THANKSGIVING is a great time of year for NBA players. It gives them a day to put their feet up, spend some quality time with family and momentarily switch off from their naturally fast-paced lifestyle. So what better time to stop and take stock of how each team is travelling after 15-20 games of the new NBA season.
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A weird three-game losing streak is the only real blemish on the Raptors season so far as they’ve stormed to the top seed in the East. Kyle Lowry looks incredible averaging a career-high 10.5 assists a game, the highest average in the league to date. If Kawhi Leonard can start stringing more games together, the skies the limit for Toronto.
COACH Bud has revolutionised this team shooting the deep ball, which has been the main reason for their success. Role guys Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connington are performing well, but this team revolves around Giannis, who is the favourite to take home MVP honours. He still can’t shoot from three (5-41 on the year), but that might not matter.
THE Jimmy Butler trade signalled that Philly is all in on winning now. Their studs Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were enough to make some noise in the playoffs, but now they shape as a serious threat to win it all. Four straight W’s signal things are trending upwards, now all they need to do is fix Markelle Fultz. Gulp.
IT’S a bit unfair to call Indiana a second-tier contender, but Indiana is a second-tier contender. Victor Oladipo is still performing at an All-Star level, maintaining impressive numbers similar to a season ago. They lack star power aside from Dipo however, with the fourth-year big Myles Turner, showing signs of regression in consecutive campaigns.
DETROIT is half a game above Boston right now, so they aren’t going to get a ton of praise for their current seeding. That being said, Dwane Casey is steering them to success, with Blake Griffin sporting the highest scoring average of his career at 25.1 PPG. The Pistons must get more consistent if they want to hold their spot though.
TRADING Kemba Walker is no longer an option for the Hornets. Everything is clicking for Charlotte’s franchise guy, who is shooting more shots than ever and hitting them at the highest clip (46.6 FG%) of his career. His 28.8 points per will likely dip, but Walker could still drag this motley crew (no offense Malik Monk) to the playoffs out East.
I don’t expect Orlando to finish at .500 this season, but I might be forced to eat crow. Nikola Vucevic is balling right now looking like a fringe All-Star for the Magic, but it might make sense to trade him while he’s hot. Tell me a deal centred around him and John Wall wouldn’t work out for both parties.
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DON’T jump off the boat just yet. Yes, Boston has ‘problems’, but some of them are resolvable. Hopefully, Brad Stevens can get through to Jayson Tatum and he’ll stop taking so many long mid-rangers, that’s fixable. Halting the disease of more and getting Gordon Hayward right physically and more importantly, mentally, is another story entirely.
BROOKLYN had the wind knocked out of them when they lost up and coming star Caris LeVert to a gruesome lower leg injury, eerily similar to Hayward’s injury 13 months ago. The good news is LeVert only suffered a dislocation and won’t require surgery, which means a return before the All-Star break isn’t out of the question.
PERHAPS the most trending story in the league this week was the new Washington will now entertain trade offers for anyone on their roster including stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington hasn’t experienced the level of success they wanted to with this group with a full blown rebuild potentially on the horizon.
MIAMI is sitting about where I thought they would with their lack of a star blatantly obvious. Hassan Whiteside is almost back to the peak of his powers leading the league in blocks with over three a game. Let’s be honest though, this season isn’t about the Miami Heat’s win/loss record, it’s about Dwyane Wade’s last dance.
ASIDE from Zach LaVine scoring all the points for the Bulls, there isn’t much good news to report. They are a tire fire on defense, however, this season was never meant to be stacked with win streaks. The image of Zion Williamson and LaVine running the break is terrifyingly exciting, so sit tight Bulls fans.
New York Knicks
JUST ahead of the Bulls in the tanking race are the New York Knicks. There have been promising moments for the Knicks illustrated by their win over Boston on Wednesday. That snapped a six-game losing streak though, highlighting one of the negatives of their season. Don’t rule out a Tim Hardaway Jr trade if they go all on tankapalooza.
FOR a moment Atlanta forgot their goal this season before chalking up nine consecutive losses. The young Hawks have some building blocks in place for future success, but another top selection at the draft could land them their franchise guy. Not bad for a team who owns the Rookie of the Year favourite right now.
THE first time Lebron James left Cleveland they landed the first overall pick in the very next draft. They used that pick on Kyrie Irving who was vital in their 2016 championship run. Fans (me) will be hoping history repeats itself and R.J. Barrett or Zion Williamson can lure Bron home to chase the 2026 title. Dare to dream right?
