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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Westbrook vs. Lillard is best show in playoffs

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best show in playoffs; Round 3 goes to Westbrook and Thunder. Oklahoma City vs. Portland has become must-watch TV. This third-quarter sequence shows exactly why Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best drama going right now. Well, second after Game of Thrones, but best in the NBA playoffs and one you need to be watching.

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Westbrook anticipated a Lillard layup attempt, got up, and swatted the shot back. When he landed, Westbrook looked at the crowd along the baseline and yelled something. Lillard, in turn, said something right back to Westbrook, and then the two started jawing. As they have at points throughout the series. Westbrook was making it personal, he demanded the ball on the next Thunder possession, posted up Lillard and knocked down a little turnaround jumper right over the Blazers’ guard. Westbrook then celebrated with his rock-the-baby move (the way he did this one was more shook-the-baby). After the game, Lillard said he didn’t even see it, although in the videos Lillard seems to smirk at it.

Lillard then went off scoring 23 of his 25 points in a historic, franchise-best third quarter to make it a game.

In the end, Oklahoma City got the needed win 120-108 behind 33 points ( on an efficient 11-of-22 shooting ) and 11 assists from Westbrook. Westbrook even hit the dagger three over Lillard.

The Thunder still trail in the series 2-1 and need another win on Sunday in Game 4 or they may fall too far behind to catch up.

Two keys in Game 3 led to the Thunder win.

First, Oklahoma City finally decided to be aggressive in trapping and pressuring Damian Lillard, taking the ball out of his hands early in the shot clock. At least OKC did in the first half. This has been the book on how to beat Portland in the playoffs for a couple of seasons now — make anyone other than Lillard or C.J. McCollum beat you — but OKC used it sparingly in the first couple of games. During the regular season Jusuf Nurkic became an excellent outlet for Lillard when those traps came, but he is out and now Enes Kanter has to be that man. He was not as good. Portland got away from it when Lillard got hot but the Thunder need to go back to it as often as they can.

Second, the Thunder hit their threes. Oklahoma City shot 10-of-61 from three (16.4 percent) from three in the first two games in Portland, but at home they felt comfortable and the shots fell — 15-of-29. This was the biggest difference in the game, Portland’s defense but the Thunder could not beat them from three and on Friday night OKC won that bet.

Can the Thunder sustain that at home?

Tune in for Game 4 Sunday to find out. Lillard vs. Westbrook is the best show going right now.

2) Pascal Siakam goes off for 30 points, 11 rebounds in leading Raptors to win on the road over Magic. During his pregame media availability, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked if Pascal Siakam was formally the Raptors third offensive option now.

“If he has he’s dropped down from being the 2nd option,” Nurse responded.

Siakam was option No. 1 on Friday night, scoring 30 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, and leading the way for Toronto to get a 98-93 win on the road. Siakam did it impressively, with everything from threes to postups, and plenty of attacking off the bounce, much of it against a good defender in Jonathan Isaac.

Toronto now leads the series 2-1 and if Orlando is going to have a real chance in this series it needs to win game 4 Sunday.

The Raptors needed the breakout game from Siakam because Kawhi Leonard looked human, scoring 16 points but needing 19 shots to get there (he also had 10 rebounds). Orlando geared its game to stop Leonard (who was under the weather), but the Raptors had other options in this one.

The Raptors also defended well — Evan Fournier was 1-of-12 shooting on a night the Magic as a team shot 36.2 percent and scored less than a point per possession (98.9 offensive net rating). Terrence Ross had 24 off the bench — and hit a halfcourt shot right before halftime — to keep Orlando close. The Magic better find their shooting touch before Sunday or this series will end quickly.

3) Boston has Kyrie Irving (and Jaylen Brown), Indiana can’t score consistently, and Boston is in command of series. We’ve seen this movie before. Boston went into Indiana Friday night and took control of the series going up 3-0 after a 104-96 win that followed the same formula that has worked for the first two games.

