Ranking NBA teams by pressure faced this season, 1-30

Rockets star James Harden and Clippers star Kawhi Leonard
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Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season.

Relative to last year, the pressure curve is flatter. There’s less on the top teams – but more on teams near the bottom.

1. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers are expensive. They’re a championship contender. And their franchise player could be one season from unrestricted free agency. That’s the holy trifecta of pressure. At least Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (who signed an extension) aren’t both on de facto expiring contracts. They came to L.A. as a package, and George being locked into their hometown team should make the Clippers still appealing to Leonard. Right? Right??? They could remove all benefit of the doubt by winning it all.

2. Houston Rockets

James Harden‘s trade request instills tension throughout the organization. It’s just darned uncomfortable when everyone knows the superstar wants out. The Rockets can hope Harden will change his mind, but that means a lot is riding on strong a start. Houston is currently over the luxury-tax line. The Rockets’ annual purge to duck the tax could send Harden into a tizzy if he’s still around. On the other hand, Houston owner Tilman Fertitta would sure feel paying the tax for the first time.

3. Golden State Warriors

Is the dynasty over? The Warriors are incurring a massive luxury-tax liability to prove last season was an aberration. Golden State badly wants to re-establish itself as a premier entertainment option in its new arena. But that’ll be a tall task with Klay Thompson out for the year.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are deep into the luxury tax. They just hired an expensive new president (Daryl Morey) and coach (Doc Rivers). Morey already refitted the roster to better complement the Joel EmbiidBen Simmons tandem. A successful season is more mandate than hope. Everyone also knows James Harden is available and the apple of Morey’s eye.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo signing his super-max extension stopped the Bucks from topping this list. But this is still a championship contender that traded three first-rounder and two first-round pick swaps for a 30-year-old who can opt out after the season (Jrue Holiday). Milwaukee is also set to pay the luxury tax for the first time in the current tax era. If things go wrong, at least Antetokounmpo is locked in. But there’s still plenty of urgency/desperation in Milwaukee.

6. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks decided they’re tired of losing and successfully used their cap space to get quality veterans. I have long-term concerns about this plan. But if it doesn’t even produce the intended short-term boost, that’d be a disaster. Trae Young was already expressing frustration, and another losing season could intensify problems – especially for coach Lloyd Pierce. Everyone noticed Atlanta hired Nate McMillan as an assistant.

7. Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are mercurial. Nets head coach Steve Nash is a first-time coach. Brooklyn has plenty of young players trying to make their mark – including Jarrett Allen, who has been stuck behind Durant’s and Irving’s friend DeAndre Jordan. This a combustible mix – with championship upside.

8. Los Angeles Lakers

Last season’s championship relieves stress. So do LeBron James‘ and Anthony Davislong-term contracts. But this still a big-market team with title aspirations and an aging superstar, one who sparks considerable controversy. The time will be now for the rest of LeBron’s career.

9. Washington Wizards

I’m starting to believe Bradley Beal is actually as loyal to Washington as he says he is. But there will be no shortage of teams trying to pry him loose if the Wizards stumble. Washington got Russell Westbrook to help avoid that outcome, which raises expectations – maybe too high. Despite his major name recognition, Westbrook only lifts the Wizards higher in the play-in range.

10. New York Knicks

Like last year, when they ranked No. 20 on this list, the Knicks are widely expected to struggle. But I learned my lesson. There’s always pressure when a James Dolan-owned team is losing in the New York market.

11. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers, with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum already in tow, have been widely praised for their offseason. But it seems too many people are setting Portland’s initial baseline as a 2020 playoff team rather than a team with a losing record. It could be difficult for the Trail Blazers to meet elevated expectations.

12. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers finally look tired of losing in the fist round every year, but they didn’t do much about it in the offseason. If new coach Nate Bjorkgren can’t provide a jolt, Indiana could shake up its roster. Entering a contract year, Victor Oladipo is bringing the franchise toward an inflection point.

13. Phoenix Suns

Chris Paul should make Phoenix better. Good enough to appease Suns owner Robert Sarver? That might be a higher bar. Nothing adds pressure like a difficult owner.

14. Utah Jazz

The Jazz are getting a little old around Donovan Mitchell with Mike Conley (33), Bogdan Bogdanovic (31), Joe Ingles (33) and even Rudy Gobert (28). Utah spent big, maybe even into the luxury tax, on Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors to ensure this team maximizes its opportunity. But, ultimately, I’m just not convinced the Jazz falling short would have major ripple effects. If Gobert doesn’t sign an extension, that could be another source of tension throughout the season.

