Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors back into top spot, Raptors up to third

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Didn’t we all assume Golden State would spend most of the season on top of these rankings? Boston’s hot start and Houston’s amazing run kept them out once the season tipped off, but Golden State is back on top (even without Stephen Curry, and the team not playing near its peak). Toronto has become the highest rated team in the East, Oklahoma City has climbed into the Top 10, and on the other end Orlando gives us a new 30.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (27-7 Last Week No. 2). When you win of 12-of-13 coaches tend to stick with what’s working, but on Christmas Day Steve Kerr shook things up again and went small, sitting Zaza Pachulia and starting rookie Jordan Bell (although the lineup they had the most success with was the starters with Andre Iguodala in for Patrick McCaw). The “Hamptons five” lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green has only played 58 minutes total and been unimpressive -8.6 per 100 possession this season (in part due to injuries). What small ball lineup has worked is Shaun Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, and David West, which was +4 vs. Cleveland and is +10.8 points per 100 possessions on the season.

Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (25-7, LW 1). Houston has lost three in a row, including to the Thunder on Christmas day, and while Chris Paul being out certainly has set the offense back a little, that’s not the problem — it’s the defense. In those three games the Rockets have allowed a league-worst 119.6 points per 100 possession. Over last 10 they are allowing 111 per 100 (29th in NBA). Clint Cappela and Luc Mbah a Moute being out for some of that stretch is a huge impact. Things don’t get easier with Boston and Washington on the road as the next two games.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (23-9, LW 5). They have won 12-of-14 through a soft part of the schedule recently (despite an ugly loss to Dallas Tuesday) — that’s what good teams do, beat the teams they are supposed to beat, not play down to them. If the definition of a contender is a top-10 offense and defense Toronto qualifies (fourth in offensive rating, sixth in defensive rating). This team is legit, but will be judged on the playoffs, and how they do when the schedule gets tougher, such as Wednesday night (Oklahoma City on the second night of a back-to-back).

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (27-10, LW 3). They have lost 3-of-4, including to the Wizards on Christmas Day (and frankly should have lost to Indiana five games ago but the Pacers literally threw the game away). The problem over that five-game stretch is the defense has taken a step back, with the Celtics fouling too much (second most in the league over 5 games) and not getting rebounds the way they once were. Fixable problems, but something to address. Another big test Thursday hosting Houston (who has stumbled of late, too).

Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (24-10 LW 4). The Cavaliers are not into moral victories, but on Christmas they hung with the Warriors while playing without Isaiah Thomas (granted, no Curry for the Warriors) and if LeBron had gotten a call late maybe things are different. The Cavs (and a resurgent Jae Crowder) showed they have some matchups that can be troubling for the Warriors. More concerning is the Cavaliers going back to playing poor defense — they did fairly well on Christmas when focused, but over the last five games the Cavaliers are 25th in the NBA defensively.

Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (24-11, LW 6). San Antonio is bringing Kawhi Leonard along very slowly upon his return — he is averaging 17.5 minutes a game in the four games he’s played, and he’s been rested in there, too. He’s been efficient when playing — eFG% of 55.6%, PER of 24.6 — but with a soft part of the schedule ahead and a good team led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, the Spurs can afford to be very patient and think long term. It’s about the playoffs, not December games.

7. Timberwolves (21-13, LW 7). Winners of four in a row, including over a depleted Lakers team on Christmas where Karl-Anthony Towns was too much for Los Angeles. Still, Jimmy Butler played 41 minutes, Towns almost 40, and the two of them and Andrew Wiggins are all in the top 15 in minutes played total in the NBA this season. Young legs or not they may start to wear down. Tom Thibodeau needs to get more Nemanja Bjelica or someone off the bench into the rotation.

Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (19-15 LW 15).. Oklahoma City has won five in a row and during that stretch has a 115 offensive rating, best in the NBA for that stretch (even better than the Rockets and their historic offensive pace). But are the Thunder really better? They are 11-4 in their last 15 but with a net rating of +1.3 (which should have them more like 8-7 or 9-6 in that stretch), what’s changed is they are winning close games now. The Thunder were not as bad as their record looked early, but aren’t as good as their record of late, either.

Wizards small icon 9. Wizards (19-15, LW 9). Washington’s small-ball lineup — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, and Markief Morris — hasn’t played much this season, but when it has it is +42.3 points per 100 possessions. Coach Scott Brooks went to it at the end of Washington’s Christmas Day win over Boston and the lineup was +11 in the final 6:37. We need to see more of that group.

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (19-15, LW 11). They have won three in a row, including beating Portland on the road and snapping Golden State’s win streak — that’s a good week. The Nuggets still need to get a lot more out of their bench to win consistently, but they look like a solid playoff team in the West. Fun showdown Wednesday night between Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns, two of the best young bigs in the game.

Pistons small icon 11. Pistons (19-14, LW 10). Detroit has won 5-of-6 (including a quality win at home over Indiana Tuesday) and while the defense has remained solid through that stretch, it’s an improved offense — 4 points per 100 possessions improved over their season average — that has driven the streak. However, Reggie Jackson now Reggie Jackson is out 6-8 weeks with a grade 3 sprain suffered against the Pacers, and the Detroit offense is 2.6 points per 100 worse when he is off the court. A lot falls on Ish Smith and Langston Galloway now.

Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (19-15, LW 8). Victor Oladipo continues to tear it up — he has seven 30-point games this season, he had just nine in his career up his move to Indiana. He’s got to be an All-Star. The Pacers have gotten off to this good start because they don’t lose to weak teams, and they have a few of those on the schedule this week again (although both Dallas and Chicago are playing better and will not just roll over).

Heat small icon 13. Heat (18-15, LW 17). Miami can’t seem to get everybody healthy at once, and Dion Waiters admits he may need off-season surgery to get fully right with his ankle, but they got Goran Dragic and James Johnson back and have kept on winning. The reason they are racking up victories is their middle-of-the-pack defense for most of the season has been fifth in the NBA over their last 10 games (and Miami is 7-3).

Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (17-15 LW 12). Giannis Antetokounmpo only missed one game with a banged up knee, and had 28 points in his return (although the Bucks still lost to the Bulls). Tony Snell is back as well and had the go-ahead bucket in a big win over Cleveland (although Jason Kidd telling Khris Middleton to miss a free throw up three with seconds left in that game is bizarre — hit the free throw, go up four, and don’t foul; Kidd said he wanted to avoid a four-point play, but left his team open to a three tying it).

Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (17-16, LW 16). New Orleans went 2-2 on a recent four-game road swing, which included a quality win over Miami. New Orleans is desperate to make the playoffs (why they are not trading DeMarcus Cousins) and currently are tied with Portland for the 7/8 seed in the West, three games up on Utah in ninth. This week the Pelicans have a back-to-back at home against the Mavericks and Knicks, but New Orleans has been a solid 3-2 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Knicks small icon 16. Knicks (17-16, LW 13). Welcome to the make-or-break part of the season for New York — the team is 2-10 on the road this season and now 16-of-20 are on the road. Keep playing like that and by the time the Super Bowl kicks off they will be well out of the playoff chase. The Knicks got up to one game over .500 on the back of Kristaps Porzingis, but he has shot a little bit worse away from Madison Square Garden, and in general on the road the Knicks offense falls apart, scoring less than a point per possession.

Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (17-16, LW 14). The Trail Blazers had lost 8-of-11 before beating the Lakers Saturday (the 14th time in a row they have beaten LA). In their last dozen games, the Trail Blazers fourth in the league defense this season (if you remove garbage time from the equation) has stepped back to the middle of the NBA pack, but the more confounding thing is their offense has remained terrible (28th in the NBA in those dozen games). The good news is they should have Damian Lillard back on Thursday to go against the Sixers.

Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (15-18, LW 18). Christmas Day was just another sign just how much Joel Embiid means to this team — the Sixers outscored the Knicks 90-65 when he was on the court, but were outscored by 18 when he was off and had to scrap to hold on to a win. That game in New York has the Sixers 1-1 to start a five game road trip that swings West now, but then Philly comes home for 5-of-6 as they try to string together some wins and get back in the playoff picture.

Clippers small icon 19. Clippers (14-19 LW 22). Blake Griffin is expected back this week — maybe Sunday at home, if not then on the road not long after — and they need him. Los Angeles was 6-8 without Griffin, and they sit three games out of the playoffs. Make a run during an upcoming five-game homestand and maybe management decides to keep DeAndre Jordan at the trade deadline and make a run at the postseason. The more likely scenario is he gets moved, however.

Jazz small icon 20. Jazz (15-20, LW 19). According to stats at Cleaning the Glass, Utah has been one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA this season. They have the point differential of a team that is 18-17, not 15-20, and that’s the difference between being in the playoffs or three games out of it, as they are right now. Things don’t get easier with a game against Golden State Wednesday then Cleveland on Saturday.

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (12-21, LW 20). Take the wins where you can get them — so if you beat the Knicks without Porzingis or the Bucks without the Greek Freak, you take them. This team is still all about Kemba Walker — they are 20.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and when he sits the offense falls apart (scoring 94.9 per 100). Averaging 21.5 points and 5.8 assists per game, Kemba should make the All-Star game again, but we’ll see if the coaches put him there.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (11-22 LW 23).. Cleveland ended the Bulls winning streak at six, and then another loss to Boston followed. It happens when facing teams that good, but the Bulls bounced back with a road win over the Bucks. Chicago started winning against a soft spot in the schedule, that’s about to change and we will see how well Nikola Mitotic and the team fare.

Suns small icon 23. Suns (13-23, LW 25). Devin Booker returned on Tuesday night, dropped 32 on Memphis and got Phoenix the win. They needed him back, they went 3-7 without him. However, Booker was off the court when the Suns got a creative win via coach Jay Triano and veteran Tyson Chandler — you can’t have basket interference on an inbounds pass (because it’s not a shot and can’t score), so Triano drew up a play to have Chandler flush down and alley-oop over the rim.

Nets small icon 24. Nets (12-21, LW 21). Brooklyn’s starting/closing five — Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Tyler Zeller — outscore opponents by 21.4 points per 100 possessions, and allow less than a point per possession on defense. The bench, on the other hand, is a disaster, but if they can keep the game close the Nets best five can hang with almost anyone.

Lakers small icon 25. Lakers (11-21 LW 24). They snapped the Warriors’ 14 game winning streak but have dropped three straight since, including on Christmas night to the Timberwolves (without Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball). Andrew Bogut and Luke Walton have said the swirling trade rumors around the team (specifically for Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle) may be throwing the young players off mentally. Everyone has seemed a little off for the Lakers lately — except Kyle Kuzma. He’s never off.

Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (10-25 LW 27). The upset of the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night was a reminder this team hasn’t been winning a lot but it’s played a lot of close games lately. Ben Falk’s Cleaning the Glass site has the Mavs as the least lucky team in the league, they should have 14 or 15 wins by net rating, but have lost some close games. Dallas has found an offensive groove lately, fueled by J.J. Barea (20 points vs. Toronto) and Yogi Ferrell.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (11-22, LW 28). It’s strange to say this about an 11-win team, but Ben Falk’s Cleaning the Glass site has them as the luckiest team in the NBA. They should be 7-26 (and on the bottom of these rankings) based on point differential, but they’ve had some luck in close games. The Kings have 7-of-8 at home, where they are 5-8 this season.

