Now, as the NBA All-Star break and the trade deadline near, we're revisiting the dream scenario for all 30 teams over the final two months of the regular season — from the Brooklyn Nets' chance to build for the future to the Golden State Warriors' chance at ultimate revenge on LeBron James.
Brooklyn Nets: Trading Brook Lopez for a first-round pick
Whether they supplement swapping picks with the Celtics this season or recoup next year's selection which Boston owns outright, the Nets can call this a succesful season if they free Lopez and acquire a first-rounder in return.
Do it for Brook's sake, Brooklyn.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportsTom Szczerbowski
Phoenix Suns: No one else gets hurt
After Dragan Bender's potentially season-ending injury, we're just hoping the Suns can make it to May without another one of their young prospects suffering a catastrophic breakdown.
Los Angeles Lakers: Keeping their first-round pick
This is a twofold strategy for the Lakers. First, they have to be bad enough to luck into the top three in next year's draft lottery to keep the pick they otherwise owe to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Then, if they do manage to save the pick, the Lakers have to resist the temptation to package that asset for a second-rate star.
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Philadelphia 76ers: Dominating Rookie of the Year voting
Barring some sort of catastrophic injury, Joel Embiid will run away with the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year award, and there's no clear second-runner at this point. If Ben Simmons gets healthy sooner than later (and plays well), he could finish second in the voting, proving just how bright Philly's future is. Thanks, Sam Hinkie!
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Orlando Magic: Figuring out who the hell they are
Magic GM Rob Hennigan recently stated his team was built to be a tough, defense-first squad with Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka added to the roster this past summer. Instead, Orlando has played like a mismatched collection of loose parts for the past three months.
If defense really is the Magic's identity, we need to see it over the next two months — or Hennigan is going to have major questions to answer.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Getting an unexpected playoff berth (and first-round exit)
Regardless of whether Lance Stephenson is the answer (especially since defensive inconsistency is Minnesota's biggest problem), the Wolves remain within shouting distance of a spot in the postseason. That playoff experience would be invaluable for jump-starting Minnesota's growth under Tom Thibodeau.
What? You think we're overestimating the Wolves because we picked them as a surprise postseason team before the season? Balderdash!
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis playing every remaining game
DON'T YOU LAUGH. That's rude.
Very, very rude.
Dallas Mavericks: Yogi Ferrell continuing to shine as the Mavs claim the No. 1 pick
Dirk Nowitzki has had a little extra pep in his step lately, and we're going to credit Yogi. The undrafted rookie gives the Mavs a little bit of hope, and beating the odds and landing the first overall pick in this year's draft would be a nice way to start what could be Dirk's final season in 2017-18.
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins making his first playoff appearance
We sincerely believe the Kings aren't dealing Boogie before the trade deadline, so we can put that speculation to rest. Other than that, Sacramento is in that meaty, mediocre middle in the Western Conference just outside the playoff picture. A small win streak would vault the Kings into the driver's seat for the eighth seed.
This was originally going to be about how the Bucks could make a run at the Eastern Conference finals (seriously) if things went their way over February and March, including Khris Middleton quickly returning to form.
Then Parker's knee injury happened Wednesday, and now all we can do is hope for the best for the young Milwaukee star-in-the-making.
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Miami Heat: The Heat overtaking the Nets as the NBA's worst team
Oh, wait — after a 12-game win streak, that's probably out the window unless the Heat decide to tank, full stop. In that case, maybe a Goran Dragic trade is the best-case scenario for Miami?
Seriously, this recent success really gummed things up for the Heat. Are they going to make a playoff run? Is that really going to happen?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Portland Trail Blazers: Slipping into the lottery, to be honest
The Blazers and Nuggets are battling to be the under-.500 eighth seed in the Western Conference. In reality, however, Portland would be better served by locking up a lottery pick this year — and the Blazers could slip into the bottom six in the NBA if things break against Damian Lillard's squad.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic getting his just due alongside the NBA's young bigs
Anyone who thinks there's a two-way race between Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns for the title of best young NBA big man isn't paying attention to the Nuggets (not that we blame you for that). Jokic is one of the most outstanding players in the league of any age. His ludicrous combination of size, passing, court vision, shooting touch and finishing around the rim is everything you'd want and more from a center.
Start watching Denver, please, if only to appreciate Jokic.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker winning All-Star MVP
More than anything, the Hornets need the world to realize how good they are — and how great Walker is. Winning the MVP award in Orlando among the NBA's best point guards would do the trick (although Walker's coronation would sting a little bit, since the game isn't in Charlotte as originally scheduled).
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Detroit Pistons: Stan Van Gundy learning to appreciate his team
All year long, SVG has criticized his team in the media, calling into question their effort, their retention of the scheme, their effort again, their desire for a team meeting, and their effort one more time for good measure. On top of all that, we're not sure he actually likes Andre Drummond, in the same way you judge a significant other for all the ways they fall short of an ex (who is Dwight Howard, in this analogy).
