10. Utah Jazz (30-17)
Expectations are high in Utah. This is a reigning No. 1 seed
that needs to take the leap to legitimate title contender, and as
of this recent stretch, the Jazz simply aren't there. Utah is 3-7
in its last 10 games with an 18th-ranked defense over the past two
weeks. The Rudy Gobert slander is back, but as Nekias Duncan wrote recently,
he's far from the main problem with this defense.
The Jazz are reportedly looking for wing defenders on the trade
market, which could sorely help while teams run rampant against
Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and even Royce O'Neale.
(Last week: unranked)
9. Los Angeles Clippers (23-25)
The Clippers and their injury-plagued roster keep battling, and
went a solid 2-2 with close losses to the New York Knicks and
Denver Nuggets this week. They've been a bottom-10 team on both
ends recently, but are still solidly ninth in the West, so LAC
remains in a limbo state ahead of the trade deadline.
If the Clippers are truly willing to discuss most of their
veterans in trade talks, teams should be lining up to make
offers for Nic Batum. The 33-year-old continues to be one of the
league's most underrated complementary players. He's up to a
career-high 64.9% True Shooting percentage and has been lights-out
from beyond the arc while consistently taking tough defensive
(Last week: 9)
8. Portland Trail Blazers (20-26)
Anfernee Simons has almost singlehandedly given Portland joy.
He's averaging 25.0 points and 7.2 assists per game in the month of
January, while the Blazers have quietly gone a respectable 7-4 this
month. Portland is now three games up on the Kings for the final
Play-In bid in the West, and that should be comfortable breathing
room given Sacramento's state right now.
The Blazers have 5 games in 7 days coming up, including matchups
against Minnesota, Dallas and Chicago. If they can break .500 in
that stretch, they might leave the Sour Rankings entirely.
(Last week: 2)
7. Atlanta Hawks (21-25)
Of course, the Hawks' best stretch of winning comes when trade
rumors are swirling. Atlanta has taken its last four games, beating
the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets this
week. Trae Young is averaging 31.3 points and 9.0 assists per game
during the streak while canning 47.6% of his three-pointers, so
he's on fire.
Onyeka Okongwu has also blended in seamlessly with the starters
while Clint Capela has been out. De'Andre Hunter is on track to the
tune of 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Is it too early to
be back on the Hawks train?
(Last week: 1)
6. Boston Celtics (24-24)
Jayson Tatum's 51-point bombshell on Sunday essentially saved
the Celtics from a potential No. 1 ranking this week. He now has
the most 50-point games (5) in franchise history, and he is 22
years old (!!!). It's been a brutal year for Tatum, so Celtics fans
certainly hope Sunday's performance was a spark.
Meanwhile, the same team also went scoreless for seven crucial
fourth-quarter minutes and blew a winnable game against Portland.
In a 2-2 week, the Celtics move up by default against a struggling
middle pack in the East. Perhaps a fully-healthy starting five is
what the team has always needed.
(Last week: 3)
5. New York Knicks (23-24)
So the Knicks have a sneaky 10th-ranked offense and fifth-ranked
defense over the past two weeks. I know it doesn't reflect much in
the record (1-2 this week) or today's rankings, but I do think good
things are slowly happening.
From what I've seen and read, the biggest gripe appears to be
that Tom Thibodeau still won't fully unleash his young talent.
Immanuel Quickley has started just 2 of his 43 games played.
Quentin Grimes has maximized his bench role with quality two-way
play. Miles "Deuce" McBride has graduated from the G League.
There's a lot of excitement around these backcourt players in
particular and the fans are hungry for more.
(Last week: 4)
4. Indiana Pacers (17-30)
The Pacers' state of affairs hasn't meaningfully changed for
over a calendar month. So this time, I'm giving the floor to Justin
Holiday, who has been a bright spot in dim places for Indiana. The
eldest Holiday brother is shooting a scorching 42.0% from beyond
the arc and averaging 13.4 points per game in January, while being
one of the few plus perimeter defenders on the roster. He's another
Batum-level role-player who, if I were GM of a contender, I'd
heavily pursue before the trade deadline.
(Last week: 6)
3. Washington Wizards (23-24)
Fortunately, the Wizards don't seem all too concerned with
Bradley Beal's likely free
agency this offseason. Unfortunately, their on-court slide
continues after an 0-3 week with losses to the Brooklyn Nets,
Toronto Raptors and Celtics. Washington started 10-3 and has since
gone 13-21 with the league's 22nd-ranked offensive rating and
26th-ranked defensive rating. The Wizards have two more games this
month and some extended time off before the schedule ramps back up
(Last week: 8)
2. Sacramento Kings (18-30)
So the Kings are reportedly thinking about
acquiring Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris from Philly and... I just
don't know if that's how you get out of 15 years' worth of
directionless mediocrity. They're both great players, but do they
significantly raise the ceiling when the Sixers would get a haul in
Sacramento is 2-8 in its last 10, and this quote from the
aformentioned report by Sam Amick sums things up nicely:
"The widely held belief is that this front office, with general
manager Monte McNair in his second season after working for all
those years with Morey in Houston, simply must do a deal of
significance now. To no one’s surprise, there has been a collective
loss of faith in the prospect of this core evolving into a
contender in the West."
(Last week: 5)
1. Los Angeles Lakers (23-24)
The Lakers' woes have been the talk of the NBA for the past
week. I don't need to add anything because an article and a video
clip will cover everything you need to know. Frank Vogel appears to
be coaching for his job every game, and as Alex Kennedy wrote, that's pretty
brutal. As for this roster, let JJ Redick explain:
I'll ask: What is the best return we can reasonably expect from
a package of Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker and a 2027
(Last week: 7)
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