How has your favorite NBA team fared in the first four weeks of the season? Chances are, their performance has already seen many ups and downs. Pretty much the entire league has been quite inconsistent with its performance.
We have been tracking the league’s trends over the past week, so let’s discuss some of those teams that had ups and a few others that had downs.
NBA Week 4 Risers
Los Angeles Clippers (9-5, No. 5 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Clippers aren’t an elite team, but they have a nice top four of Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell. All four are playing their best or close to their best basketball of their NBA careers and contribute very efficiently on offense. It is definitely a luxury when a team’s top four scorers are all efficient. Rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has also been very solid for a 20-year-old on both ends of the floor.
For now, the Clippers are maintaining a top-11 defense, which is certainly overachievement for their roster. The energy and athleticism of the young guys has overshadowed some lack of quickness from certain veterans, so we’ll see if that holds.
So far, one big story from the Clippers is the continued emergence of Harrell. The 25-year-old big man has seen a bump of almost seven minutes and is putting up 14.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game with an amazing true-shooting percentage of 70.
Dallas Mavericks (6-8, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Mavericks have used the past week to thrust themselves back into the thick of the playoff hunt, despite still being 14th in the conference. Dallas got wins against the Thunder, Bulls and Jazz by a combined 70 points, including a 50-point shellacking of the Jazz. Now, the Mavs are only three games away from 4th in the West.
There has been some solid individual offense from guys like Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell, but the team’s defense has been particularly dominant. In the last week, the Mavericks have allowed a field-goal percentage of 36.8 and a three-point percentage of 22.5 to their opponents. This comes after a start to the season where the Mavs were getting absolutely lit up by shooters on opposing teams.
Dallas will get to test its mettle over the next few weeks. They play the Warriors, Grizzlies, Nets, Celtics, Rockets, Lakers, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Rockets again in their next 10 games.
Orlando Magic (7-8, No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-1)
We are extending the parameters here a little bit to accommodate the Magic. They are a solid 2-1 in the past week with wins over the Knicks and Sixers, but they’re also 5-2 since starting the year 2-6. Only four NBA teams have a better net rating than Orlando in that stretch.
The Magic are full of unheralded players, but there is some definite quality on the roster. Nikola Vucevic is averaging 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game with a shooting slash of 53.8/44.1/78.4. Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross supply plenty of scoring, and Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Wesley Iwundu are energetic young guys who play good defense.
I have my doubts about the Magic possessing enough star power to stay in a playoff spot, but the East is definitely wide open with so many teams rebuilding.
NBA Week 4 Fallers
Toronto Raptors (12-4, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
Three losses in five days is a lot for a team that had just one loss in the first 25 days of the season, so that’s why we have the Raptors here.
Toronto’s biggest problems in its past three games are three-point shooting and defense. The Raptors have averaged 8.3 threes per game on 26.6 percent shooting from downtown in their losing streak, compared to 11.8 and 35.1, respectively. Opponents have shot 51.2 percent from the field in that span.
The Raptors were bound to struggle at some point, as every elite team does, so this shouldn’t yet be a major worry to fans. The team does need to evaluate carefully what it is doing wrong right now and immediately try to nip those habits in the bud.
Utah Jazz (7-8, No. 12 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-2)
The Jazz were amazing last season when all their key players were healthy. This year, they have hardly struggled with injuries at all, but they have been mediocre anyway.
Utah’s three main perimeter players, Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles, have all regressed since a year ago. Inefficient shooting has plagued Mitchell and Rubio, and Ingles has turned the ball over too much (2.5 times per game) for someone with his offensive role.
Big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are both producing well on offense, but they haven’t anchored the defense as well as they are capable of doing. Utah’s defense has fallen from the best in the NBA last year to 21st this year and a lot of it has to do with laziness. The Jazz need to get back to their roots as a defense-first team to rediscover their second-half formula from 2017-18.
San Antonio Spurs (7-7, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
We have come to expect greatness from the Spurs, even sometimes when the cards seem stacked against them. San Antonio has made the playoffs in 21 straight seasons, earning a top-three seed in the Western Conference in 16 of those campaigns. They have captured five NBA titles in that span.
None of that seems relevant to this year’s Spurs team, even though head coach Gregg Popovich still walks the sidelines.
San Antonio has experienced some injuries, but this team is just so inconsistent on both ends of the floor. In the past week, the Spurs got a nice win over a surging Rockets team, but they also got waxed by the hapless Suns and lost tight games to the Kings and Clippers.
In the past week or two, the Spurs haven’t gotten the offensive production they need from their star duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, particularly Aldridge. Considering San Antonio doesn’t have the personnel for a good defense, that’s a problem.