Things are not great deep in the heart of Texas. Dirk Nowitzki’s achilles isn’t showing any signs of recovering quickly enough to help turn this season around. While many analysts and pundits have championed the 2017 NBA Draft class as having the potential to be one of the best in recent years, Mark Cuban seemingly disagrees and has stated that the team is not tanking. The Mavericks have been a model of consistency during the 2000’s, but it seems like their time as a guaranteed 40-50 win team is coming to a close in 2016. Harrison “Max Contract” Barnes has looked good enough in Nowitzki’s absence and if he can prove that this current stretch of 20-plus point games is the norm–more so than something that is necessitated due to Dallas having no one else to turn to–than Cuban and the Mavericks could right the ship around if they hit on the right lottery pick (HINT: Markelle Fultz) and get another, healthy, year from their German superstar forward. However, Rick Carlisle, aka the evil basketball genius, is still on the sidelines and I would never bet against him turning this latest collection of Mavericks into a playoff contender this year.
Nov 4, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) puts up a shot against Charlotte Hornets forward Spencer Hawes (00) in the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-3 Last rank: 22nd
After playing above their heads for the first couple of weeks, the Brooklyn Nets have crashed back down to Earth. The prolonged absence of their superstar point guard Jeremy Lin has had a negative impact on this group. Since leaving the game against the Detroit Pistons on November 2 with an injured hamstring, the Nets have gone 2-9 including seven consecutive losses. Kenny Atkinson’s 3-pointer heavy, floor spacing, motion offense magic has worn off without an NBA caliber point guard to run it. Brook Lopez is playing just slightly above 25 minutes a game, but seems to be unable to attract the attentions of other teams for a potential trade (and the Nets need to sell him at his highest this season). Brooklyn is saying all the right things despite the losses continuing to pile up and maybe they can recapture their early fortune when Lin does return. However, at this very moment, Danny Ainge is concocting schemes and plans on what he could do with another high lottery pick of Brooklyn’s.
Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts as time winds down on a victory against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-4 Last rank: 28th
The Philadelphia 76ers are a very good bad team. Joel Embiid has all the makings of an All-Star, even Hall of Famer if he can remain healthy for long enough. Nik Stauskas is evolving from “STAUSKAS!” to Sauce Castillo. Sergio Rodriguez is the best point guard Philly has had since Jrue Holiday. Dario Saric has had his moments. Jahlil Okafor isn’t a complete black hole anymore. All of this progress and their only number one pick from the Hinkie era, Ben Simmons, has yet to play a single game this season. Word has it that the Australian could be on the floor before the All-Star break and that’s even better news for the Sixers. Figuring out what Simmons and Embiid look like on the floor together is priority number one in Philadelphia. Those two are the likely franchise cornerstones for the next decade. Once the Sixers know what they have in those two and how they play together, they can start filling out their roster to be better situated to revolve around their stud rookies. Brett Brown has planted the seeds to make this team into something truly great in the not too distant future.
Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler (4) is one of my FanDuel daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 27th
Devin Booker is really good and is only going to get better. The Phoenix Suns are sitting on a goldmine with the 20-year-old and they know it. The Suns were not going to be a playoff contender this season and from the looks of it they have accepted that. In the best move for the franchise, they have let their young players get their feet wet with valuable experience and playing time. Rookies Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Tyler Ulis are playing 10, 15 and 12 minutes respectively and young wings Booker and TJ Warren are both well over 30 minutes. That fivesome could develop into a real threat if everything goes right for this team. The cherry on top of this devotion to their young players is that they’ll likely end up with the opportunity to add another young piece in the lottery of the 2017 NBA Draft. Imagine the wonders the fabled Phoenix Suns training staff could do for the oft-injured Harry Giles. Or how about they convince Lonzo Ball to get frosted tips and really go all-in with the Jason Kidd 2.0 comparisons. The Suns will probably remain one of the bottom five teams for the entire season, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel for this team.
