Welcome back to our weekly trip around the NBA. We take a weekly look at momentum trends to find out who is on the rise and who is bottoming out. We finished last week with a power-shifting NBA trade deadline that, though didn't see too many high-profile players change hands, did do some work to see who is setting their sights on the offseason. The story post-deadline (and subsequent buyout season) is "Is your team good enough to beat the Warriors?" Well, the Warriors added a great piece in a back up big by the name of Anderson Varejao, who has done his job so far as a serviceable body off the bench. Other teams will look to add Joe Johnson (reportedly going to the Miami Heat) or even Channing Frye in Cleveland to try to make an impact.
The top of the East continues to stay steady, with Toronto and Cleveland holding serve in the standings to keep the three game separation. These teams should finish the season where they stand, unless Cleveland and their stars run out of gas. Toronto would gain huge momentum going into the playoffs to overcome the Cavs, and as a team which historically loses its edge toward the endow the season, it is nice to see them not losing a step as of yet.
The race appears to be for the rest of the division, as three and a half games separate the third spot from the eighth spot:
Who is rising?
The Celtics made no big splash at the deadline (despite being in every rumor across the NBA), instead choosing to cut ties with poor David Lee #fullsquad. They are now part of the Joe Johnson rumors, which makes a lot of sense for a team of athletes still missing a shooter and scorer in crunch time. Can Isaiah Thomas and crew continue to out hustle and outplay the rest of the NBA? Or did they miss their chance to go to the next level at the deadline?
Charlotte, once thought for dead by many including this writer, now find themselves back in the playoffs with a great past 10 days. The eighth seed will get you a trip to the Cavs, but note they do have a win over Cleveland this year during the regular season (in Charlotte). Courtney Lee is the kind of player that solidifies a young roster, and lets a player like Kemba Walker do what he is suppose to do: focus on scoring and be saved on the defensive end. I like this team to move up in the rankings with teams like Atlanta and Chicago currently digging themselves out of their own holes.
Who is falling?
Chicago has arguably had some of the worse injury luck of the season. They have lost Joakim Noah for the season, have lost Jimmy Butler for periods, and who knows if Derrick Rose will play on any given night. In typical Chicago fashion, they have found ways to win recently with their collection of athletes and talent. But have they fallen too far? They are a stretch away from any home court advantage in the playoffs, and are watching the fringe teams like Detroit and Charlotte get better by the day. Can they hold on?
Detroit, the Jekyll and Hyde team of the NBA, struggles to match efforts week to week. Just when they seem poised to make the jump after the acquisition of Tobias Harris, they have struggled to find their footing. They lost five straight before sneaking a win out at Cleveland, a reality check of how good they can be. They are watching their chance slip away, and need to find their chemistry with their new rotation quickly before it's too late.
Ho-hum. Another week with the Warriors and Spurs beating everyone. The season really will come down to the three more matchups these two teams have against each other. Who sets up this schedule, anyway? It reminds me of a four game series at the end of an MLB season -- huge implications with teams that don't particularly like each other. The Spurs have the advantage as two of these games will be in San Antonio.
The rest of the West has settled in quite comfortably, as there is large cushions between the third, fourth, and fifth seeds. I don't see the Clippers catching the Thunder, who continue to win. The only drama seems to be at the bottom of the division:
Who is rising?
Portland showed the NBA with their trouncing of the Warriors that they are on the hunt. They are finally healthy, with Dame Lillard missing stretches this season. They have their rotation figured out, and Portland will always be a tough place to play. Which team wants to play these guys in the first round? A Thunder-Portland series would be one for the ages. I fear the Warriors would have to meet them, but based on Portland's momentum that should take care of itself.
Utah might not have an amazing record these days, but has simply been on the rise because they are finally healthy. They have run into hot teams as of late -- Portland, Washington and the Spurs -- keeping them from jumping into the 8th spot. However they now feature their full front court with Rudy Gobert returning to match up with Derrick Favors. As long as Gordon Haywood keeps scoring, this team should have no problems catching the Rockets. Speaking of Houston...
Who is falling?
Houston needs to make up their minds. They lose to Portland twice in five days, which triggers stories about Dwight Howard and James Harden unrest. They are looking to drop salary (Do Mo trade, Ty Lawson release), and seem ready to throw in the towel. Then, just when you think they are done back in Portland, down 15 at the half, James Harden goes nuts. That alone continues to be the fear in Houston -- Harden can simply take over games and win on his own. Even as the team continues to bottom out, Harden reminds us why is one of the 10 most productive and disruptive players in the league.
Sacramento had it's chance to catch that playoff spot, but now with the rise of Portland seem destined for the lottery. This is sad, considering Boogie and Rondo in the playoffs would have been must-see TV. Sacramento needs to immediately put George Karl out of his misery, give a young coach a chance and pretend they didn't fall on their face this year. I love Sacramento, I want to see them succeed, but how could they with all the drama they have dealt with?
- The Warriors head to OKC on Saturday night for another prime time matchup. They are already looking road weary, making games in Orlando and Atlanta much more difficult than they should have been. I've seen this Thunder game as a serious risk for a long time, thinking Durant and Westbrook will be looking to make a statement. My suggestion for Kerr: If it looks out of hand early, cut bait and take the loss. No use wearing out the troops for a schedule-loss against a tough motivated team. Curry could use the time off.