The months of January and February are known to many hoop heads as the “dog days” of the NBA season. With a little over half of the season now in the books and the All-Star break quickly approaching, there is no shortage of headlines around the Association.
LeBron James once again takes the low road in his opinions on the Chuckster. The Clippers are in shambles (again) and the Knicks are having a difficult time finding a suitable trade partner for declining superstar Carmelo Anthony.
The Nets continue to separate themselves in their position as the worst team in the league for years to come. To be clear, Brooklyn is the only team in the NBA that has yet to reach double-digit wins, thus, solidifying their chances of obtaining the top pick in this year’s draft. The only problem is that the Nets have already traded the rights to their 2017 and 2018 first-round draft picks to the Boston Celtics.
The Brooklyn Nets are the definition of basketball futility.
But let’s take a look at some things that everyone seems to agree on and disagree on through the 15th week of the NBA season.
- ESPN: Heat, Wizards make magical climb (Marc Stein)
- CBS: Wizards rollings, Heat suddenly winnings, Warriors still evolving (Matt Moore)
- NBA.com: Dog days of winter taking toll on contenders (John Schuhmann)
- Sports Illustrated: The Bulls fall apart (Jeremy Woo)
Things we are certain of
The Warriors and Spurs are the consensus 1-2
To nobody’s surprise, the Golden State Warriors continue to dismantle any team that dares step into its path. The Dubs lead the NBA in both offensive rating (113.7) and defensive rating (101.0), according to NBA.com. The team also ranks first in field-goal percentage, point differential, assists, steals, blocks, defensive rebounds and points per game ... as well as opponent-field goal and three-point field goal percentage.
Golden State is back on pace for 70 wins and already has three wins of at least 40 points this season and seven wins by at least 30 points — both franchise records. The Warriors next 40-point victory will break the NBA record for most such wins in a regular season.
For San Antonio’s part, at 36-11, the Spurs have the second-most wins in the NBA and are only 4.5 games back of the Warriors. San Antonio spanked Golden State by 29 points on opening night but won’t get another shot at the Dubs until the two teams meet again on March 11th.
The Spurs are top five in both offensive (112.2) and defensive (102.3) rating and trail only the Warriors in net rating (+8.9). They are a perfect 4-0 this season without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.
Things we are not so certain of
Are the Cavs the best team in the East?
Both CBS and Sports Illustrated have the Celtics ahead of the Cavs in this week’s rankings. January was the first month that a LeBron James-led team has had a losing month since 2007. But ESPN’s Marc Stein has seen this mid-season meltdown from the Cavs before:
It seems foolish, on one hand, to get too worked up about the Cavs’ recent chaos, given that (A) they responded to a three-game skid in December by winning 10 of 11 and are liable to do the same thing again and (B) you still can’t really dream up a scenario in which another team in the East manages to keep LeBron James & Co. out of their third consecutive NBA Finals. Yet you also have to concede that some measure of panic is inevitable in this social media age at a time when LeBron is so openly angry ... and leading the league in minutes in his 14th season ... and when Kevin Love’s pesky back issues won't go away.
Exactly how good are the Rockets?
The Rockets are another team that national writers are unsure about. Matt Moore of CBS lists them behind the Wizards, Celtics and Hawks as the 7th-best team in the league. Meanwhile, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has the Rockets as the Association’s 3rd-best team. Stein cuts the difference with the Rockets at the five spot:
Make it a 4-7 funk for the Rockets since that dominant 20-2 surge that ran from Dec. 1 through Jan. 10. The lone consolation is that it’s not a huge mystery trying to pinpoint the trouble spots. Houston has been a bottom-five defensive team in pretty much every meaningful area over those past 11 games and continues to suffer from a lack of consistent rim protection. Another issue: Eric Gordon was second in the league in 3-pointers made, behind only Curry, as of Jan. 13, to emerge as the league’s top contender for the NBA Sixth Man Award. Since then? Gordon is just 22-for-77 from deep.
Are the Wiz for real?
The Wizards continue to soar up the power rankings, moving up as many as 11 spots in CBS and NBA.com’s power rankings. Over the past couple of weeks, they have been playing significantly better basketball than the likes of the Cleveland Cavs. They have won 13 of their last 15 and have a favorable stretch of home games ahead of them. John Wall is just one of three players in the NBA averaging 20 points and 10 assists, and backcourt mate Bradley Beal is having the best season of his career. John Schuhmann likes the direction that the Wiz are heading:
With double-digit road wins in Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans last week and having backed up their all-black silliness against the Celtics on Tuesday, the Wizards have graduated from “really good home team” to “really good team.” They have the league’s second best record, sixth best offense and eighth best defense over the last month and a half and, with three games against below-average offenses this week, could soon be the only East team in the top 10 on both ends of the floor for the season. They’ve won 14 straight games at home, where they’ll be for 10 of their next 14.
Can the Celtics knock off the Cavs?
As the Raptors continue to slide, the Celtics have crept into first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference standings. Many have pegged Toronto as the lone team to be able to halt the Cavs from cake walking to their third-straight NBA Finals appearance. But with the emergence of Isaiah Thomas’ late-game heroics, do the C’s have the firepower to compete with Cleveland? Marc Stein gives us his take:
Toronto’s freefall and Isaiah Thomas’ gaudy January, when mixed together, have enabled the Celtics to nudge past the Raptors into first place in the Atlantic Division and, most crucially, No. 2 in the East. It’s happened in spite of the fact that the Celts, to their dismay, remain parked in the bottom third of the league’s defensive efficiency standings. As for Thomas: Let’s see what he can do in his final January appearance -- Monday night against visiting Detroit -- in a month in which he has averaged 32.3 PPG. Only three months in Celtics history have ever been better: Paul Pierce in February 2006 (33.5 PPG), Larry Bird in April 1987 (33.3 PPG) and Bird again in February 1988 (33.1 PPG).
I will leave you with this interesting bit of info from Marc Stein on the Warriors’ four All-Star selections:
The Golden State Warriors are just the 11th team in NBA history to see four of its players selected as All-Stars.
Get this, though: Only two of the previous 10 teams with four All-Stars went on to win that season’s NBA title.
Meaningful omen for fans of all the teams out there chasing the Warriors? Or circumstantial stat that doesn't really mean much?
We’ll let you decide.