We are approaching the one-third point of this NBA season. A great sign for the league’s competitive balance is that 24 of the 30 teams are within two games of a playoff spot. That hasn’t been the case at all at this point in past seasons.
However, with so many teams performing close to an average level, there are a lot of squads checking the trade market to try and help themselves stand out from their peers. Trade buzz around teams like the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans and Miami Heat have been a big part of this NBA season’s narrative.
As we do every week, let’s take stock of which teams are trending up and down in their last few games.
NBA Week 7 Risers
Boston Celtics (14-10, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
It remains really hard to get a hold on who the real Celtics are. At the moment, though, they are on a run of really great play. Boston has won four games in a row by a combined 87 points.
The most encouraging aspect of the last week was Gordon Hayward’s outburst against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hayward put up 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in only 30 minutes. It was the first time he scored more than 19 points in a game this season after returning from his leg injury. He finally looked like the All-Star he had been in 2016-17.
Overall, the Celtics’ offensive growth has been very encouraging. No NBA team has a more efficient offense than Boston’s in the last six games. The team’s balance is finally shining through, with many different players showing their ability to create for themselves and others.
Minnesota Timberwolves (13-12, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-1)
The only team the Timberwolves have lost to in the last 16 days is the streaking Celtics. Other than that game, Tom Thibodeau’s squad has been lights-out over the last couple of weeks.
Minnesota’s defense is what has really stolen the show since Jimmy Butler was traded. The new additions (Robert Covington and Dario Saric) have been great on that end. They have kickstarted an overall culture change on that end of the floor with their play. Other players like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, who are not normally known for their defense, have really flipped the switch.
We will see if this is a season-long thing for the Timberwolves. There is no denying that this sort of effort is going to lead to a lot of wins for Minnesota this season if it continues.
Utah Jazz (13-13, No. 11 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
After all the belly-aching about the Jazz’s poor start to the season, they are now just five games out of the West’s No. 1 seed almost one-third of the way through the year. They have absolutely blown the brakes off of the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets in their last two games, winning by a combined 61 points.
Inconsistent effort is still an issue. They are an amazing defensive team in wins and a terrible one in losses, which should be a troubling sign for the squad.
With an elite center in Rudy Gobert and a lot of proven two-way players surrounding him, I still see the Jazz easily moving up into the West’s top eight sooner than later. The addition of a knockdown three-point shooter like Kyle Korver will also help.
NBA Week 7 Fallers
Phoenix Suns (4-21, No. 15 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Suns were not supposed to be good this year. In a deep Western Conference, they just have too much youth to be seriously thinking about the postseason.
This year, especially the past couple weeks or so, have still been quite disappointing for Phoenix. The Suns are on a seven-game losing streak and are spending a big portion of their games in garbage time. In fact, the squad’s last two games produced a dubious record: Phoenix became the first team in the NBA’s shot-clock era (since 1954-55) to score fewer than 10 points in the opening quarter of consecutive games.
One of the core problems with this Suns team is that the few veterans who are on the roster (like Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Jamal Crawford) are not playing with any sort of effort or passion. That sets a bad example for the younger players they are supposed to be mentoring.
Even worse, Devin Booker is currently dealing with a hamstring injury. The Suns’ offense revolves around his ability to score from everywhere on the floor and facilitate for teammates.
San Antonio Spurs (11-14, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
San Antonio is 1-3 in the past week, but it also has gone 5-12 since November 4. The last 11 days have seen the Spurs lose by at least 31 points three times to Western Conference foes. The team also has easily the worst defensive rating in the NBA in that stretch.
This season is shaping up to be a trying one for Gregg Popovich and his squad. He has two All-NBA players in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but Aldridge has regressed significantly since last season and their midrange-heavy offensive games aren’t meshing well.
Defensively, the Spurs are trending downward very strongly with a roster that needs more perimeter stoppers. San Antonio is still a mere two games out of a playoff spot, but the team is old and has the conference’s worst net rating outside of the Suns.
Chicago Bulls (5-20, No. 14 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
The Fred Hoiberg era in Chicago is officially over. The Bulls fired their head coach on Monday after a poor start to the season, reportedly because of his “lack of competitive spirit.”
Interim head coach Jim Boylen is a more intense individual on the sidelines and in practices, for better or for worse. He has already expressed his frustration with the team’s lack of conditioning since taking over Hoiberg’s job. He wants a more defensive mindset and a slower pace on offense.
Will the new approach work? The truth is that Chicago’s roster is very flawed and will have trouble with really any approach. I mean, the team has lost 11 of its last 12 games.
Most of the Bulls’ key players are liabilities either on offense or on defense. Hopefully, the return of second-year stretch big man Lauri Markkanen will revitalize the squad.