One month from now, we will all be enjoying the NBA play-in
tournament, a precursor to the postseason.
But until then, we are enduring what is known in the Association
as “dog day” games, in which there is no telling exactly what will
So tonight, we aim to change that by making every team
interesting. Every single NBA team has something interesting going
on, from the very best to the very worst. So let’s have a look at
all 30 of them, starting with the East before tackling the
Consider this a reset/refresher column as we all prepare for the
final 24 days of the regular season.
PHILADELPHIA 76ers (39-19): A home loss to
Phoenix last night kept them from picking up a game on the Brooklyn
Nets, who remain a half-game behind the Sixers. Ben Simmons
(illness) was not available to defend Stephen Curry on Monday or
Chris Paul on Wednesday, and those missed games won't help his
Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. The team has a measuring
stick game against the Milwaukee Bucks tonight.
BROOKLYN NETS (39-20): It has now been more
than two weeks since they put together back-to-back wins, which is
understandable because their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie
Irving and James Harden have not been together on the court since
the dead of winter. Mike James of CSKA Moscow was released from his
contract and will be joining them next.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (35-22): They and the 76ers
have lost back-to-back games, but one of those skids will end
tonight after they play each other in Milwaukee. This is their
second game of the season vs. Philly, and the teams end their
season series on Saturday afternoon. If the Bucks win both home
contests, they will be only one game back of Philly in the loss
column. But that seems to be asking a lot of a Milwaukee team that
has allowed 128 points in each of its last two games.
NEW YORK KNICKS (33-27): They are the hottest
team in the NBA right now with an eight-game winning streak, which
means it is time to resume the conversation of Tom Thibodeau as the
leading candidate for Coach of the Year. The Knicks have the NBA’s
stingiest defense (allowing 104.7 points per game) and have the
likely Most Improved Player, Julius Randle, who has scored 32 or
more points in five of the last six games. The seven-year playoff
drought is ending. They have not won a second-round series in 21
ATLANTA HAWKS (32-27): Nate
McMillan is 18-7 since taking over for Lloyd Pierce, Clint Capela
has shot no worse than 65.8% in the past 12 games and is leading
the league in rebounds per game (14.7), and Bogdan Bogdanovic is
averaging 21.6 points per game this month while shooting 49.1% on
threes. There's a big stretch upcoming: Miami, Milwaukee and two
vs. Philadelphia among Atlanta's next five games.
BOSTON CELTICS (31-27): Eight wins in nine
games seemed to straighten them out before they lost Wednesday
night to Chicago, but entering the playoffs with a head of steam is
a tried-and-true formula for success. Last night’s loss was
excusable given the absences of Marcus Smart, Evan Fournier, Kemba
Walker and Robert Williams. The Celtics have two games left vs.
Charlotte and two vs. Miami. Fourth place is within reach.
MIAMI HEAT (31-28): Let’s not forget that
nobody saw them coming last season, so doubt them at your own risk.
We go into Thursday night’s games with one game separating the No.
4 to No. 7 teams in the loss column, and let’s not forget that
these guys were 11-17 a little more than two months ago. The Heat's
schedule is easy until four of their final five are against Boston
(twice), Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS (28-29): The Hornets
franchise has not won a playoff series since 2001-02, but is
currently the eighth seed in the East. Terry Rozier is not being
discussed in the Most Improved Player debate, but he is averaging a
career-high 20.7 points and his field goal percentage is up
four-and-a-half points to 46.8%. The best news for Charlotte?
LaMelo Ball is expected to return very soon.
INDIANA PACERS (27-31): They are looking like a
play-in game team, and they are 0-1 against their likely (as of
now) No. 10 opponent, Washington, although they have two games
remaining against the Wizards. Caris LeVert is getting up a lot of
shots, but not making them at a particularly good clip. Except for
his field goal percentage, Malcolm Brogdon is having a solid April
production-wise, most notably with an assist-to-turnover ratio of
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (25-33): At least we can
always count on Russell Westbrook filling up the stat sheet, and
Bradley Beal, when healthy, showing why everyone always wants to
trade for him. They are going to have to hold off Chicago and
Toronto for the No. 10 spot, and the Raptors have suddenly strung
together four-straight wins. The Wizards have won six in a row and
eight of nine, so keep that “head-of-steam” thing in mind.
