The Southwest division was by far the most competitive division in the NBA during the 2014-2015 season as all five teams (Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans) qualified for the playoffs. Coming into this season much of the same was expected out of the Southwest division as every team looked like they improved their roster or kept it relatively the same, except for Dallas, who lost out on free agent DeAndre Jordan. Well, things have not gone as expected for the Southwest division this year as the Pelicans find themselves at 4-15, the Rockets are two games below .500, and even Memphis got off to a slow start as they find themselves at 11-9 thus far.
Let’s take a look at these teams and see how they rank through the first quarter of the season.
5. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans has been one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments so far this season. After clinching the eighth seed last season with a win against San Antonio in their regular season finale, the Pelicans find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference this year to everyone’s surprise. New Orleans, for the most part, kept the roster they had last season as they did not make many changes during their offseason. The biggest move they made was firing head coach Monty Williams, and replacing him with Alvin Gentry, who was previously the assistant coach for Steve Kerr’s championship Warriors.
The Pelicans came out of the gate slow as they started 0-6 before picking up their first win against Dallas. Through their first 12 games, New Orleans found themselves with a record of 1-11. Injuries have once again been a problem for the Pelicans as Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole just recently made their debut and Anthony Davis has been in and out of the lineup, but the Pelicans problems go deeper than that.
New Orleans statistically has the worst defense in the league as they are giving up 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Scoring has not been much of a problem for the Pelicans as they have young, explosive talent in Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson. Rebounding on the other hand has been as the Pelicans are ranked 26th in team rebounding. The Pelicans problems seem internal at this point, as the defensive intensity just has not been there this season. If New Orleans expects to turn this thing around and make a playoff push, it’s going to start with improved play on the defensive end.
4. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are not far off from taking the NBA’s biggest disappointment title that the Pelicans currently have. Coming off a division title last season and a trip to the Western Conference Finals, Houston has not made a good first impression to start the season. Houston, like New Orleans, did not make any big changes to their roster with the exception of adding mercurial point guard Ty Lawson and losing Josh Smith in free agency. Sitting at 9-11, the Rockets have not lived up to the expectations that many had for them.
Starting the season with three different streaks of losing three or more games in a row, Houston moved on from head coach Kevin McHale and named J.B. Bickerstaff the interim head coach for the season. Much like the Pelicans, Houston is struggling on the defensive end as they rank 27th in defensive rating, giving up 106 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are being simply outplayed and out-hustled on the defensive end.
Ball movement has also been an issue as the Rockets rank 22nd in the team assists per game. The team is averaging just over 20 assists a game as Houston often resorts to isolation plays on offense. Lawson has been extremely ineffective and there have been rumors that he is on the trading block. Multiple players only meetings have also been held as the players try to figure out what is wrong with the team chemistry. But neither the meetings nor the coaching change have made a positive impact for the Rockets yet.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Coming into the season, people had the Mavericks where the Pelicans currently are, last in the division. After going through the whole DeAndre Jordan saga in the offseason and eventually losing him to the Clippers, most people thought this season would be the start of a rebuilding process for Dallas. That hasn’t been the case for the Mavericks though as they have come out of the season with some solid play that has them ranked fifth in the always competitive Western Conference.
The biggest move Dallas made was arguably the signing of former all-star point guard Deron Williams, who is providing an unexpected spark for the Mavericks. Williams is actually coming off a season best 30 points in an overtime win against the Trailblazers in Portland. Dirk Nowitzki also continues to provide consistent scoring for the Mavericks. Dallas ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of points per game, opponents points per game and assists per game as a team. The Mavericks pace is up from 97.43 last season to 99.34 this season as the team seems to running a faster system offensively with the additions of guards Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams. If the Mavericks can keep up this surprisingly solid play throughout the rest of the season they should clinch a playoff spot in the West, which few predicted entering this season.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
After a very slow start by the Memphis Grizzlies, which included a 3-6 record, the Grizzlies have quietly won seven of their last 10. Memphis’ offseason was focused on Marc Gasol as they got their big man back and then made some other moves, including the acquisition of Matt Barnes. After the slow start from Memphis, the front office made some moves by trading for Miami HEAT guard Mario Chalmers, and since joining the team, he has provided a huge spark off the bench.
The same old problem seems to be affecting the Grizzlies again, which is scoring the basketball. Memphis ranks just 23rd in points per game and as a team they are shooting a dismal 31.5 percent from the three-point line. Memphis also ranks 29th in team rebounds per game, which is surprising considering their frontcourt consists of Gasol and Randolph. Despite this, the Grizzlies have turned things around lately, winning seven of 10, including two 30-point games from Gasol (career high 38 points in a win over New Orleans).
Mike Conley on the other hand has been struggling with this shot and is currently shooting just 42.5 percent from the field. If the Grizzlies want to continue this hot streak and become a legitimate contender, Conley is going to have to be better offensively.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are doing Spurs things as they have a 16-4 record and are the only team relatively close to the 21-0 Golden State Warriors. With the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, everyone expected big things from the Spurs coming into this season. Tony Parker looks healthier than he has in recent seasons, Kawhi Leonard is emerging into a two-way superstar and Tim Duncan is playing his want into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. The timeless San Antonio Spurs have had 18 consecutive seasons with a winning record, and by the looks of it, that streak won’t end this season.
San Antonio ranks first in defensive efficiency, giving up just 92.9 points per 100 possessions. San Antonio’s defense has been stifling as they are limiting their opponents to just 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 31.1 percent from behind the arc. With Aldridge still adjusting to a new system after nine years in Portland, Leonard has really picked up the scoring as he is averaging a career best 21.9 points per game. Tony Parker also has been shooting the ball well as he is currently shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line. As always, ball movement has been a huge key to the Spurs success early in the season as they rank third in team assists per game, averaging 24.8 assists per game. Look for the Spurs to keep up this type of play throughout the season as they try and knock the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
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