Getty Images

It’s going to be a slow trade deadline, but here are seven names to watch

2 Comments

The past few years we’ve gone into the trade deadline hearing a lot of buzz about big, bold trades and plenty of them — or, at least a decent number of interesting deals — only to be left wanting and disappointed.

This season, we’re going to save you the time:

This trade deadline is going to suck.

There will be some small deals, salaries and some names you recognized will change hands, but situations and market forces have conspired against this trade deadline. With Jimmy Butler having forced his way out of Minnesota, the other big names on the board either are not available or are not guys teams are willing to pay a premium for right now.

The biggest issue: There are a lot of buyers but not a lot of sellers. It’s simple supply and demand — with all but five or six teams within a few games of the playoffs, more teams are looking to add talent, or at least keep what they have, not move it along. Sacramento is offering up Zach Randolph but the franchise is within three games of ending a 10-year playoff drought and so they are holding on to the Iman Shumperts of the world to win now, and they would even take on a player who could help them. (Enes Kanter?)

Or, out East, think about Brooklyn. They have guys before the season we would have expected to be available — DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried — but right now they are the six seed and not moving anyone.

Nonetheless, here is our trade deadline preview, starting with the disappointment.

EVERYONE IS TALKING, BUT THESE GUYS WILL NOT BE TRADED AT DEADLINE

Anthony Davis (New Orleans). Sources with direct knowledge of the Pelicans’ thinking have told NBC Sports that Davis will not be traded this season. Which is what coach Alvin Gentry and owner Gayle Benson have said publicly, and plenty of others have reported as well. This July could be different (if Davis turns down the $239 million supermax extension) but at the trade deadline he is staying put and the Pelicans are aggressive buyers, not sellers.

Kevin Love (Cleveland). He has played just four games due to a toe injury, some teams are not sure how well he fits in a modern NBA (especially on defense), and he has a four-year, $120 million contract that kicks in next season. This is one of the most unmovable contracts in the NBA.

John Wall (Washington). The one guy with a larger contract extension than Love, and Wall is out for the rest of the season after surgery to remove bone spurs. This is the most unmovable contract in the NBA now.

Andre Drummond (Pistons). This is a rumor that has surfaced in recent days, based on the fact he doesn’t fit with Blake Griffin that well and Griffin is the new face and direction of the franchise. All of that is true. But Drummond is still a quality center who will make $27 million next season and has a player option for $28.7 the season after that. There are few takers at that price unless the Pistons want to throw in picks as sweeteners or take on even worse contracts.

PLAYERS TO WATCH AS WE HEAD INTO THE DEADLINE

• J.R, Smith (Cleveland). The man most likely to be traded at the deadline, he’s a veteran wing player who may be older, may have the occasional epic blunder in the Finals, but can provide depth and has experience on the biggest stages. The Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans — two teams looking for wing depth — have been linked to Smith, but others could emerge. The Cavaliers are willing to sell (we’ve seen that already this season) but there may not be much of a market for him as teams think he will get bought out after the deadline and be available then.

• Jeremy Lin (Atlanta Hawks). A quality backup point guard — 11 points a game, shooting 37 percent from three, a PER of 17.5 — who was brought in both to mentor Trae Young and to be a trade asset at the deadline. He makes $13.8 million but it is an expiring contract. Finding the right deal will not be easy but a lot of teams could use what he brings offensively off the bench down the stretch and into the playoffs. Expect to hear a lot of Lin rumors.

Terrence Ross (Orlando Magic). There’s a real demand for quality wings on the market (Pelicans, Rockets, and more), and the Magic have one on an expiring contract in Ross. He is averaging 13.3 points a game, shooting 39.3 percent from three, and could provide depth to a lot of teams. Orlando’s new management reportedly wants to rebuild around their young stars more than win now, so they should want to make deals. However, they are just a few games out of the playoffs so there could be a push from ownership or elsewhere to keep this team in the postseason mix. That said, Ross is a player who seems as likely as anyone to get traded before the deadline.

