The Dallas Mavericks are tanking without trying. Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t played since facing the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 25. That was the fifth game Nowitzki has played all year. J.J Barea won’t be back from his strained calf injury for another three weeks. Seth Curry has missed the team’s last two games dealing with knee issues. Offseason max contract acquisition, Harrison Barnes, is the only player on this team that has played in all 19 of Dallas’ games this year. The Mavericks can count this year as a success if it lands them Markelle Fultz. His Washington Huskies team played against TCU and they conveniently enough practiced at the Mavericks’ training facility. Mark Cuban is a smart man, don’t think he didn’t offer up the practice gym to the Huskies without thinking about the type of impact and impression it could have on the 18-year-old. The Mavericks have the losing part down, now they just have to rely on some ping pongs bouncing their way in the spring. Then the shortened rebuild will have been completely worth it.
Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (left) is in my FanDuel daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-1 Last rank: 27th
The Phoenix Suns may place higher in the standings than their second-to-last ranking this week, but this team just really hasn’t done that much to impress this season. They’re relying on a lot of young players and that can only take a team so far — as we’re seeing in Minnesota with the Timberwolves’ unexpectedly slow start — and even though Devin Booker has the makings of a superstar he hasn’t reached that status just yet. Sticking with a young core brings it’s own ups and downs, but in the long run this should pay off well for the franchise. They are a team of the future and as long as they let that guide their decisions for the remainder of the year I don’t see how it doesn’t result in good things for them down the line. For all the times you see the Suns ranked 27th or lower, they are patiently chipping away at the block of ice that they ultimately hopes will become the sculpture of a dominant team. I know ice and Arizona aren’t the best analogies, but it did just snow on the Atlantic coast so the Easterner in me has cold weather on the mind.
Nov 7, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) waits to enter the game against the Utah Jazz during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-2 Last rank: 28th
The Philadelphia 76ers finally gave us the look that we’ve all been waiting for — Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the floor together. It was great for Embiid and Okafor (who combined to score 24 of the Sixers 31 points in their 13 shared minutes), but not so much for Philadelphia who ended up losing the game 105-88 to the Orlando Magic. As the Sixers continue to experiment, and wait for what might be piece 1B to Embiid’s 1A, news leaked that Brett Brown wants to play 2016 first overall pick, Ben Simmons, as the team’s point guard when he returns to the floor. If this means an endless amount of Simmons-Embiid pick-and-rolls then sign me up. By endless I truly do mean like a Vine loop. Every possession both players on the floor should involve them navigating through as many pick-and-rolls as they can set within 24 seconds while still getting a shot attempt off. Actually, on second thought, screw it. Just run that play for the entire 24 seconds. The Philadelphia fans trusted Sam Hinkie’s process for years on end it feels like and I’m sure they will wholeheartedly back this new offense from Brown.
Brooklyn Nets guard Sean Kilpatrick (6) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 29th
The Brooklyn Nets looked like the greatest offense the NBA has seen during their shocking double overtime victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Sean Kilpatrick did his best Kobe Bryant impression to will Brooklyn to victory in the end. However, after that they came back down to Earth again and lost both games of a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks. Jeremy Lin has now missed over a month of basketball and his return is still to be determined. There is good news for the Nets though. 2016 first round draft pick, Caris LeVert, returned to action last night in the team’s game against the Washington Wizards. By returned to action I of course mean he traded in his tailored suit for an NBA warmup and got to take part in warmups. In probably the first questionable move by Kenny Atkinson in his first season as the Nets head coach, LeVert received a “DNP-Coach’s Decision” yesterday. Maybe, Atkinson was told by the training staff that LeVert isn’t ready to handle the stress and physicality of an NBA game just yet. Many of us thought him getting clearance meant he could jump right into a game, but it seems that we were mistaken. Hopefully LeVert gets his chance on the floor in the near future.
Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) is in my FanDuel daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 26th
The Miami Heat — unless unforeseen circumstances occur — will likely stay slotted in this 26th spot the remainder of the season. Pat Riley has put together just enough talent to keep them from becoming one of the worst teams in the NBA and Erik Spoelstra is just good enough as a coach to make this roster competitive. However, as a whole this team just isn’t really good. When your team is led by Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside it’s not really going to be a beacon of consistency. Justise Winslow hasn’t made a huge leap in his second season and Miami really needs him to make one if they want any hopes of turning things around this season. The Heat should put all their efforts, resources, and focus on getting as high of a pick as possible in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft. There are talented players to be had and if they pick the right one they might see an instant turnaround in their team’s performance. For my two cents, I think you dangle Goran Dragic as trade bait and acquire as many assets and young players a team is willing to handover and then use your lottery pick to replace the dragon in a deeply talented point guard pool.