BRACE yourself, things get weird in the West. Only 2.5 games separate the first place Grizzlies from the 10th placed Sacramento Kings, placing a huge premium on the next upcoming batch of games. If Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can stay on the court, there’s no reason Memphis can’t keep overachieving and lead the Grizz to an unlikely playoff berth.
I’LL be the first to admit I might’ve been dead wrong about the Blazers with a ton of credit going to Terry Stotts. Stotts has meshed the rest of his roster around his go-to guns in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, helping Portland fire early on. If they can keep it up a top-4 finish is up for grabs.
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Los Angeles Clippers
I keep waiting for L.A. to fall down the standings, but it just doesn’t happen. It’s no accident either with Danilo Gallinari (18.6 PPG) finally firing now he’s healthy and Lou Williams doing his 6th man chances no harm. Doc Rivers might have my vote for Coach of the Year right now too. Food for thought.
Oklahoma City Thunder
AN 0-4 start sent alarm bells ringing in OKC with everyone (myself included) overreacting to their slow start. Of course, they reeled off seven straight victories and are 11-2 since, with Russell Westbrook missing most of those contests. I still feel like there’s another move coming for the Thunder, but they can’t afford another 0-4 (or worse) brainfart in the meantime.
Golden State Warriors
ANOTHER season for the Warriors, another edition of do their regular season obstacles matter? In the past, the answer to that question was no, but those regular season obstacles never revolved around one of their integral stars bouncing at years end. Throw in Steph Curry’s injury woes and Dub Nation is far from firing on all cylinders.
WE have been treated to both versions of the Denver Nuggets early in the season. They surged to a 9-1 start that raised eyebrows around the association. However, they swiftly responded with a 1-6 slump, with their sole W coming against the lowly Hawks. There’s still time to rectify their shortcomings, but they can’t afford to let another season go to waste.
Los Angeles Lakers
LEBRON is shining in Los Angeles with his Lakers career off to an impressive statistical start, putting up his highest points average (28.9 a night) since his pre-Miami days in Cleveland. Usually, these are the numbers we associate with the King as he revs up for the playoffs. Gunnin’ for that MVP or are the Lakers leaning on him too much?
JEFF Bzdelik is back and Melo is gone. Time will tell just how great an impact those two changes will make, but the recent results are encouraging. Five straight victories having them looking like the team that won 65 games a year ago, with James Harden (33.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists in that stretch) his lethal-MVP self again.
New Orleans Pelicans
ANOTHER stereotypical Pelicans season has them sitting on the outside looking in with Anthony Davis putting up insane video game-like box scores. We’ve heard it all before and NOLA has got to do something to changes their fortunes. A rumoured trade for Otto Porter from Washington would be a great start.
HITTING on recent draft picks and surrounding them with the right veterans has everyone buying Kings stock right now. They turned heads with a five-game win streak not long ago and while the postseason remains a pipedream for the Kings, they have the building blocks in Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III to find success before too long.
San Antonio Spurs
JUST two wins in the nine tries is very unlike San Antonio. However, this team isn’t the same as the Popovich led Spurs of the past, with DeMar DeRozan now the feature of their offense. He has lived up to the hype, but DeRozan needs help if the Spurs want to make the postseason for an absurd 22nd consecutive season.
DALLAS will be eager to keep their win total down so they don’t lose their first round pick this season. If they want to guarantee that, then Harrison Barnes and/or Wes Matthews might become casualties. It might be worth losing the pick if Luka Doncic continues to grow and become a household NBA name, which isn’t out of the question.
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DON’T be fooled into thinking Utah is out of it. However, it is safe to say this current Utah Jazz outfit can’t afford to keep coasting and hope Donovan Mitchell saves the day. Shooting just 42.4% from the field the other Jazz members need to pick or the slack or move them along for someone who can aid their sophomore stud.
NOW that Butler has been removed from the equation, the Timberwolves will be forced to find their new identity. I have my scepticism over Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as stars in the league, but they are still too young to rule out anything as a possibility. The next fortnight or so may very well determine how their 2018-19 season unfolds.
WITH 14 teams fighting for eight West playoff spots, Phoenix is quite content anchoring the conference. Hitting on the right draft prospect next June could see the Suns make for a charge up the standings of their own 12 months from now. Until then, they’ll be happy getting minutes into generation next and locking up yet another top-5 pick in the draft.
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