Otto Porter (Washington). Nobody wants John Wall and the asking price for Bradley Beal makes him all but untradeable, however, Porter might be the compromise who could get traded out of the Wizards’ core. He’s a good wing player who is averaging 12.3 points a game, gets rebounds, is shooting 37.9 percent from three, and can defend. Two reasons he likely doesn’t get moved. One is money — he makes $26 million this season, has a fully guaranteed $27.3 million contract for next season, and has a $28.5 million player option for 2020-21 (which he likely picks up). Teams aren’t eager to take on that much money for a player who isn’t an All-NBA level talent. Plus, do the Wizards want to sell? The Wizards have won 4-of-6, are within three games of the playoffs, and GM Ernie Grunfeld always wants to win now. It’s possible nobody from the team is available.

Trevor Ariza (Washington). Yes, he’s already been traded once this season, sent from Phoenix to Washington to help boost a floundering team in our nation’s capital. That hasn’t really happened, and now with John Wall out for the season the Wizards should write this season off and sell. The Lakers, Rockets and other teams will be interested, the Wizards need to get younger and more athletic, there’s a deal to be made here. That is, if they want to — as noted above, GM Ernie Grunfeld is a win now guy and wants to make a playoff push, not trade the players who can get them to the postseason away.

Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic). If Orlando is going to be a seller, there will be teams interested in renting Vucevic (he’s a free agent after this season). Vucevic is averaging 20.2 points and 12 rebounds a game, is shooting 39.6 percent from three, and he’s very skilled — a lot of teams could use that skill set. Vucevic is making $12.75 million and is an unrestricted free agent after this season, meaning teams are not going to surrender much for a rental. But, there is interest and rumors have been flying around.

Kent Bazemore (Atlanta Hawks). Bazemore is exactly the kind of wing a lot of teams could use for the stretch and playoff run — athletic, scores 14 points a game, can attack the rim, defends, has to be respected from three. The Hawks will listen to offers. The problem is he makes $18 million this season with a player option for $19.3 next season that he will pick up — teams are not willing to take on the salary without getting a sweetener in return. That’s not happening, making a deal a longshot.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo lead conference in All-Star voting

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
1 Comment

LeBron James (West) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (East) are on track to captain NBA All-Star teams this year.

The first fan-voting returns:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 1,083,363

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 679,839

3. Kevin Durant (GSW) 659,968

4. Anthony Davis (NOP) 605,417

5. Paul George (OKC) 580,055

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 261,327

7. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 235,272

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 195,477

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 138,017

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 92,977

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 793,111

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 698,086

3. James Harden (HOU) 541,606

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 459,792

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 247,618

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 200,609

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 197,524

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 175,040

9. Devin Booker (PHO) 111,897

10. Chris Paul (HOU) 101,104

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 991,561

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 774,172

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 648,002

4. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 222,206

5. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 214,622

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 192,694

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 76,022

8. Andre Drummond (DET) 68,204

9. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 66,492

10. Al Horford (BOS) 62,288

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 910,329

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 409,156

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 319,519

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 259,993

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 198,009

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 180,571

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 128,605

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 62,573

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 61,269

10. John Wall (WAS) 54,366

Remember, the NBA stopped giving fans autonomy in picking All-Star starters. Now, the fan vote counts as just 50% in a formula that also gives 25% to current players and 25% to selected media.

So, the big surprises near the top of each category – Luka Doncic second among Western Conference frontcourt players, Derrick Rose second among Western Conference guards, Dwyane Wade second among Eastern Conference guards – barely matter. It’s difficult to see players and media supporting those players. Though maybe Wade gets sendoff starting votes from his peers as he nears retirement.

Other surprises on the leaderboard: Lonzo Ball, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter, Jeremy Lin. But, again, those don’t really matter for actually selecting All-Stars. It’s just a good indication of which players have larger followings than their on-court performance would suggest.

