The NBA is in a great spot right now. There is no clear-cut title favorite now that the Golden State Warriors are both disbanded and injured and there’s a lot of congestion in both conferences’ playoff standings. We should be getting a lot of close battles in the final weeks of the season.
More surprising results made this week a fun one in the NBA. Let’s recap the week by going through three rising teams and three falling teams in the league’s landscape.
NBA Week 11 In-Form Squads
Memphis Grizzlies (17-22, No. 8 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
“The future is now” is a cliché but still a very appropriate way to describe this Grizzlies team. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke would be a formidable Big Three at any age, but the fact that they are an average of just 21 years old is absolutely nuts.
Memphis is letting its talented youth run free, and their athleticism and skill shines through every night. The Grizzlies had two very nice wins this week, beating the Los Angeles Clippers by 26 points on the road and then taming a hot San Antonio Spurs squad with a 13-point win. The other two wins were less notable, but still point to the remarkable consistency of one of the league’s youngest teams.
While the Grizzlies won’t be contending for a title this season, they already are quickly on the path to relevance after the brief rebuild that followed the Grit ’n Grind era. Only this time, Memphis is winning on the strength of a fast-paced, high ball-movement attack rather than defense and physicality.
Utah Jazz (26-12, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
The Jazz have had an easy schedule in their current eight-game win streak. However, that certainly doesn’t negate just how much better they have been as of late. Utah was a disappointing 12th in the NBA in net rating on Christmas and the squad has ranked No. 1 since then.
While the Jazz defense still isn’t quite as consistent as it should be considering its excellent personnel, Utah’s perimeter shooters have been locked in during the past month. Aside from one off-shooting night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Jazz have averaged a fantastic 15.7 made threes per game in the past month. Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic have been major flamethrowers from the outside, and Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang have also been lights-out on relatively lower volume.
There’s nothing wrong with the Jazz collecting big wins against bad teams. In fact, they are doing that better than pretty much every other West playoff team. It could be an important factor when angling for home-court advantage in future playoff series.
San Antonio Spurs (16-21, No. 9 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-2)
On paper, you might think that 2-2 wouldn’t be good enough for a “risers” spot. However dig a little deeper and you’ll see why the mood has improved considerably in San Antonio because of the Spurs’ recent play.
The Spurs’ schedule this week couldn’t have been much tougher. Their average opponent winning percentage in their four games was 71.5 and three of the four games were on the road. However, San Antonio got two signature wins, beating the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks 126-104 and then beating the Boston Celtics 129-114 on the road two nights later.
San Antonio’s offense has been much improved as of late, with big man LaMarcus Aldridge finally starting to extend his sweet midrange shooting touch to the three-point line. Fellow star teammate DeMar DeRozan is taking advantage of that extra space, scoring at least 21 points and shooting at least 52 percent from the field in his last 10 games.
Only four players in the past 30 years have hit those benchmarks in 10 consecutive games: Shaquille O’Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl Malone and LeBron James. That’s pretty good company for DeRozan.
NBA Week 11 Out-of-Form Teams
Chicago Bulls (13-26, No. 12 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Bulls haven’t been good this year, but they had sprinkled in enough good performances here and there throughout the season to avoid making this list. Now, though, their losing streak has reached a season high of six games, and center Wendell Carter Jr. is out four to six weeks with an ankle sprain.
Chicago should be concerned about the fact that Zach LaVine has had scoring games of 43, 39, 36, 36 and 35 points that all came in losses. Lauri Markkanen probably isn’t the sure-fire future All-Star that he looked like last season and the veteran additions of Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young haven’t moved the needle much.
The Bulls are 62-141 since the start of the 2017-18 season and there’s still no player on their roster who I’m sure of as a franchise cornerstone. The front office should be taking a serious look at the franchise in the mirror right now.
Boston Celtics (25-11, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
Boston had managed to avoid a three-game losing streak all season until this week. After a few poor showings, mainly on offense, the Celtics can’t say that anymore.
We are seeing the team struggle to move the ball as well as they should, often forcing shots out of isolation plays. That was a problem last year with Kyrie Irving on the team, and it seems to be becoming an issue again. The team also still has several players who just aren’t major offensive threats getting sizable minutes on the team, and that could also be an issue in the team’s struggles.
The Celtics will have to make adjustments on the fly for the next several weeks. After a very light schedule early on in the season, the squad is on a difficult stretch of 16 games in 28 nights, with no more than one day off in between games.
New York Knicks (10-29, No. 14 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
Last week’s success is no longer for the Knicks, who are back to their losing ways. New York has lost five straight games and will play three of the East’s toughest teams next week: the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
New York just doesn’t have the roster talent or fit to hang with most teams. The Knicks and their big man-heavy rotation frequently get destroyed in the three-point battle because of a slow defense and an inside-focused offense, but last week was bad. New York was outscored by a total of 117 points from behind the arc in the four games combined.
On top of everything, the Knicks were reported to be interested in trading for Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond on Friday. Arguably New York’s best prospect (Mitchell Robinson) also plays center and Drummond is up for a big contract in the summer. He probably won’t even want to sign back with the Knicks. It would be a silly move, and it should be discouraging for the team’s fans that the squad is interested in doing it.