15. Cleveland Cavaliers

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert badly wants to win without LeBron James. Cleveland will likely fall short once again. That’d yield another high draft pick, necessary in this rebuild. But does Gilbert realize that’d be a good thing?

16. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets didn’t give Gordon Hayward $120 million over four years just to stink. The Hornets might stink, though. If No. 3 pick LaMelo Ball shows enough promise, Charlotte could probably pivot into a long-term view.

17. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans signaled their desire to win now by hiring Stan Van Gundy as coach. But is Zion Williamson ready to meet those higher expectations (i.e., defend)? There could be an awkward disconnect between New Orleans’ immediate ambition and ability.

18. Denver Nuggets

Expectations are rising for the Nuggets, who’ve steadily improved over the last six years, culminating in last season’s run to the Western Conference finals. But few outside Denver view the Nuggets as a legitimate championship contender. The Nuggets are also young enough to fall back into the deep mix of quality Western Conference teams and still have time to re-emerge down the road.

19. Boston Celtics

What if the Celtics, say, lose in the first round? They’d still have young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’d still have an entrenched president (Danny Ainge) and coach (Brad Stevens). Boston must determine how to get from this point to more firmly in championship contention. But it doesn’t have to happen this season.

20. Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic is the NBA’s youngest superstar, and Dallas already has a secondary star in Kristaps Porzingis. However, Porzingis’ injury means this might not be the year the Mavericks fully take off.

21. Detroit Pistons

What is new general manager Troy Weaver’s plan? It’s tough to see. But signing Jerami Grant for $60 million over three years and Mason Plumlee for $25 million over three years suggests Weaver doesn’t expect the Pistons to be as bad as they’ll likely be.

22. Sacramento Kings

Sacramento showed plenty of patience this offseason with new general manager Monte McNair now in charge. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive could demand more at any moment. But it truly does seem he’s allowing McNair to take his time, even if means another losing season. That said, Sacramento coach Luke Walton – working for an executive who didn’t hire him – might have more urgency to win now.

23. Miami Heat

Last season’s magical run to the NBA Finals buys Miami benefit of the doubt. The Heat would obviously prefer not to burn all their goodwill this season, but they also willingly accepted a step back in order to preserve 2021 cap space (at least until signing Bam Adebayo to his contract extension).

24. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have a lot of pieces – franchise players Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards, $60 million man Malik Beasley, even-higher-salaried fan favorite Ricky Rubio. How will everyone come together? Who knows?

25. Toronto Raptors

Toronto is still living in the afterglow of the 2019 championship. Still, the Raptors are good enough to have expectations. It’d be nice to build positive momentum entering 2021 free agency. Masai Ujiri’s expiring contract also serves as a pressure point.

26. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls just hope to get a better understanding of where they stand without Jim Boylen. If Billy Donovan gets Chicago winning and/or its young players improving, that’d be welcome. If the problems were far bigger than Boylen… well, at least the Bulls would know that and could proceed accordingly. New general manager Arturas Karnisovas should have runway to build back up if necessary.

27. San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich guided San Antonio to 22 straight playoff appearances, including five championships. Nobody should get too upset now that the streak is over. Popovich can be forgiven for a down year or two. That said, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are on expiring contracts. They might want to see more urgency for getting put into good situations.

28. Orlando Magic

The Magic appear content to take a step back with Jonathan Isaac out for the season. That doesn’t mean they want to. But this doesn’t look like a make-or-break year for anyone in Orlando. That said, losing is miserable and can lead to change.

29. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies definitely want to build on last year’s surprising success. But that won’t be easy with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow sidelined to begin this shortened season. Memphis has proven it has the young core to build around. Another season in the lottery shouldn’t be devastating.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have fully embraced rebuilding, loading up on other teams’ draft picks. Last season was probably the Thunder’s last hurrah for a while as a competitive team. Everyone understands it’s now time for Oklahoma City to tank and push its own pick near the top of a strong-looking 2021 draft.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Three things to Know: Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

We are officially nine days away from the NBA trade deadline, and the rumors and transactions tend to pick up speed when the calendar flips to February. Let’s round up the latest trade talk around the league, starting with the fact that this trade deadline may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

• This is shaping up to be a dud trade deadline. Trade chatter has picked up in the past couple of weeks, but those talks do not seem to be gaining traction in most cases. Blame the play-in tournament and compact standings — teams that see a path to the postseason are less likely to be sellers. And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Monday on NBA Countdown, “I also think there’s more of a reluctance than ever to put 1st round picks for players.”

