With the NBA’s five-game Christmas Day slate now over, the next big event on the calendar is the February 6 trade deadline. Teams are constantly evaluating their rosters to see whether a move is warranted to improve a roster or rebuild it for the future.
This week, teams mostly played as expected, though there were a few exceptions, especially a couple of squads at the bottom of the Western Conference. Let’s round up the week’s action by pointing out a few risers and a few fallers.
NBA Week 9 Risers
Golden State Warriors (9-24, No. 15 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Warriors hadn’t won consecutive games this season until just more than a week ago. Now they are on a four-game winning streak on the strength of an extremely stingy defense. In an NBA where teams score an average of 110.4 points in a game, the Warriors haven’t allowed more than 104 points in their past four contests.
Golden State is a team that has a former Defensive Player of the Year winner in Draymond Green, a versatile center in Willie Cauley-Stein and a bunch of other athletic players who are still playing to prove themselves at the NBA level. Head coach Steve Kerr has also orchestrated three top-five defenses in his five full seasons as the Warriors’ coach. It’s no wonder the squad is turning it around.
Moving forward, the Warriors have to be encouraged with their progress. Once Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson return, whenever that is, the team should have the stingy defense to support the offensive exploits of the Splash Brothers.
New Orleans Pelicans (9-23. No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-0)
The Warriors would have escaped the Western Conference cellar this week if it weren’t for a nice little pair of wins for the Pelicans. New Orleans won two games on the road against teams in playoff positioning (the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers).
The return of a healthy Derrick Favors has been key for the Pels. New Orleans got back-to-back games of 30 minutes for Favors in both games this week. Consecutive games reaching the 30-minute barrier was a first for Favors this year. The veteran center has been a huge boon to the Pelicans’ rebounding and interior defense efforts. Favors put up 13 rebounds and two blocks per game last week.
New Orleans combined those improved areas with hot three-point shooting (42.3 percent this week), which makes the squad very formidable. Talent-wise, the Pelicans are definitely better than their record. Right now, it is about getting and staying fully healthy and developing chemistry.
Boston Celtics (22-7, No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Celtics are fully deserving of this spot for the second week in a row. Their young wing tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continues to blossom into a two-way force, and point guard Kemba Walker should be an All-Star.
The key in Boston’s surprising season and recent success has been its surprisingly effective play from the center position. Enes Kanter has held down the offensive end and rebounding and Daniel Theis has taken care of defense and screen-setting. This week, the two bigs combined to average 16.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 58.5 percent from the field and making all six of their free throws.
It will be fascinating to see whether the Celtics’ two-headed monster at center will be able to hold up against elite bigs in the East like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid in a playoff series. For now, it’s a great combination.
NBA Week 9 Fallers
Los Angeles Lakers (24-7, No. 1 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-2)
The Lakers are too good of a team to lose four games in a row, but here we are. Los Angeles has been poor on offense as of late, shooting plenty of blanks from the outside. The Lakers are just 59-of-208 (28.4 percent) from downtown in their last six games. That stretch has dropped them from fifth in the league in three-point percentage all the way down to 18th.
Shooting guard Danny Green has commented that the Lakers’ offensive struggles can be traced to a lack of pace, referencing things like transition offense and quick passing in half-court offensive situations. He’s right.
Los Angeles has the superstar power on its roster with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it needs to incorporate more offensive movement and pace so that the rest of the roster can stay in rhythm.
Atlanta Hawks (6-26, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
With a current nine-game losing streak, the Hawks are now a full two games worse than any other NBA team in the standings. The low point for the team was a 26-point home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday in which Trae Young sprained his ankle. The Bucks are a great team, but they didn’t have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe, their superstar and third-best player, respectively.
Thankfully for the Hawks, John Collins is finally back, which softens the blow of Young’s injury a bit. Collins struggled shooting in his second game back against Milwaukee, but his energy level has been great so far, as he has put up an averaging of 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest in his two games so far.
What’s dooming the Hawks now, though, is that the team’s wings are just so bad. Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter were drafted this summer as athletic two-way guys, but the rookies are struggling on both ends this year. Sophomore shooter Kevin Huerter has been frustratingly inconsistent this year and hasn’t made the leap some expected from him.
Sacramento Kings (12-19, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
You can’t get much closer to rock bottom than where the Kings are now. Sacramento just lost a fifth straight game, an overtime home loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves that was playing without superstar Karl-Anthony Towns and had lost 11 straight games. In the game, De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley both suffered injuries. Those guys are probably two of the three best players on the team.
The other supposed top-three player on the team, Buddy Hield, is shooting a miserable 25.6 percent from the floor and 23.4 percent from three-point range in the losing streak. Free-agent signee center Dewayne Dedmon has requested a trade.
Sacramento is left with a roster with a weird combination of veterans, young players and bad contracts. The Kings are deep with OK players, but they don’t have enough needle-moving talents to build around for the future. Let’s see if the Kings try to blow the roster up before the deadline this season.