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) is a strong option in these DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-3 Last rank: 26th
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Well, the Miami Heat haven’t exactly been all that mighty since LeBron James jumped ship back to Cleveland a couple years ago, but the cliche was too good to ignore. Pat Riley’s team is now just two games better than the lowly Dallas Mavericks. Riley won’t likely be adding any more memorabilia to his “Count the rings” collection this year with the squad he’s put together in South Beach. The Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside pairing is going about as well as anyone could’ve envisioned, but it’s not enough to get the Heat wins consistently. If anyone can reconfigure on the fly though it’s Riley. The Heat won’t be in the this precarious spot for long if he has his way this summer. A lottery pick and cap space–only if Chris Bosh’s contract comes off their books– are more than enough to revamp this team. The right moves combined with a leap from Justise Winslow and this team could be back to challenging for an Eastern Conference Finals berth in as soon as a year. However, it could just as easily go all the way left for this team as easily. The hope in Miami is that this year is nothing more than an anomaly.
Nov 9, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) looks on against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-3 Last rank: 20th
The Minnesota Timberwolves confuse me. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins take turns dunking on 7-footers. Karl-Anthony Towns is only getting better. Tom freaking Thibodeau is their coach. Yet, they haven’t broken .500 or won back-to-back games this season. The players have taken the next step, but the team as a whole hasn’t been able to follow suit. According to Basketball-Reference’s Pythagorean Win Projection, a team with the Timberwolves’ point differential should be 8-8 instead of the 5-12 they currently sit at right now. If they had managed to be .500 they would be right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Right now, they are all the way down at 13th in the Western Conference (even the New Orleans Pelicans have a better record!) and are three full games out of the eighth seed. Three games might not seem like much when only 16 have been played, but if the race for eighth is tight coming down the stretch Minnesota might wish it was able to get some of these early games back. Towns, LaVine and Wiggins will provide highlights for us to indulge nightly, but until they turn those SportsCenter Top 10 plays into victories the Timberwolves will be stuck in neutral for another year.
Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) anchors my FanDuel daily picks lineup for tonight. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 29th
The Washington Wizards haven’t done a whole lot to jump from the league’s second worst team to where they are ranked this week, mostly the teams ahead of them a week ago lost more games than they did. I don’t know if my first move after lifting Bradley Beal’s minutes restriction would have been to play him him nearly 80 minutes combined in two games. Doesn’t necessarily look like the greatest of moves to do with a player that was placed on a minutes restriction before turning 24 years old. So far it hasn’t backfired on the Wizards, but the Wizards still are the Washington Wizards and if anyone can have something blow up in their faces than this is that team. The Randy Wittman to Scott Brooks transition hasn’t brought as much change as the fan base probably hoped. Brooks, known for getting the Oklahoma City Thunder to consistently be a top 10 defensive team, has the Wizards sitting 23rd in defensive rating at 109.39. The Wizards should have been a team that was challenging for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Through 15 games only the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers have a worse record in the East.
Oct 27, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts during the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 24th
SOUND THE ALARM, BOOGIE COUSINS IS SHOOTING 41 PERCENT ON 3-POINTERS! I REPEAT, BOOGIE COUSINS IS SHOOTING 41 PERCENT ON 3-POINTERS! If I was running the Sacramento Kings I would be on the phone with every one of the other 29 NBA teams seeing who’s willing to give up the most to acquire DeMarcus Cousins. However, Vivek Ranadive and myself have differing opinions on how to best run an NBA franchise. Cousins is a star and a once-in-a-generation talent that isn’t likely to fall into the Kings’ lap ever again. With that said, it just isn’t working for either party. With teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Clippers separating themselves from the rest of the pack it would be enticing for a middling team (read: Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics) to put a flyer out and see what kind of offer the Kings are looking for to take Cousins away from California’s state capital. The Cousins and Kings partnership should’ve never happened–the Philadelphia 76ers, (then) New Jersey Nets, and Minnesota Timberwolves all should’ve drafted Boogie before he fell to Sacramento–but it’s time for it to end before it gets ugly for all parties involved.
Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) is a strong option in these DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 0-3 Last rank: 21st
Every week I write how the Orlando Magic don’t know what they’re doing and every week I am shocked to find that their record isn’t worse than what it is. That’s a testament to the powers of Frank Vogel’s coaching ability in my opinion–Larry Bird WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?????? Still, even at 6-11 this is not what the Magic had envisioned for this year’s team. Word was that a playoffs or bust mentality led to the organization’s high spending spree this summer. After 17 games, it’s looking more likely that they will be a bust. Aaron “We’re going to make him Paul George” Gordon is averaging all of 9.3 PPG, 1.9 APG, 4.8 RPG and shooting 37.6 percent from the field. For comparison, aside from his six-game stint in his return from breaking his leg, George hasn’t had numbers that low since his rookie season. The Magic would be better off taking a page from Phoenix and seeing just what they have in their young players (notably: Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Mario Hezonja) so that they can build a better team for the future. Hezonja was one of my favorite young prospects in the NBA and the Magic have almost ruined all of the European J.R. Smith goodness that he possess.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is definitely an option to consider in today’s DraftKings daily picks. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Pelicans
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 25th
Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans have slowly but surely turned things around since getting Jrue Holiday back. However, their horrendous start to the year is most likely going to be a hole too big for them to dig out of. Even with the team finally resembling an NBA franchise, they are still six games below .500 and to make it into the postseason in the Western Conference playoffs is going to take at least 41 wins. The Pelicans have made progress, but they’re going have to take another leap if they hope to reach their preseason goals. Davis is looking more and more like he’s ready to reclaim one of the top players in the league spots that he seemed destined for a few seasons ago. He’s still a mismatch for any big man and he’s gotten better at scoring both closer and further from the rim as his game has developed. If the Pelicans could find a way to add even a smidgen more of talent around him they could be a team to watch in the coming years.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) is in my FanDuel daily picks for tonight. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-1 Last rank: 19th
The Milwaukee Bucks are a hard team for me to put my finger on. At 7-8 it seems that they are overachieving still. Without Khris Middleton it didn’t look like the fans should’ve expected much out of this team this year. However, the rapid development of Giannis Antetokounmpo into a superstar has helped this team stay afloat. Jabari Parker has been playing well too for the Bucks. Yet, when push comes to shove do we really think that players like Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Mirza Teletovic, etc. will be big enough difference makers for Milwaukee to truly make some noise this season? I thought so. Jason Kidd is proving to be a solid enough coach and with Antetokounmpo and Parker leading the way this team should find themselves hovering around a potential playoff spot, however, I think when the bright lights turn on them the Bucks will scatter like deer in headlights (insert rimshot). Yes, I know that was a terrible joke/pun, but I at least waited 10 slides in before doing it so that’s got to be an improvement right?
Nov 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) and guard Jamal Murray (27) react after a play in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors at the Pepsi Center. The Raptors won 113-111 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 23rd
Jamal Murray is making Coach John Calipari’s predraft declaration that Murray should go first overall in last summer look less and less foolish as the year goes on. The Nuggets don’t look any closer to competing for a playoff spot, but they are a lot of fun to watch. Right now, that’s really all that Denver needs to be. There aren’t many expectations placed on this franchise so really any good that comes with this year is found money. Murray’s development included. Denver is a team that I would watch for around the trade deadline. Players like Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler could all be pried away for the right price, but will any contender be willing to pay it? Would Denver let Faried go as a salary dump? Could the Celtics package together something to add a player like Gallinari to their team? Would the Trail Blazers punt on their rebuild from within project and chase a guaranteed thing like Chandler over the unknowns of Allen Crabbe? While February is still a ways away, the Nuggets are a franchise that will likely face tough choices like these during the All-Star break.
Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) is in my FanDuel daily picks tonight. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 18th
Stan Van Gundy must be begging and pleading to the basketball Gods to bring Reggie Jackson back as soon as possible. After making Ish Smith look better than serviceable to begin the year, things have slowed down in The Motor City. The Pistons were coming off a playoff performance that had them primed to make a leap in the Eastern Conference this season, but injuries have had them come out of the gate slow. They’re not out of contention by any means, however, the longest Jackson is in a suit and not suited up the harder it’ll be for Detroit to place higher than the eighth seed it got last year. Andre Drummond, for all his height, athleticism and rim protection might be beginning to plateau in terms of potential. He just hasn’t seemed to be able to put it all together down low or even get a go-to move to use in the post. That isn’t the end of the world for Detroit, look at what the Clippers have done with DeAndre Jordan, but it means they will likely have to look elsewhere to get the true star that this team has been lacking since Grant Hill’s days.