First, Kyrie Irving can get buckets whenever he wants. He had 19 points in this game, although it was Jaylen Brown’s 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting that was the dominant force. Jayson Tatum pitched in 18 points.

Second, Indiana just can’t score consistently The Pacers had 61 points in the first half, finding some offense in playing uptempo, even if that is not their style (the Pacers were 25th in the NBA in pace during the regular season, then this had been the second slowest paced playoff series so far this season). But the scoring would not last. Indiana started the third 1-of-8 from the floor and finished the quarter 5-of-21 shooting. Then down the stretch, Indiana was 1-of-7 from the floor. Without Victor Oladipo the Pacers are prone to these offensive droughts, especially against a good Celtics’ defense, and it is simply too much to overcome.

Game 4 is Sunday and maybe the Pacers extend the series to a fifth game, but we know how this movie is going to end.

Kawhi Leonard scores 37, Lowry has 22 as Raptors rout Magic (VIDEO)

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TORONTO (AP) Kept off the scoreboard in a Game 1 defeat, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was “at his finest” in Game 2, at least in the eyes of coach Nick Nurse.

Fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard wasn’t too bad, either.

Leonard scored 37 points, Lowry bounced back with 22 and the Raptors routed the Orlando Magic 111-82 on Tuesday night, evening their Eastern Conference first-round series at one win apiece.

Pascal Siakam had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who never trailed and led by as many as 34.

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

Leonard said Lowry “led us in intensity,” helping the East’s No. 2 seed avoid a 2-0 hole.

“He did a great job of bouncing back,” Leonard said. “He’s a pro. That’s what pros do, they know it’s just one game and they come in the next game ready to play.”

Lowry, who missed all seven attempts in Game 1, shot 8 for 13 and led his team with seven assists.

“He was big time tonight,” Nurse said. “That’s him at his finest.”

Siakam said Lowry was visibly more tuned in Tuesday than he was Saturday.

“From the jump he had that fire in his eyes,” Siakam said. “That’s the Kyle we know.”

Despite playing in foul trouble for much of the night, Leonard finished with a career playoff-high 15 field goals. He made his first nine attempts from inside the arc before missing a layup.

Leonard shot 15 for 22 before leaving to a standing ovation with 4:46 remaining and Toronto ahead 104-73.

“Leonard was great,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “What are you going to do? He was great.”

Leonard’s career playoff high is 43, set with San Antonio against Memphis on April 22, 2017. He made 14 baskets in that game.

“Tonight he was just in a groove, getting downhill, getting to his spots,” Lowry said. “He’s a player who knows where he wants to be on the floor and when he gets to those spots, he’s pretty tough to guard.”

Aaron Gordon scored 20 points, Terrence Ross had 15 and Evan Fournier 10 for the Magic, who won the opener 104-101 on a tiebreaking 3 by D.J. Augustin with 4.2 seconds to go.

Nikola Vucevic, who shot 3 for 14 in Game 1, struggled again in Game 2, going 3 of 7 and scoring six points.

“They did a good job taking away a lot of my strengths,” Vucevic said. “I’ve just got to figure out a way to be more aggressive, be more efficient offensively.”

Augustin, who had 25 points Saturday, shot 1 for 6. Seven of his nine points came at the free throw line.

Orlando didn’t score for almost five minutes to start the game, missing its first six shots and four straight free throws. The drought ended when Gordon rebounded and scored on Vucevic’s miss from the line at 7:14 of the first, answering an 11-0 Toronto run.

Leonard scored 12 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors led 26-18 after one.

“Their defense set the tone for the game in the first quarter,” Clifford said.

Lowry scored 11 points in the second and Siakam added six, putting Toronto up 51-39 at halftime. Orlando shot 13 for 40 in the opening two quarters.

Leonard connected of seven of nine attempts in the third, scoring 17 points. The Raptors outscored the Magic 39-27 to take a 90-66 lead into the fourth.

“At halftime, I thought we had settled down,” Clifford said. “Then, at the beginning of the third quarter, they were good and, frankly, we were awful.”

