Most sports fans are spending the weekend watching the NFL playoffs but not us over at Hoopscritic. We are keeping our eyes on the potential playoff landscape for the NBA. A couple of teams have turned it on in the Eastern Conference and the West appears to be sending a .500 team or below into the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 lockout season where the Timberwolves went 25-25 for the 8th seed.
Three Positive Things
Cleveland Looks To Be Locking Up The East
The Cavaliers got Kyrie Irving back just in time to put the Eastern Conference away and lock up home court throughout the playoffs. Since Kyrie came back the Cavs are 7-1 in the eight games he suited up for. He has taken a couple of games off in between those eight games in which the Cavs are 1-1, the one loss coming the day after an emotional and tiresome game against the Warriors on Christmas. The Cavs are 4th in the league (behind Warriors, Thunder and Spurs) for most efficient offense in the league, 7th in defense efficiency, 5th in effective field goal percentage and 5th in true shooting percentage. What is surprising with these numbers is the fact they are in the bottom 5 in the league in pace. Cleveland has been bucking the trend of fast paced basketball which seems to be catching on more and more. Instead, they are able to score 101.8 per game, which is only 1.1 behind the Eastern Conference leader Atlanta Hawks. Cleveland’s scoring should increase with the return of Kyrie. They have only failed to score 100 in 2 of the 8 games he suited up for and have not scored under 120 in the past three games. The question for me isn’t will the Cavs win the Eastern Conference’s best record but by how many games.
The Clippers On A Roll
Don’t look now but the Los Angeles Clippers seemed to have turned around their season. Currently sitting on a nine game winning streak, the Clippers are making a push for the 3rd seed. After losing three in a row to very good teams (Thunder, Spurs, Rockets) the Clippers took care of business against some not so good teams (Pelicans, 76ers, Lakers) and some good competition (Wizards, Jazz). Good teams win the games they are suppose to and fight for the games they should not win. I am not so much as impressed with the nine wins in a row as I am with the hard fought three losses, two of them on the road. JJ Redick returning to the line up was huge and it appears that Doc Rivers has figured out his line ups some. The most important bench player during the past ten games has actually been Luc Mbah a Moute who is playing lights out and a team best 119.2 offensive rating during this stretch. Minute management and health are going to play a huge role for this roster but what is even more important will be the rotations set by Doc. The Clippers have arguably one of the deepest team and most talented teams in the league but it will be up to the players stepping up when their numbers are called and Doc Rivers putting together the correct five players on the court at the right time.
The Scoring Title Race
There are only four points per game separating the top scorer and the 6th highest scorer in the league and this doesn’t include a couple of guys knocking on the door one point behind with Damian Lillard (24.8 ppg) and Paul George (24.2 ppg). This is without a doubt the most exciting scoring title race in recent memory. Usually we are left with two, maybe three, heavy weights fighting for the scoring title. This year, you could make the case that any of the six guys below can win the title. My money would be on Steph but you cannot rule out any of the other five guys. It is going to be interesting watching this race unfold as the season progresses.
Two Negative Things
What Happened To The Hornets
It feels like yesterday the Hornets were 17-13 and looking primed for a playoff spot in the upcoming playoffs. Flash-forward to today and they have lost seven straight games. Similar to the Clippers situation, the Hornets schedule has been daunting to say the least with losses to the Clippers (twice), Raptors, Thunder, and Warriors. Injuries have forced the Hornets to adjust and throw some guys into the mix who may not have been ready. Al Jefferson being their biggest loss who has only played in 19 games this season. Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin have missed a few games and battling nagging injuries. It seems the Hornets are back to the same old, “We are going as far as Kemba takes us” which is not a winning recipe in this league despite how much I enjoy watching him play.
Buy Or Sell: Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns are at a crossroads. There were whispers they want to hire Mike D’Antoni back if things continue south because let’s face it, he was ahead of his time in this modern style of basketball. The Suns have only won one game in their past 11 tries and losing Eric Bledsoe for the season has only made matters worse. The sense direction, or lack thereof, seems to be evident from even the most casual observer. It all started with signing Isaiah Thomas, pairing him with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, to moving both Thomas and Dragic for Brandon Knight. Followed by the owner Robert Sarver coming out bashing the generation of players (and people) that he currently employs, making reference to how Markieff Morris has handled the trading of his brother Marcus. What is more interesting is seeing how this train is going to end up, either crash, derailing or maybe getting on the right path.
“I’m not sure if it’s the technology or the instant gratification of being online. But the other thing is, I’m not a fan of social media. I tell my kids it’s like Fantasy Land,” said Sarver, per AZCentral Sports. “The only thing people put online are good things that happen to them, or things they make up. And it creates unrealistic expectations.”
I will be very interested to see how the voting turns out for the Rookie of the Year vote this year. On one hand, you have the leading scorer on the worst team, Jahlil Okafor. Even more damning to his ability is the fact that they won a couple of games without him (thanks to Ish Smith!). Next you have the favorite by most people in Karl-Anthony Towns who is leading the rebounding and defense department, while scoring just a little less than the leader. Followed by the guy who is taking New York by storm, and winning games with them, Kristaps Porzingis. As of right now, we have a very tight race between those three with the rest of the class looking to obtain more playing time.
Triple Double Watch
This is Draymond Green’s world and we are just living in it.
Tribute to The Bozos: Bozo of the Week
This segment is going to be a tribute to a couple old friends who quit Basketball blogging due to their ideas constantly being stolen, so I will steal another one of their ideas. Introducing my Bozo of the Week award, a rebirth from the Bozos of Basketball podcast crew who started this award about 5 years ago, before Shaqin’ A Fool was a thing.
The first nominee is Kevin Love and his infamous photo-shopping himself into team photos. More importantly, why isn’t he in these photos with the team? That is the bigger question.