Week 9 of the NBA season brought some regression to the mean in many ways. Several of the Western Conference’s early-season hot starts from supposed lottery teams have officially ended, with teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings falling in the playoff standings.
In the East, the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are inching close to .500 after underwhelming starts. I expected both teams to contend for the last couple of playoff spots.
Let’s check in with some of the teams mentioned above, plus one more squad, as we analyze the biggest risers and fallers from the past week of NBA action.
NBA Week 9 Risers
Phoenix Suns (8-24, No. 15 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Suns are now on a four-game winning streak, beating the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. Who saw that coming? Phoenix hadn’t won even two games in a row before this stretch.
The return of Devin Booker to full health is helpful. The young shooting guard is averaging more than 30 points per game in the winning streak, while T.J. Warren is putting up 24.5 points per game. Rookie No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton is averaging 17.3 points and 12 rebounds per game in the wins.
The most important change for Phoenix is an improvement in defensive intensity. The team’s defensive rating is fourth in the winning streak, compared to 24th during the entire season.
Phoenix is still not going to do well this season and the franchise’s focus is on next summer’s draft. However, there seems to be an important culture change happening with the Suns right now.
Miami Heat (14-16, No. 9 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
Miami swept a three-game stretch against the Western Conference this week. The most impressive result was a Thursday night win to halt a five-game win streak over the Houston Rockets.
The Heat probably underperformed a bit in the early season. In reality, they are an average, defensive-minded team with solid depth that needs multiple role players to step up in each game to earn wins. They actually resemble the Memphis Grizzlies in those ways.
Miami will continue to need big performances from non-stars to stay in the playoff hunt. Starting point guard Goran Dragic is now out for two months due to a knee injury, which is a huge blow to the team’s ability to create open shots.
Brooklyn Nets (15-18, No. 10 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
The Nets make this list for the second week in a row and deservedly so. Brooklyn’s seven-game winning streak is the longest in the NBA by three games. The team has won recently with both offense (144 points in regulation against the Atlanta Hawks) and defense (just 93 points allowed against the Chicago Bulls).
Brooklyn hasn’t won seven games in a row since the 2012-13 season, when it won 49 contests and had veterans Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace leading the squad.
There aren’t any huge names on this Nets squad, unlike the 2012-13 roster. However, former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell is starting to find his offensive stride, Spencer Dinwiddie might be the Sixth Man of the Year favorite and Jarrett Allen is one of the league’s most improved big men.
Is the Nets’ streak partially the result of a weak schedule? Sure. But their consistency is still admirable.
NBA Week 9 Fallers
Dallas Mavericks (15-15, No. 11 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
In the NBA’s Western Conference, momentum can disappear in the blink of an eye. Dallas had won five out of six games heading into last Thursday before losing four consecutive games against West opponents.
All of a sudden, the Mavs are several slots lower in the West standings than they were a week ago, and closer to where most expected them to finish this year. The team’s levels of defense and athleticism, especially in the starting lineup, are just not where they need to be.
Dallas’ hot start was one I was never completely buying. The team won’t fall completely out of the playoff hunt right away, but I don’t anticipate the Mavericks being particularly close to the eighth seed at the end of the season.
However, there is still a lot of optimism surrounding the franchise with rookie No. 3 overall pick Luka Doncic playing so well at just 19 years old.
Memphis Grizzlies (16-15, No. 9 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
Here is a concerning stat: In an NBA where the average team score is 110.1 points per game, Memphis has failed to score 100 points in seven straight games. Six of those seven contests were losses. The Grizzlies’ offense is the NBA’s third-worst in that stretch.
The Grizzlies’ offense was good enough in the first quarter of the season to lean on the squad’s defense, but that doesn’t seem like the case anymore. Marc Gasol is averaging just 11.8 points per game on 36.1 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from the field in December. Those aren’t viable numbers for a No. 2 option and his struggles are putting more pressure on lesser players to do more.
Memphis is still above .500, but its roster needs reinforcements for the future. In particular, more offensive punch from the wing would be great. Garrett Temple and Kyle Anderson have their strengths, but this team would love more offensive production from them.
Sacramento Kings (16-15, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
Finding consistency is going to be a chore for the Kings this season. With so much youth, it will be tough to remain level-headed in both good and bad stretches.
Sacramento is in one of its lulls right now. The Kings had a point differential of minus-11 per game in the past week and have gotten absolutely mauled in rebounding battles as of late. The team has allowed at least 130 points in four of its last five games and has been outrebounded by an average of 16.8 rebounds per game in its last four contests.
The Kings play a fun, fast-paced brand of basketball to take advantage of their great athleticism and strong shooting. However, older and more experienced teams are learning that attacking the glass and using their size can make things difficult for Sacramento.