Pacers guard Jeff Teague (44) and forward Thaddeus Young (21) are both in my DraftKings daily picks lineup for today. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 16th
The Indiana Pacers seem to be finally molding an identity for themselves. Crazily enough, it’s happened with their best player sidelined. With Paul George out, Jeff Teague has rediscovered the offensive firepower that made him the head of the snake for Mike Budenholzer’s offense with the Atlanta Hawks. Glenn Robinson III has also given the Pacers a steadying presence with George sidelined. The hope is that once George returns that the team can continue its winning ways and make a run at claiming home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. Aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s really a toss up for the other three spots atop the East standings. The Pacers have the talent to finish there, but the problem is whether or not they can get the chemistry to go with it. If the Pacers can start figuring out who they are and how they want to play than this team could go on a nice run and make a name for themselves quickly. Here’s to hoping that George comes back soon.
Nov 22, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young (0) celebrates after a play during the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 13th
“I wanna be like Luke!” Luke Walton is a basketball savant. Luke Walton is a basketball genius. Luke Walton is a basketball god. In less than a year the Los Angeles Lakers have gone from completely unwatchable to one of the most entertaining teams in basketball. And while it was easy to think that players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle were being held back by Byron Scott’s Princeton offense but to see players like Lou Williams, Larry Nance Jr., Nick Young and Tarik Black look like completely different players is an unexplainable phenomenon. Young no longer looks the part of reckless knucklehead. He’s giving it his all on both ends. Playing within the offense and arguably being the team’s best defender too. Young did have a Swaggy P moment when he stole a Brandon Ingram pass intended for Williams, but drained a game winning 3-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) is in my FanDuel daily picks tonight. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
New York Knicks
Last week: 2-2 Last rank: 17th
Things might not be completely turned around in the Big Apple, but the New York Knicks have had a promising stretch of play to cap off November. Derrick Rose was taking and making clutch shots. Carmelo Anthony was being well, Carmelo Anthony and that isn’t a bad thing yet. Kristaps Porzingis was showing his true unicorn form for all the world to see. Joakim Noah isn’t seriously injured yet. Aside from winning a couple more of their close games, there isn’t much to complain about with the Knicks this season. Of course, this being the Knicks all of New York will find ways to complain anyway. Those thinking this was the formation of a Manhattan “superteam” are too far off the edge to help appreciate what’s really happened in New York. Jeff Hornacek’s “too many pick-and-rolls for Phil Jackson’s liking” triangle is doing enough to appease the Zen Master in comparison to Derek Fisher’s “too many pick-and-rolls for Phil Jackson’s liking” triangle offense. Again I must say that this team both in the now and going forward should be 100 percent focused on making sure Porzingis is able to grow and become the best player he can be. Like Obi wan Kenobi to Princess Leia, he’s the Knicks only hope.
Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Portland Trail Blazers
Last week: 1-3 Last rank: 15th
The Portland Trail Blazers are probably one of the weirdest teams in the top half of the NBA. In the offseason it looked like they did everything right in choosing to bring back their own free agents instead of throwing big money at a poor crop of free agents (IGNORE THE FESTUS EZELI SIGNING, LET’S ALL JUST ACT LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED OKAY?). Bringing back an upstart group that overachieved and hoping they would continue to grow into something better is not the worst plan for a franchise to have. Yet, it hasn’t worked out that way for the Trail Blazers. Neil Olshey has an impressive track record as a general manager, but so far it looks like his choices from this offseason are not working out as intended. Ezeli still hasn’t played a game this year, Evan Turner looks more like the short-lived Indiana Pacers version of himself than the player the Boston Celtics made serviceable last season. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been as good as expected, but no one else on this team has upped their game a level in order to ease the burden off the two guards. Unless they’re hoping for an MVP type of run from Lillard this team is going to need to get more people playing better and quickly.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) is in my FanDuel daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week: 3-2 Last rank: 11th
Russell Westbrook, we are not worthy. If he can snag four rebounds in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next game–more of a when than an if at this point–he’ll be the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double in a month before December. THAT. IS. INSANE. Russell Westbrook is doing things unseen in the NBA for over 40 years and it’s still not enough to make the Thunder an actual threat in the Western Conference. Westbrook’s solo act has been everything we could’ve hoped for and then some. However, the Thunder as a team have dropped off from their perennial title contender pedestal that they were sitting pretty on only a year ago. No Kevin Durant, means that a Westbrook triple double no longer guarantees a victory for this team. The 30-plus point, 10-plus assist, and 10-plus rebound performances are truly awe-inspiring, but it’s nights like his 17-point, 15-assist, and 13-rebound night in their 18-point blowout of the Detroit Pistons that are really beneficial for OKC. When the opponent only has to worry about stopping Westbrook it is a much easier night than when they have to worry about Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and the rest of the Thunder hurting them.
Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) is in my DraftKings daily picks lineup for tonight. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-0 Last rank: 12th
The Utah Jazz are a much better team than their record says. However, your record is your record and for that the Jazz sit just a few ticks away from a top 10 spot that they probably deserve based on talent. Quin Snyder has this team performing at a high-level once again and it’s only a matter of time before they start running off a string of wins that helps their record reflect just how dangerous of a team they are. The Jazz are another team that has taken the “sum is greater than the parts” approach in the league and watching it payoff beautifully. They might not have one player that is on par with the Stephen Curry’s, Kevin Durant’s, Klay Thompson’s or Draymond Green’s of the NBA (it still blows my mind that those four players are on the same team, like c’mon CBA you were supposed to keep this from happening!), but they can legitimately go 10 or 11 deep on most nights and that type of depth will allow them to win some games that they otherwise would have had no business being part of. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are the keys for this team and as long as they stay healthy than this is a team that could give any of the West’s top three–Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers–a tough test in a playoff series.
Nov 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) reacts to a basket in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Hawks 100-96. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-3 Last rank: 7th
Every time I reach the Charlotte Hornets portion of the power rankings I have to stop and think about what I actually know and/or remember about what Charlotte did in the past week of play. This time the only things that stick out are the split of the home-and-home against the New York Knicks and Jeremy Lamb’s 18-point and 17-rebound double-double in the second game. I’ve talked enough about the Knicks and their unicorn Kristaps Porzingis for one post so that leaves us with Lamb. Lamb has always been a player that I thought in the right role could be very good rotation piece on a good team. I thought that sixth man spot with the Oklahoma City Thunder was tailor-made for him, but alas, Scott Brooks and myself had differing opinions on that. With the Hornets, Lamb showed flashes of filling that role before landing himself in Steve Clifford’s doghouse last season. This year, he began with his most consistent and impressive play to date, but alas, an injured hamstring and myself had differing opinions on that. But he was given a chance to start with Nic Batum nursing an injured eye and he was rewarded with a career high 36 minutes and did everything he could to help the Hornets get a needed win. So Jeremy Lamb, this slide is dedicated to you (even though the picture in the header is of Kemba Walker).
Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) is a good option in these DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 2-1 Last rank: 14th
The Boston Celtics have righted the ship now that Al Horford and Jae Crowder are back in the swing of things. Isaiah Thomas is no longer sending cryptic shots at his teammates through the media and all is right again in New England. The Celtics are like the Utah Jazz wherein the strength of the team lies in their depth. Boston too, could play a 10 or 11 man rotation in the regular season and not lose much sleep over it. Head coach, Brad Stevens is still a leg up on a good portion of the league in terms of scheme and X’s and O’s. This team will be right in the thick of things when it’s all said and done. Like I hinted to in an early slide, I believe that this team should be looking to make a move to bolster this roster even more. In the playoffs you’re not going to need to play 10 or 11 players a night. Sacrificing some of that depth in order to make players one through seven better is a calculated risk Danny Ainge needs to make if he is serious about this team having NBA Championship aspirations this season.