Grizzlies small icon 28. Grizzlies (10-24, LW 29). If you’re looking for a reason to watch a team that has lost 9-of-11 and grinds the game down with a slow pace, there is Dillon Brooks. The rookie out of Oregon has played fairly well, and is shooting 36.4 percent from three. He shows promise. The last-second loss in Phoenix was the start of a five-game road trip out West that includes Golden State Saturday.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (8-25, LW 30). Atlanta has found an offensive groove the past few weeks, and at the core of it is a strong front court rotation where Ersan Ilyasova and Miles Plumlee start and rookie John Collins comes in off the bench and is efficient. When Dennis Schroder is on, this is a dangerous offensive team. Just one that can’t get stops.

Magic small icon 30. Magic (11-24, LW 26). Losers of 9 in a row and you can blame injuries for part of that — four of their five opening night starts are injured now, with Elfrid Payton being the last one standing. The ill-fitting Orlando roster was something coach Frank Vogel made work when he had all his players to start the season, but take away a few pieces and the Jenga tower crumbles. Some around the league wonder if Vogel’s seat is getting warm.

Kristaps Porzingis leaves game with sore left knee

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Everyone please hold your collective groans until the end.

On Thursday night, New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis had to leave with an apparent left knee injury on a non-contact play against the Brooklyn Nets.

The play happened early in the third quarter when was guarding Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. After the play, Porzingis came up wincing on his left knee and immediately asked out of the game.

Via Twitter:

As a publication, the team had only released for that Porzingis would not return to the game against the Nets. For Porzingis’ part, it looks like he is feeling OK for now, although he has yet to be examined for a definitive prognosis. Non-contact injuries seem to give us pause given injuries to players like Derrick Rose, but there’s no reason to panic just yet. He did walk off by his own, so that’s heartening.

Let’s hope Porzingis returns to the floor after a bit of ice and some rest.

Looking back on how Brooklyn surrendered all these picks to Boston

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It ended up being one of the worst trades ever in the NBA, certainly the worst in the last couple of decades.

In the summer of 2013, the Nets — at the behest of an ownership group that wanted to win big heading into a new arena in Brooklyn — put together a trade that netted them Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (to go with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez), two Hall of Fame players but guys now on the downside of their career. Both guys lasted two seasons with the Nets.

The cost? Brooklyn surrendered a 2014 first rounder (turned out to be No. 17), a 2016 first rounder (No. 3), the rights to swap picks in 2017 (No. 1), and the Nets 2018 pick (likely to be high lottery again).

How did this happen? How did the Nets give up the motherload? Stephan Bondy at the New York Daily News has a great retrospective piece talking to people, and it wasn’t as simple as “GM Billy King screwed up.” If you read one thing today on hoops, it should be this piece.

The downfall started with an ownership group obsessed with having the best toys right now – they wanted big stars to open their new arena (remember they chased Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, too). The formula included the fact the Nets in 2013 looked like a team on the rise (and LeBron James looked almost vulnerable). There was King not getting enough protections on picks. It led to a level of arrogance in the organization that backfired.

The first deal negotiated with the Celtics was just for Pierce, and the Nets only had to give up one draft pick, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks. But then Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Clippers, and Garnett came into focus because there was nothing left for him in Boston. To match salaries, the Nets had to get rid of Gerald Wallace and his ugly contract paying $30 million over the next three years.

Shedding that cost Brooklyn another first-round draft pick, along with the two they were giving up for Garnett and Pierce. For a year in between, the Celtics negotiated the right to swap first-round picks. That turned into the Celtics landing No. 1 overall in 2017, which they’re reportedly close to trading to Philly for even more lottery picks.

“The arrogance in the room was that we were going to roll, we were going to win these next couple of years,” said a former Nets staff member who was in the draft room. “Maybe not the championship, but we were going to win the next couple of years and have sustainable success. We were going to keep signing free agents. We were always going to draft between 20 and 30. So if we’re going to swap with the Celtics, who gives a f—? That definitely was the thought.”

