IT’S been a long time since I did a Stock Up/Down piece and with the NBA season nearly halfway done I thought this would be a good time to check in. A complicated West playoff picture only gets more jumbled by the day, with a few squads trending in the wrong direction. However, there is promise in the East as some teams rising as they look to secure a playoff berth. Couple this with the likes of Jamal Murray, Dirk Nowitzki, James Harden and Jimmy Butler, there’s plenty to talk about as we prep for the second half of the season.
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THE Pacers are one of the form teams in the NBA right now, winning 13 of their last 15 games while currently riding a six-game winning streak. Indiana boasts the best defense in the league during that stretch and Myles Turner is a big reason for their rise in the standings. The former Texas Longhorn is averaging a league-best 2.78 blocks per game on the year and if he can maintain his dominant D there’s no reason why the Pacers can’t surge to a top-4 seed out East.
WITH Gary Harris and Paul Millsap returning to the fold in the last week, you’d think Jamal Murray’s numbers are in for a decline. However, in three of his last four games, Murray has topped 30 points helping to keep the Nuggets atop the West standings. While Nikola Jokic is their best player, Murray is their best scorer, which complements a passive Jokic perfectly. It’s unfair to expect Murray to score at such a high slip with so many weapons around him, but there’s no reason why he can’t be 20 PPG scorer for Denver in 2019.
DeMar DeRozan’s playmaking
A season ago Dwane Casey helped to unlock DeMar DeRozan’s ability as a playmaking, which saw DeRozan average a career-high number in terms of assists. Gregg Popovich has taken his new All-Star’s talents to a whole other level though (are you really surprised?). Over his last three seasons in Toronto, DeMar totalled five or more dimes in less than half of his appearances (105 times in 232 games), but as a Spur, he has hit that mark in 30 of his 39 games this year. Against his former team, DeRozan dropped his first career triple-double, signalling that there is still room for growth from the 29-year old.
James Harden’s MVP quest
THERE are scoring tears and then there’s what Harden is doing right now. His torrid pace putting the ball in the net has not only boosted his chances of claiming back-to-back MVP awards, but it may have helped save Houston’s season with CP3 going down amidst their winning streak. If Harden scores 40+ in his next game he’ll be only the third person in the last 50 years to score 40 or more in six straight games. You don’t need to think too hard about who the other members of the group are.
Image from reddit.com
AS Washington, Detroit and Orlando fail to stamp their authority on the 8th seed out East, Brooklyn will happily take it off their hands. After years of struggling, the Nets are finding their mojo which has seen them post a 10-3 record in the past month. Starting with an OT victory over the Raptors, Brooklyn has owned the 4th best offensive efficiency in the last 30 days, with the newly extended Spencer Dinwiddie leading the charge off the bench. With Caris LeVert expected to return to the court at some point this season, there’s every chance the Nets can return to the playoffs this season.
The LeBron-less Lakers
IT’S no surprise to learn a team missing LeBron James is struggling. Since their epic Christmas Day W over the Warriors, L.A. is struggling to find a winning formula, especially on offense. Kyle Kuzma is trying his best to lead the way but is shooting just 40% from the field in their last five, in which the Lakers have gone 1-4. With James expected to spend at least another week or so on the bench, they need someone to step up as a leader before they slide completely out of the playoff picture.
THE ‘Tall Baller from the G’ is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to ever do it, which makes it sad to see him in his current state. The 40-year old Nowitzki seems to be labouring every time he moves up and down the court, struggling to contribute meaningful minutes for the Mavericks any more. Sometimes, legends of the game should bow out a year earlier than they do and Dirk is a good example of what can happen if you try to squeeze the orange when there’s just no juice left. That doesn’t mean he isn’t beloved by all though…
STARTING with an impressive 12-5 record made us believe the Grizzlies could make some noise this season. However, since that hot start, they have slumped to below .500 with no end to their suffering in sight. Trading for Justin Holiday will help their cause, but relying on youngster Jaren Jackson Jr to help their veterans qualify for the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference might be a pipe dream moving forward. It makes me wonder if there is a Mike Conley and/or Marc Gasol trade on the horizon.
SOMETIMES you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks. After seemingly burning bridges in Chicago and Minnesota on his way out, many, myself included, expected Jimmy Butler’s arrival in Philly to see an end to the off-court hysteria that has surrounded the 4x All-Star so far in his NBA career. However, just yesterday Woj reported that Butler challenged Brett Brown over his role in the 76ers offense, further complicating a shaky relationship between Butler and his other superstar peers Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Sigh.
New Orleans’ Chances of Keeping Anthony Davis
ALL signs right now point to Anthony Davis having one foot out the door already in NOLA. What seemed like a season of promise and one last chance to audition their case that Davis should stay is quickly turning ugly as New Orleans has slumped to 17-22, the second-worst record in the West. While there is a cry for the Pelicans to get Davis some serious help, his supporting cast this season is much better than a 14th seeded squad and if they don’t turn things around ASAP, then they will have wasted a chance at keeping one of the games best talents.
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