Getty Images

PBT Podcast: Previewing the (likely slow) NBA Trade Deadline

Leave a comment

Blockbusters?

Probably not.

The NBA trade deadline is coming Feb. 7 and there will be deals made — salary will get moved around and a few players whose names you know and could help teams will change cities and jerseys. Put more directly, Anthony Davis and John Wall aren’t getting traded, but Jeremy Lin, Terrence Ross and a few others may be.

Sean Deveney of The Sporting News joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to talk about why this will be a slow trade deadline, what guys could get moved and why, what the post-deadline buyout market will look like, and how everything points to a massive summer of player movement and spending around the NBA.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

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

Getty Images
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.

Derrick Rose remains tight with Stephen Curry for top West guard in All-Star voting

AP Photo/Ben Margot
1 Comment

The NBA’s new formula for picking All-Star starters – 50% fans, 25% current players, 25% selected media – has sucked the significance out of the fan vote. When solely the fan vote determined All-Star starters, atypical results in voting returns were huge. But now they’re only a small wrinkle and will likely get ironed out with player and media voting.

So, the biggest takeaway from fan voting should be leaders in each conference. Those players (as long they’re All-Stars) will captain each team. As with the first returns, that’s LeBron James (West) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (East).

But it can still be useful to view the full leaderboards in fan voting. The latest update:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 2,779,812

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 2,220,077

3. Paul George (OKC) 1,859,216

4. Kevin Durant (GSW) 1,717,968

5. Anthony Davis (NOP) 1,564,347

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 1,034,014

7. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 740,918

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 584,842

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 411,131

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 276,849

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 2,094,158

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 1,986,840

3. James Harden (HOU) 1,674,660

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 1,494,382

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 706,960

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 610,839

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 594,012

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 529,164

9. Devin Booker (PHO) 310,944

10. Chris Paul (HOU) 306,808

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 2,670,816

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 2,092,806

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 1,710,229

4. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 599,289

5. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 569,354

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 500,072

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 273,719

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 237,813

9. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 206,290

10. Al Horford (BOS) 199,474

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 2,381,901

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 1,199,789

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 858,798

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 695,032

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 567,893

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 488,825

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 330,504

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 200,648

9. Goran Dragic (MIA) 191,541

10. Bradley Beal (WAS) 168,137

Derrick Rose remains very close – just 107,318 votes – from Stephen Curry for first place among Western Conference guards. Curry has slightly expanded his lead from the first returns (95,025 votes), but Rose supporters could be invigorated his high rank wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

Could enough players also vote for Rose to make him an All-Star starter? He’s highly respected among his peers. Maybe he could sneak in with no media votes, which seems like the most likely outcome in that category.

Because votes are combined using rank within each contingent (fans, players, media) and players without votes are given a rank one below the last vote-getter, this could come down to how many Western Conference guards get media votes. For example, if media votes for only Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Rose would count as fourth place in the media category. If even one media member also each votes for Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan, that’d push Rose to counting as seventh in the media category. That could be the difference between him starting and not.

Overtaking Curry in the fan vote would give Rose more margin for error.

Luka Doncic remains second among Western Conference frontcourt players. But it’s difficult to see his peers or the media also voting for the rookie.

Dwyane Wade is also still second among Eastern Conference guards, and he might get some player votes as a sendoff. Still, it’s tough to see him getting enough media support.

If there’s going to be an unconventional All-Star starter this season, my money is on Rose. That said, he has a narrow needle to thread.

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.

NBA Power Rankings: Giannis Antetokounmpo muscles Bucks into top spot

Getty Images
2 Comments

The Warriors don’t care enough about the regular season to string together a series of wins and grab the top spot. Meanwhile, the Bucks and Raptors keep winning and keep playing like they care, so they are on top.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (23-10, last week No. 3). Milwaukee keeps racking up impressive wins, but it was their one loss that was interesting this week. Miami zoned off for stretches, cut off Giannis Antetokounmpo on the drive (as much as any team can), and made the Bucks beat them with jumpers — and the Bucks shot 9-of-43 from three. I expect we will see more of that philosophy going forward and into the playoffs (not the zone, but the idea of packing the paint). The Bucks — 34.8% from three as a team this season, 17th in the league — need to make teams pay for that strategy with jumpers. On Christmas Day, Giannis Antetokounmpo made his MVP case on national television (yes, it still counts if you do it against the Knicks).