Also forgot in all this, and brought up by Bondy — the move was praised at the time for the most part. The Nets came in second in the annual GM survey at the start of next season for having had the best off-season (they got 25 percent of the vote). It also worked to boost Nets ticket sales in Brooklyn.

Of course, everything went sideways from the start for the Nets. Williams was injured and missed training camp, and more importantly he never really wanted to be in that spotlight as the leader anyway. Coach Jason Kidd squabbled with assistants and banished Lawrence Frank. Garnett missed 30 games. He and Pierce seemed disengaged from the team. Brook Lopez broke his foot just a couple of months into the season. Andrei Kirilenko was not the same. And Bondy reports “Andray Blatche allegedly showed up drunk to practices, according to multiple sources.”

Eventually, Kidd bolted for Milwaukee (after his bid to gain GM power failed) and ownership decided to close its wallet to the big spending.

It all came undone within a couple of years, but the Nets are still paying the price.

New GM Sean Marks is shrewd and made smart plays — like going hard after restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — even if he came up empty. He made a smart move to bring in Jeremy Lin, who unfortunately was injured much of last season. They are trying to develop Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

But the Nets are years and years away. Mostly because of this one horrible trade.

Dwyane Wade returns but Nets hand Bulls potentially costly loss

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dwyane Wade returned but the Chicago Bulls sustained a potentially costly loss when the Brooklyn Nets beat them 107-106 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie made four free throws in the final 13.6 seconds for the Nets in their home finale. He scored 19 points, as did rookie Caris LeVert.

Jimmy Butler scored 33 points for the Bulls, who came in tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference.

Wade started and played 25 minutes, scoring 14 points. He had been expected to miss the remainder of the regular season when he sprained and fractured his right elbow on March 15.

But the Bulls allowed 32 points in the fourth quarter, with Dinwiddie snapping a 103-all with two free throws with 13.6 seconds to play. Butler missed a jumper and Dinwiddie put it away with another pair with 2.4 to play.

Wade was supposed to be limited to about 20 minutes and exited the game with 5:09 left in the fourth quarter and the Bulls leading 94-88. Nikola Mirotic‘s three-point play with 4:24 remaining increased the lead to 97-88 before Brooklyn stormed back to go with a 10-0 run with the three-time NBA champion on the bench.

Levert’s consecutive 3-pointers pulled Brooklyn to 97-94 with 3:28 to go before Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made back-to-back baskets to give the Nets a 98-97 advantage with 2:21 left. Wade then re-entered and Chicago went back ahead 101-98 before Dinwiddie tied it with a 3.

Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo missed his second straight game after spraining his wrist during Tuesday’s loss to the New York Knicks.

Hollis-Jefferson had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Brook Lopez scored 13 points for the Nets before a sold-out crowd of 17,732 that came out for the NBA’s worst team’s last home game.

TIP-INS

Bulls: With two games remaining on the schedule, Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg is unsure whether Rondo will be healthy enough to play Monday night when the Bulls host the Toronto Raptors since the point guard “still has a lot of stiffness in that wrist.”

Nets: Isaiah Whitehead‘s block in the first quarter tied an all-time team record by a guard with 36, set by Darwin Cook during the 1980-81 season. . Brooklyn finished its home schedule at 13-28.

OL’ RELIABLE

Wade came in averaging 18.5 points and the Bulls could use his veteran leadership. “I think the biggest thing with Dwyane is just the experience factor. He’s obviously been in a lot of huge games over the course go his career, probably more than anybody in the roster,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously Rondo has the championship experience as well, but Dwyane has been there at this time of year when you’re fighting like we are right now. He’s a guy we rely on and we lean on heavily to finish out the season. Hopefully we have an opportunity to play beyond.”

 

NBA week 10 Power Rankings: Cleveland would like to remind you they are the champions.

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Sorry these arrive a little late on the day after Christmas, blame me for getting sucked into watching Elf and all the Christmas Day games. The Cavaliers have earned their spot at the top with their Christmas Day performance.

