Week 17 NBA Trends: Pure Magic as Hornets Stung

Nikola VucevicIt’s NBA All-Star Weekend time, which means we are already around 70 percent done with the 2018-19 regular season. Teams have made their final trades of the season, yet some squads still have some shopping to do on the buyout market.

A lot of teams have solidified their identities this season. Others are more fickle and have had recent hot or cold streaks. Let’s focus on those squads here by writing about three risers and three fallers from the past week in the NBA.

NBA Week 17 Risers

Orlando Magic (27-32, No. 10 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)

The Magic haven’t made the playoffs in the last six seasons. The team hasn’t had many top-notch prospects and it hasn’t been able to attract free agents of note to its franchise.

This year, that streak could be halted. Orlando is just a half game out of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket and has won five straight games.

There has been just the right amount of veteran savvy (Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross) and youthful exuberance (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba) to turn this team into something respectable. In fact, it has been the development of those young players that’s helped the squad take the next step.

Orlando’s chemistry has also developed quickly in recent weeks, especially on defense. The Magic have had the best defense in the NBA over the last week by more than eight points per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia 76ers (37-21, No. 5 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-1)

The 76ers are still the East’s No. 5 seed, which is a bit disappointing for them based on preseason projections. However, they are still only one game behind the No. 3 Boston Celtics and are five games ahead of where they were last year at this juncture.

Trade-deadline acquisition Tobias Harris has been a seamless fit into the offense, with averages of 17.8 points and just 0.8 turnovers per game with a 51.9/38.1/77.8 shooting slash since joining the team four games ago. Philly has rung up an average of 123.8 points per game since his arrival.

The Sixers’ defense has been a bit of a problem spot as of late, but I trust the squad to figure things out before the playoffs. The amount of length Philly has on that end is just insane. When rotations shorten in the playoffs, I expect the group of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Harris and J.J. Redick to shine in extended minutes.

Minnesota Timberwolves (27-30, No. 11 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-1)

The wheels seemed to be falling off for the Timberwolves before their last couple games. Minnesota had dropped six out of seven games, with the win coming in a very unimpressive two-point home win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Wolves’ last two games have been fantastic, though. Minnesota has been without big-minute guys Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and Tyus Jones in both contests, but the team has still gotten a couple of double-digit wins against the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, two teams in playoff positioning.

A couple of keys in Minnesota’s short surge is the two-way play of rookie Josh Okogie as well as the resurgence of Dario Saric. Saric has had a disappointing season, but he’s now hit 18-of-28 threes in his last seven games.

NBA Week 17 Fallers

Dallas Mavericks (26-31, No. 12 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)

Rookie swingman Luka Doncic is still amazing. This inclusion has nothing to do with the NBA’s best first-year player to grace the league in several seasons. To be fair, when Kristaps Porzingis returns from injury next season, that duo is going to be super tough.

After the trade deadline, this team looks awfully unimposing outside of Doncic. Traded players like Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. had plenty of flaws, but they were confident offensive players with solid size and athleticism.

Losing the aforementioned players, along with the Achilles injury to J.J. Barea, has messed with the balance of a Mavericks bench that was so great in the season’s first half by forcing limited players into starting roles. I would be surprised if the Mavericks made a significant push for a playoff spot, despite being a manageable five games out at this point.

Charlotte Hornets (27-30, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-2)

There is no excuse for how poorly the Hornets played in their final game before the All-Star break against the Orlando Magic. Charlotte came into the contest with 13 consecutive wins over Orlando, but the team got down 35 points by halftime and never looked like it wanted to compete.

I’ve never been a big fan of the talent on the Hornets’ roster. Who’s the second-best player? Jeremy Lamb? Marvin Williams? Charlotte has Kemba Walker and decent depth, but I believe the squad is complete dead meat if and when it backs into an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

In the last four weeks, Charlotte is 0-7 against teams with a winning percentage of better than 45. In those seven losses, the Hornets lost by an average of 17.3 points. Sure, the stinker against the Magic on Thursday was bad, but this team has been trending in the wrong direction for a while now.

New Orleans Pelicans (26-33, No. 13 in the Western Conference)

In the standings, the Pelicans had a decent week. They went 2-2 and had a really nice win against the Oklahoma City Thunder heading into the All-Star break.

In most other ways, though, the Pelicans are in pretty rough shape. Anthony Davis, who still doesn’t want to be playing in New Orleans, suffered a shoulder contusion against Oklahoma City and left the arena in the middle of the game to get an MRI. So I guess you could say the relationship between superstar player and franchise still isn’t great for the Pelicans.

The team also canned GM Dell Demps this week. Demps didn’t have a great track record as Pelicans GM, but instability could mean problems in the short term. Plus, the team’s long-term future still looks very cloudy, and partially because of that, it deserves a spot on this list.