By far the most difficult week of the season to handicap, there was a tremendous amount of movement in the Basketball Insiders Weekly NBA Power Rankings. The Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers all lost on the same night, with both the Clippers and Cavaliers losing multiple games this week.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors engaged in an epic battle on Thursday, while some of the Association’s lower echelon teams scored wins against respectable competition.
Some of the questions we have include: How is Tom Thibodeau not getting more out of the Minnesota Timberwolves? How is Luke Walton getting so much out of the Los Angeles Lakers? How will the Detroit Pistons look once Reggie Jackson returns? What will become of the Memphis Grizzlies without Mike Conley?
Obviously, there are more questions, but the answers will only be revealed by continuing to watch.
30. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 3-15 Last Week: 30)
By the looks of things, the Mavs should get comfy in the last spot. One of the bright spots? The play of Seth Curry. Over his last five games, he’s averaging 13.4 points per game. Maybe he’s more than just the “other” Curry?
29. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 4-14, Last Week: 25)
Trust the process! Joel Embiid earned the East’s Rookie of the Month honor for November. His minute limit has been increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes, so hopefully, that’ll translate into a few more wins for Philly.
In Wednesday’s home loss to the Knicks, Karl-Anthony Towns became the youngest player in NBA history to record at least 47 points and 18 rebounds in the team’s 106-104 loss. The T-Wolves are obviously trying to figure some things out, but where there’s a KAT, there’s a way.
If you’re looking for a saving grace for the young Suns, maybe it’s the fact that they have played 11 of their first 19 games on the road. Even worse? Three of the next four will be played away from the desert, as well. All things considered, Wednesday’s 109-107 victory over the struggling Hawks was a feel-good win they’ll happily pocket.
26. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 5-13, Last Week: 26)
The Nets snapped their seven-game losing streak in dramatic fashion, getting 38 points and 14 rebounds from Sean Kilpatrick en route to erasing a double-digit deficit versus the Clippers on Tuesday night. The 127-122 overtime win was impressive, but unfortunately, still only counts once.
The Wiz bested the Kings, but got dropped by the Thunder. We can’t help but to wonder when the trade winds will begin swirling around John Wall. By far their most valuable player, DeMarcus Cousins suggested that the two have spoken about teaming up in the NBA after playing together in college. Let’s keep an eye on that.
Jrue Holiday might “only” be giving the Pels 17.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, but Anthony Davis and his team are 5-2 since the return of Holiday to the lineup. They’ll see the Clippers twice, the Thunder, Grizzlies and Warriors over their next seven, so we’ll be watching closely.
The HEAT scored an improbable upset on Thursday night, outlasting the Jazz in Salt Lake City 111-110. Even more impressive? James Johnson’s 24 points off the bench. The win gave the club back-to-back wins to end five-games-in-seven-nights stretch. That’s impressive.
Currently 1-1 on their five-game road trip, DeMarcus Cousins and his 36-point, 20-rebound effort couldn’t get the job done against the Wizards in Monday’s 101-95 overtime loss. With stops remaining in Boston, New York and Dallas, we think these guys would be fortunate to nab two out of the next three.
With reports coming out of Orlando that suggest heads may roll if things don’t improve, the Magic went down to San Antonio and broke a four-game losing streak by shocking Kawhi Leonard’s team. The win was their first at the Spurs since 2009 and just the fourth in their last 28 games in the house that Tim Duncan built. After that, we don’t even care about Thursday’s loss at the Grizzlies.
With the emergence of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets clearly have a few too many forwards and not enough minutes to go around, especially with Wilson Chandler leading the club with 18.2 points per game. Quick shout to Jamal Murray, who was named the West’s Rookie of the Month for November.
One of the most disappointing teams so far this season, the Pacers began their five-game trip with a 131-109 loss at the Blazers. They’re giving up the 25th most points per game in the league and rank 15th in defensive efficiency. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Quietly, the Blazers haven’t won back-to-back games since they beat the Nuggets back on Nov. 13. The team has a $120 million payroll and is struggling to remain atop the division. Them’s the breaks when you’re allowing 113.5 points per game (29th in the league) and are dead last in defensive efficiency (they give up 113.4 per 100 possessions). They still seem fairly mediocre.
Let’s hope Al Horford’s season ends much better than it has begun. There are a ton of numbers we can point out as it relates to the Celtics, but for now, we’ll focus on two: eight and 44. That’s the total number of games Horford has played and the percentage of Celtics games he’s played in. Not good.
With the 111-93 win at the Nets on Thursday night, Jason Kidd improved to 4-1 coaching against his former team at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. In terms on what happened on the court, Giannis Antenokounmpo is the truth! He had 23 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and zero turnovers.
Stan Van Gundy’s team has won four of their last five and are expecting Reggie Jackson back soon. The young guard participated in a full practice on Monday and his return seems imminent. In the interim, Ish Smith has given the Pistons good minutes, averaging 13.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game over his last five.