Nov 25, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-1 Last rank: 9th
The Houston Rockets are only getting more and more comfortable with being an offense-first and offense-second team. Led by the offensive genius of James Harden, scoring comes very easily for this group. While Russell Westbrook might be averaging a triple-double for a month, it’s more likely that Harden is able to sustain his level of production over a full season. If the Rockets are able to keep forging ahead and keep their record better than the Thunder’s, then Harden could be bringing home an MVP trophy that he feels he deserved two years ago. Also, the move to bring Patrick Beverley off the bench since his return has paid dividends for Mike D’Antoni. The offensive guru is at the top of his game and Harden and the Rockets are the primary beneficiaries. This last stretch of games has helped the Rockets climb all the way up to fourth in the Western Conference standings. If this team is able to secure home-court advantage then there truly should be no debate over who is the Most Valuable Player this season. There’s a lot of guys doing amazing things this season, but besides Rusell Westbrook and LeBron James, there aren’t many players who have as big of an effect on their team’s play than Harden has this season.
Nov 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) helps up point guard Kyle Lowry (7) against the Sacramento Kings at Air Canada Centre. The Kings beat the Raptors 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-1 Last rank: 5th
Toronto is a team that looks like they are ready for the playoffs to begin now. That’s not to say the Toronto Raptors aren’t fully committed to each and every regular season game they enter. It’s more so to note that this team knows that for all of the good they could do in the regular season, it won’t mean much if they aren’t able to match or beat the accomplishment they had last year of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry not only look like best buddies (I mean just look at all the love that is spreading through the both of them in the photo above and tell me how could you NOT root for this team to do great things), but they look well on their way to representing The Six once again in an All-Star game. Every time I look at his numbers I always expect that DeRozan at some point will taper off, but that’s yet to happen. Could we be living in a world where DeRozan is a better mid-range shooter than either Michael Jordan or Dirk Nowitzki at their best? Probably not. But I also didn’t think we could live in a world where pictures of Kermit the Frog become the most popular memes on social media three separate times!
Nov 14, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) dribbles up the court as Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) defends during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-2 Last rank: 10th
Quietly, the Memphis Grizzlies have returned to form as one of the best teams in the NBA. They have also done that by adapting their roster to resemble more of what we see other teams doing in the NBA today. Moving Zach Randolph to the bench has worked seamlessly. Marc Gasol might be the greatest Spanish 3-point shooter of all-time. Mike Conley is making people talk about his game instead of his league-high max contract. Chandler Parsons is still rounding into form for this team, but if he’s ever able to rekindle what made him such a vital part to the Houston Rockets earlier in his career this is a team that not many want to bump into when the playoffs begin.
Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) is in my DraftKings daily picks for tonight. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-1 Last rank: 8th
I am 100 percent all the way in on the Chicago Bulls. Not all the way in enough to make me give them a top five ranking, but all the way in enough for this slide to be my admission of me eating my crow and placing my bottle of Haterade down on the table. Jimmy Butler is making a run at being categorized as a top-five player in the NBA. He’s taken the Kawhi Leonard mold and made it his own. Butler’s ability to contribute on both ends of the floor make him the key to the Bulls success this year. There were questions heading into the season about whether or not Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade would be willing to take a backseat to a non-solidified star, but it looks like Rondo and Wade have both accepted that if they want this team to be as good as it can be that they will have to ride Jimmy Butler’s coattail to success. Well, Wade more than Rondo, as Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, has learned quickly that his team is better with Rondo not on the court.
Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) is in my DraftKings daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 1-4 Last rank: 6th
The Atlanta Hawks are the same as they’ve been every year under Mike Budenholzer; good enough to be respected by the league’s best, but forgetful enough to be overshadowed in the media. For awhile, this was the world the San Antonio Spurs lived in and thrived in until we all realized how stupid we were for doubting Gregg Popovich and RC Buford. Budenholzer was part of those “underdog” Spurs years and like Pop he seems to relish in these opportunities. Much like the Utah Jazz, this group is a better team than what their record currently says they are. They always come to play their best and have no trouble standing toe-to-toe with the league’s elite teams. Now if they could win some of those games than this team would have all the workings of a championship contender. At the moment, they are still lacking a few things. Aside from an ugly post game “dust up” with a fan after a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard has been nothing but solid in his return to his hometown. The Hawks might’ve found themselves a keeper and even a better player for their system than Al Horford once was.
