December 12, 2014: (A Belated) Five Things to Know in the NBA
#1 – Conference Focus: West
This week, I will summarize in two sentences or less what I think of each team in the West. This is essentially what I would write next to their names in the Power Rankings if I wanted to make my columns too long for anyone to read.
Golden State Warriors – This team has been on a tear of late, winners of a league best 14 straight games. Stephen Curry is looking like an early MVP candidate, and new head coach Steve Kerr’s high-motion offense is putting points on the board.
Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers have turned the corner. They are returning to form, and Chris Paul is having an extremely efficient year so far. I have no doubts that they will finish in the top three this season.
Phoenix Suns – The Suns have sputtered a bit after a very hot start. They suffered a demoralizing home overtime loss to the Clippers on an improbable Blake Griffin fadeaway three pointer. Eric Bledsoe is living up to the max contract he scored this summer.
Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins was hospitalized this week suffering from a viral infection. Without him, the Kings have struggled. It’s very clear that he is the key player on this team, and we will have to wait for his return to find out if the Kings can hang around out west.
Los Angeles Lakers – I don’t have much to say here. Byron Scott is doing a poor job coaching, and Kobe is the only competent player on the team. It’s going to be a long year in Lakerland.
Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizzlies are truly dominant down low. These guys can beat you in a lot of ways, and are one of the best coached squads in the NBA. I see no reason they can’t make it to the NBA Finals if they stay healthy.
Houston Rockets – The Rockets have played outstanding basketball this month, but their main focus is gaining an edge on their two in-state rivals. They currently have the best record in Texas, but I will wait to see all of the head-to-head games before I pick a Texas winner. My money is still on the Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs – Speaking of the Spurs, it’s back to business as usual! The Spurs are back up into the top eight spots, despite suffering two bad losses in the last week. Regardless, they were able to beat the Knicks without all five of their starters, so it seems that Gregg Popovich is still getting it done!
Dallas Mavericks – Dallas is a really good team playing in a really tough division. They have the best offense in the NBA, averaging a league-high 110.5 points per game. Threes, dunks, and stiff defense are the recipe for the Mavs.
New Orleans Pelicans – Before this team can even think about contending, they are going to have to wait for Dirk and Duncan to retire. Then, AD and company will be contending for the Southwest title, if he sticks around. This division is just too tough for them right now.
Portland Trail Blazers – The Blazers are an awesome team, with an extremely talented starting lineup. The bench is still a problem for this team, and they can hear the Thunder breathing down their necks. The next few months is going to show us a lot about this team.
Denver Nuggets – Denver has turned it around after a dismal 2-7 start. They have a solid cast of players who could surprise people if they catch a few breaks. Ty Lawson is a master of the pick-and-roll, and would be in line for an All-Star bid if the point guard class out west wasn’t so strong.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are back earlier than expected. Here they come, Western Conference!
Utah Jazz – The Jazz are a team with a lot of heart, who play hard and take a lot of good teams to the wire. Unfortunately, their core of players is just a few years away from being at full potential. The Hayward contract seems a bit more like an overpay as the days pass.
Minnesota Timberwolves – There is a lot of excitement in Minnesota surrounding their talented young guys. At this point, though, it’s more about the watching and thinking about what is to come for T-Wolves fans, because injuries and a tough conference are setting them up for yet another lottery pick.
#2 – Stat Line of the Week
There are two nominees for the week’s most impressive statlines. The first is Rajon Rondo, for having two triple doubles this week. On Sunday night, he had 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a win over the Washington Wizards. On Wednesday night, he had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets. It looks like Rondo is out to prove that he isn’t just a trade chip, and can still do it just as well as he always has.
The second nominee is the Dallas Mavericks for the anomaly that was Tuesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. They went 18-40 from three-point range. The fact that a team actually attempted 40 threes in a game has to deserve some credit. Why not, if you can shoot 45 percent?
#3 – Games To Watch
- Friday, 12/12
- LA Clippers @ Washington, 7 pm
- Cleveland @ New Orleans, 8 pm
- Saturday, 12/13
- Golden State @ Dallas, 2 pm
- Denver @ Houston, 8 pm
- Sunday, 12/14
- Chicago @ Miami, 6 pm
- Phoenix @ Oklahoma City, 7 pm
- Monday, 12/15
- Charlotte @ Cleveland, 7 pm
- Chicago @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm
- Tuesday, 12/16
- Golden State @ Memphis, 8 pm (ESPN)
- Oklahoma City @ Sacramento, 10:30 pm (ESPN)
#4 – Start Spreadin’ The News
New York City, our nation’s biggest media market, has two professional basketball teams playing within its city limits, and both are absolutely terrible. The Knicks are off to a 4-20 start; the worst start in franchise history. The Nets are not much better, and all of their draft picks until 2019 are either traded away or are eligible to be swapped by playoff-quality teams. The Big Apple has seen better days, for sure, but is there any hope?
For the Knicks, there really is no hope. The Carmelo deal is going to haunt them for years to come, and though the Phil Jackson hire had people optimistic about the direction of their organization, until James Dolan is out of the front office, they have very little direction. They are a team in desperate need of a rebuild, yet they just signed a top 10 player to a five-year deal, and gave him a rookie head coach and a new system. The idea seems great, but it was never going to work. The personnel out there on the court just isn’t capable of running the triangle offense effectively, and if they ever want to get any winning seasons for Carmelo Anthony, they need to find a way to lure a big free agent to New York. They should be ready to throw all of their money at Marc Gasol when the time comes, because Carmelo will not be part of a rebuild, and neither will James Dolan. Here’s to hoping!
The Nets have even less hope. Joe Johnson is one of the five highest-paid players in the NBA and he certainly doesn’t play like it. Kevin Garnett will retire soon, Deron Williams seems to be officially past his prime, and the team has no optimism for young talent because they traded all their draft picks away for a championship window that ended after two seasons and only one trip past the first round of the playoffs. It is going to be a few years before the Nets can get back on track, but I think that once they do, they have some pieces that could end up working out for them. My advice is to keep Lionel Hollins as the coach, invest in the young guys (Plumlee and Bogdanovic), and never trade that many draft picks ever again.
#5 – Highlights of the Week
Russell Westbrook says, “I’m back in business” with a huge dunk over two Pistons in the lane and a screaming victory lap.
And here is the Blake Griffin step-back three pointer to beat Phoenix that I mentioned earlier. As Suns coach Jeff Hornacek described it later: “It was so off that it went in.”