TIP-INS

Magic: Orlando missed its first five free throw attempts before Ross made two of three at 2:11 of the first. The Magic shot 8 for 16 at the line in the first half and finished 13 for 24. … Ross had 15 of Orlando’s 17 bench points in the first half. … The Magic were outscored 52-36 in the paint. … Orlando has outrebounded Toronto in all six meetings this season.

Raptors: Lowry snapped his scoring slump by splitting a pair of free throws at 10:48 of the first, leading to thunderous applause. He was cheered again after hitting a 3 at 6:52. … Only four players scored in the first half. Leonard had 17, Lowry 15, Siakam 12 and Serge Ibaka 7. … Toronto has won nine straight playoff games in which it makes more 3-pointers than its opponent. Toronto shot 11 for 35 Tuesday, while Orlando was 9 for 34. … G Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was not available despite practicing the previous two days. … Toronto is 8-8 all time in Game 2s.

TURNED OVER

Orlando had just 11 turnovers in Game 1 but gave the ball away 27 times in Game 2, including on both of its opening two possessions.

“If we’re going to make this a long series, and hopefully we will, we’re going to need to be stronger with the ball,” Gordon said. “Simple as that.”

HOME SWEET HOME

Orlando has won nine straight at home and is unbeaten on its own court since a Feb. 22 loss to Chicago.

“We feed off the crowd, we like their energy,” Gordon said.

UP NEXT

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

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

Watch D.J. Augustin’s game-winning three, Magic upset Raptors 104-101

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TORONTO — For the Orlando Magic, the first game of the playoffs felt a lot like the final few weeks of the regular season: high stakes, small margins, and a big win at the end of the day.

D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left, and the Magic beat the Toronto Raptors 104-101 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard got a final shot for Toronto, but missed the rim with his 3-pointer from the top.

Orlando went 22-9 over the final 31 games of the season to clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.

“I think it helps,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s tough regular-season finish. “We’ve been playing games that we had to win and were meaningful games for a while.”

Nikola Vucevic, who scored 11 points, said Orlando’s stretch drive help the team’s mental preparation for the grind of the postseason.

“Throughout this last month, we were able to fight through a lot of different adversity and it has kind of prepared us for the playoffs,” Vucevic said.

And, when crunch time arrived in Game 1, Orlando was entirely unfazed.

“We made a bunch of big plays in the last three or four minutes,” Clifford said.

Aaron Gordon had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Evan Fournier scored 16 points and Jonathan Isaac had 11 as the No. 7-seeded Magic became the latest team to beat Toronto in the opening game of a playoff series. The Raptors are 2-14 in playoff openers.

“We know who we are and this is one game,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said. “We’ve got to make sure we know who we are and execute what we can do. When we do what we are supposed to do, we are really, really good.”

Leonard scored 25 points, Pascal Siakam had 24 and Fred VanVleet had 14 for the second-seeded Raptors, who reclaimed the lead after trailing by 16 points in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.

Toronto got 13 points apiece from Danny Green and Marc Gasol, but Lowry finished scoreless, missing all seven of his attempts. Lowry did have eight assists and seven rebounds.

“He had some really good looks that he’s normally going to knock down,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I’m sure he’ll bounce back and play a little better in the next game.”

Leonard hit a tying 3 with 1:35 left, then put Toronto up 101-99 with a jumper at 1:02. Augustin made a layup to tie it again with 44 seconds left, then connected from long range for the fourth time to win the game.

Gasol said he and Leonard got their defensive assignments mixed up on Augustin’s decisive shot, leaving the guard wide open.

“It was a mistake made on that play,” Gasol said. “We miscommunicated and he made a good shot.”

Augustin’s 3 was the seventh lead change of the final quarter and the 13th of the game.

“When I saw the opening, I shot the ball with confidence and it went in,” he said.

Augustin made 9 of 13 attempts, going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Leonard made all four of his attempts in the first and added a pair of free throws. He scored 11 points in the opening quarter as Toronto led 30-25.