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (middle) was looking for any way to contribute in yesterday’s FanDuel daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-1 Last rank: 23rd
DeMarcus Cousins is a great American. During the delay in the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings game due to there being too much condensation on the Sixers court, Boogie took it upon himself to try and fix things. He grabbed a mop and got to work helping the Sixers facility workers in their attempts to try and dry the floor so the game could be played. In the end, the game was postponed, but even in failure we are presented with another anecdote about the man, the myth, the legend, that is DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have yet to put a team around him that is best able to exemplify that. Their second best player, Rudy Gay, still wants to get out of town faster that you can say “C-Webb” and having that type of tension around can’t be doing Cousins any favors. Soon the choice is going to come where they decide if they are finally willing to bend to Gay’s wishes or if they’re going to be stubborn and throw away another season with the best big man in the league on their roster.
Oct 30, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) reacts to a call in the first quarter of the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-2 Last rank: 24th
After dwelling in the bottom of the league to begin the year, things have improved –slightly — for the Washington Wizards. DC’s team has lost two straight, but they were close games against two of the better teams in the Western Conference (nine-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home and a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on the road). The best stat for the Wizards so far this year is that their stellar backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal have only combined to miss five of the team’s 18 games so far. If they keep that rate up, and knowing those two it’s more likely than not they’ll miss more games this year, the Wizards will get 60 games with both Beal and Wall on the floor. That is right around the average for these two over the last two seasons. 60 games being the norm is a problem and hopefully the Wizards can take a step in the right direction to avoid it from becoming too commonplace. Wall and Beal have the talent to be two of the best players at their positions. With decent health and help from their supporting cast, this should be a team that makes its way into the playoffs. Only time will tell if that’s anything more than a pipe dream for this team.
Both New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) are in my FanDuel daily picks for this Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Pelicans
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 21st
And just like that, all the help the New Orleans Pelicans had been giving Anthony Davis vanished into thin air. Jrue Holiday has cooled off from his hot start, shooting 33 percent with an offensive rating of 82 in both of the Pelicans’ last two games (both losses). There was a claimed Buddy Hield sighting in the team’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The rookie scored 16 points in 15 minutes and hit four out of seven 3s in his return to the state where he became a flamethrower from behind the arc. However, there’s more bad than good going for New Orleans at the moment. After the loss, Davis had x-rays taken on his right foot and at the moment the reason for the x-rays remains unknown. The Pelicans can’t survive any type of absence from Davis, and Davis is getting close to getting labeled as injury-prone. He was able to play in the team’s game last night (and casually dropped a 28-point, 17-rebound, four-block performance), but it wasn’t enough to get a win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.
Nov 25, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine (right) goes up for a dunk over Phoenix Suns center Alex Len in the first quarter at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 25th
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a NBA League Pass must-watch team. They look like an unbeatable juggernaut for half of almost every game they play. Then they somehow find a way to implode — usually during third quarters — and present fans with an entertaining back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter. Is it possible that we the fans and media put too much expectations on a team that is led by three 21-year-olds? (Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins were all born in 1995). Tom Thibodeau is a great coach and that trio of youngsters is one of the best — if not the best — young cores in all of the NBA. Yet, winning games isn’t easy and the Timberwolves had been a losing franchise for so long that it can’t be turned around that quickly. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the impending Minnesota dynasty (if it ever comes to fruition). In the future, when the Timberwolves are running the Western Conference we’ll look back on this season and laugh. People will say things like: “Remember when we thought Andrew Wiggins was a bust?”, or “Remember when we thought Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t have a killer instinct at 21?”, or “Remember when we thought Zach LaVine was JUST a dunker?”
Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) is in my DraftKings daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-1 Last rank: 22nd
The Orlando Magic have won three of their last four games and I might be even more confused about this team than I had been. Not because I’m second-guessing my original hypothesis about the pieces of this team being wrong for each other, but because I feel like they’re starting to think they can make it work. They have stopped playing Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon together with two traditional big men and have looked to D.J. Augustin as the new starter at point guard over the last five games. The best thing I’ve seen on the court from the Magic this season is Serge Ibaka’s double thumbs down post-rejection celebration. Not only has he one-upped the Roman Empire, but he’s made the thumbs down mainstream again. Beside being turned into an emoji, the thumbs down gesture had been a bit of an afterthought amongst today’s celebrations. Still the Magic are a mess and they are going to hit a point in the season where Frank Vogel’s coaching is no longer good enough to sneak out wins in games they have no right to win. Vogel has been the best choice this front office has made during their tender. I’m not sure the good people of Orlando, Florida should necessarily be happy that the very same group will have a chance to swing and miss in the NBA Draft Lottery again.
Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic (15) is in my FanDuel daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-3 Last rank: 19th
Things for the Denver Nuggets haven’t been great lately. In their last three games they have lost two at home and one game at Utah. They have also been without last year’s analytics-based Rookie of the Year, Nikola Jokic for the last two games as he recovers from a wrist injury. This team really needs to make a move — December 15th is fast approaching and if they aren’t yet, Denver’s phones will be ringing off the hook by then. They have 10 players playing over 20 minutes a night (Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson, and Jusuf Nurkic) and all 10 are scoring over nine points per game. One, if not more, of those names will likely be changing addresses when the trade deadline dust settles. It’s unlikely to be Murray, Jokic or Nurkic so fire up the ESPN Trade Machine and start pumping out crazy deal after crazy deal that allows your favorite team to bring in Gallinari or Barton or whomever on the cheap. At some point the Nuggets will need to try to turn their collection of okay to good pieces into something great. The right general manager can swoop in and get something good for his team from the Nuggets this year.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 1-3 Last rank: 16th
Without D’Angelo Russell the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t shown the same type of promise that they had at the beginning of the season, yet that isn’t stopping them from competing night after night. Lou Williams has made a resurgence with Russell sidelined with left knee soreness during the Lakers last eight games. Los Angeles has also been without Julius Randle (hip pointer), Larry Nance Jr. (right knee contusion), Nick Young (right calf strain) and Jose Calderon (right hamstring strain) during different points of Russell’s extended absence. The piling up of injuries is why the Lakers have fallen off in recent weeks, but if anyone is capable of keeping this rag tag group of kids above water it’s Lakers head coach, Luke Walton. Walton should all but start engraving his name on this year’s Coach of the Year trophy. After years of talking about everything but basketball in regards to the Lakers, it’s now seemingly the only thing people want to talk about with this team. They are a young, fun, and entertaining group that is only getting better thanks to the coaching of Walton and the valuable experience of being in close games against good opponents.
Nov 25, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) shoots the ball while Brooklyn Nets guard Sean Kilpatrick (6) defends in the first half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-1 Last rank: 17th
After missing four of the Indiana Pacers six games in the middle of November, Paul George returned and played nearly 38 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks on November 23rd. He has yet to suit up again for the Pacers since. Indiana needs George back at 100 percent if they want to make any noise in the Eastern Conference this year. As it stands, the Pacers are tied with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed in the playoff race. George has played in 12 games and Indiana has matched its .500 record on the year with George on the floor too. The Pacers will need him to get back to his All-Star level if they have any hopes of being more than just a first round exit again in the postseason. This team was supposed to be turnover for the Pacers, with the team embracing uptempo small ball, but instead this has been a season of turnovers as they rank amongst the bottom 10 of all 30 teams in turnovers per game. Then of course there is the embarrassment that was last night. A lot of teams are going to be on the bad side of big games from one of the Golden State Warriors’ big four this year, but to watch helplessly as Klay Thompson rains down three after three is something I would not wish upon my worst enemy.
Nov 27, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) and forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Rockets won 130-114. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Portland Trail Blazers
Last week: 2-0 Last rank: 14th
Things for the Portland Trail Blazers have not really gone as planned this year. Festus Ezeli still hasn’t played a single game this season (will he ever?) and they were without Al-Farouq Aminu for almost a month as he recovered from a left calf strain. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both continue to be great and together make up one of the three best backcourts in the league. Yet, aside from those two guards the Blazers haven’t really gotten much else from the rest of their roster. Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, and Allen Crabbe have both seen their production drop from a season ago. In his eight games this year, Aminu has rarely looked like the player that helped spark this team in the playoffs and the second half of last season. Asking for any more out of Lillard and McCollum might leave them spent when the playoffs come around and that is when Portland is going to really need to rely on them most. Lillard was able to put the team on his back in order to get them a much needed win over the Chicago Bulls last night. They’ll likely need more of his heroics going forward if the rest of the team is unable to find its groove as the season progresses onwards.