14. New York Knicks (Overall: 9-9, Last Week: 14)
Don’t look now, but the Knicks are 6-3 in their last nine and just outlasted the T-Wolves and a 47-point, 18-rebound effort from Karl-Anthony Towns. Kristaps Porzingis had 29 points, eight boards and four assists, but the most welcomed sight for Knicks fans? Carmelo Anthony hitting game-winning shots in two recent games, against the Wolves and the Hornets last Friday.
13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 10-7, Last Week: 13)
Impressively enough, the Bulls went 4-2 on their six-game road trip and have quietly played 11 of their 17 games on the road. Call it crazy, but even though these guys haven’t won consecutive games in over two weeks, they seem to be in pretty good shape.
In Wednesday night’s 96-90 win at the Bulls, the starters for the Lakers were outscored by the bench, 56-40. Sitting pretty at .500, even without D’Angelo Russell, these guys are finding ways to win games. If you don’t truly believe that Luke Walton is changing the culture for these Lakers, you might be a hater.
Losers of seven of their last eight, the Hawks have sputtered. More concerning than the losses, though, are Paul Millsap’s concerns over his left hip. Millsap missed Wednesday’s 109-107 loss at the Suns and the club wasn’t able to pull out a win, even after getting 31 points from Dennis Schroder. Let’s hope he’s back soon.
Gordon Hayward didn’t get enough help on Thursday night, as the Jazz dropped a 111-110 home loss to the HEAT. The loss snapped the club’s four-game win streak. Rudy Gobert only registered six points, ending a double-double streak for him that was also at four games. Coincidence? Probably not.
All eyes are on (and all prayers are with) Mike Conley, one of the league’s warmest and most personable players. Conley suffered a vertebral fracture in the team’s 104-85 home loss to the Hornets on Monday. Andrew Harrison may be starting for the foreseeable future, and his 16-point, six-assist averages through two may be a tiny saving grace.
Team Kemba has responded to their four-game losing streak by winning three straight. Their latest victims were the Mavs on Thursday night, 97-87. You’d think a 3-4 stretch isn’t that great, but the skid of the Hawks has the Hornets somewhat improbably leading the Southeast.
With nine triple-doubles in his team’s first 20 games, Russell Westbrook has everyone talking. Even more impressive than his averaging a triple-double, though, is the fact that over his past five games, he’s averaging 13.4 rebounds and 13.2 assists. Best of all? After winning four straight, the Thunder are atop the Northwest Division.
James Harden’s 29 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists on Thursday night gave him his fourth triple-double of the season and helped the Rockets end the 12-game win streak of the mighty Warriors. The Rockets shot 14-for-44 from distance and have hit at least 10 three-pointers in 18 games this season. That’s an NBA record.
It was all good just a week ago… the Cavs suffered a 17-point loss to the Bucks on Tuesday and followed it up with a 113-94 home loss to the Clippers on Thursday. They’ve quietly played just six road games thus far and we fear they may get bored with their superiority out East. No panic, but we’ve gotta point out that the sense of urgency has been missing lately.
The Raptors have won four in a row and lead the Celtics and Knicks by two and three games in the division, respectfully. One issue is that they rank just 25th in defensive efficiency, a far cry from last season’s rank of 11th. Quietly, our biggest concern for the Raps is their relatively weak strength of schedule, though they did best the Rockets recently.
Thursday’s pummeling of the Cavs was a feel-good win for the Clips that reminded everyone how good they are, but that in and of itself could not excuse last week’s three consecutive losses to the Pistons, Pacers and Nets. They’ll live to fight for numero uno another day, but for now, the reign at the top stops at three weeks.
Somehow, the Spurs have managed to win their first 11 road games while somehow going just 4-4 at home in San Antonio. The loss to the Magic on Tuesday leaves a bad taste in our mouths, but the Spurs have won 10 of their last 11 and quietly clock in with the second-best record in the league. Our only concern? They’re just 13th in the league in defensive efficiency.
Even with the 12-game win streak coming to an end at the hands of the Rockets on Thursday night, the Dubs are the beneficiary of futility at the top. Thanks to three losses by the Clips, two by the Cavs and the Spurs’ home loss to the Magic, the owners of the best record in the league backed in to number one. Food for thought: In the loss to the Rockets, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shot 13-for-42 from the field, and GS still probably should have won the game. They’re THAT good.
With the Warriors backing into the top spot, the Thunder storming and the Hawks descending, there was a fair amount of movement with regards to league’s Top 10 teams. The latter third featured much of the same, so check back next week to see whose stock rises and falls.
NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.
NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?
Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?
The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.
Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.
He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.
In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.
That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
Here are three possibilities:
Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.
Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.
He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.
Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.
Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.
He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.
This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.
He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.
In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.
With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.
In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.