Leading 42-41 with 3:46 remaining in the second, Orlando got 10 points from Augustin in a 15-0 run that put the Magic up 57-41 with 55 seconds left. Siakam stopped Toronto’s drought with a jump shot, and Gasol and Green added 3-pointers but the Raptors trailed 57-49 at halftime.

Leonard scored five points as Toronto used a 12-2 spurt at the start of the third, reclaiming the lead on Gasol’s 3 at 8:19. Siakam scored eight points in the third, while Leonard and Green each had seven, as the Raptors took a narrow 76-75 lead to the fourth.

 

Report: Portland buyer at trade deadline, first-round pick ‘in play’

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The Portland Trail Blazers are good: Damian Lillard is having another All-NBA level season, C.J. McCollum is a high-quality scorer, and Jusuf Nurkic has stepped up his game of late. At 32-20, Portland would have home court in the first round of the playoffs if they started today.

But are the Blazers a real playoff threat? When teams start trapping Lillard and McCollum, can Portland counter and make teams pay?

The questions about them in the playoffs have the Blazers as potential buyers at the trade deadline, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Portland stands a potential buyer — an under-the-radar really good team with questions about its postseason viability. The Trail Blazers have put their first-round pick in play, per sources around the league. They have investigated Otto Porter‘s availability. Taurean Prince makes some sense; he’s up for an extension this summer, and the Hawks have made him available, sources say. As a free agent non-destination, the Blazers value players whose rights they can control.

But the Hawks are asking a lot so far — a young player and a pick — and haven’t gotten much traction on Prince trades, sources say.

Another off-the-beaten path name from Orlando: Evan Fournier — a wing who could give Portland or some other team some shooting and playmaking. He has two years and $34 million left on his contract; if the Magic aren’t thrilled with that deal, they could suss out his value.

Porter would be a great fit with Portland, but there is a sense the Wizards are not going to be sellers at the deadline (Washington is the 10 seed in the East, 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they want to make a postseason push).

The problem is Portland is already $7.9 million into the luxury tax this season and are poised to be a tax payer again next season — they also want to move off salary. To improve a team and lower the tax bill (by sending out bad contracts) comes at a high cost, and a first-round pick alone is not enough.

The challenge at the trade deadline this season is there are a lot more buyers than sellers, which dampens the market. While the buzz focuses around possible Anthony Davis and Mike Conley trades, there will be smaller deals that get done, maybe just not that many of them this year. But the Trail Blazers are one team that could pull a trade off, keep an eye on them.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks, Pacers, Raptors are top three

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The East remains a caste system — very good teams at the top, including the top three in this ranking and five of the top 10 — but after that it drops off a cliff. In the West the Warriors keep coasting and after that things are tight and hard to predict.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (26-10, last week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo is shooting just 28.5% outside the restricted area this season, which sounds like a problem except nobody can stop him from getting to the rim — 59.4% of his shots come in the restricted area. Just ask Jon Leuer (see the clip below). The Bucks have the best net rating in the NBA and are on a four-game winning streak, the questions of their legitimacy will be answered in the postseason but the Bucks look like a contender. They’ve got an interesting test Saturday night against Toronto.

Pacers small icon 2. Pacers (25-12, LW 4). Guess which team has the second-best net rating in the NBA on the season? Yup, the Pacers. Indiana has won five in a row and in that stretch have had a ridiculously good offense (117.1 points per 100, better than the Harden-led Rockets) and a top-four defense. You can argue the Pacers have had their good start this season against an easier schedule (third softest in the NBA so far) but that’s about to change, starting with a five-game road trip through the East starting Friday night in Chicago.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (28-11, LW 2). The Raptors are 7-4 in their last 11, which is impressive considering they have been without either Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard for each of those games. As much as they miss Lowry (the offense is 16 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court) the injury to Jonas Valanciunas has hurt the bench and the rebounding of the Raptors and cost them games of late. Thursday night Kawhi Leonard returns to San Antonio to take on the Spurs and fans there will not exactly greet him warmly after he forced his way out of town.

Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (25-13, LW 3). Golden State remains inconsistent, and the big question remains “when do we start to worry about that?” Steve Kerr should worry about it, although he wouldn’t say it publicly, but do we really think they are not just going to flip the switch? It’s too early to actually worry. It was good to see Klay Thompson break out of his shooting slump with a 32-point game against Portland, when told his right hand how much me missed it.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (24-11, LW 5).. The Nuggets enter 2019 as the top seed in the West, which for a team that missed playoffs by one game each of the last two seasons is a big step forward. Nikola Jokic is playing at an All-NBA level as a center, but it’s Jamal Murray breaking out as a consistent scoring threat that has propelled the Nuggets to the top of the West. Denver is 2-2 in a stretch of 7-of-11 away from home. They got the win over the Knicks in spite of Mason Plume’s “help” on defense.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (21-15, LW 8). It’s hard to get your head around just how well James Harden has played the past few weeks. He’s had at least 35 points and five assists in eight straight games, breaking an NBA record held by Oscar Robertson. He has scored more than 400 points in a 10-game span, becoming the third player in the last 30 years to do that (Kobe and Jordan). Harden has hit at least five threes in seven straight games, the only other person to do that is Stephen Curry. Houston has won 10-of-11 and become a playoff team again because Harden has been transcendent.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (23-13, LW 9). While Paul George has put up the better numbers this season, Russell Westbrook still has 10 triple-doubles this season — that’s five straight years he’s had double digits in triple-doubles, only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson have done that. Westbrook’s numbers, however, is not the best sign the Thunder may be the second best team in the West at the end of the season. Consider this from John Schuhmann of NBA.com: Only one of the Thunder’s 13 losses hasn’t been within 5 points in the last 5 minutes. Meaning they have been in every lost game but one, no other team has less than three of these “non-clutch” losses.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (24-14, LW 7). The NBA Draft can be as much about fit as talent. Philly’s Landry Shamet is the perfect example: Sure, the rookie out of Wichita State is talented, but more importantly is he is a shooter and the Sixers need that, so his role just continues to grow. The Sixers are 2-2 on a tough five-game road trip, the good news is after the trip they have six games in a row against teams below .500.

Spurs small icon 9. Spurs (21-17, LW 12). San Antonio went 11-5 in December with the best offense in the NBA, scoring 116.6 points per 100 possessions for the month. The Spurs defense was also top 10 in December. In recent games they have beaten the Nuggets (splitting a home-and-home), the Clippers, and the Celtics. Considering the massive roster turnover and injuries this team has had to overcome, it’s time to put Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year conversation. Again.

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (21-15, LW 6). This is not encouraging: The Celtics went 3-3 through a tough stretch of games, and even in the wins they had to come from behind (five in OT vs. the Sixers and 19 to the Grizzlies). More concerning: In their last 10 games the Celtics defense has struggled, they are 20th in the NBA allowing 111,6 per 100 in that stretch (the offense is sixth best in the league in those 10, with Kyrie Irving taking charge and covering up some of the defensive mistakes).

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (22-16, LW 11). Portland has gone 4-3 in its last seven (including splitting a home-and-home with Golden State) despite it’s offense being the third worst in the NBA in that time. It seems everyone outside of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is struggling with their shot. What has saved the Blazers is a top 10 defense in that stretch, but they need to get the offense right during the upcoming five-game homestand (which starts with tough ones against the Thunder and red-hot Rockets).

Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (21-16, LW 14). Los Angeles has come back to earth some after their hot start, with their defense bottom four in the NBA over their last 10 games. The Clippers are struggling to consistently defend the pick-and-roll. The offense has been up and down as well, but the Clippers can count on one thing — getting to the free throw line. Los Angeles leads the NBA in free throw rate, and average a league best 29.2 free throws a night. That ability to attack and draw fouls has kept them in games.

