It was a fun week in the NBA, but before we go too in-depth about where teams are nearly a month into the season, lets take a look at the first edition of Daily Nexus Sports Play of the Week, presented by James Harden.
For all you kids out there who want to make it to the NBA someday, this is how you stop the ball in transition. Maybe Harden just thought that “fearing the beard” would be enough to stop a terrified rookie like Shane Larkin, but it looks like he guessed wrong this time. Either way, well done, James. Keep making plays like this and you just might find yourself back here next week.
Silliness aside, this actually wasn’t Harden’s worst moment of the week, as his Dwight Howard-less Rockets fell to the Lakers at home just five days prior. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves in a miserable position with four straight losses, three of which came at home, before finally picking up a win against an outmatched Orlando team.
The East as a whole has been a scrambled mess, going an unbelievable 19-45 against western conference teams, with the Raptors and the Wizards taking control of the top two spots. Over in the West, the Blazers have jumped up in the standings thanks to an eight-game winning streak, but still find themselves behind two teams that have done very little wrong so far in the Warriors and the Grizzlies.
Here are the rankings for this week in the NBA:
Big Jump of the Week: Denver Nuggets (+5)
Dud of the Week: Cleveland Cavaliers (-5)
1. Golden State Warriors (10-2, +0): Golden State played just two games this past week, but once again, it took care of business with a pair of wins over the Jazz and Thunder. While the Warriors are known for their flashy offense, what keeps them in the top spot is the fact that they are tops in the league in defense, allowing under 95 points per 100 possessions. Keep on splashin’ on, Super Splash Bros., your fans are very pleased.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (12-2, +0): Despite losing a close one to Toronto (a game in which Memphis was without three key players), the Grizzlies have the best record in the league. Marc Gasol has even gotten into the early-season MVP conversation. While it’s nice that Memphis finally might have someone to cheer “MVP” for, I’d say that’s about as long of a long shot as the Grizzlies moving back to Vancouver before this season ends.
3. Portland Trailblazers (11-3, +0): An NBA best eight straight wins for the Blazers has them in the No. 3 seed in the west. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard continue to be one of the best one-two scoring punches in the league, but Wesley Matthews’ 15.5 points per game has been huge for them, taking on the role as that much-needed third punch to any good one-two combination. I think that’s right.
4. Toronto Raptors (12-2, +4): Is it finally time to start believing in the Raptors? Despite the fact that they’ve played the easiest schedule in the league, a 12-2 record is not usually a fluke. Toronto is second in the league in points per possession behind only the Mavs and second in point differential. They should find themselves back in this range again next Tuesday after another relatively easy week.
5. Houston Rockets (11-3, +1): The Rockets made up for a home loss to the Lakers by taking down the Mavericks and Knicks despite being without Dwight Howard for all three games. James Harden may not be the best in transition defense, but he has been absolutely lighting it up, knocking down 13-24 (54.1%) from three-point range and averaging over 30 a game in Superman’s absence.
6. San Antonio Spurs (9-4, +1): The Spurs are doing what they always do, and at this point it’s not even a question of “When will they slow down?” but a question of “How much more boring can jokes about the Spurs’ inability to slow down get?” Four-game winning streak, a 92-90 victory on LeBron’s home court, outscoring opponents by 17 points a game in the last week… We get it San Antonio, you’re still good. We get it.
7. Dallas Mavericks (10-5, -2): Dallas continues to have the highest scoring offense in the league at 109.3 points per game, but back-to-back losses to the Rockets and Pacers have them lower on this list than they should be. Maybe today’s matchup with the Knicks could remedy that.
8. Washington Wizards (9-3, +3): Nevermind the Raptors, when is somebody going to notice the Wizards? Washington is the surprise team in the NBA this season, most recently knocking off what was a pretty hot Milwaukee team one day after handing the Cavs their third straight loss. Bradley Beal is back in the lineup and hasn’t missed a step, giving his team the offensive punch it might need with Nene out of the lineup for a while.
9. Chicago Bulls (9-5, -5): Injuries, injuries, injuries. When will the bad luck end for Chicago? Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich have all missed time for the Bulls, but that hasn’t stopped them from staying in the third spot in the East. Oh wait, it’s the East, where the Pacers are in a playoff spot at 6-8… Actually, Chicago can take all the time it needs to get healthy and it’ll most likely still have home-court when the season ends.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (8-5, +0): The Clips took three out of four games this past week to start their seven-game road-trip, spelling good signs for a team that has underwhelmed thus far. Doc Rivers’ reputation as a defensive coach has not translated to success on the court so far this year, as the Clippers are just 18th in scoring defense. That’s not championship material.
11. Sacramento Kings (8-5, +2): Thanks to a solid 2-1 week that included wins over the Bulls and the T’Wolves, Sacramento is managing to stay a safe distance away from .500. That distance could disappear in a flash, as three of the Kings next four games come against top-5 western conference teams.
12. Phoenix Suns (9-6, +2): Clutch layups from Eric Blesdoe helped Phoenix stave off some of the East’s bottom-dwellers in Detroit and Boston, and the Suns performed very well by going 4-2 on a six-game road-trip. The three-headed point guard machine in Blesdoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas keeps on rolling, but they have played their best when only one is on the court.