TORONTO RAPTORS (25-34): They have an
absolutely brutal schedule the rest of the way, playing the
Clippers (twice), Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers, Knicks, Nets, Grizzlies
and Mavericks. The Raptors have played every single one of their
games on the road, having temporarily relocated to Tampa from the
still-on-lockdown province of Ontario, so making the top 10 will be
especially difficult. Their end-of-winter stretch of 15 losses in
17 games was a killer.
CHICAGO BULLS (24-34): Billy Donovan is tasked
with assimilating several newly-acquired rotation players into the
lineup on the fly, and the Bulls are 5-10 since the trade deadline.
The No. 10 spot is the goal, and Washington is only one game ahead
of them in the loss column. But 13 of their final 14 are against
East teams with better records. They will not play any more West
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (21-37): Out of the
rotation with a fluctuating role, Cedi Osman has scored in single
digits in nine of his last 10 games and has missed 27 of his last
30 three-point shots over that span. That, to use a nice word, is
peculiar. In addition to the first season of his contract, will
make roughly $31 more million by the time his contract expires,
unless whoever he plays for in 2023-24 declines the $6.7 million
option in the final season.
ORLANDO MAGIC (18-40): They are 3-11 since the
fire-sale/trade deadline, and there is not a lot to be positive
about when looking ahead to next year (aside from the hope that
Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac recover successfully from their
injuries). At least the players can ditch their winter clothes for
a while. The Magic have only one cold-weather city road game ahead,
and that's May 11 in Milwaukee.
DETROIT PISTONS (18-41): Troy Weaver got rid of
all the dead money, which is Step 1 in a rebuild. Jerami Grant,
Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes are the main building blocks, and the
Pistons will have a very good lottery pick. Weaver has his work cut
out for him.
UTAH JAZZ (44-15): Nobody makes this
argument, but a guy who studies this stuff believes Joe Ingles is a
better Sixth Man of the Year candidate than Jordan Clarkson. He
cites Ingles' superior three-point numbers (49.4% to 35.0%), double
the assists (4.4 to 2.2) and better overall field goal percentage
(52.5% to 42.4). On a broader note, the Jazz are ahead in the West
by one-and-a-half games over Phoenix, with one game against the
Suns remaining. Phoenix is 2-0 against Utah and owns the
PHOENIX SUNS (42-16): They are 31-7 since Feb.
5, and nobody in the league can touch that type of stretch over
that long of a period. (The Jazz have lost 10 games over that
span). So why exactly are we not talking about Monty Williams for
Coach of the Year? Nobody on this team is in the MVP conversation
because none of them are doing the type of night-in, night-out
spectacular things that Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Steph Curry
do, but doubt the Suns at your own risk. They could have the No. 1
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (42-19): They are 16-3 in
their last 19 games, and are 25-10 against Western Conference teams
– tops in the West in terms of winning percentage. They are 11-1 in
the second half of back-to-back games, winning again last night
with Amir Coffey in the starting five, as Ty Lue used his 22nd
different starting lineup. The Clippers would lose the tiebreaker
with the Jazz and win the tiebreaker with the Suns; still, they are
almost locked into the No. 3 seed. They have litmus-test games left
vs. the Suns, Lakers and Nuggets.
DENVER NUGGETS (38-20): With Steph Curry having
a bad shooting game last night, perhaps the “Steph-for-MVP”
bandwagon lost a wheel. Nikola Jokic is two-tenths of an assist
away from averaging a triple-double this month, as the Nuggets have
gone 9-2. Denver still must play road games against the Clippers,
Jazz, Lakers and Blazers, but for now seem locked into a No. 4 seed
with a likely first-round matchup against a Lakers team that is
getting Anthony Davis back on Thursday and LeBron James soon
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (35-23): Their
regular-season record means absolutely nothing, because there have
been a total of zero games in which Anthony Davis, LeBron James and
Andre Drummond have been on the court together. The Lakers have
alternated wins and losses in their past 12 games, and they’ll
probably be at full strength for their final 10 or so games to
figure each other out prior to the playoffs. One would imagine that
Drummond, Davis and Montrezl Harrell can combine to contain Jokic
in the first round.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (32-26): They'll want to
hold off the Mavericks for sixth to avoid the play-in tournament –
unless they would prefer a first-round matchup with Phoenix instead
of the Clippers. The Blazers have the tiebreaker over the Mavs from
winning the season series 2-1, and the schedule-makers have given
them three of their next four games against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The two components that they did not have a year ago -- when Jusuf
Nurkic was hurt -- are a rebounding machine at backup center (Enes
Kanter) and a stud perimeter defender (Robert Covington).