The Detroit Pistons finally got Reggie Jackson back — in limited minutes — and he looked like he hadn’t missed a single game this season. Jackson added 18 points on 58.3 shooting and knocked down two of his three 3-pointers. Yet the rust showed in other areas. He finished the game against the Orlando Magic with four assists and three turnovers. While I’m sure Stan Van Gundy is happy to have arguably his best player back, I think he’d rather role Ish Smith back out there than to watch Jackson routinely put up 4:3 assist to turnover ratio games. The team was able to defy the odds and finish a game over .500 during Jackson’s absence. With him back they should be a much better team, but it all comes down to how fast Jackson can get back to being the player we saw last season (except when he totally blew it for the Pistons in the Playoffs, that version of Reggie is better left in the past). Stanley Johnson has taken on a slight case of the sophomore slump this year, even going as far as to bump heads with Van Gundy at times. If any team needs a player back to bring continuity and clearance to their vision it’s the Detroit Pistons with Jackson.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-0 Last rank: 20th
Giannis Antetokounmpo versus Kristaps Porzingis for is going to be a close race for Unicorn of the Year. The Milwaukee Bucks have relied heavily on the Greek Freak’s otherworldly skills so far this season and through 18 games it’s gotten them 10 wins and a spot as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo is currently leading the Bucks in points per game (22.4), rebounds per game (8.6), steals per game (2.2), and blocks per game (2.2). For all the impressiveness that is Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double, Antetokounmpo is doing something equally as mind-blowing. He is only 0.1 assists per game behind Matthew Dellavedova from leading Milwaukee in all five major statistical categories. LeBron James impressively did something similar over a seven-game stretch in the NBA Finals last year, Antetokounmpo is about to do it over an entire 82-game season! The Bucks were able to hold their own against the San Antonio Spurs last night and while moral victories are one of my least favorite things in all of sports, it was something that Milwaukee greatly needed to give their season some meaning. If they can build on the type of game they were able to play against one of the best teams in the league then maybe there is enough there for this team to make some noise as early as this year.
Feb 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) is guarded by Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) at Target Center. The Knicks defeated the Timberwolves 103-95. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
New York Knicks
Last week: 3-0 Last rank: 15th
Kristaps Porzingis did the following combination of moves, one after the other against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night: shot fake, hesitation, and double crossover. Reminder: Porzingis is 7-foot-3. As mentioned in the previous slide, he and Giannis Antetokounmpo are cut from the same rare breed of athlete. If the Basketball Gods see fit, a future that features those two squaring off for Eastern Conference titles is a future that I want to live in. Back to the present, the Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, and Porzingis trio is starting to gel and that alone makes the New York Knicks 100000 times better than they’ve been since Jason Kidd was a spot up shooter for them. Anthony’s ability to call to life his big play, All-Star moments when needed are huge for this team. Allowing Porzingis to organically grow into the superstar unicorn we all know he will soon become is the best outcome for the Knicks franchise. As long as health remains a concern for only Joakim Noah, this year’s Knicks team has a chance of returning to the postseason and that alone should be reason enough for New Yorkers to be happy with what this team has become.
Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb (3) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 11th
The Hornets are part of a group of teams that have seemingly sputtered after having strong starts to the season. Charlotte’s success comes mainly from their ability to play suffocating defense. They currently rank eighth in defensive rating (104.5 points per 100 possessions) and as long as they remain a top 10 defense they will be right in the mix for a playoff spot. The Hornets are going to need to sure up their defense if they want to get back in the mix for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Kemba Walker can only carry a team so far, and while that was good enough to get the UCONN Huskies a national championship, it won’t be enough to get the Hornets out of the first round.
Nov 30, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Washington Wizards during overtime at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week: 2-0 Last rank: 13th
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Dec 1, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (left) and forward Chandler Parsons (right) before the game against the Orlando Magic at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 7th
The Memphis Grizzlies were on their way to reclaiming their spot as one of the top teams in the Western Conference when the dreaded injury bug bit them once again. In November alone, the team has lost Chandler Parsons (knee bruise), James Ennis (calf strain), Vince Carter (hip flexor strain), and Mike Conley (fractured vertebrae) to injury and they are also without Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zach Randolph who is away from the team following the passing of his mother. Marc Gasol’s 3-point shooting can only carry the remainder of the roster to so many wins. Getting 31 points off the bench from 3-point marksman Troy Daniels will certainly help, but even that was only enough to get the Grizzlies a three-point win over a depleted Lakers team. They certainly need to get healthy in order for them to have a shot at the goals they set out for themselves heading into the season. But having the injuries now is a whole hell of a lot better than the timing they had a year ago. They basically were forced into fielding a NBA Development League team in the playoffs last year.
