron continues to put up monster numbers, the Lakers' final real opportunity at clinching a postseason berth came and passed when they failed to acquire Anthony Davis at the trade deadline. When you factor in that the roster just isn't good enough combined with the fact that the Lakers -- currently tied for 10th in the West and 5 1/2 games behind the Spurs for the final playoff spot -- have the fourth-toughest schedule for the stretch run, there's no reason to believe that even LeBron can will this mediocre Lakers squad into the postseason. In the end, LeBron's streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances -- and eight Finals -- comes to a halt. -- DJ Siddiqi

LeBron will be watching the playoffs as a spectator for the first time since the 2004-05 season. USATSI

Jazz become the trendy team to believe in

Just like last season, the Utah Jazz started slowly and took a while to round into form. Their defense is imposing, their offense has improved and they have a bunch of games against non-playoff teams coming up. If they take advantage of their relatively weak schedule, they will build buzz and confidence down the stretch of the regular season. Utah is not in the West's top tier, but, if it finishes strong, there will be people who pick this team to advance to the second round, and perhaps even the conference finals. -- James Herbert

I'm with James, here. The Jazz will become everyone's favorite sleeper again. Not only does Utah have a super-soft schedule down the stretch, but it's also in prime position for a conference finals run as the No. 6 seed entering Wednesday. Rising to the No. 5 seed would put them in line to play the Warriors, assuming they hold onto the No. 1 seed, in the second round, but by staying at No. 6 they're looking at a first-round matchup with Portland/OKC and, if current seeds hold, a second-round matchup with Denver. Personally, I would list Utah as an underdog against all those teams, but a lot of people will like those matchups for a Jazz team that would have a reasonable path to the conference finals. -- Brad Botkin

Raptors take No. 1 East seed from Bucks

The Bucks have been the class of the NBA for most of the season, but entering Wednesday they held just a 2.5-game lead on the Raptors for the Eastern Conference's best record. Milwaukee has dealt with minor injuries to many of its key players recently, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks are not going to take any chances as they prepare for what they hope is a long playoff run -- so they could choose to rest their stars quite a bit down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Raptors have new pieces to incorporate in Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin, and mathematically they have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the entire NBA, via That combination of factors should allow them to jump Milwaukee and snatch the No. 1 seed. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

Giannis leads Bucks to NBA's best record, secures MVP

Colin thinks the Bucks are going to lose the No. 1 seed in the East. I disagree. Further, I think the Bucks -- who have every motivation to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in an Eastern Conference where the tiniest of edges could very well be the difference between a second-round bounce and a Finals trip -- will finish with the best record in the league. Ten of the last 15 MVPs have come from the team with the best overall record. Eleven of the last 15 have come from a No. 1 seed. Three of the remaining four -- LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steven Nash -- finished on the No. 2 seed. Houston isn't going to climb that high, for as crazy as Harden's numbers have been, Giannis' stats have been historically unprecedented across the board as well. Bucks secure the No. 1 seed. Giannis secures the MVP. -- Botkin

Warriors clinch West's No. 1 seed  

As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors are holding off the Denver Nuggets by 1 1/2 games for the top seed in the Western Conference. Although the Warriors are going through their own struggles -- 5-5 in their last 10, including consecutive losses in Florida and the team's worst home loss in the Kerr era at the hands of the Celtics -- their two remaining games against the Nuggets are at home at Oracle Arena. Not a good situation for Denver, which is 15-15 on the road.

When you also factor in that the Warriors know that home-court advantage is pivotal after being forced to play four games in Houston in last year's Western Conference finals, Golden State will have that extra incentive to clinch the top seed in the West playoffs. -- Siddiqi

Pacers finish third in East, ruin potentially amazing second round of playoffs

Indiana hanging onto that 3-seed would mean disaster for either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics, who would likely meet in the first round. It seems far-fetched -- when healthy, the 76ers have the most talented starting five in the East -- but it's not. Sure, math will tell you that the Pacers have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the East, and the Sixers have one of the easiest. But haven't the Pacers beaten any and all predictions since the beginning of the season? Who is to say they won't continue to defy the odds, even after Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury? Speaking of injuries: Joel Embiid still isn't "ready to go," per Brett Brown, as the knee tendinitis caused him to miss his sixth game in a row Tuesday against the Orlando Magic. Lots of injuries for a 76ers team that was already thin will mean they can't get over that hump in the last month of the season. -- Forgrave

