How about those Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers? Milwaukee is on pace for 71 wins and Los Angeles is on pace for 66 wins as we are solidly past the halfway point of the season.
The rest of the league, though, has had many ups and downs this season. This week, a new batch of NBA teams surged and plummeted, for a variety of reasons. Let’s recap the teams that changed their stock the most in the past seven days.
NBA Week 13 Surgers
Oklahoma City Thunder (27-19, No. 7 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
You have to give the Thunder a lot of credit for competing hard this season to prove pundits wrong. Most prognosticators have them firmly outside the playoffs, but they’ve stayed healthy and worked together beautifully on both sides of the ball. They are a solid six games ahead of the top lottery positioned team (San Antonio Spurs), and that gap is growing.
One of the big factors in the Thunder’s success is a vintage Chris Paul season. The 34-year-old floor general is proving that he has the skill set to stay effective late in his career with his steady play at point guard, especially in crunch time. He has been the engine of an above-average offense that gets significant production from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams.
As long as those five guys, plus a resurgent Nerlens Noel, remain healthy, OKC has a real chance at cracking the top six in the Western Conference with a solid finish to the regular season.
Utah Jazz (31-13, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
Like the Thunder, the Jazz have spent the past few weeks putting the heat on teams above them in the West standings with consistent play. Utah has been so good that it now has taken over the West’s No. 2 seed and has added some blowout wins to its résumé that it mostly lacked in the first two months.
Point guard Mike Conley has also jumped back into the mix after his hamstring injury sidelined him for a month. He has only played three games, but he looked great in Utah’s 30-point blowout over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, scoring 14 points in 18 minutes.
Of course, center Rudy Gobert is still the leader of this squad, and it is going to be one of the all-time snubs if he is denied for an All-Star reserve spot once again. Gobert is posting a career high in rebounds per game (14.5) and true-shooting percentage (68.7), and his scoring is coming around, too. He has scored at least 20 points in five of his last six games.
The next 10 games will be huge for the Jazz. Utah doesn’t catch much of a break, with seven of its 10 opponents boasting winning percentages above 63. Their other three games are also against the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, playoff-tested squads who can challenge any team on a given night.
Indiana Pacers (30-16, No. 5 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
If someone told the Pacers before the season that they would be on a 53-win pace more than halfway through the season without a minute from All-Star Victor Oladipo, they would have been thrilled.
Indiana continues to defy expectations night after night, taking a pretty ordinary roster and making it an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team. Aside from a 30-point beatdown at the end of the red-hot Jazz, Indiana won its other three games by a combined 44 points. One of the wins was over West power Denver Nuggets.
The Pacers don’t have a superstar or a dominant lineup, but it does have a lot of good players and a lot of good lineups. Leading scorers Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon do a good job of taking turns having big games so that Indiana stays pretty consistent on offense.
NBA Teams That Plummeted
Minnesota Timberwolves (15-30, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Wolves are 5-22 in their last 27 games and have lost eight games in a row. So the fact that they lost all four games last week isn’t really a deviation from what they have gotten used to.
It is considering that, even with Karl-Anthony Towns back on the floor and dominating, the Wolves are still putting forth poor performances on the court. On Wednesday, Towns dropped 40 points on 16-of-24 shooting, but the Wolves couldn’t keep the 17-30 Chicago Bulls off the boards or the free-throw line in a seven-point loss. The team also ruined a big performance of 30 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes against the Houston Rockets, losing by seven points.
Without Jeff Teague as at least a serviceable starting point guard, Shabazz Napier gets more burn, and that’s just not his best role. The Wolves are a run-and-gun squad that fires away from three, but it just doesn’t have the personnel to make that approach work consistently. The lack of chemistry between teammates is also becoming more and more evident.
Brooklyn Nets (18-25, No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
The Nets have lost 12 of their last 14 games and still have a 2.5-game stranglehold of sorts on the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Granted, Brooklyn’s schedule has been tough recently, but for a team with the respectable talent it has, you’d hope for more than two wins in 14 games, right? The team has now fallen all the way to 26th in offensive rating, as live-ball turnovers and rebounding have become nagging issues.
Even with Kyrie Irving back for five of the past six games, the Nets just don’t have the offensive creators to field an efficient attack. While Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie are solid creators, Caris LeVert has been out much of the season and the key wings and bigs on the roster cannot get their own shot. This team should look much better once a healthy Kevin Durant joins the group.
Cleveland Cavaliers (12-33, No. 13 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
The Cavs entered this week on a three-game losing streak, but at least they could remind themselves that it was on a road trip against three of the league’s hotter teams (both Los Angeles squads and the Memphis Grizzlies). This week, though, they lost three contests to squads with a combined record of 44-93.
Cleveland’s veterans have been on record recently with comments saying that they thought the team would be further along in its development right now. I’m not sure what they’re expecting when the team’s starting backcourt for every single game this season averages just a combined 6 assists and 4.8 turnovers per game. Also, of the Cavs’ 10 biggest minute-getters this season, none of them is taller than 6’9”, which means the rim protection is non-existent most of the time.
Another reason Cleveland earns a fallers spot here is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency about making some swaps before the deadline. The team’s young talents are redundant with each other, and its veterans don’t seem to be helping the squad win either.