 
Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (25-10, LW 4). Every Raptors’ fans’ Christmas list had “Kawhi Leonard signs long-term in Toronto” at the top of it. We’ll see if Santa makes a special July trip to Toronto. Rumors fly around the league constantly, but only Leonard really knows what Leonard is thinking, and he’s not talking. Right now, on the court, the Raptors are flat — 5-5 in their last 10 with a middle-of-the-pack net rating (+2.4) in that stretch. Injuries and road games have played into that. One bright spot for the Raptors this season is the play of Kawhi Leonard in the clutch: he is shooting 60% overall and 50% from three in the final five minutes of a game within five points. The Raptors needed that.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (23-12, LW 2). Every week I want to move Golden State into the top spot in these rankings — I still believe that, when they are focused, the Warriors will be clear and away the best team in the league — they go out and have a disinterested, clunker game like they did on Christmas. So there they are in third. Also, the “death lineup” — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green — has played just 37 minutes this season and is -5.6 per 100 in that limited run.

 
Pacers small icon 4. Pacers (22-12, LW 6). Indiana got a lot of praise for signing Tyreke Evans this past offseason, he was going to be the boost their bench needed. Nope. He has been a disappointment – 36.3 shooting percentage, 47 percent true shooting percentage (way below the league average), and a PER of 11 (down from 21.1 last season in Memphis). The Pacers are winning without Evans, but they could use him. Indiana continues through a soft part of the schedule this week, with two against the Hawks and one against the Pistons.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (21-10, LW 1).. The Nuggets had a light stretch of the schedule — one game over seven days (an ugly loss to the Clippers) — at just the right time as three starters (Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton) remain out with injuries. The Nuggets have struggled defensively on the road, giving up seven more points per game, and they are just 8-7 away from the Pepsi Center, and that loss to the Clippers was the start of 7-of-11 away from home.

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (20-13, LW 5). The Christmas Day win over the Sixers seemed to establish the offensive pecking order for the Celtics — Kyrie Irving eats first, then everyone else. That sense of an offensive order is something Boston has lacked this season. Getting healthier (Al Horford and Marcus Morris back, but losing Aron Baynes to a broken hand) certainly helped them win a couple in a row. Now comes a real test on the road at Houston, Memphis, and San Antonio. But if Kyrie Irving can do this with Jimmy Butler draped on him, the Celtics are in a good place.

 
Sixers small icon 7. 76ers (22-13, LW 8). Philly lost in OT to the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season but their were positives to take away, including Joel Embiid dropping 34 and 14 in the game (he struggled in the playoffs last season against Al Horford). The Sixers have gone 3-4 in their last 7 (although their net rating of +4.2 in that stretch suggests it’s a fluke) and the loss in Boston was the first of five in a row on the road as they head West.

 
Rockets small icon 8. Rockets (18-15, LW 11). Chris Paul is out for a couple of weeks with a strained hamstring, and as Bobby Marks of ESPN noted this is the ninth time since 2012 CP3 has missed time with a hamstring injury. That’s concerning. Before this latest injury the Rockets were 0-5 with Paul out of the lineup this season but they have gone 2-0 without him this week including James Harden going off on Christmas Day.
Harden has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games and is carrying the offense — and the Rockets back into the playoffs as the team has won 7-of-8.

 
Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (21-12, LW 7). When Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams share the court together this season, the Thunder outscore opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions. The fact that the Thunder’s overall net rating is five points lower than that on the season speaks to the lack of depth around that strong core. Talk about OKC with scouts/executives around the league and there is a split about how far they can go with this lineup in the playoffs — some think their defense will carry them to the Conference Finals, others think you can scheme for OKC’s scorers and they will be out early. Hopefully, they’re healthy in April so we can find out.

 
Lakers small icon 10. Lakers (20-14, LW 10). It was a little jarring to see LeBron James leave the game with an injury on Christmas Day — the league may never have had a more durable superstar (and few have prioritized injury prevention and care like he has). Fortunately, the MRI came back clean and LeBron likely only misses a few games. The Lakers shot well from three against the Warriors (39.4%), a welcome change from the previous four games when Los Angeles struggled from deep and went 1-3. The Lakers are not loaded with shooters but they need to hit enough threes to keep the defense honest.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (19-15, LW 9). Portland struggled to stop Utah from scoring on Christmas — and the Jazz do not have the most dynamic offense in the league — but that speaks to one of Portland’s problems of late. In their last 13 games, the Blazers have allowed 112.1 points per 100, which is fifth worst in the league. The offense, especially with the bench struggling, cannot make up for that. A tough stretch of six games coming up for the Trail Blazers, starting Thursday with a home-and-home against the Warriors.

