If the last nine weeks of the regular season mimic the last nine minutes of the All-Star game, there's no guarantee that the Sixers will stay atop the East or the Shaq-Kobe feud will endure.
As everyone learned Sunday, things can change quickly in the NBA.
The season resumes Tuesday night with 13 games. All-Star MVP Allen Iverson and his banged-up Philadelphia 76ers travel to Milwaukee for a matchup of division leaders, the dysfunctional defending champion Los Angeles Lakers play at New Jersey, the Minnesota Timberwolves take an 11-game winning streak into Portland and the HorriBulls will be trying to avoid their 17th consecutive loss as they play the Hawks.
The league can only hope it can build off the excitement generated in the All-Star game, in which the East came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the West 111-110.
"I thought the game was really a great game for the league, under the circumstances," said East coach Larry Brown of Philadelphia. "I've heard so much negative stuff about the direction of the league and all these young players not living up to the standards of the other players in the past, so it was a wonderful ending for us."
Much of that negativity has been directed at Brown's star player, Allen Iverson, who scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead the East to its improbable victory.
Iverson earned All-Star MVP honors, and it's not inconceivable that he could win the regular season MVP award, too.
To do so, he'll need to carry the Sixers through another crisis.
Philadelphia, which has had the league's best record for all but a few days this season, will be without center Theo Ratliff for at least a month as the league's leading shot-blocker recovers from a wrist injury. It's the latest injury to strike a Philadelphia team that has already been without point guard Eric Snow (ankle surgery) and forward Matt Geiger (knee surgery) for a majority of the season.
The Sixers' lead over the Knicks in the Atlantic Division has been cut to 5 1/2 games, which is still the largest divisional lead for any team.
Milwaukee has a four-game lead over Toronto in the Central; Utah is a game ahead of San Antonio in the Midwest but just 2 1/2 games ahead of fourth-place Dallas; and Portland holds a two-game lead over Sacramento in the Pacific.
"A two-game winning streak can move you from out of the playoff picture into the fifth seed, and a two-game losing streak can drop you from the fifth seed to the lottery," Phoenix guard Jason Kidd said.
The Western Conference is shaping up as an 11-team race for eight playoff spots, with Phoenix, Seattle and Denver currently on the bubble for that last postseason berth.
The Suns remain a team that is in desperate need of a big man; the Sonics continue to be as unpredictable and volatile as Gary Payton's moods; the Nuggets have a tough schedule over the next four weeks with 10 of their 13 games against plus-.500 teams.
In the East, it appears at least one playoff spot will go to a team with a losing record.
Sixth place in the East is held by the Orlando Magic, who are only two games above the break-even mark. Seventh place is held by the sinking Charlotte Hornets (26-25).
Below them, the Celtics (22-27), Pacers (21-27), Cavaliers (20-27), Pistons (19-31) and Nets (17-34) all have at least a fleeting shot at the eighth and final postseason berth.
The next 10 days will feature increased speculation over who might be changing cities as the Feb. 22 trading deadline nears. Dikembe Mutombo of Atlanta remains available, although the Hawks' asking price of two legitimate starters might be too steep.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim has said he wants out of Vancouver, but the Grizzlies have indicated they won't move him unless another team takes center Bryant Reeves off their hands, too.
The Bulls also are eager to make a deal, although they have little of value that anybody else would want. The more immediate concern for Chicago is simply winning a game.
The Bulls (6-42) will play host to the Hawks, Clippers, Grizzlies and Warriors over the next two weeks, so the opportunity for a victory is there at least in theory.
If, however, the Bulls lose all those games and the three tougher ones in between against Miami, Milwaukee and Cleveland, they'll have an opportunity on the last day of February to match the longest losing streak in NBA history 24 games.
Just one more thing to watch for in the second half of the season.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times