The big races are for leading each conference in fan voting, which – as long as he winds up a starter – makes the player a captain for selecting All-Star teams. LeBron has a big – probably insurmountable – lead in the West. Antetokounmpo is up significantly in the East, though Kyrie Irving is within striking distance.

Watch Magic’s Evan Fournier hit buzzer beater vs. Pistons (VIDEO)

AP
Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Even when he’s not having a big game, Evan Fournier is still the Orlando Magic’s best option at the end of games.

Fournier took an inbounds pass outside the 3-point arc, dribbled to the free throw line and shot a floating jumper that dropped through the nets as the buzzer sounded on Orlando’s 109-107 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

“Evan wants the ball at the end, he has courage,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “That was not an easy shot, but if he can get a shot like that, you’re comfortable he’s going to make it.”

D.J. Augustin had 26 points and eight assists, and Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon each scored 22 points to help the Magic win their second straight. Fournier finished with 13.

With the clock winding down, Fournier was the easy call for the potential winning shot attempt. He had a 3-pointer to beat Cleveland at the buzzer earlier this season.

“I really embrace those moments,” Fournier said. “It’s everyone’s dream to have one buzzer beater in the NBA so having two is even better.”

Fournier’s winning basket ended a wild finish in which Detroit wiped out an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes only to lose for the 11th time in their last 14 games.

Luke Kennard scored 16 points to lead the Pistons. Reggie Bullock and Blake Griffin had 15 apiece and Andre Drummond had 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Detroit thought it had pushed the game into overtime when Bullock was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 2.5 seconds to go and made all three free throws to tie the score at 107.

However, the Pistons couldn’t come up with a stop when they needed one.

“Games don’t come down to just one play,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “There were way too many possessions before that when we did things that get you beat. We just have to learn to do the simple things.”

Neither team led by more than six points in the second half until Augustin sparked an 8-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers and fed Jonathan Isaac for a fastbreak layup that gave Orlando a 95-87 lead with 7:07 left in the game.

Later in the quarter, Augustin stole a rebound from Drummond, drove the lane and whipped a wraparound pass to Vucevic for an uncontested layup that made it 104-95 with 3 1/2 minutes to go.

Detroit rallied quickly. A layup by Reggie Jackson cut the deficit to 105-104 with 8.9 seconds remaining.

Orlando’s Terrence Ross got loose for a breakaway dunk with 5.4 seconds to go but Bullock’s free throws tied it.

Fournier took the inbounds pass and immediately drove into the lane, lofting his shot just before the buzzer sound to give Orlando the win.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Detroit came into the game off a season-worst 37-point loss to Indiana. … Detroit is No. 1 in offensive rebounding advantage over opponents with a plus-110 margin coming in. The Pistons added to that, grabbing 17 rebounds to 10 for the Magic. … Griffin took a nasty fall when he slipped on a wet floor while trying to inbound the ball after a turnover. Griffin lay on the floor for 15 seconds before getting up and continuing play.

Magic: PG D.J. Augustin badly sprained his ankle after stepping on Griffin’s foot with 1:44 left in the game, but stayed in the game. … Orlando came in off as season-best 29-point win over Toronto. … F Jonathon Simmons left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … The Magic outscored the Pistons 22-8 in points in the paint in the first quarter.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?

Casey was upset enough with Detroit’s performance in a 125-88 loss at Indiana on Friday to apologize to fans for “one of the worst exhibitions we’ve put on the floor.”

Two days later, he downplayed the impact of the 20-minute team meeting he had with players after the game.

“Nothing came out of the meeting that hasn’t been said before,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “When you walk across the black lines, if you have your hard hat on and your boots tied, that is what this game is about. We haven’t exemplified that enough consistently and until we do, we’re going to be on a roller coaster.”