DALLAS MAVERICKS (31-26): They are only .500
(14-14) at home and .500 (17-17) against Western Conference teams.
Kristaps Porzingis has only 15 double-doubles after having 21 in
his rookie season under Derek Fisher, when Phil Jackson was running
the New York Knicks franchise. Assuming they are a play-in team,
Luka Doncic will still make it a must-watch No. 7 - No. 8 game,
even for casual fans. The Mavs have already clinched the season
series against Memphis.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (29-28): If only they played
in the East... The Grizzlies are 17-8 against teams from the
opposite conference, 12-20 against the West. There are enough
cupcakes left on their schedule to keep them safe, so it is
probably a matter of whether they finish No. 8, 9 or 10. Oh, and
welcome back, Jaren Jackson Jr. Eight of their players are
averaging double figures in points, and Desmond Bane is 0.5 points
per game away from making it nine. Jonas Valanciunas has missed a
double-double in two straight games after doing it in 16-straight,
and missing the last two contests with a concussion.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (29-30): Steph Curry’s
streak of 30-point games ended last night at 11, but one would
imagine that he will have another good game sometime soon. His MVP
odds were 100-1 last Sunday and are 17-1 today. Whether the
Warriors end up in the No. 7 - No. 8 game or the No. 9 - No. 10
game in the play-in tournament, we will not want to miss it. The
Warriors' final regular-season game is against Memphis, and it
could be a tiebreaker game. The Grizzlies are 1-1 vs. GSW.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (28-29): Gregg Popovich will
eventually get a haircut... we think. But in all seriousness, Pop
has done quite well with a team that will likely undergo a roster
overhaul in the offseason, and presumably, he and San Antonio CEO
R.C. Buford will address a position other than point guard. They
have lost 8 of 12 and 13 of 19, but eight of their final 15 games
are against East teams. They will not play a West team at home
until a home back-to-back vs. Phoenix to end the regular
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (25-33): If not for their
current four-game losing streak, they would have caught the Spurs
by now. The Pelicans have a must-win game Saturday against
San Antonio because it would clinch the season series, but four
games in the loss column is a lot of ground to cover over the
remainder of the season. The schedule is packed with road games,
and there are only two easy opponents: Orlando on Thursday and
Minnesota on May 1.
SACRAMENTO KINGS (24-35): They have lost 10 of
12, so it would take a miracle for them to climb to No. 10. Buddy
Hield is only a shade above 40% from the field, which is not what
you want from your shooting guard who just signed a huge extension.
A massive offseason overhaul seems likely, as the playoff-free
streak probably reaches 15 years in late May.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (20-39): When you have
nothing to do, Google “McLovin” and “Aleksej Pokusevski” and see if
that looks like a match. Jeff Sherman of LV Sportsbook says the
Thunder have a power rating worse than the tanking Sixers from back
when Sam Hinkie was running the team, but they certainly will be
entertaining on draft night when general manager Sam Presti
(presumably) starts packaging multiple future first-round picks for
better first-round picks and/or players.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (16-44): They have a new
ownership group coming in that will keep the team in its current
location, which means expansion is coming to Seattle and a second
city (Las Vegas? Kansas City? Louisville?). Those expansion teams
will help the current owners mitigate the financial losses they
have sustained the past two seasons during the pandemic.
HOUSTON ROCKETS (15-44): They are a pleasure to
watch when the only alternative is the Home Shopping Network. The
Victor Oladipo thing really did not work out, and they are now
stuck with John Wall for the next two seasons. It'll be a long
rebuild for the Rockets.