NBA Risers & Fallers for Week 16: Bucks The Trend

Eric BledsoeThe NBA trade deadline on Thursday had a tremendous impact on the league. It affected teams who made moves as well as others who may have attempted moves, but failed.

However, we are also coming to the end of another regular week of play in the NBA. Most teams played two, three or four games during this stretch.

Let’s chart the movement of some major risers and fallers in light of recent trades and matchups that happened between NBA teams.

NBA Week 16 Risers

Milwaukee Bucks (40-13, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)

The more this season rolls on, the more I get the feeling that the Bucks are more than just a good regular season story. They are legitimate NBA title contenders this year. Milwaukee leads the NBA in win-loss record and has the league’s best net rating by a landslide.

At the deadline, they made a great win-now move to acquire Nikola Mirotic while giving up four second-round picks and two players who aren’t relevant to the team (Stanley Johnson and Jason Smith). Mirotic is a solid starting-level stretch 4 who will fit perfectly in the Bucks’ floor-spacing offense. He is also decent on defense.

And, oh yeah, the Bucks still went into the deadline playing great basketball without him. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the MVP favorite, but Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are playing like fringe All-Stars and Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon are both quality starters.

Indiana Pacers (36-19, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)

How the heck do the Pacers do it? Even without Victor Oladipo, they have continued chugging along in the Eastern Conference with four consecutive wins. Their last two games have been particularly impressive, as they have smashed the two Los Angeles teams by a combined 68 points.

I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised. Indiana is a very deep team that has the depth to survive losing its best player in the regular season better than most other teams. Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Thaddeus Young are all high-quality players and Indiana’s key role players on the bench are more effective than most of their counterparts.

Chances are, there will be some regression to the mean and Indiana won’t stay super hot. However, the Pacers are still a good team without Oladipo and they are currently expected to sign Wesley Matthews on the buyout market for some wing depth. That will make them even better.

Houston Rockets (32-22, No. 5 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)

Yes, the Rockets are on a three-game winning streak where they have won by a combined 61 points. All of those games were on the road, too.

I’m also looking at the moves they have pulled off in the last few days and weeks. After an offseason of bad moves, they’ve retooled their roster in the middle of the season and have grabbed three rotation players recently (Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried and Iman Shumpert) while slashing some salary from their payroll. Houston will also have the cash to go after the buyout market in the coming weeks.

James Harden is still balling at an MVP level. Once Chris Paul is back at 100 percent and Clint Capela is back in the lineup period, Houston should be a very tough out in the playoffs. The Rockets’ depth should be better in the postseason than it has been for much of the season so far.

NBA Week 16 Fallers

San Antonio Spurs (32-25, No. 7 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)

Three straight losses after five straight wins is never a good sign. San Antonio’s annual Rodeo Road Trip is off to a 0-3 start, with the Spurs allowing 127, 141 and 127 points in the three games.

Clearly, the Spurs are missing starting guard Derrick White. White had become an efficient 15-point scorer and excellent defender over the month of January, but he has missed the past three games dealing with plantar fasciitis.

San Antonio’s defensive problems had started even before White went down. It’s clear that this team just doesn’t have the athletes or length on the perimeter to stop dribble penetration. A team with DeMar DeRozan, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli all playing significant roles should not be good defensively, so it’s remarkable that San Antonio was good on that end for most of December and January.

Washington Wizards (22-32, No. 11 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)

The Wizards have quickly become one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Their solution? Trade away solid defender Otto Porter Jr. for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. Portis could help, especially on the offensive end, but Parker is one of the worst defenders in the league and doesn’t do much on offense besides score.

Obviously, this is mainly a move by Washington to get rid of Porter’s salary, but it is still not very good value to get in return. The Wizards are still in the playoff hunt, but their odds have gone down significantly based on everything has happened in the past week.

Aside from Bradley Beal, Washington has a very unappealing roster of healthy players right now. The 21-year-old big man Thomas Bryant is developing very quickly, but it’s obviously not ideal to feature Jeff Green, Jordan McRae and Chasson Randle in significant roles.

Los Angeles Lakers (28-27, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-2)

Yes, the Lakers escaped with a one-point win in Boston against the Celtics on Thursday night. It salvaged a week that had already included two resounding losses against the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers.

Again, though, a big reason for Los Angeles’ inclusion on the “fallers” portion of the article this week is how the trade deadline went for them. Acquiring Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala for some shooting help is nice, but it seems like this team may struggle to maintain any chemistry it had.

It’s no secret that LeBron James basically runs this team, as the front office is very invested in making moves that make the superstar forward happy. The team reportedly tried to trade several members of the roster plus draft picks in order to acquire the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, but that fell through. LeBron doesn’t have a star teammate right now and the free agency landscape looks like it may be tough for the Lakers to acquire that player in the summer.

How well will this team mesh over the season’s last trimester considering the fact that almost half of the roster was offered in a trade? LeBron wants to win now, but the Lakers’ youngsters need time to develop.