There wasn’t too much movement in the standings this week in the NBA. For the most part, the good teams are continuing to prove their mettle and the bad teams are doing just the opposite.
Even still, some teams still stood out for their good and bad play since last Saturday. We have been closely paying attention to the league, so let’s discuss three risers and three fallers in the past week.
NBA Week 14 Risers
Brooklyn Nets (26-23, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
The Nets aren’t just “pesky” or “better than you think” anymore. They’re legitimately good.
Brooklyn’s roster is constructed in a way that has very few holes. There is ball-handling, playmaking and perimeter scoring from D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe are very good spot-up shooters. Jarrett Allen is a budding young big man who plays both ends of the floor well and DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are solid, defensive-minded players.
Of course, the Nets are still looking for the star that can raise them to contender status. The team has won 18 of its last 23 games even without Caris LeVert, who looked a fringe All-Star before dislocating his foot in November. For now, the Nets should be satisfied with their direction.
Let’s hope that Dinwiddie’s recent thumb injury doesn’t derail the team from continuing to play to its potential.
Oklahoma City Thunder (30-18, No. 3 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
OKC has followed a stretch of five losses in six games with four straight victories in a span of only six days. That’s the kind of response to a slump you like to see from a team with championship aspirations.
Paul George just was voted to the Western Conference All-Star team as a starter in the stacked conference. It is a very well-deserved honor, as George is posting career highs in points (27), rebounds (7.9) and steals (2.3) per game on solid shooting percentages. He is also a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Maybe the biggest recent development is the improvement of 20-year-old swingman Terrance Ferguson. Ferguson is providing excellent three-point shooting (29-of-57 from downtown in his last nine contests) and strong defense at the small forward spot. Both of those things are much-needed for this Thunder team.
The Thunder’s winning streak should face a serious test on Sunday as they host the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee has both the league’s best record and best net rating.
Minnesota Timberwolves (24-24, No. 11 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Timberwolves’ wins this week didn’t come against the stiffest of competition. Two games against the Phoenix Suns and one against the LeBron-less Los Angeles Lakers is a pretty easy schedule.
For most of this season, Minnesota has been losing to pretty much everyone on the road. This week, though, the Wolves went 2-0 on the road with an average point differential of plus-21.0. That’s major progress for a team that started with a 6-16 road record and had only won one road game by more than 10 points before this week.
There have been some bumps in the road, but Minnesota is starting to find its defensive groove with interim head coach Ryan Saunders, even with Robert Covington sidelined with an ankle injury. A lot of that is due to the continued experience that the young players, such as rookie stopper Josh Okogie, are getting.
NBA Week 14 Fallers
Los Angeles Lakers (25-24, No. 9 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
This placement is as much about the uncertainty around LeBron James’ injury as it is with the Lakers’ poor recent play. There is still no timetable for James’ return, though the injury isn’t deemed to be too serious. Even so, James has now been out exactly one month, so that’s a bit concerning. Now, Lonzo Ball is also out for about a month with an ankle sprain.
Los Angeles has been a miserable offensive team without James and it is shining the spotlight on coach Luke Walton’s ability to scheme on that end of the floor. The non-LeBron Lakers certainly aren’t a great collection of offensive talent, but they should rank better than 26th, which is where they are since the day after Christmas.
Wouldn’t it be weird without LeBron in the playoffs? That seemed like a fruitless hypothetical a few weeks ago, but its likelihood is seemingly increasing by the day.
Cleveland Cavaliers (9-40, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
My expectations for the Cavs sans Kevin Love couldn’t be much lower. This team has no legitimate go-to option on offense and its defensive personnel is just horrible.
However, I do expect them to show some sort of effort and not lose every game before the first half is even over. Last week, they dug themselves holes of 26, 16 and 16 points in the first halves of their three games on their way to three losses ranging between 16 and 22 points. The squad has now lost 17 of its last 18 games.
Cleveland has too much experience to be this bad. Five of the top seven minute-getters this season (Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance and Alec Burks) have a combined 25 years of NBA experience before this season. Not surprisingly, the team has begun its coaching search, which likely won’t include interim coach Larry Drew.
One bright spot from this season is the play of second-year forward Cedi Osman, who has been shooting well over the past six weeks. Since December 16, the 23-year-old has averaged 13.4 points per game on a 48.8/34.9/76.9 despite playing with absolutely horrible teammates.
San Antonio Spurs (27-22, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-2)
The Spurs’ trajectory is a bit better than the rival Lakers, but it is a bit concerning that they’ve cooled off so significantly following an excellent stretch of play between mid-December and early January.
This week they dropped two very winnable games with uninspiring performances. They have been great at home this year, but they lost decisively there to a Los Angeles Clippers team playing without two of its three top scorers (Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams). San Antonio then played an injury-riddled Philadelphia 76ers team on the road and couldn’t hold a narrow fourth-quarter lead.
A couple of problems are standing out for San Antonio as of late. First, the defense that was so good a couple weeks ago has regressed in the direction of its early-season levels. Second, leading scorer DeMar DeRozan is in the midst of a long slump that is negatively affecting his jump shot, turnover rate and ability to get to the free-throw line.