UP NEXT

Pistons: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday night at Milwaukee.

Magic: Start a six-game road trip in Charlotte on Monday night.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/NBA and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Stephen Curry returns, scores 27, but Pistons defeat Warriors 111-102

1 Comment

DETROIT (AP) — Golden State got Stephen Curry back on Saturday night.

Even that wasn’t enough for the Warriors against Detroit’s Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.

Griffin scored 26 points and Drummond added 16 points and 19 rebounds as the Pistons extended their winning streak to five games with a 111-102 victory over the Warriors.

“That’s obviously a great win,” Griffin said. “You could tell by the crowd and the atmosphere tonight that we were facing a big team, and we protected our home floor.”

Drummond finished with eight offensive boards.

“It is so tough to play Andre, because when they get some penetration, the bigs normally try to help, but if you take your body off him for a second, he’s going to get the rebound,” Kevin Durant said.

Detroit had six players score in double figures, including reserves Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith.

“Our guys understand their roles and they are accepting the role and being the most valuable player they can in that role,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re playing with energy and we were able to beat the champs on a night when we only shot 44 percent and 34 percent from the line.

“We know we can play better than this.”

Curry returned after missing 11 games with a groin strain and scored 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including 20 in the second half. Curry went 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“It felt good to be back out there, but in the first half, I was going 100 miles an hour without my timing being back,” he said. “In the second half, I played a lot closer to where I want to be. The shots started falling and I was aggressive without making stupid plays.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr blamed himself for the defeat, which saw the Pistons finish with 12 3-pointers and 14 offensive rebounds to Golden State’s six and eight, respectively.

“This has to go down as one of the worst games I’ve ever coached,” he said. “We got into some foul trouble early, and I was searching for a lineup that could match up with Blake and Andre, and I never gave us an effective group. We weren’t shooting 3s or getting to the glass.”

Durant scored 28 points for Golden State, and Klay Thompson added 21.

“I think our spacing is screwed up, and we aren’t playing with enough urgency,” Durant said. “None of that is on coach. That’s our fault.”

Curry missed his first three shots, all 3-pointers, but drove to the basket for a three-point play on the first possession of the second quarter.

Detroit led by as many as 11 points in the second and led 54-46 at halftime. Stanley Johnson had 13 points off the bench for the Pistons, while Thompson and Durant combined for 25 for Golden State. Curry had seven on 2-of-9 shooting, missing all five 3-pointers.

“We played a terrible first half, and that pretty much summed up the night,” Curry said. “They are playing really well and we didn’t do anything to take them out of their comfort zone.”

The Pistons moved the margin to 14 points, 69-55, on Reggie Jackson‘s three-point play midway through the third, but Curry answered with his first 3-pointer of the game.

The Warriors were as close as two late in the quarter, but Johnson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Pistons an 85-78 lead going into the fourth.

“We’ve usually got Blake out there with the second unit, but today we were playing without him and were able to stretch the lead,” Johnson said. “We were getting the ball to Ish on the break and letting him make plays, but we were mostly just playing really, really hard.”

The Pistons led 96-87 with 4:15 to play when the Warriors began to intentionally foul Drummond, who had missed 17 of his last 20 free throws. Detroit coach Dwane Casey pulled him, and the Pistons moved the lead back to 14.

After returning, Drummond split a pair of free throws with 1:17 left, and is now 4 for 22 in his last four games.