Lakers small icon 13. Lakers (21-16, LW 10). The Lakers are 1-2 without LeBron James (no timetable on his return, but they are not going to rush him back from that groin injury) but the hope was some of the other Lakers would step up with LeBron out. Brandon Ingram did that against the Kings with his best game of the season — it wasn’t the 21 points and 7 rebounds that impressed as much as his quick decision making. Ingram has tended to stop the ball and survey too much, which doesn’t fit next to LeBron (who is allowed to do that, because he’s LeBron) but against the Kings Ingram was decisive. That’s the Ingram the Lakers need.

Kings small icon 14. Kings (19-18, LW 13). The Kings remain a bottom 10 defensive team this season, and De’Aaron Fox thinks he knows why: “A lot of times we’re giving up straight line drives, myself included, and sometimes it’s just not finishing a possession. We get a good possession on defense, we get a good contest, and then we just give up a rebound. Whether it’s a guard or a big or whatever, we’re giving up rebounds — and that’s when it’s hard. You’ve got to scramble. You give up shots.”

Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (18-18, LW 16). While Charlotte hangs on to a playoff spot in the East, three things hold them back from climbing up the ladder. One is injuries and now Cody Zeller will miss time with a fractured hand. Second, is the often-discussed trouble in close games (they are 5-11 in games within three points in the last three minutes). Third, and less discussed, is the Hornets trouble away from home: the team is 14-7 at the Spectrum Center but 4-11 on the road. Which is trouble because starting Saturday in Denver is a six-game road trip against teams in the West.

Grizzlies small icon 16. Grizzlies (18-18, LW 17). Memphis’ starting lineup — Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Marc Gasol — is the third most used five-man lineup in the NBA this season, having played 371 minutes across 34 games. The lineup works because it defends — teams score just 90.3 points per 100 possessions against that group. The Grizzlies don’t score a lot with that group, either, but so long as they keep defending like that they will win enough games to hang around the playoff chase.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (18-20, LW 15). Utah is back to playing elite defense. They have been best in the NBA in the last 10 games giving up just a point per possession (and it was below that mark before Kawhi Leonard torched them for 45 on Tuesday). The Jazz offense has been stagnate and pedestrian in those 10 games, but the Jazz are still +8.1 per 100 in the last 10 — and they have a 5-5 record. Utah has the point differential of a team that should be 21-17 this season, they have played the league’s toughest schedule, but they just need to string together some wins to get back in the middle of the playoff mix, and they can’t seem to do it.

Heat small icon 18. Heat (17-18, LW 18). Forced to play point guard because Goran Dragic is out and they don’t have other options, Justise Winslow has stepped up to the challenge: He has averaged 17 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game through his last five, and is +15.8 per game in those. The problem is when he sits the Heat just come apart. Miami has stayed in the East playoff race (they are the 7 seed as I write this) because of a top-10 defense of late that has been a fascinating mix of zone and man-to-man where Hassan Whiteside protecting the rim has been featured.

Mavericks small icon 19. Mavericks (17-20, LW 20). Did you know there are other players on the Mavericks not named Luka Doncic? One of them is Dennis Smith Jr., the second-year guard who has struggled at times to move to more of an off-ball role next to that rookie everyone is talking about. One question for the second half of this season in Dallas is if Smith can play with Doncic in that role, or if he should be traded (he’ll be available at the deadline but reportedly with a high price, the more likely move, if he’s traded, is in the summer).

20. Timberwolves (17-20, LW 21). There are a lot of positives of late in Minnesota — Karl-Anthony Towns has found his stride and is playing at an All-NBA level again in this last few, Derrick Rose’s resurgence is one of the best stories of the season — but the team is still 3-3 in is last six and just does not look like a playoff team in the deep West. Plus, Andrew Wiggins calling out the home fans doesn’t help. There’s a lot of speculation around the league about what moves the Timberwolves make in the offseason — there’s a sense Tom Thibodeau will be out as coach/GM, which may be why Fred Hoiberg doesn’t take the UCLA job — but nobody knows for sure. This team is better off without the disruptive Jimmy Butler around, but it’s not right, either.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (16-19, 19). Detroit has lost 5-of-6, but more concerning is who some of those losses are to: Atlanta, Orlando, and Charlotte. The biggest problem is the offense, which is scoring just 103.8 per 100 in its last 10 games, third worst in the NBA in that stretch. While Blake Griffin is doing all he can, this team lacks secondary playmakers or any other kind of consistent scoring options. Things don’t get easier now as Wednesday night in Memphis starts a run of seven straight games against the deeper Western Conference where wins will be harder to come by.