13. Miami Heat (8-6, +2): The Heat are continuing to survive in the post-LeBron era, albeit with Dwyane Wade continuing to be sidelined by nagging injuries. Chris Bosh knocked down a game-winner against the Hornets to keep his team above .500, and Mario Chalmers has been playing the best he’s played in quite a while, averaging 20 points and seven assists a game over the last six.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (6-7, -5): I foresaw bumps in the road for the Cavs this year, but I didn’t see them losing four straight less than a month in. Cleveland fixed things a bit by blowing out Orlando 106-74 last night, but the Cavs need to step it up defensively as they have just the 19th best scoring defense at 100.5 points allowed per game to opposing teams.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (7-5, -3): Anthony Davis already had enough MVP talk surrounding him, but for anyone who wasn’t sure just yet about the man with the unibrow, a 43 point, 14 rebound effort against Utah on Saturday would probably change their mind. The Pelicans surprisingly have one of the best offenses in the league, averaging a seventh-best 103.9 points a game as a team. That’s more than the Clippers, who were No. 1 last season.
16. Denver Nuggets (6-7, +5): That’s more like it, Brian Shaw’s squad. The Nuggets have won four in a row, including wins over the Cavs and Pelicans, as they have re-established themselves as a threat in the West. It’s also good to see Javale McGee making us laugh again, it feels like it’s been a while.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (7-7, -1): Things were going surprisingly well for the Bucks until they dropped consecutive games to the East’s two powerhouses. No, not those two powerhouses, I’m talking about the Raptors and Wizards. Milwaukee has a fairly easy schedule this week as it looks to get back on track, but hopefully Brandon Knight has been practicing his layups.
18. Atlanta Hawks (6-5, -1): It seems like it’s going to be just another year in Atlanta, as the Hawks find themselves hovering just above .500 in the weak eastern conference. Their offense isn’t bad, as they average a 10th best 105.2 points per 100 possessions, but their defense isn’t very good either, allowing 105.6 per 100, which, as you would know if you’ve been following this sentence closely, is more than they score.
19. Indiana Pacers (6-8, +3): Indiana has turned its early-season suffering around by going 5-2 in the last two weeks. After defeating the Mavericks in Dallas yesterday, the Pacers will be looking to shock the NBA world again with games against the Spurs and Cavs this week. However, David West has yet to return and Roy Hibbert just went down with a sprained ankle in yesterday’s win. Someone in Indiana must have some bad karma.
20. Orlando Magic (6-10, +0): So far, the Magic have been good against teams they should be good against and bad against teams they should be bad against. So at least we know what to expect when they play the Warriors two times in the next week.
21. Utah Jazz (5-10, -3): The Jazz came oh so close to taking down the Bulls last night, but a go-ahead layup from Mike Dunleavy with 22 seconds left earned Utah its third straight loss. They should get back on track against the Thunder tonight, but Utah isn’t exactly headed anywhere this season other than the draft lottery.
22. Brooklyn Nets (5-8, -3): Just when things seemed to be getting better for the Nets, they fell flat on their faces again. 1-6 in its last seven games, Brooklyn simply lacks any identity as a team at this point, putting up middling numbers in just about every important category.
23. Boston Celtics (4-8, +0): Although I’m a Laker fan, boy do I love seeing Rajon Rondo pass the ball. The Celtics’ only remaining player from the championship days is leading the league in assists with 10.7 a game and has predictably been the team’s best player alongside Jeff Green. We can expect more of the same moving forward.
24. New York Knicks (4-11, +3): Ouch. That’s all I have to say for Knicks fans who are forced to watch what was supposed to be a solid playoff team under champions in Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher fail to do anything positive this season. With Carmelo Anthony having back spasms and leaving yesterday’s game against Houston, that “Ouch” only grows louder.
25. Charlotte Hornets (4-11, -1): It’s now six straight losses for the Hornets after they got off to a decent start this year, but the good news is that they are still only 2.5 games behind Indiana for the No. 8 seed! Oh how I love making fun of the East and its pitifulness.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (3-11, +2): The Lakers just played their best week of basketball all season, taking down the Hawks and Rockets in a back-to-back on the road. They returned to form by allowing 140 points to the Mavericks in a 34 point drubbing, and just missed out on what would have been a big morale booster win against Denver in an overtime loss. All that really matters at this point for LA is Kobe passing MJ for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-9, +2): Andrew Wiggins is coming off a career-high of 29 points in the Wolves loss against the Kings, and he will likely need to continue to bloom on the offensive side with Kevin Martin out with a broken wrist. Defense is the issue for Minnesota, though, as it has allowed 110.3 points a game to opponents, a mark that is better only than the Lakers.
28. Detroit Pistons (3-10, -3): The Pistons aren’t a terrible defensive team, placing 11th in opponent scoring. However, their talented front line of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe has led the team to a whopping 29th-best field-goal percentage from the restricted area. That’s pretty bad.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-12, -3): Boy, Thunder fans must be wishing there was a lockout this season so they wouldn’t have to suffer through the worst stretch since their team realized it was relevant back in 2009. Sure, 3-12 isn’t exactly screaming happy days in OKC, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have returned to practice, which means that the good times will be back soon enough.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-14, +0): What is there to say, really? The 76ers are the worst team in the league and will continue to be so all season long. Damn Andrew Bynum for ruining everything, things were going so well!
Michael tied a season-low on Monday night with just one hour of sleep after being shut down by his own NBA article. Tune in next Tuesday for another exciting edition of Around the NBA!