Harden averages over 37.09 points per game this season

James Harden is in rare air when it comes to scoring this season, and is already set to become the first player since Kobe Bryant in 2006 to average over 35 points per game (Harden was at 36.7 entering Tuesday night). But if he gets up over 37.09, that would take him past none other than Michael Jordan for the highest ever single-season scoring average for any NBA player not named Wilt Chamberlain. We saw Harden fight to keep his 30-point scoring streak alive, so you better believe he has M.J.'s number on his radar. With Houston in a desperate fight for playoff position, Harden will have every opportunity to put up more huge scoring nights down the stretch. -- Ward-Henninger

Thunder steal No. 2 seed in the West

The top of the Western Conference has been a neck-and-neck race between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets. However, the Oklahoma City Thunder could be one of the most improved teams from a season ago based on the year that they've had. When healthy, Paul George is a legit MVP candidate and has been in the midst of having a career year playing alongside Russell Westbrook for the second consecutive season. Oklahoma City's second unit of Dennis Schroder, Markieff Morris and Nerlens Noel is among the more talented groups around and gives the team a huge lift. As long as this group gets completely healthy over the next few games, expect them to steal the second seed in the West. -- Chris Bengel

The Magic will surprise many with an unlikely playoff spot -- and it won't be as the 8-seed. USATSI

Magic get back into postseason for first time since 2012

The young Orlando Magic weren't expected to be terrible this season, but there certainly wasn't talk of the playoffs. Yet heading into the final six weeks of the regular season, the Magic, entering Wednesday, are currently a 1/2 game back of the eighth and final seed in the East. They've won six of their last 10 games, and have the best defense and best net rating in the entire league over that stretch. And they've done it against strong competition as well, beating the Bucks, Raptors, Warriors and Pacers. In tremendous form, and facing one of the easiest schedules down the stretch, look for the Magic to hold off the Hornets and Heat to steal the final playoff spot in the East. -- Jack Maloney

Orlando not only makes playoffs, but finishes as 6-seed

The Magic have been making a serious playoff push the last couple of weeks. Before the trade deadline nobody really saw Orlando as a playoff team, but with the third-easiest remaining schedule, the Magic have a great opportunity to jump a few teams. They're coming off a 8-3 record in the month of February, including a big win over Golden State. The Magic only have four games remaining against above .500 teams so expect them to shock the doubters. In fact, I would be surprised if Orlando ends up anything worse than the 7-seed in the East. -- Cordell Long

Clippers make playoffs and lose their first-round pick

When the Los Angeles Clippers traded Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline, part of the appeal seemed to be that they were content with falling out of the playoff picture. Their first-round pick is lottery-protected, so sliding to ninth would mean keeping it rather than sending it to the Boston Celtics. The Clippers have maintained their identity, though, continuing to beat teams with a balanced attack despite all the roster changes. I love watching the Sacramento Kings as much as the next guy, but I can't see them catching up to this group -- if Sacramento is going to sneak in, it will be at the expense of the Spurs. -- Herbert

Kings sneak into postseason

The Kings haven't exactly been a large pillar of success in recent years. Sacramento hoped that DeMarcus Cousins could help turn the franchise around and draw more talent to the team, but that never came to fruition. Now the Kings have assembled a large amount of young talent that is growing up very quickly. Buddy Hield is definitely a candidate for the Most Improved Player award and makes up one of the more underrated backcourts -- alongside point guard De'Aaron Fox -- in the Western Conference. While they're currently out of the playoff picture, there is certainly enough firepower for the Kings to catapult themselves into the seventh or eighth seed in the West at the end of the regular season. -- Bengel

Nets fall just short of playoff berth

In conjunction with my prediction of the Magic making the playoffs, I think the Nets fall out of the top eight spots. They still hold a three-game lead over 10th-place Orlando, but their outlook doesn't look promising. Brooklyn currently has the third-most difficult remaining schedule, and that includes only four games against non-playoff teams. The young roster has been a welcome surprise but I expect next season to be the Nets' true coming-out party. -- Long

Spurs sneak into playoffs as an 8-seed 

The San Antonio Spurs have had an up-and-down season, but they currently have a three game lead on the Sacramento Kings for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and I don't expect them to give up that spot. In order to hold on to the spot, the Spurs will have to fend off the Kings and LeBron James' Lakers, but they have both the talent and the experience to do so. -- Kaskey-Blomain

Westbrook averages triple-double for third straight season

Back in 2017, Russell Westbrook's quest to average a triple-double for the entire season was pretty much all everyone talked about, and helped propel him to his first MVP Award. Now, he's on pace to achieve the feat for the third straight season, and no one really cares. That's not entirely surprising; Westbrook's overall game has slipped, he's become awfully inefficient and the novelty has worn off. Still, it's pretty remarkable that no one had averaged a triple-double for the season since Oscar Robertson in 1962, and now Westbrook is going to do it three seasons in a row. -- Maloney