 
Cavaliers small icon 1. Cavaliers (23-6, Last Week No. 4). The Cavaliers have won five in a row, have handled the loss of J.R. Smith well so far, and reminded everyone on Christmas that the road to any NBA title goes through them. And LeBron James doesn’t just give rings away, some team is going to have to play better and take it. Also, the technical for Richard Jefferson for winking takes over the title for most ridiculous technical foul ever in NBA history. It’s a few weeks until the rematch, this week’s interesting game for the Cavs is against up-and-coming Celtics.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (27-5, LW 1). This team can use Christmas as a motivation, and they know June series are not decided in December. Here’s why statistics — advanced, regular, whatever — can miss the reality of the Warriors: More than 20 percent of their time on the court this season has been in what statistically is “garbage time.” Those blowout fourth quarters — like against a good Utah team last week — warp the number, often toward the negative because the bench guys get all the run and they aren’t as good. The Warriors start a string of 9-of-10 at home.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (25-6, LW 2). San Antonio has won 7-of-8 and showed us on Christmas how they can make a defense look bad with their ball movement, especially if said defense not that fleet of foot (like the Bulls). Also, Christmas was an example of what they can do to a traditional big who wants to stay near the basket, because both LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol can space the floor. Soft schedule this week should keep the wins coming. Even if the questions about how good this team really is linger.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (21-8, LW 5). Why isn’t this team playing on Christmas? They’ve earned it, NBA schedule gods — they are entertaining. Winners of 7-of-8, the Raptors started out their six-game West Coast road trip with a win in Utah, but their are tough stops ahead in Portland (tough place to win even with the Blazers’ recent struggles), Golden State, and San Antonio. This trip is a measuring stick again for Kyle Lowry and Toronto, who are 0-3 against Cleveland but can try to gain some confidence against the best of the West.

 
Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (22-9, LW 3). Losses last week to the Spurs and Grizzlies showed how much the Rockets miss Clint Capela in the paint. Montrezl Harrell and Nene got roasted by Zach Randolph. The lack of Capela means more small ball from Mike D’Antoni, but maybe they will call up Chinanu Onuaku and give him a chance (he’s averaging a double-double in the D-League but reports are he is painfully raw still). Also, expect the Rockets to get a Christmas Day slot next year. Just a guess.

 
Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (22-10, LW 6). This team can survive the loss of Blake Griffin and keep winning (they seem to do it every year, their offense gets more efficient running CP3/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls), but they can’t lose Chris Paul too. His hamstring injury has cost them two games (including to the Lakers on Christmas), and he is expected to be out at least one more (Monday) and possibly Wednesday and Friday as well.

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (20-12, LW 8). It took a few games after his return, but Mike Conley looked like himself again in the win over Houston last week (24 points, running the offense). The team needs that Conley with six of Memphis’ next seven are on the road, and the one home game is against Oklahoma City. Also, consider this a reminder that Marc Gasol is shooting 43 percent from three this season.

 
Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (19-12, LW 9). Of course Russell Westbrook had a good game on Christmas, but it was the hustle of Steven Adams that also stood out. He was physical on the boards, and simply out-hustled Karl-Anthony Towns down the floor all game long. Adams and Enis Kanter also are strong passers out of the post, which makes the thunder tough to stop.

 
Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (18-13, LW 10). Winners of five-of-six, including holding off the Knicks on Christmas Day, the Celtics look like a team coming together. Most underrated streak going right now: Isaiah Thomas 15 straight 20-point games. As trade rumors start to heat up you know Boston — with a lot of young players and picks — is going to come up, but with no superstars looking to be moved at the deadline don’t be surprised if they stand pat. Interesting games this week vs. Cleveland and Memphis.

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (18-13, LW 7). Losers of three in a row, and that 30-point thrashing at the hands of Golden State was a reality check. Still, things like the blown lead (or inability to stop Toronto’s guards) might be different when George Hill gets healthy. Soft schedule this week (Lakers, Sixers, Suns) can help them get right before a rough road trip the following week.

