Welcome back to our weekly look around the NBA, where we check out the landscape around the Warriors to see which teams are gunning for a chance to challenge Golden State for the title this spring. Which teams have been handling themselves the best in the recent weeks? Who is making the largest jump and who is taking the biggest dive?
First off, we take a trip out East to check out how the top-eight have been performing as of late. We are finally starting to see some separation being created within the top-10 teams, and the playoff race is becoming even clearer. The top of the division is staying quite consistent — Cleveland and Toronto both had fantastic weeks (though the Cavs did get their two losses against our Dubs and the Spurs). The Raptors are currently in the middle of a six game winning streak, gifted with some chunks of rest days in between easier games against lowly Eastern foes (Philly, Brooklyn).
Teams Trending Up
Atlanta. Finding themselves at 6-4 over their last 10, Atlanta is starting to create separation in the standings between themselves and the 4th and 5th spots. They continue to be the ol' reliable team, holding a great record at home and taking care of business against their own conference. They won their last three, though all against teams who won't be sniffing the post-season this year. Their issue comes in big games against NBA elite — they need a few more wins against teams like the Cavs and Raptors to be considered as a true threat. They are currently gifted with full health, but lack the big stars to scare teams. Could they possibly be a trade partner come the deadline for an upgrade?
Detroit. If you beat the Warriors while we are at full strength, you immediately gain consideration as an upward trending team. Face it: Andre Drummond is a beast and they have a pesky roster. They faced a murderer's row of teams over their past five — SAS, MEM, GSW, CHI & HOU — and went 2-3 (two on the road). They are another potential trade destination, but will Stan Van Gundy break up his core? Can he flip Brandon Jennings and other assets for another scorer (maybe the other Morris brother from Phoenix)?
Honorable Mention: Philadelphia!! 3-7 over their last 10 does not look great. But when you have six wins all season, you can consider that a great stretch! Teams with worse records over their last 10: Miami, Orlando, Charlotte and the Nets. Since the arrival of Ish Smith, Philly has gone from "laughing stock" to average joke. New prediction: Philly will have more wins than Brooklyn before the end of the year.
Teams Trending Down
Charlotte. Poor Kemba Walker. Can we start a petition to free Kemba from Charlotte? When will MJ and crew throw in the towel on this season? A team with such potential to start the year, they are finally showing their youth and lack of scoring with Al Jefferson on the shelf. It might be time to focus on the young core, let them struggle, and settle in on a high draft pick after flipping some of your talent (Marvin Williams would look great on a contender).
Orlando. Questionable if they were ever a true playoff team, they are starting to show it with a recent slump. They capped off the week with a home loss to the Philadelphia Ish Smiths where they only scored 87 against a league-worse defense. Who would be the first casualty of the season failure? Does Scott Skiles make it to his second year? For Warriors fans, every loss might be one step closer to a Channing Frye sell-low trade...
The Western elite had a heck of a week. While the Warriors showed slight weakness in Detroit, the rest of the West dominated. The Spurs showed they aren't backing down by winning their last 11. The Thunder find themselves in the middle of a six-game winning streak. The Clippers have won nine of their last ten, all without Blake Griffin (which does more to fuel huge trade chatter than give confidence in L.A.). Every playoff team had a positive record over the last week and a half; the only question in the West right now seems to be who is going to "win" the right to face the Warriors with the eight spot. Sacramento, Utah and Portland all find themselves in the running.
Teams Trending Upward
Memphis. The Grizz have been good of late, winning five of their last six (all at home). Granted, the competition was not top-level (wins over the Nuggets, Pelicans, etc), but Memphis has shown they can beat the teams they are suppose to beat. Their problem will always be staying competitive against the NBA-elite, putting them in the secondary their behind the West top-four. Can the Grizzlies feel good about going into the playoffs as a 6th seed with an uphill road to the finals? Or could they take a detour and trade away veterans, realizing they are facing their glass ceiling?
Clippers. The other team from L.A. continues to be one of the most fascinating. How far could Chris Paul + DeAndre Jordan + JJ Redick go? Could Blake Griffin be flipped for a collection of young role players and a true small forward to take this team to the next level? The Clippers front office has to take a long look at the window CP3 is facing and realize this might be one of their last years to make the big push. How can you trade one of the faces of the franchise — commercials and endorsements and all — without bringing back a franchise cornerstone in return? I like Bill Simmons' suggestion on his Channel 33 podcast: Blake to Miami for Bosh and Justice Winslow. But face it... the Clippers are not a great franchise and would never pull the trigger.
Teams Trending Downward
Phoenix & Minnesota. Can you two please start trading your veterans already?
Utah. Even with Rudy Gobert coming back, Utah still found its way into a recent losing streak. The Jazz are horrible on the road, which is a natural sign of a young team. I believe Utah is tough enough place to play — and the Kings are a dumpster fire waiting to happen — which will lead to the Jazz sneaking into the 8th playoff spot.
Around the League
The only thing the league should care about over the next seven days is next Monday's Spurs/Warriors matchup. They should make it an NBA holiday. Can you imagine that these teams will play four games before the season's end? Don't forget we also get three against the Thunder too! What a great time for the Warriors to finally get their heads right with big wins over LeBron and Chicago. Don't overlook the solid Pacers coming to Oracle on Friday night either. PG13 against Steph in Oakland will be a great tuneup for the week to come.