 

NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets, Trail Blazers early season surprises in Top 5

Leave a comment

The Warriors being on top is not a surprise, but the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Bucks all being in the top five? That is not what we expected coming in. The Cavaliers remain in dead last in these rankings, but the Suns are pushing hard for that spot.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (10-1, last week No 1). It is far, far too early to talk about the MVP race… but if one did, one would say Stephen Curry has been fastest out of the gate in that race. Curry, hunting his own shot like it’s 2015 again, has averaged 31.3 points per game while shooting 50.8% from three, with a PER of 30. He just changes the game when he’s on the court and it’s been a joy to watch this season. Fun showdown Thursday night against the red-hot Bucks.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (10-1, LW. 3). Kyle Lowry has found a comfort level as a playmaker in Nick Nurse’s system — he is averaging 11.5 assists a game and is assisting on 45.6 percent of his teammates buckets when he is on the floor this season, both career highs by a country mile. Lowry and teammates beat the Lakers and Jazz on the road, back-to-back, without Kawhi Leonard (foot injury, hopefully he and the team can stay on the same page about treatment). That speaks to the depth of this roster. Toronto is top six in both offense and defense.

Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (9-1, LW 4).. Jamal Murray dropping 48 on Boston was a statement — both for him and for the Nuggets, a one-loss team that has now beaten both the Warriors and the Celtics this season. Note to Kyrie Irving, if you want to stop Murray from going for 50 points with a meaningless shot at the end of the game, do something about the first 48. Interesting early tests coming up against the Bucks (Sunday) and a Rockets team finding itself again (Tuesday).

Blazers small icon 4. Trail Blazers (8-3, LW 5). While the Portland starting five — Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jake Layman, Jusuf Nurkic — is outscoring teams by 8.4 points per 100 possessions so far this season, it has been the team’s strong bench play led by Zach Collins and Evan Turner that has keyed the team’s fast start. When that bench struggles, as it did against the Lakers, the Blazers fall (also they just couldn’t buy a three against Los Angeles). McCollum dropped 40 on the Bucks and make a statement, now the Clippers and Celtics are up next.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (8-2, LW 2). The Celtics and their hot three-point shooting knocked the Bucks from the ranks of the unbeaten, but we’re more interested in seeing how Milwaukee fairs on a tough four-game West Coast swing that started with a loss in Portland Tuesday where they had no answer for McCollum. Next up are the Warriors. Also, we need to revisit the Greek-on-Greek crime of this Gianni Antetokounmpo’s dunk of the year entry over Kosta Kufos.

Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (7-4, LW 9). Just a friendly reminder that back in 2013 the Cavaliers picked Anthony Bennett No. 1 in the draft over Victor Oladipo (most teams did not have Bennett near that high). Ouch. The Pacers are now built around Oladipo, who has averaged 23 points and 7.2 rebounds a game this season, but maybe more importantly has been a force of nature in the clutch (8-of-11 shooting this season) and is doing things like this to the Celtics.

Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (6-3, LW 12). The offense, with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge knocking it down from the midrange, has always been fine, but the recent four-game winning streak was sparked more by a defense that has moved from last in the league to middle of the pack during those games. Well, the D was at least until it regressed at home against Orlando. Now things get tougher with 9-of-11 coming up on the road (and the first home game in that stretch is a Rockets team now finding itself).

Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (6-4, LW 6). The Celtics have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far this season. Their offense has been improving, but it’s not yet intimidating — 27th in the NBA for the season but 15th over the last three games. Late in games, Brad Stevens has trusted Marcus Morris over Gordon Hayward, and that’s the right play because Hayward is still struggling to start the season (as we should expect, remember that a year ago his leg was literally shattered).

Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (6-4, LW 11). The Clippers are better than their record would indicate (and their record is better than many expected). This is a top 10 team in offense and defense, and they are outscoring teams by 6 points per 100 possessions (meaning they should be 7-3 at least). Tough next four: At the Blazers, then home to the Bucks, Warriors, and Spurs.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (5-4, LW 22).. Oklahoma City catches a break with Russell Westbrook’s sprained ankle not being as bad as it looked, so he will not miss much time. The Thunder, winners of five in a row, also catch a break this happened as they hit a soft spot in the schedule: Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, and Sacramento are six of next seven. The Thunder should keep on winning and making up for the slow start.

