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Around the League: Rockets on Winning Streak, Nuggets Struggling

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Some notes from around the league for your Tuesday.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a quick spin around the league, shall we?

In the West, the Rockets just keep winning. They beat Brooklyn last night for their seventh in a row, a streak that kicked off with a double-overtime win against the Warriors. The Rockets have been at the forefront of the three-point revolution in the NBA for years, but have kicked it up several notches with Mike D’Antoni at the helm. They are averaging over 37 attempts per game from beyond the arc, which leads the league.

(Side note: There are seven (!) teams averaging 30+ three-point attempts a game. That’s nuts.)

James Harden has embraced his complete dominance of the ball, not only scoring with his usual flair (28 points a night), but posting an astounding 51 percent assist percentage.

This is fun. It probably won’t result in a championship, but a tip of the cap for a team trying to maximize the talent it has.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are a mess. The woeful Mavericks beat them by 20 last night, marking their eighth loss in 11 games. I don’t follow them as closely as others, but things seem confused for the Nuggets. Mike Malone’s rotations appear unsettled, and in particular they are under-using last season’s star rookie Nikola Jokic, who is in and out of the lineup. They have almost the opposite problem from the Wolves: Too many guys getting minutes, and no consistent groupings.

It doesn’t help that their point guard situation—Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson has been a disaster. No doubt they would like to figure out how to consolidate some of their talent, but those are tough deals to make.

While we’re here, pour one out for the Mavericks. After holding it together with Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle, and duct tape, things have finally fallen apart for the Mavs this season. They are currently tied with the Sixers and Wolves with the worst record in the NBA. Nowitzki has played in only five games this season as his body finally betrays him, and the Mavs simply don’t have enough talent to win. It doesn’t help that they’ve had the toughest schedule in the league, and things might get better if Dirk returns, but the hole is just too deep.

Meanwhile, over in the East...

Things are going more or less according to form, with the Cavs once again establishing themselves as the class of the conference and Toronto right on their heels.

A shout out to the Knicks, however, who currently sit third at 14-10. We should do it now, because it feels precarious; their pythagorean record is 10-14, and the path to getting better is not obvious. Kristaps Porzingis is a fantastic young player, but they are still reliant on an aging Carmelo Anthony, and do not play good defense. Credit to them, however, for taking advantage of a soft stretch in their schedule, winning six of seven which includes two wins over both the Wolves and Kings, and one against the Lakers.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have hit a little bump in the road that coincides with an injury to Isaiah Thomas, who has missed the last three games. He’s by far their best offensive player, and they miss him badly, though he’s not expected to miss too much more time. Still, one wonders if they’ve gone as far as they can go with this group. The hope was the Al Horford signing would push them forward, and while he’s played well, that hasn’t happened. Though they remain a good team, they might, like the Nuggets, need a talent consolidation trade. That, or get stars with the Nets picks they have over the next two years.

Finally, let’s do a quick rookie watch. It’s been a fairly unimpressive group thus far (and of course it’s early.) There are 12 rookies who have played more than 400 minutes, a group that does not include Joel Embiid, who doesn’t reach that threshold but is the one rookie making a real impact.

Among that group of 12, a shout out to Rodney McGruder, an undrafted 25 year old rookie who has started 12 games for the Heat. McGruder, along with the Raptors defensive-minded forward Pascal Siakam, the Thunder’s Domantas Sabonis, and the Bucks wing Malcolm Brogdon have been the most consistent performers among the rookies. The top ten from this year’s draft has not gotten off to a great start. Only four of the top ten have played even 400 minutes (Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Brandon Ingram, and Buddy Hield), and none of them have impressed so far.