 
Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (18-16, LW 12). Go ahead and say the Spurs take too many midrangers if you want, they have won 7-of-9 and in that stretch have the best offense in the NBA scoring 120.3 points per 100 possessions. Their role players have stepped up as snipers and the Spurs are hitting threes at a 47.1% clip in their last nine (but taking the second fewest in the league, 23.1 per game, in that stretch). This was a team a few weeks ago three games below .500 and looking like they would fade from the playoff picture, now the Spurs are ninth in the West just half-a-game out of the playoffs.

 
Kings small icon 13. Kings (18-15, LW 13). The dynamic play of De’Aaron Fox this season has overshadowed his backcourt teammate — Buddy Hield has been a sniper and scoring machine this season, averaging 20.4 points a night (leading the Kings), taking 45.6% of his shots from three and hitting 44% of them (and those aren’t corner threes either, he likes to be above the break). Hield has thrived in transition ant the pace the Kings are playing, often running to the arc and getting a clean look at a three. He has found his role in the NBA and is thriving in it.

 
Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (19-14, LW 16). A couple of wins last week against other teams in the playoff chase — Dallas and Denver — may be signs that Los Angeles has stabilized the ship after rough patch. Still, in their last 10 games the Clippers have allowed 116.6 points per 100 possessions, the second worst defense in the NBA over that stretch (sandwiched between the Knicks and Cavaliers, not exactly great company). A challenging week — Kings, Lakers, Spurs, 76ers — will give us a sense of if things have improved or not.

 
Jazz small icon 151. Jazz (17-18, LW 21). A quality win on Christmas Day over Portland was the latest sign Utah has found it’s defense again — in its last seven games it has allowed less than a point per possession (95.5), best in the NBA. The offense is still bottom 10 over that stretch but looked good against Portland on a big national stage — if Donovan Mitchell and the offense can just be average to good while the defense locks teams down, the Jazz will be poised to go on a run and get back in the playoff picture.

 
Hornets small icon 16. Hornets (16-16, LW 17). Charlotte is treading water (5-6 in their last 11) mostly because Kemba Walker continues to struggle — 19.8 points per game his last 10 but shooting 37.4% overall and 29.5% from three (his pull-up three is one of his biggest weapons). The Hornets were pretty average through a soft, home-heavy part of the schedule the past couple of weeks, they did not bank wins, and that could come back to bite them later in the season.

 
Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (17-16, LW 15). The Grizzlies starting five — Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, and Jaren Jackson Jr. — is the third most heavily used lineup in the NBA at 326 minutes, and they are +11.2 per 100. After that, the lack of depth on this roster catches up with Memphis. After going 1-3 on a recent road trip the Grizzlies have 4-of-5 at home, with some winnable games, starting with Cleveland Wednesday.

 
Heat small icon 18. Heat (16-16, LW 24). Winners of five in a row and 9-of-11, a streak due to a top four defense in the league in that time (the offense is bottom 10 in that stretch). That’s not likely to improve with Goran Dragic out for a couple of months, coach Eric Spoelstra has said Justise Winslow will be the point (really a point forward) for the team in his absence. The good news for Miami as it fights to keep a playoff spot is it has 7-of-9 at home coming up.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (15-16, 18). This ranking feels almost too high for a team that has lost 9-of-11 and is in danger of falling out of the playoffs entirely. The problem during this stretch is on offense, where the Blake Griffin led team is scoring 101.7 per 100 in their last 11, third worst in the NBA. The main issue is their biggest concern all season: This is just not a good shooting squad. They have a dreadful team true shooting percentage of 51.8 in the last 11 games, worst in the NBA. The Pistons also have turned the ball over more of late, which doesn’t help matters.

 
Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (15-17, LW 14). Losers of six in a row, the Mavs have yet to win a game with Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, which is both a concern and not the sendoff the future Hall of Famer deserves. That said, Nowitzki isn’t himself playing 8 minutes a game, averaging 2.2 points a night, and when you see him in person and how he struggles to move well, it’s just hard to watch for such a great player. Everyone is distracted from the Nowitzki issue because Luka Doncic is doing this:

 
21. Timberwolves (15-18, LW 19). We keep waiting for teams to fall out of the playoff chase in the West, Minnesota may be that team. The Timberwolves currently sit 13th in the West, three games out of the playoffs, they are 4-6 in their last 10 with a top-10 offense but a bottom-five defense. Which is a big disappointment for a team we thought was on the rise in the West back at the start of this calendar year. Minnesota is 1-1 so far in a stretch of 6-of-7 on the road.