But there's a really good team somewhere within this mishmash of players in Detroit, if only Van Gundy can take a breath and see what the Pistons have to offer.
Chicago Bulls: Internal strife turning them into a playoff-bound family
The worst-case scenario for Chicago is a repeat of last month's drama between Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — and maybe that's inevitable.
Or maybe clearing the air means the Bulls can concentrate on basketball moving forward, locking up the eighth seed (we know they're currently seventh, but bear with us) and facing LeBron in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the Wade-vs.-James matchup we've wanted for the past three years.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George discovering he really should be a power forward
There are some trade whispers about the Celtics being interested in George, which is a ridiculously obvious report. Every team should be interested in PG-13.
So other than not trading their franchise player, the Pacers' best path forward involves George embracing the fact he's at his best when Indiana goes small. That probably means bringing in a small forward who can bang with big guys, like Shane Battier did for LeBron James in Miami.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook writing his name in NBA history
FOX Sports NBA analyst Chris Broussard argued on this week's In The Zone podcast that matching Oscar Robertson would actually mean more for Westbrook's legacy than had he won a title with Kevin Durant, and we're not here to argue.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Atlanta Hawks: Discovering a medical breakthrough in back care for Dwight Howard
The Hawks are stuck with the big man, who admittedly has his games where he looks like the All-NBA rebounding, dunking, rim-protecting machine he used to be. Unless Howard can figure out a way to stay healthy night in and night out, Atlanta's ceiling is only so high in the Eastern Conference.
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Toronto Raptors: Re-establishing their reign as the second-best team in the East
Although Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to play like All-Stars, the Raptors have lost their Eastern Conference luster this season, especially without Bismack Biyombo manning the middle. Reminding the Celtics of their proper place in the East's pecking order would be a nice consolation prize followed by a five-game dismissal by Cleveland in the conference finals.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportTom Szczerbowski
Washington Wizards: A date with LeBron in the NBA playoffs
After a slow start, the Wizards stormed back into the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff standings — and there's no reason they can't continue that climb past the Celtics and Raptors straight into the conference finals against the Cavaliers this postseason.
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Memphis Grizzlies: Putting the fear of God in the real Western Conference contenders
The Grizzlies are still the super-clutch team they've been all season, with or without a healthy Chandler Parsons. In the pressure-cooker of the NBA playoffs, Memphis could use its slow, methodical offense and precise execution to take more talented teams to the brink of elimination.
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Los Angeles Clippers: Trading for Melo and taking aim at the Warriors
As the Knicks sink further and further into chaos, maybe the Clippers really can get Carmelo Anthony without giving up Blake Griffin (or anything significant). If so, they have to take the chance.
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Boston Celtics: Taking the next step as an Eastern Conference contender
Making the second round of the playoffs for the first time in Brad Stevens' tenure would be a nice start for Boston, but the Celtics shouldn't (and won't) be satisfied with just one playoff series victory. This team has all the makings of an Eastern Conference finalist — and at that point, we can't wait to see what Isaiah Thomas does against the Cavs.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY SportsMark L. Baer
Utah Jazz: Playing a seven-game Western Conference semifinal nail-biter
We really wanted to go whole-hog and proclaim the Jazz can make the Western Conference finals ... but we're not quite ready to make that leap.
Suffice it to say we wouldn't be surprised if Utah did somehow conquer the likes of San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City and the Clippers in the postseason. The Jazz are an incredibly well-rounded team with a fantastic defense and players who know how to do their jobs.
Houston Rockets: James Harden winning MVP
The Rockets have to know they're not beating the Warriors, so they can take solace in individual accolades this year. At this pace, Harden should be the clear-cut MVP in 2017.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Shocking the world yet again
Do you hear it? The sound of everyone writing off LeBron James against the Warriors once more?
Remember that shade when June rolls around, friends, and the King has forced another Game 7.
David Richard-USA TODAY SportsDavid Richard
San Antonio Spurs: Making a hard-fought Western Conference finals appearance
The Spurs are going to need reinforcements to best the Warriors over the coming years. Fortunately, Kawhi Leonard's versatility gives San Antonio countless options. If Gregg Popovich's crew can put up a fierce resistance this postseason, perhaps the Spurs can entice a free agent or two this summer.
Chris Paul would look pretty good in black and silver. We're just saying.
Golden State Warriors: Crushing LeBron James' soul
It's not going to happen — you can take it to the bank — but the very best scenario for the Warriors is the Cavaliers getting their act together headed into the playoffs, playing outstanding basketball through the Eastern Conference finals, then watching helplessly as Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co. lead a four-game sweep in the NBA Finals.
Revenge is a dish best served cold to new friends.