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (6-5, LW 14). Charlotte has been the least lucky team in the NBA — they are one game over .500 but with a +8.9, that of an 8-3 team. This is not a new problem, last season the Hornets struggled to close out close games, too, and it was one reason they missed the playoffs. Interestingly, the Hornets are +15.2 per 100 when Tony Parker runs the point and Kemba Walker is at the two, that may be a way James Borego tries closing games.

Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (5-4, LW 13). The Grizzlies continue to defend well but their offense — especially with Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the starting lineup — is struggling mightily. Mike Conley has not found consistency with his jumper, and that is part of the offensive issues, too. Memphis needs to figure out how to get buckets quickly because they have lost two in a row and the next four games — Denver, Philadelphia, Utah, and Milwaukee — are against quality teams.

Kings small icon 13. Kings (6-4, LW 16). Why are the Kings playing so well? They found an identity in pace — last season the Kings averaged 95.6 possessions a game, dead last in the league, this season they are at 108.1. That’s 12.5 possessions a game faster, a ridiculous leap. Synergy has them getting 21.9 percent of their offense in transition and scoring 128 per 100 on those chances. The real test of their new identity comes this month with a brutal schedule.

Sixers small icon 14. 76ers (6-5, LW 15). With all the focus on how Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons can’t play together (to his credit, Brett Brown is playing them as a tandem less and less), it’s been overlooked by some that Joel Embiid has been an absolute beast carrying this team. He is averaging 28.4 points and 12.6 assists per game, and he even has time to build condos in Andre Drummond’s head. Right now, the Sixers go as Embiid goes, but that is not going to get them where they want this season.

Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (4-5, LW 23). Winners of three in a row, the last two of those with James Harden back from injury. The Rockets are looking much better. Carmelo Anthony’s offense is coming around as well, but it’s not making up for his defense — the Rockets are 10.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he is on the court. Great news that Jeff Bzdelik is returning, a sign the Rockets are going to focus on defense again, but his switching style is still going to run into a personnel problem when Anthony is on the court.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (4-5, LW 17). Josh Richardson is the rare case of a player forced to take on more offensive responsibility — his usage rate has jumped from using 18.2 percent of the team’s possessions when he is on the court to 24.1 percent, however, his true shooting percentage also is up to 57.1 (from 55.1), his PER is up to 17.4, and he is now scoring 21.4 points per game (up from 12.9 last season). He dropped 31 on Miami, 32 on Atlanta, and 27 points on Detroit. However, he can’t get the team wins unless they clean up the defense, which has been bottom 10 the last five games, in a very un-Heat kind of way.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (4-6, LW 7). No team has had a harder time adjusting to the “freedom of movement” rules on defense than the Jazz. Utah is giving up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, 17th in the league this season and 6.4 per 100 worse than last season. The Jazz like to be physical on defense, slowing guys off picks with a bump and grab, but that draws a whistle this season, and the Utah defenders have not mastered getting their feet in the right place and making the play that way. They need to if this team is going to reach its goal of being home for the first round of the playoffs.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (4-5, 10). Detroit has played the fourth easiest schedule in the NBA so far, and as it has gotten tougher the team has dropped five in a row. The problem in the losing streak has been the offense, which is scoring less than a point per possession in those five games. Teams have started to adjust to Blake Griffin having the ball in his hands as a playmaker, and Detroit has yet to counter.

Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (4-6, LW 21). Magic gave Luke Walton a stern talking to about the offensive system and defense, but at the same time he should be taking a look in the mirror — what did he expect with this roster. When you add LeBron James, he is the system. Also, the pace the Lakers are playing at is a system. Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler to help on defense, but it’s fair to ask if he still has that in him at age 36. Either way, it’s a low-risk move for Los Angeles.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (4-6, LW 8). Won their first four, but then dropped their next six, all against quality teams in the West (and five of those losses are on the road). During the losing streak New Orleans has had a bottom-10 offense, but the real problem is on the defensive end where they surrendered 116.7 per 100. Games against the Bulls and Suns next give them a chance to right the ship.