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) is in my DraftKings daily picks for tonight. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 12th
Things are going quite nicely for the Utah Jazz now. After taking some time to get right out of the gate, the Jazz have finally found their stride. While it’s an uphill battle to become the 50-win team that many envisioned, there’s still a shot that Utah will be able to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. In these rankings alone, only four other teams in the Western Conference top them. For all of James Harden’s greatness, it’s not hard to envision the Houston Rockets dropping in the standings and the Jazz taking their place and a top four seed with it. Gordon Hayward seems to be back to himself now and that’s going to be key if the Jazz are going to ascend from lottery to home-court in just one season. They have probably the greatest combination of veterans and young players that can contribute out of any team in the NBA right now. If they can keep building on what they have found they will make themselves into one of those teams that not too many teams are lining up to face off against when the playoffs roll around.
Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) is in my DraftKings daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-3 Last rank: 5th
This is probably way too high of a ranking for the Atlanta Hawks given the downwards spiral their season has quickly turned into. They have lost six in a row including their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Russell Westbrook casually got his sixth straight triple-double and 11th in the last 22 games he’s played. For Atlanta, they finally got Paul Millsap back after he missed three games with an injury to his left hip. The Dwight Howard stink might have finally started to rub off on Mike Budenholzer and his Spurs East franchise setup. For his part, Howard has been more than adequate and his double-double average of 13.7 PPG and 12.8 RPG have been a steadying presence to this Hawks season. However, it’s another offseason acquisition that’s failed to live up to summer expectations. That would be, Kent Bazemore. Bazemore is barely shooting above 30 percent from 3 this season after knocking down 35.7 and 36.4 percent of his 3-pointers in his two previous years in Atlanta. The Hawks need Bazemore to become the perimeter threat he once was for them if they are going to right this ship anytime soon. Otherwise it will only get worse for the Hawks.
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) and Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) are in today’s DraftKings daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 10th
The Boston Celtics are looking like the team everyone expected them to be. Since Al Horford returned to the team, the Celtics have gone 6-2 in their last eight games. With Horford back it allows all the rest of the roster to work as originally planned. Avery Bradley can focus all his efforts on being a defensive stopper and 3-point sharpshooter. Jae Crowder can merely rely on open spot up attempts to get the majority of his baskets. So on and so forth. Isaiah Thomas is really the only player on this team besides Horford that you could move to practically any other team and get the same or similar results as he’s producing with Boston. Brad Stevens has to be liking what he’s seen from his team of late and if they can keep it up at this level they’ll soon find themselves battling atop the Eastern Conference standings for second place behind the Cleveland Cavaliers — unless of course the Cavaliers make a habit out of these losing streaks. The Celtics patiently built one of the better rosters in the entire league, this is the year that they start looking for the rewards on their patience in the form of playoff victories (Stevens is still yet to win a playoff series as the Celtics head coach).
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) is in my DraftKings daily picks lineup for today. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 9th
James Harden and Mike D’Antoni are the NBA’s Thelma and Louise. Their high-flying offense is their very own version of driving high-speed towards the edge of an impending cliff. Looking at the Houston Rockets as a whole this experiment really shouldn’t be working. Aside from Patrick Beverley and Clint Capela, this team really doesn’t have many plus-defenders and outside of Harden and Eric Gordon there aren’t many people that can create their own offense. So then how does this team get away with handing the ball to Harden game after game and continuously put up monstrous stat-stuffing box score numbers? Well, it’s mostly because Harden is that damn good. Secondly, it’s because D’Antoni’s offense presents every defense with a horrible choice: either allow Harden to attack the basket against one defender or help on Harden and leave a 3-point shooter open from deep. There’s no way to stop both. D’Antoni knows that. Harden knows that. The NBA knows that. Russell Westbrook’s on pace for an historical season that we haven’t seen since Oscar Robertson was lacing up his high tops, but right now Harden is my choice for Most Valuable Player. Without Harden, the Rockets aren’t coming close to being the team they are today.
