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The Canadian Press

Analysis: The NBA's East has a standings logjam to deal with

This is a bizarre season for the NBA in a bizarre time for the world. Most of those who must attend the All-Star Game don’t seem particularly excited by those plans. Arenas are somewhere between almost empty and totally empty because of virus protocols. Game schedules are typically known months in advance; nobody knows what the second week of March looks like yet. All of this is most unusual. There is, however, one constant. The Eastern Conference standings are a mess. Spending any time trying to figure how the East is going to shake out would be a futile undertaking, because it’s clear that the teams themselves have no idea. Miami won the East last season and has spent zero days over .500 this season. Milwaukee — the NBA’s best regular-season team in each of the past two seasons, a team with two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — just had a streak of five consecutive losses. Every team in the East has had at least one three-game losing streak; 11 of those 15 teams have had multiple three-game slides and the season isn’t even half over. If all that wasn’t enough, the Western Conference is dominating its friends from the other half of the league. The West is winning 57% of its games against the East. That’s on pace to be the biggest margin since the West won 58.4% in 2014-15 — and virtually assures that the West will win the regular-season series versus the East for the 21st time in the last 22 seasons. The East won four consecutive years against the West from 1995-96 through 1998-99; the only season in which the East beat the West since was 2008-09. By now, that's to be expected. Having only three teams better than one game above .500, two months into the season, that's the big surprise out of the East. Philadelphia (20-11) and Brooklyn (20-12) sit atop the East, and Milwaukee (18-13) is right in their shadow. That’s where the ridiculously tight traffic jam starts, with the next 10 teams — Indiana, Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago, Charlotte, Miami, Atlanta, Orlando and Washington — all within 3 1/2 games of each other. Some offer a very simple explanation. “I see a lot of inconsistent teams in the East,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re one of them.” That being said, there are signs that some teams are figuring it out. Brooklyn just went 5-0 on a West road trip, playing most of those games without Kevin Durant. Toronto started 7-12; the Raptors are 9-3 since. The Bulls and the Heat have already won more games in February than they did in January. The Wizards beat the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night for a fifth consecutive victory, meaning they're 5-0 since starting 6-17. And the Knicks — this is true and amazing — have a chance at their first winning calendar month since going 8-7 in November 2017. “We’re striving to become a 48-minute team,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who has already made a sizable impact in his first couple months in New York. “We’ve got a long way to go.” The good news is that there’s a lot of time left. Teams will get their second-half schedules finalized by the NBA this week. Everyone, even those going to Atlanta for the one-day All-Star events on March 7, will get a little bit of a much-needed break after a very hectic first couple months of the season. The trade deadline on March 25 will be interesting, since with the play-in tournament happening this year — and 20 teams essentially going to the post-season, even if four will be eliminated in very short order — more teams than usual will technically be in the playoff race. Put simply, there’s a long way to go. And that means there’s plenty of time for this East logjam to break up a little. “Anybody that can find some consistency and reliability quicker can find some separation in the standings, but right now that there is not separation,” Spoelstra said. “So, what I see is opportunity.” ___ Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

The Canadian Press

Wild beat Sharks 6-2 for third win in a row

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mats Zuccarello had a goal and three assists, and the Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2 on Monday night for their third consecutive win. It was the highest scoring game of the season for Minnesota, which is rounding into form after being sidelined for a couple weeks this month because of COVID-19 protocols. Victor Rask had a goal and two assists for the Wild, who improved to 3-1 on their five-game road trip. Kirill Kaprizov, Marcus Foligno, Ian Cole and Jonas Brodin also scored, and Kaapo Kahkonen made 31 saves. The Sharks fell flat in the opener of a season-long eight-game homestand. Next up is a challenging stretch when they play 11 of their next 13 against either St. Louis, Vegas or Colorado, the top three teams in the West Division. Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored for San Jose, but the Sharks were outscored 3-1 in the second period. Martin Jones made 16 saves on 20 shots before he was replaced by Devan Dubnyk. The Sharks scored 45 seconds into the game on a nifty goal from Burns, who knocked the puck around a defender at the blue line and went right to left to flip a backhand past Kahkonen. But the Wild grabbed the lead for good with a pair of goals 11 seconds apart midway through the first. Zuccarello tied it when he scored from the right circle at 7:49. Right after that, Zuccarello found Kaprizov camped to the left of the net for another score that gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead. IN THEIR Defence The Sharks played their fourth consecutive game without injured defencemen Erik Karlsson (groin) and Radim Simek (upper body). Karlsson’s return date isn’t known but coach Bob Boughner said before the game that Simek could potentially return Thursday against Vegas. CARRYING THE LOAD Kahkonen continues to play well while starting goalie Cam Talbot goes through COVID-19 protocol. He has stopped 73 of 77 shots over the past three games. UP NEXT Wild: Visit the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. Sharks: Host the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night. Joe Stiglich, The Associated Press

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