After last night’s games, the Wolves find themselves in a tie for eighth in the Western Conference along with the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams are .500, and there are five teams behind them one or two games under. It’s a huge traffic jam.
What else is going on around the league?
Who Is Hot?
Philadelphia 76ers. Wolves fans have been elated at the results of the big trade, but so have Philly fans, with the Sixers winners of seven of their last eight. Much like the Wolves, the schedule has helped, but wins are wins, and the Sixers just blew out the Wizards last night to move to 16-8 on the season. Jimmy Butler has been excellent since joining them, doing Jimmy Butler things and also hitting two game winning threes—shots he did not make with the Wolves.
Toronto Raptors: Winners of seven straight to move to 19-4 on the season, the Raps have the best record in the NBA. They just beat a (Curry-less) Warriors team at home in an overtime thriller. The Kawhi Leonard risk seems to have been worth it, Serge Ibaka is having a bounce-back season, and their depth is unrivaled. Whether it’s enough when the playoffs come around remains to be seen, but the Raps are the best team in the league at the quarter-pole.
Los Angeles Clippers: Four wins in a row and nine of ten has surprisingly vaulted the Clippers to the top of the Western Conference. This was a team that was expected to struggle for a playoff spot, and they still might, but right now they are riding high behind one of the league’s top offenses. Health and hot shooting from their forwards—Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari has a lot to do with it, and Montrezl Harrell has been awesome off the bench.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets went 9-1 to start the year, dropped to 10-7, but have now won five in a row to get to 15-7 and second in the West. Their defense has been excellent for the most part—4th in the league for the season, and the 112 the Blazers scored last night in a one point Nuggets win was the most they’ve given up in two weeks. Paul Millsap seems to be finally helping how they envisioned it, and the Nuggets are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA.
Who Is Not?
San Antonio Spurs: For the first time in the Gregg Popovich era, the Spurs have lost back-to-back games by at least 30 points. Their debacle against the Wolves was followed up last night with a 30 point loss to the Rockets at home. Their go-to players aren’t nearly efficient enough, they don’t have the depth of talent we’re used to, and their defense has completely fallen apart. Things aren’t good in San Antonio.
New Orleans Pelicans: Losers of five of six to fall below .500, the Pels have been very up-and-down this season. They can score, but have had a difficult time consistently stopping opponents. I really like their collection of talent, but something is missing. They will get hot again, and remain a decent bet for the playoffs, but as a franchise they look like they are just treading water.
Chicago Bulls: Nine losses in their last ten, it’s a tanking season in Chicago. Lacking high end talent in the best of circumstances, injuries have completely cratered their season. They have the worst offense in the league, which mostly consists of Zach LaVine hurling shots at the rim from wherever he finds himself on the court. This is not a good team.
Washington Wizards: After briefly showing signs of life, the Wizards have been blown out in their last two games to drop to 8-14. They seem to be taking no pride in defense (29th in the league) and misery and dysfunction is the order of the day in the nation’s capitol. Things are not working with the current group, and I would expect some changes in the coming months.
Let’s highlight a couple of guys we haven’t talked about before:
Jaren Jackson has fit in very well with the Memphis Grizzlies, starting next to Marc Gasol up front and playing very good defense for a rookie. He’s also carrying some offense with good efficiency. He scored a career high 36 last night in a double overtime win over the Nets. One of the youngest players in the league helping a veteran Grizzlies crew get back into the mix.
Miles Bridges fell a bit late in the draft process last summer for unclear reasons. He wound up going 12th and moving to Charlotte in a draft night trade. While he is not yet a high usage player, he’s impressed with his athleticism, defense, and nose for the ball, while shooting 51 percent from the field. He rebounds well, is very good in transition, and has provided multiple highlight plays for the Hornets. I think he’s going to be a very good player.
- There have been rumblings about the Wizards blowing things up, which makes sense when you have three guys on massive contracts and are 8-14. Things just aren’t working, and all three of their max players—John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, have been rumored to be on the block. The Wolves are apparently interested in Beal, though my guess is they are interested to the extent that they would rather have Beal on a big money deal than Andrew Wiggins, which, yeah, who wouldn’t?
- The Jazz traded for Kyle Korver, and it paid immediate dividends in last night’s win in Charlotte. Not only did Korver score 14 points on 5-7 from the field, but his presence still changes the gravity and opens up the court for others.