The Toronto Raptors have quietly re-cemented themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference. They just saw their six-game winning streak (which included wins over the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks) come to an end at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan has seen his hot start taper off into only one flame emoji type of play instead of the unlimited flame emoji style he offered at the beginning of the year. Still, he and Kyle Lowry together make the Raptors into one of the best teams in the NBA. Those two carry the heaviest burden nightly and allow for players like Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, and Corey Joseph to play to their strengths and help keep this team as a threat to the Cavaliers in the East. The Raptors are just on the brink of being able to stand tall with the Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors of the league. Maybe a trade deadline move with a team like oh I don’t know, the Denver Nuggets, is all they need to make that jump.
Oct 14, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) steals the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers guard Markel Brown (10) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-3 Last rank: 6th
The Chicago Bulls have had an up and down week to say the least. First they surrendered a 20-point lead to the injury-plagued Los Angeles Lakers. They followed that up by going toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, ultimately defeating the titans of the Eastern Conference. Next they were handed a 25-point blowout loss by the lowly Dallas Mavericks, which also featured a confrontation between Rajon Rondo and an assistant coach that led to Rondo being suspended for a game. To cap it all off, they lost to the reeling Portland Trail Blazers after allowing Damian Lillard to score 11 points in the game’s final six minutes. Just when I want to have faith in the Bulls — and this fifth ranking is the equivalent to my having faith in them — they turn around and do something that makes me question ever believing in them. I’m not sure if this is a team that can match their regular season success in the postseason, but if Dwyane Wade continues to be Jimmy Butler’s Mr. Miyagi then we could be in for one hell of a treat from this team in April and May. Fred Hoiberg seems to have done enough to wipe his name clear of any hot seat rumors. The person most likely to leave the Windy City now is probably Rondo.
Nov 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) reacts to a three point score against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 102-101. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-3 Last rank: 2nd
LeBron James was probably gearing up for another two-week vacation after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost three straight games including two blowout losses at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. However, before James booked his first class flight to Miami, the Cavaliers were able to get a much needed victory over the Toronto Raptors on the road last night that most likely put a halt to any travel plans from James. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are looking as good as ever for Cleveland and as long as that keeps up any regular season droughts (I’m looking at you J.R. Smith) or losing streaks will be forgiven when this team walks it way through the Eastern Conference again. This postseason for Cleveland is bigger than anything they can accomplish in the regular season — unless they can magically turn out a 74-8 season somehow, that would mean James putting his foot on the gas for the remainder of the year and that isn’t the smartest of ideas if you want to preserve him for the playoffs when they’ll need him most. At 14-5 they still hold a full game lead over the Raptors and with another losing streak unlikely they will probably build that gap up more in the coming games.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is in my FanDuel daily picks again today. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Clippers
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 4th
Beat the team that’s consistently been ranked just slightly ahead of you all season (on the road at that too) and you move ahead of said team. The Los Angeles Clippers were able to do just that when they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers by 19 points on a nationally televised game for all the basketball world to see. It was a great way to bounce back from a head-scratching double overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets. However, being the Clippers they ended the week by losing to the Indiana Pacers — a team that seemingly has their number this year. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul are finally comfortable with each other and it’s showing through in full force for Los Angeles. Doc Rivers getting thrown out of that game against the Nets is going to be a hilarious story worth telling a million times over, but he seems to have his hands squarely on the pulse of this team. When he complains they all complain and isn’t that really all you could ask for from your coach? The Clippers are going to be one of the best teams in the NBA this year and it will be their playoff success or failure that ultimately defines how we think of the Paul/Griffin/Jordan era.
San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 3rd
The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. The San Antonio Spurs are really good and I should never again doubt them. (They’re like the team version of Russell Westbrook).
While the loss to the Houston Rockets showed us that this team is in fact human again, that impression of them being superhuman didn’t take long to come right back to the forefront of the news. Klay Thompson, arguably the fourth best player on this team dropped 60 points in three quarters last night. Just let that sink in. Seriously, 60 points in 29 minutes that shoudn’t even be possible. STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS. Now that you are back I think you now properly understood just how much my back is against the wall here. Nothing I write could possibly hold a candle to watching what Thompson did to a bunch of other grown men last night. It’s silly for someone to even think it’s possible. But, then what should I talk about with the Golden State Warriors? I mean I could go on about Draymond Green’s reckless flailing and how it could once again cost the Golden State Warriors when they need him most, but I’m sure you’ve heard all the hot takes and jokes about Green’s limbs by now. I really can’t explain the amazement that this team inspires sometimes. So instead of trying I’m just going to stop here and leave you with this: *whispers* this might be the greatest basketball team of all time.