 
Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (17-14, LW 11). I’m going to keep saying this every week — Kemba Walker deserves to be an NBA All-Star. The coaches need to pick him as a reserve (fans aren’t going to vote him in). He’s carried Niclas Batum on offense, as the Frenchman has turned into a jump shooter and stopped attacking the rim. Charlotte has won three in a row and should be able to extend that with a soft start of the week (Nets, Magic, Heat) before running into Cleveland.

 
Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (14-14, LW 12). They lost both games of a home-and-home to Cleveland, but in doing so made everyone both respect them and want to see that as a first-round playoff matchup. If you want the bright side: The sign of a contender is being top 10 in offense and defense and the Bucks are there (one of four teams, although the Cavs will get there). The Bucks are 10th ranked in offense and ninth in defense, and their point differential suggest they should be 16-12.

 
Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (16-14 LW 16). The Knicks fell on national television Sunday — exposing their defense as the weakness it is, particularly in the paint — but wins earlier in the week against Orlando and Indiana were the kind of wins playoff teams rack up. This seems like a team that can get one of the bottom few seeds in the East this season, which is a step forward for Phil Jackson’s roster.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (15-16, LW 13).. Indiana is 11-5 at home, 4-11 on the road, which gets to what Paul George was saying this week that the team’s “identity is inconsistency.” Glenn Robinson III is struggling to knock down shots in Monta Ellis’ place. The Pacers are the eight seed in the East as this goes live Monday, but they have road games against the Bulls and Wizards — the two teams behind them in the standings — to start the week. The Pacers need to string a few wins together.

 
Hawks small icon 15. Hawks (15-15 LW 20). Dwight Howard is expected back in the rotation Monday, but the Hawks won 2-of-3 without him beating the Thunder and Nuggets. They did it by going smaller for stretches, including Kyle Korver as the most deadly stretch four ever, and Paul Millsap looked great at the five spot. Also Dennis Schroeder seemed to have more driving lanes. Knicks, Piston, and Spurs come to Atlanta this week.

 
Wizards small icon 16. Wizards (13-16, LW 14). Bradley Beal had an eight-game streak scoring 20+ points (before Friday against the Bucks), John Wall has been putting up numbers, but then the offense has not been what is holding the Wizards back. It’s the defense, particularly when they need to go to the bench. That’s not helped by Ian Mahinmi being out for another six weeks.

 
Bulls small icon 17. Bulls (14-16, LW 18). Not surprisingly, the Bulls take the fewest three pointers per game of any team in the league (19.6) and shoot the lowest percentage when they do (31 percent). That lack of spacing has caught up with the starters. What was a surprise on Christmas Day was the bench pulling Chicago back into the game in San Antonio. But the Spurs had the tools to expose the Bulls weaknesses, as do a lot of playoff teams.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (13-17, LW 22). They are on a three-game winning streak (and have won 4-of-5) and with that, they are the eight seed and in the playoffs if the postseason started today. They are playing their best basketball of the season, but it’s fair to question if they can sustain it and make the postseason. The Kings face the Trail Blazers again on Wednesday, which means another round of the Boogie Cousins vs. Meyers Leonard feud.

 
Magic small icon 19. Magic (14-18 LW 19). They have been beating inferior teams and looking good doing it, but play a decent team and Elfrid Payton comes apart off the bench, the team looks like it has no depth, and they lose. Orlando is only 1.5 games out of the playoffs, but they need wins against teams like Charlotte and Indiana this week to climb up those standings.

 
Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (14-18, LW 15). Losers of five in a row, but Stan Van Gundy broke out a new starting lineup on Friday, sliding Jon Leuer in and bringing Tobias Harris off the bench. Tough way to break that lineup in, against Golden State, but they hung close. It doesn’t get easier Monday against Cleveland. But after that comes a string of five games against other teams they are battling with to get into the playoffs — starting Wednesday against Milwaukee, Detroit needs to get back on track and rack up some wins.