Nets small icon 22. Nets (17-21, LW 22). The Nets are in the playoff picture in the East (the 9 seed, just half a game out of the playoffs) but have come back to earth a little with a couple straight losses on the road following the 9-of-10 win streak. They remain an offensive force that struggles to get stops consistently, which could be an issue as the Nets have a tough stretch of games coming up for the next couple of weeks (6-of-8 on the road starting Friday in Memphis).

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (17-21, LW 23). The Pelicans struggles to close out games are what is keeping them out of the playoffs (and is one of the biggest differences from last season). New Orleans is 5-11 in games within three points in the final three minutes, the same record as league-worst clutch team Charlotte (last season the Pelicans were 23-16 in those three point clutch games). Elfrid Payton’s return should be a boost to the Pelicans, giving them more depth at the guard spots.

Magic small icon 24. Magic (16-20, LW 24). If Orlando is going to stay in playoff contention in the East — they are just half-a-game out of the eight seed as I write this — they need some more road wins in the next couple of weeks. The Magic are a respectable 6-9 away from home this season and play better defense (slowing the game down) for some reason, but Monday’s loss in Charlotte was the first of six in a row on the road. The other thing they could use? Another Evan Fournier game winner.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (11-25, LW 25). Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 5-of-7 with improved play on both ends of the court. The Hawks have done it with offensive balance, plus Trae Young looking more comfortable both knocking know shots (50% from three on 3.6 attempts per game in his last five) plus dishing out more assists and looking more comfortable running the offense. Monday’s loss to the Pacers was the first of 6-of-7 on the road for the Hawks.

Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (14-23, LW 26). John Wall is out for the season having surgery on his heel, pain that can be (at least partially) to blame for his underwhelming start to the season. Now the question is what do the Wizards do next? The smart basketball answer would be to tank for a good pick (the best way for the capped out team to improve for next season) but will that happen with good talent still on the roster? Will the Wizards still be open to trading Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, or maybe even Bradley Beal (probably not Beal). It’s an unpredictable time in our nation’s capital.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (9-29, LW 27). After showing some competitive fire for a stretch (remember the four-game winning streak?) the Suns have dropped 5-of-6, including all three at the start of a seven-game homestand. The Suns’ offense, led by Devin Booker — 26.4 points and 8.2 assists per game, shooting 40.7% from three in the last five — remains respectable, but they lose because they cannot get stops (allowing 117.5 per 100 in the last six, third worst defense in the NBA in that stretch).

Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (10-27, LW 28). Where has Jim Boyle made a difference as coach? Defense. Since he took over the Bulls are actually the seventh ranked defense in the league, giving up 106.4 per 100 (better than the Celtics or Raptors in that stretch). Of course, the offense is scoring less than a point per possession in that time, so the Bulls are not going to win a lot, but there has been improvement.

Knicks small icon 29. Knicks (9-29, LW 29). Everything looks miserable in New York right now, from a rainy New Year’s Eve in Time Square to the Knicks having lost eight in a row while Enes Kanter complains publicly about not starting. There have been some mild bright spots in the play of rookie Kevin Knox and young guard Emmanuel Mudiay, but this is what it’s like to watch a rebuilding team without its best player for a season due to injury. Stay the course, struggle and let the youth learn hard lessons, get a good draft pick and think about next season and beyond.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (8-29, LW 30). They have rolled the dice signing Patrick McCaw away from the Warriors, but because it’s a non-guaranteed contract it’s not that big a gamble. McCaw showed some promise his rookie season as a wing asked to play a role on a title team, but he wanted more run and responsibility and that wasn’t happening in Golden State. So, McCaw risked his career and now is in Cleveland with a lot to prove.