 
Nets small icon 22. Nets (16-19, LW 22). Winners of 8-of-9 the Nets find themselves as the nine seed in the East just a couple games out of the playoffs. Which is a testament to the culture being built in Brooklyn. They have done it with a top-five offense carrying a bottom-10 defense during that stretch, not ideal but it is working. The Nets now have a home-and-home coming up against the Hornets, one of the teams they are chasing.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (15-19, LW 20). Losers of four in a row, and that can’t be blamed on the well-coordinated media blitz of leaks/comments by LeBron James and his camp trying to sway Anthony Davis to come to Hollywood. Is that kind of move by LeBron’s team fair? Whoever told you the NBA was fair? The fact that New Orleans had to answer questions is not that big a deal — if answering questions is disrupting your franchise the problem isn’t the questions — and the questions about how this team was built around Davis over the past seven years are legitimate.

 
Magic small icon 24. Magic (14-18, LW 23). The Magic are 2-6 in their last eight, and those wins were ugly affairs in Mexico City. The problem is the offense, which was a concern going into the season but has cratered of late scoring less than a point per possession in this stretch. Aaron Gordon looked like a rejuvenated player living up to his new contract early in the season, but in the last five is averaging 11.2 points per game on 32.7 percent shooting (although he is hitting 38.9 percent from three). The Magic need to find a way to rack up some wins at home in the next few days because on New Year’s Eve they start a six-game road trip.

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (9-23, LW 29). Atlanta is on a three-game winning streak and got those last two on the road in New York and Detroit. They’ve done it with a balanced attack and some good games from their veterans Vince Carter and Jeremy Lin, plus some solid defense. Expect the Kent Bazemore trade rumors to start to ramp up after the first of the season, although matching his $18.1 million salary for this season (with a player option for $19.3 next season he will certainly pick up) makes it tough to find a home for him.

 
Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (13-21, LW 25). Among the plethora of problems facing the Wizards, they have not had Otto Porter for the last seven games (and it will be eight) due to a knee issue. Porter himself has not been a game-changer this season, they just traded for Trevor Ariza, but the Wizards gave up some depth in that trade to get the veteran wing and that lack of depth is exposed with Porter out. Washington has a stretch of games where they could get some wins — at the Pistons, then hosting the Bulls, Hornets, and Hawks — but whether Washington will care or play hard enough to win those games remains to be seen.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (8-26, LW 26). It feels like Deandre Ayton is getting a bit overlooked this season. Yes, his defense is terrible right now and he is reliant on someone setting him up (72.6 percent of his two-point shots are assisted), but the rookie is averaging 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. He has a lot of offensive skill and as the Suns put a better team around him Ayton can be a cornerstone. The brief high of the four-game winning streak came crashing own with losses to the Wizards and Nets, leaving the Suns 2-2 on their current road trip.

 
Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (9-25, LW 30). It’s hard to rebuild when guys can’t stay healthy: Since Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine joined the Bulls the team has had 114 regular-season games, but those three have played together in just 14 of them (and less than 5% of the available minutes in that time). Right now both LaVine and Bobby Portis are out with sprained ankles. That said, the Bulls have won a couple in a row against other teams down here at the bottom of the rankings, giving them a little boost out of the power ranking cellar.

 
Knicks small icon 29. Knicks (9-26, LW 28). The Kristaps Porzingis update saying he will be re-evaluated in February is a good sign. Ideally the Knicks would like to get KP a few games at the end of the season, just to jumpstart his offseason workouts (and let any potential free agents know he will be there in 2019-20). The Knicks are of five in a row — including the Bucks on national television on Christmas Day — and New York is about to head out on a six-game road trip.

 
Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (8-26, LW 27). The only questions left about this season in Cleveland is can they get anything of value in trades for J.R. Smith or anyone else on the roster. Cleveland would be happy to find a taker for Kevin Love, but with him stepping into a massive extension and missing time due to a toe injury there’s no chance he’s traded before the summer, and even then it seems unlikely.