 
Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (12-18, LW 21). It’s a sign of the trouble coach Mike Malone has had in creating stability this season — no five-man lineup for Denver has played more than 77 minutes together this season. Worst in the NBA.

 
Blazers small icon 22. Trail Blazers (13-19, LW 17). They have lost 9-of-10, fallen out of the playoffs (if they started today), and it feels like this ranking may actually be too high. The defense is always an issue, but the offense has been inconsistent of late, the ball sharing that made them fun last year seems gone most nights, and now Damian Lillard’s ankles are bothering him. Raptors and Spurs are tough this week, but the Kings and Timberwolves are the kinds of wins they need to turn things around.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (11-21, LW 24). I would love the Pelicans to just embrace Anthony Davis at the five, Terrence Jones at the four and run with it (bring Omer Asik and/or Alexis Ajinca off the bench) but they lack the shooters and wing defenders to make that work for any stretch. Coach Alvin Gentry said this was a crucial homestand, if they have even the faintest of playoff dreams they need to rack up wins this week against the Mavericks, Clippers, and Knicks.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (10-21, LW 23). That was a good comeback last Thursday night, on Shaq’s jersey retirement night, from down 19 to beat the Lakers. But the fact they were down 19 to Los Angeles and could not come back on Orlando or New Orleans shows where this team is right now. Justise Winslow is not consistent on offense but they are leaning more and more on him. The Goran Dragic trade rumor mill is in high gear and will remain there the trade deadline or he gets moved.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (9-21, LW 29). Dallas is getting healthy — Dirk Nowitzki is back — and they have won 3-of-4 and 5-of-9. The Mavericks are doing it with strong defense. The good news for the Mavericks is their toughest in the league schedule is about to soften up, although you wouldn’t know it with the Rockets and Warriors up this week. But Dallas has become a tougher out now.

 
Lakers small icon 26. Lakers (12-22, LW 26). They got the Christmas Day win against what’s left of the Clippers, but that just makes the Lakers 1-12 in December, and their defense remains a disaster. Los Angeles is getting off to strong enough starts, leading or hanging with their opponents, only to have it come undone as the game moves along because they cannot get stops.

 
timberwolves small icon 27. Timberwolves (9-21, LW 27). Karl-Anthony Towns is a snail getting back in transition defense. He seems slow to recognize and doesn’t explode with his first step, nor does he run hard much of the time — Steven Adams torched him all game on Christmas on national television. It was just hustle. The Timberwolves picked up a couple of wins last week and started to show promise, but then fell to the Kings and Thunder, and everything feels like it took a step back.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (9-21, LW 25). You see flashes of offense in Phoenix — from Devin Booker or T.J. Warren, sometimes Eric Bledsoe — but it doesn’t matter when the defense is bottom give bad. The roster remains just an oddly constructed mess — it’s hard to see the overarching plan. What’s worse, the schedule gets a lot tougher for the next few weeks, starting with the Rockets, Spurs, Raptors, and Jazz this week.

 
Sixers small icon 29. 76ers (7-22, LW 28). Brett Brown has wanted to give the Jahlil Okafor/Joel Embiid front court time to work out, but that pairing is getting outscored by 17.1 points per 100 possessions and is a defensive disaster. Soon he will try Embiid and Nerlens Noel. But he knows he has one combo that does work pretty well: Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova (they are +5 per 100 possessions in more than 200 minutes together). That doesn’t mean Ilyasova is the long term answer, it does mean a stretch four may be the answer. Hello Dario Saric?

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (7-22, LW 30). The good news is the team is scoring — the Nets scored more than 100 points in 10 straight games until Cleveland last Friday (they scored 99). The problem for Brooklyn is they went 2-8 in those 10 point games because they can’t get stops. Still, they are at least entertaining and a little bit dangerous when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez are all on the court together.