Nets small icon 21. Nets (5-6, LW 24). The most up-and-down team in the NBA — they got blown out by the Knicks, but turn around and blow out the Sixers. That said, the inconsistency has still been good enough — if the playoffs started today the Nets would be the seven seed. Tuesday’s win in Phoenix is the start of 7-of-9 on the road, with some rough stops against the West at the start of the trip.

22. Timberwolves (4-7, LW 18). Jimmy Butler is missing time for “precautionary rest” and “general soreness” which everyone around the league sees as pressure to force a trade, no matter what Butler and the team try to sell. There are times it looks like the Timberwolves are close to figuring it out (Lakers) and other times they look close to imploding. At least Derrick Rose dropping 50 was a great distraction and one of the best stories of the season.

Magic small icon 23. Magic (4-6, LW 26). They have won two in a row and it’s not a coincidence it happened when Jonathan Isaac had to sit (ankle), so Aaron Gordon could move back to his more natural spot at the four and the offense could start to flow. Coach Steve Clifford may have to stick with this rotation for a while. Orlando has 6-of-8 coming up at home — if they are going to make a push up into the East playoff discussion, it has to start during this homestand.

Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (3-8, LW 23). There have been stretches this season where the Knicks have started to show some spark and have looked competent — and then they lose to the hapless Wizards, and then drop a punch-to-the-guy double OT game to the Bulls. It’s fun to watch Mitchell Robinson play, there are reasons to tune in some nights, but with 6-of-8 coming up on the road it feels like the losses could start piling up even faster.

Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (3-7, LW 20). Dallas has played the second easiest schedule in the NBA so far, so their slow start should be even more concerning. So is the fact there seems to be tension between Luka Doncic — who keeps putting up good numbers — and some of the veterans on the team. It’s not just DeAndre Jordan going over Doncic’s back to get a rebound, just watching their interaction gives one the sense some veterans aren’t sure Doncic has yet earned his status. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki should be back in about three weeks.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (3-7, LW 25). Atlanta has played the easiest schedule in the NBA to date, just to put the early record in perspective. That said there are things to like (besides the up-and-down play showing the potential of Trae Young), for one moving Omari Spellman into the starting lineup. That worked well against Miami. Also, Dewayne Dedmon is back and averaging 8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a night — he is going to generate trade interest from contenders as we get closer to the deadline.

Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (3-8, LW 27).. Zach LaVine continues to prove his doubters wrong, the latest example the 41 points — including the game-winning free throw — Monday against the Knicks. That was a deserved win for the Bulls, they had been competitive but lost three home games to good teams (Denver, Indiana, Houston), Monday the basketball gods smiled on them. There are winnable games coming up at home against Cleveland and Dallas.

Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-8, LW 28). Washington earned a win over the Knicks and if they are going to turn things around it is now — the Wizards enter a soft part of the schedule with five more games against teams below .500. Of course, they dropped one in Dallas on Tuesday in another game where there was just a lack of effort on defense. No team has worse body language around the league than the Wizards.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (2-8, LW 29). Devin Booker’s return almost makes this team watchable again, and he had 14 fourth-quarter points in a win over the Grizzlies. He also had 20 points against Brooklyn but needed 21 shots to get there. Let the Suns be a lesson: In today’s NBA you need a decent point guard to run the show. The Suns front office remains incredibly active trying to land a decent point guard, the problem is there are not many available right now, plus everyone around the league knows how desperate the Suns are for one, which leads to teams trying to fleece them in a trade.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (1-9, LW 30). Cleveland finally reached a deal to turn Larry Drew from “the voice” into an actual coach of the team. That’s great, he gets a team where Kevin Love is out with foot surgery for a couple of months, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver want to be traded, and the veterans don’t think Collin Sexton knows how to play the game. Congrats on that new gig, Drew. Have fun storming the castle!