What a crazy week it has been for the United States, and the world in general! The coronavirus has led to all sorts of schedule changes for many different businesses and the NBA was no exception. The league is suspended until further notice, and commissioner Adam Silver has said that it’s likely the league will take at least 30 days off in hopes that the pandemic will die down.
Even though it has been a short week of play since last weekend’s check-in with the risers and fallers, let’s discuss which teams are trending up and which teams are trending down.
NBA Week 20 Risers
Brooklyn Nets (30-34, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
The Nets had an extremely action-packed week. Of course, it ended with the suspension of their season, along with the rest of the teams in the league, but before that, a couple other major things happened.
At the very beginning of the week, the team fired head coach Kenny Atkinson. It was a surprising move given the team’s overachievement in the past two seasons and the team’s respectable performance this season in the face of significant injuries. However, it undoubtedly had to do with Atkinson’s relationship with injured superstars Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving. If the move saves future chemistry issues between the stars and their coach, it was worth it.
The Nets did also have an excellent week on the court. Brooklyn went on the road and beat a Los Angeles Lakers team that had won 11 of its last 12 games and entered the game with a 49-13 record. The Nets also outlasted the Chicago Bulls in a game where Brooklyn committed 28 turnovers, which is an impressive achievement in itself.
Orlando Magic (30-35, No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
The Magic did keep pace with the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings this week, though. Orlando had two very impressive road wins against the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies this week, scoring an average of 123 points in the two games. When you throw in the Magic’s 132-118 road victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves from the end of last week, that is three consecutive road games with at least 120 points scored.
Considering Orlando has just the 27th-ranked scoring offense in the league and entered its last three games with an 11-20 road record, this offensive development is very encouraging.
Center Nikola Vucevic has been playing like a superstar in March, with averages of 23 points, 13.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. The difference has come from veteran guards DJ Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams and Terrence Ross, all of whom are playing their best basketball of the season.
Portland Trail Blazers (29-37, No. 9 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-0)
The Trail Blazers had just one game since we last checked in here: a 121-105 win over the Phoenix Suns that put Portland Trail Blazers in a tie for ninth place in the Western Conference.
For the Blazers, though, the time off could actually be a blessing. Center Jusuf Nurkic was on track to make his injury return on Sunday after missing almost the entire season, but the extra time could be helpful for him to make a full recovery. Other key pieces in Zach Collins and Rodney Hood are also working to get back from major injuries. Superstar point guard Damian Lillard hurried back from a groin injury to help the Blazers’ playoff push, but now he can get fully healthy.
Between the Blazers’ injuries, young guard Anfernee Simons hitting a wall at midseason and the fact that Lillard, McCollum and Hassan Whiteside are asked to do so much for this team, Portland could use the time off. If the season is cut short, it wouldn’t be a big deal for a team that probably just wants to fast-forward to 2020-21 anyway.
NBA Week 20 Fallers
Detroit Pistons (20-46, No. 13 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-2)
If the NBA season truly is done, it’s going to be a tough way to end for Detroit. The Pistons have lost 12 of their last 13 games with an injury-depleted roster, but the squad still has just the fifth-best odds to win the lottery. If one of the team’s wins this season had been a loss, Detroit would have jumped up to No. 2 in lottery odds.
The main bright spot for this season has undeniably been the performance of 24-year-old big man Christian Wood. Wood has averaged 24.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in his last 10 games on a true-shooting percentage of 66.6. Even though he is getting his numbers in mostly losses, what he is doing is impressive.
The Pistons still need more developmental pieces. Rookie forward Sekou Doumbouya is incredibly raw, and players like Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker are decent prospects, but it’s unclear whether they can be key building blocks as the team moves on with its rebuild.
Milwaukee Bucks (53-12, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-2)
MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t play in either of the Bucks’ losses this week, but the team’s trajectory is still a bit worrying. The Bucks’ first game since the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was against the Phoenix Suns, a respectable team but also one the Bucks probably should have beat even without Antetokounmpo.
However, Milwaukee lost 140-131 and didn’t have the right amount of defense intensity from the tip. It was the Bucks’ most points allowed this season. In the next game, Milwaukee admittedly rested most of its regulars, but the team wasn’t very competitive against the Denver Nuggets.
Thankfully, there is time now for Antetokounmpo to recover fully from his knee injury. What if the rest of this NBA season is never completed? In that case, I’m sure Bucks fans will have what-if scenarios running through their heads for the rest of their lives as they ponder what this team could have done in the postseason.
Utah Jazz (41-23, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-1)
The Jazz played only one game since we last checked in with the league here. It was yet another disappointing loss against a fellow upper-echelon team (the Toronto Raptors) in which Utah scored just 92 points. The Jazz had a bunch of trouble scoring against the Raptors’ extremely versatile defense.
That’s not the main reason the Jazz are showing up here. It’s because of the whole situation with their two best players, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, testing positive for coronavirus. It’s very unlikely that either players’ long-term health is threatened, but many perceived Gobert’s attitude toward the virus as initially too cavalier and there are reports that there is frustration in the Jazz locker room.
Thankfully for the Jazz, there will be plenty of time for their players to work things out now. For the chance that this team can’t stay together as currently constructed due to chemistry issues, Utah earns a spot here.