• If you want an action-packed deadline, you are begging the Toronto Raptors to become sellers (if not, the best player traded could be Jae Crowder). The Raptors change that in an instant if they make a player such as Fred VanVleet, or especially someone like Pascal Siakam, available. However, right now when teams call they are being told Toronto is going to make its decision on how to approach the deadline — sell, stand pat or buy — closer to the Feb. 9 date. (The Raptor most likely to be traded, whatever they decide, is Gary Trent Jr.)

• If the Raptors do jump in and decide to trade multiple players, the Knicks will be at the front of the line for O.G. Anunoby (a very Thibodeau-style player). That said, there will be a lot of interest in the defensive wing, and the price to get him will start at a couple of first-round picks.

• Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was crystal clear Monday: Myles Turner is off the trade market. (His two-year contract extension made that kind of obvious, although technically he could be traded.)

• The Milwaukee Bucks may be the frontrunner in the Jae Crowder sweepstakes, they are the only team given permission by the Suns to talk to the disgruntled forward, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The sides are still working out the parameters of a deal, but it will not include Grayson Allen, Phoenix isn’t interested.

• The Sacramento Kings — who sit third in the West and look sure to break their 16-year playoff slump, but don’t have the defense to be a serious threat in the postseason — are monitoring to see if Philadelphia makes defensive wing Matisse Thybulle available in a trade, according to Marc Stein.

Dallas is all in on finding a second star to go with Luka Dončić. Good luck with that, as noted above there is not a star on the market. However, the Mavericks are open to throwing in Dorian Finney-Smith in the right package to get a star, something they rebuffed when teams called before.

• There is increasing buzz that neither the Hawks’ John Collins nor the Pistons’ Bojan Bogdanovic will be traded. The new front office in Atlanta led by Landry Fields is higher on Collins as a long-term fit in Atlanta (even if Collins doesn’t feel that way) and is more likely to keep him than trade him. The Pistons are keeping their price high on Bogdanovic — an unprotected first-round pick — because they would be happy to keep him for next season, and have told the player precisely that.

Denver is very open to trading second-year point guard Bones Hyland for some defensive help, to the point Stein said he’s one of the most likely players to be traded now (clashing with your coach over playing time will speed your trip out the door).

• There are a lot of teams watching the Timberwolves waiting to see if Jaden McDaniels becomes available. The Pacers, Spurs, Raptors and Jazz are among the interested teams.

2) Luka Dončić returns to court, drops 53 on Pistons in win

Don’t make Luka Dončić angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The Pistons bench, led by assistant coach Jerome Allen, started chirping at Dončić from the opening tip, Dončić chirped back and admitted after the game the trash talk got him going. The result was a 53-point night in his return after missing a game with a tweaked ankle.

The list of players who have had five or more 50+ point games in their first five seasons in the league now consists of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Luka Dončić (with four of Luka’s coming this season).

For Dallas, the win moves them up to sixth in the crowded West right now and out of the play-in (a place they expected to be all season). For Detroit, trade target Bogdanovic scored 29 points while Saddiq Bey added 18.

3) Kings’ De'Aaron Fox is clutch again, leads team to OT win

De’Aaron Fox is unquestionably one of the frontrunners to win the NBA’s new NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award (which the NBA league office not-so-helpfully defined as the player who “best comes through for his teammates in the clutch”). Fox leads the NBA in total clutch points scored (in the last five minutes of a game within five points) with 119, and is shooting an impressive 60% in those minutes. (If you’re curious, the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan is second in points scored in the clutch and Dončić is third.)

That was evident on Monday night when Fox took control of the Kings’ offense late, started getting to the rim and creating out of that, scoring 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, leading the Kings to an overtime win on the road against the Timberwolves.

In the overtime it was a lot of Trey Lyles for Sacramento, he scored eight of his 11 points in OT, playing because Domantas Sabonis had fouled out.

Anthony Edwards has been making a leap in recent weeks and scored 33 on Monday, the fifth time in the last six games he has scored 30+. However, he is still learning hard lessons and had six turnovers, mostly when facing double teams down the stretch.

“He’s drawing a big crowd,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, via the Associated Press. “For the most part, he’s trying to make the right play. Maybe he needs to see it a little earlier.”