Last week, much of the NBA was on a stretch of extreme play. This week, though, competitive balance was restored and caused a lot of teams to regress to the mean. Only four teams in the league are now on a winning or losing streak of more than two games.
The relative lack of major streaks made it a bit tougher to decide which squads should earn a spot on this week’s list of risers and fallers. However, we were still able to come up with a total of six deserving teams.
NBA Week 21 Risers
San Antonio Spurs (39-29, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
While the Spurs have only played two games since we last checked in with risers and fallers, they were both impressive games. That was a home win against the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks and a road win against the Dallas Mavericks, who have been very solid at home this season.
These last two games have also extended the Spurs’ winning streak to six, which is their longest of the season. San Antonio hasn’t really been blowing teams out, but the squad’s average winning margin in the streak is still a healthy eight points.
The Spurs have become increasingly reliant on the production of their top four offensive options: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and Rudy Gay. All four guys have been playing very well as of late and the Spurs have also picked up their defensive intensity. The only issue with their star-reliant attack is that none are high-volume three-point shooters. Do the Spurs have enough offensive explosiveness to stack up against the top West teams in a playoff series?
Portland Trail Blazers (41-26, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
The Blazers’ most recent game was a fantastic win in Los Angeles against the Clippers. The Clippers entered the game on a six-game winning streak and hadn’t lost at home since February 1. However, Portland demolished the Clips by 21 points on the strength of C.J. McCollum’s 30-point second half.
Overall, this season, Portland has been one of the more consistent teams in the Western Conference playoff race. They are in the top half of the league in both offense and defense, have a superstar (Damian Lillard) and then very strong second and third options (C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic).
Of course, their record through 67 games this season is actually the same as last season’s, when they were swept in the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans as a No. 3 seed.
This season, the Blazers need Lillard to live up to his reputation and for Nurkic to be a more dominant force inside for the team to advance further in the postseason.
Atlanta Hawks (24-45, No. 12 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-1)
Many people expected the Hawks to be in contention for the worst record this season. However, with the rapid development of their young core, they have separated themselves from the bottom tier of the league that includes the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks.
In the past week, the Hawks lost by only two points to the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets and then beat the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies soundly with a couple of offensive explosions.
The Hawks’ future success will ride on the development of their Big Three of John Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. Since January 7, one of those three players has been the Hawks’ leading scorer in 24 out of 31 games.
NBA Week 21 Fallers
Detroit Pistons (34-33, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-2)
The Pistons continued a great stretch of play into the start of this week, beating the Chicago Bulls 131-108. The team then laid two absolute eggs in a row on the road. Detroit lost against the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets, two teams nearby in the standings, by a combined 62 points.
In the two losses, Detroit scored 75 and 74 points, respectively, setting season lows for scoring in both contests. The team relies pretty heavily on three-point shooting, but it is very inconsistent from the outside. When the threes aren’t falling and the opposition can play tough interior defense on Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, the Pistons can look pretty terrible.
Unfortunately, point guard Reggie Jackson also sprained his ankle in the Nets game. We will see how that affects him and the team moving forward.
It’s hard to know if the recent struggles are just a blip or an actual cause for concern. The losses did hurt the Pistons in the standings, though, as they are now in real danger of falling to eighth in the East after sitting in sixth for a while.
Golden State Warriors (46-21, No. 1 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-1)
The Warriors did defeat the Rockets to end their week of play, but they started it with one of the least excusable results of the season: a home loss to the 16-53 Phoenix Suns.
Warriors guard Klay Thompson called out Warriors fans for not bringing enough energy to motivate the team against Phoenix. It’s pretty tough to justify any criticism of the fans when you look at how much weaker Phoenix’s roster is compared to Golden State’s roster.
The Warriors just keep going through the motions night after night, especially on defense. They still have the Nuggets breathing down their necks despite possessing five All-Stars in the starting lineup. How much of a concern is Draymond Green’s down year?
Chicago Bulls (19-50, No. 13 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-2)
We discussed the Pistons’ terrible stretch of play above. Guess which team was on the receiving end of their only win this week? You guessed it, the Bulls. Chicago lost by 23 to the Pistons and also lost to the Los Angeles Lakers by 16 points at home after leading by 20 points. Los Angeles is basically a complete mess right now, so that game wasn’t a good look.
If you’re a Bulls fan, you are looking for competitiveness from your team. Instead, the squad has looked very lifeless. It starts with the regression of second-year big man Lauri Markkanen, who looked like an All-Star in February. He has now failed to register 20 points in his last six games after doing so in each of the previous 12 contests. Leading scorer Zach LaVine missing this week’s games with a knee injury didn’t help matters.
Chicago’s defense has also looked very out of sync, which happens with a young roster that has a lot of players who haven’t built chemistry with each other yet.