This week was more balanced from a competitive standpoint in the NBA. No team stood out as completely dominant or completely inept and we got a lot of entertaining games because of it.
As a result, picking the week’s risers and fallers was tough. However, six teams still stood out, three on each end of the spectrum, so let’s talk about them.
NBA Week 5 Risers
Portland Trail Blazers (8-12, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
The Blazers started this week with an embarrassing loss to the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers, but they have bounced back with three straight wins against the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Bulls again. Granted, none of those are high-quality teams, but two of them were major blowouts and the Blazers had lost four games in a row prior to that.
Portland is benefitting greatly from the signing of veteran free agent Carmelo Anthony. Melo has averaged 22.3 points in his last three games with a true-shooting percentage of 65.7, helping resuscitate an offense that wasn’t getting nearly enough production from its injury-depleted frontcourt. Anthony passing for eight assists in those three games is also a big deal, since he hasn’t had eight assists in a three-game span since March 2017.
Do the Blazers have a great future with this version of their roster? Likely not. The lack of frontcourt depth and some defense issues across the lineup could hurt, but if Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both get healthy at some point in the next few months and Anthony stays hot on offense, this team could be dangerous.
Toronto Raptors (14-4, No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
The Raptors are doing remarkably well for a team that lost its finals MVP and another key starter in the offseason and have had two other big-minute guys miss 10 games so far this season.
Of course, we are talking about Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, respectively. Quite impressively, Toronto has remained well above average on both ends of the floor in spite of all of its disadvantages. The Raptors have seamlessly integrated OG Anunoby back into the lineup after an injury-plagued season. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher and Terrence Davis have all been revelations as new additions to the rotation.
Toronto’s success this season, and especially as of late with all the injuries, is a testament to good team building. The Raptors have stockpiled a roster devoid of any real defensive abilities and they feature several players capable of defending multiple positions in their rotation. Their moves have paid off on defense and the opponent’s missed shots are leading to better offensive opportunities for Toronto.
Indiana Pacers (12-6, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
The Pacers’ four wins this week were mostly unimpressive, aside from a 121-102 triumph over the Utah Jazz. Considering the fact that stringing together several wins in the NBA is never easy (the Pacers have five right now), and that Indiana is still without its clear No. 1 player (Victor Oladipo), this streak is notable.
Indiana has the vibe of being consistent and balanced enough on both ends of the floor to be at least competitive pretty much every night. Wins against good teams usually require some sort of outlier performance from the Pacers or the opponent.
I will give the Pacers’ individual players some credit — Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon have looked pretty star-like at various points this season, even though Oladipo is still the main man in Indiana.
NBA Week 5 Fallers
New Orleans Pelicans (6-13, No. 13 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
If you told somebody that Brandon Ingram was going to be a Most Improved Player candidate and that veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick was shooting 46.3 percent three-point range on 7.6 attempts per game, you would think the Pelicans would be a lot better than 6-13.
Sure, rookie No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson is injured, but New Orleans is still underwhelming. The Pelicans are a deep team, so you would think they would be dealing with the injuries well, but that just hasn’t been the case. The squad is not executing or communicating well on defense and the interior defense has especially struggled.
On offense, the play initiation from Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball has also been worse than expected. Holiday’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2-to-1) is his worst number since his rookie year in 2009-10 and Lonzo Ball’s ratio (2.4-to-1) is the worst of his career. Neither guy is shooting particularly well, either.
Orlando Magic (7-11, No. 9 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
Scoring less than 90 points in a game is very rare in the NBA nowadays with the emphasis on good shot selection, officiating that often favors offensive players and faster paces around the league. Even the Magic, despite having the league’s least efficient offense and slowest pace in the league, only failed to reach 90 points once in their first 15 games.
Orlando had just 88 and 83 points, respectively, against the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors this week. The Magic shot a combined 36.4 percent from the field in the two games and also committed a total of 31 turnovers. Granted, the Magic have had frontcourt scorers Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic miss some time recently but their losses only highlight how little scoring depth the team possesses.
Orlando is probably still going to contend for the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference on the strength of its stifling, versatile defense. But the team needs more offensive punch. Could there be any substance to the rumors of the team acquiring DeMar DeRozan from the San Antonio Spurs?
Phoenix Suns (8-10, No. 8 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
The Suns are hanging onto their positioning in the Western Conference playoff bracket by a thread. Phoenix started the season as one of the league’s hottest teams but has since lost three games in a row, and six games in its last seven contests.
What’s the problem? Injuries to Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes have definitely played a part in the slide. There are other reasons and chief among them is that the Suns’ defense has become increasingly poor at covering the three-point line. Suns opponents have hit 14.7 threes at a 40.9 percent clip in their last seven games. The NBA average is 11.9 made threes per game and 35.5 percent shooting from downtown.
Despite the Suns’ poor play of late, there are definite reasons for optimism. The team’s young roster has shown a lot of potential and 2018 No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton will return from his 25-game suspension in just a couple of weeks.