November 21, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) controls the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Clippers
Last week: 1-2 Last rank: 2nd
The Clippers run as the best team in the NBA has come to a screeching halt. The embarrassing loss to the Indiana Pacers without Paul George did that. The Clippers managed to only score 71 points in that game. The Clippers need to get back to letting their defense lead the way if they want I continue to be thought of as challengers to the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference title race. Hopefully, we get to see two of these three teams face off in postseason play, as it has the potential to one-up the drama of last year’s NBA Finals and Western Conference Finals of a season ago. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan have finally figured out the right push and pull to have with each other and with their futures together not guaranteed this might be their final chance to make good on all the potential and promise that they’ve shown during their time together. Things aren’t all bad for the Clippers, they still are 10-games over .500 and just the fact that they’re able to do that even though they’re the Clippers for God’s sake is good enough reason for people like Bily Crystal to be happy at the moment.
Nov 12, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives towards the basket against the Houston Rockets during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs
Last week: 3-0 Last rank: 4th
Like I said last week, the San Antonio Spurs are really good. There’s no denying that and as long as Pop is around, there’s no changing that anytime soon. The Spurs haven’t missed a beat and it’s thanks to that that they’ve steadily climbed up the rankings week after week so far this year. There really isn’t much else to say about this team that hadn’t been said already over the last 17-18 years. So here’s a great Pop quote about Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard instead (via SB Nation): “He’s done it for us the entire time he’s been there,” Popovich said. “At the offensive end, I think our players get less minutes than other players at those positions if I’m not mistaken. I don’t think he’s ever going to be worn out. I’m not going to play him like Latrell Sprewell. The bottom line is that he’s getting paid to do both. So get your ass out there and do both, if you want to know the truth. If you don’t want to do both then we’ll pay you $4 million.”
Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James plays catch with the Ohio State Buckeyes team before the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Last week: 3-0 Last rank: 1st
The Cleveland Cavaliers look to be just going through the motions until a game calls for them to turn it up a notch. They played with their food against the Philadelphia 76ers before ultimately finishing them off with a LeBron James triple-double, a Kyrie Irving season-high 39-point explosion and a 25-point, 11-rebound night from Kevin Love. Things are finally clicking for Ohio’s Big Three as James cruises his way to a near triple-double average, Irving is the team’s leading scorer and Love is back to posting the 20-10 numbers that he made look pedestrian during his stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves. As long as the supporting cast can do their roles properly this is a team that has already all but assured themselves a spot in the 2017 NBA Finals. LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world and has shown no signs of relinquishing that title this season. Even though during his annual trip to Ohio State for some big game or another, James teased us about suiting up for a football team in Ohio once again. However, thankfully for the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert and the enire Big Ten conference, LeBron James doesn’t have any eligibility left. The Cavaliers are a great team, but a team out West is still outplaying them at the moment.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) is in my FanDuel daily picks for today. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Golden State Warriors
Last week: 4-0 Last rank: 2nd
16-2. Twelve straight wins. Things are starting to kick into high gear in the Bay Area and it’s not looking pretty for the rest of the league outside the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. As the Warriors held off the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, Draymond Green showed his true value to this club. He has his sights firmly set on taking home the Defensive Player of the Year trophy this season and his last three defensive possessions in the game last night showed his full spectrum as a defender. First, he stuffed a driving Dennis Schroder layup and had it carom off him out of bounds. Next, he blocked Kent Bazemore’s runner and knocked the ball out of Bazemore’s hands and off his foot after Bazemore had regained possession of the ball. Finally, he closed out to the corner on an open Paul Milsap and forced the forward to put the ball on the floor and toss up a desperation 3-pointer that clanked off the rim and out-of-bounds. For all the greatness Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson bring offensively it’s Green that makes thing run smoothly. He leads Golden State in rebounds, assists, blocks and steals this season. That’s not your run of the mill stat and Green isn’t your run of the mill type of player.