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.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN