Here’s a team that simply needs to find a way to win a basketball game, and do so on a somewhat consistent basis. Playing competitive basketball would actually be the first step in the process. Unfortunately, losing by an average of 13.5 points per game isn’t a way to trend in that direction. Philly basketball is hard to watch — something that’s been all-too-common over the past several years.
29. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
What a mighty fall it has been for a Pelicans squad that entered the season with high expectations. With just one win this season, Alvin Gentry’s squad simply hasn’t gelled in his first season as the team’s head coach. That’s magnified by a defense that ranks dead last in points per game.
28. BROOKLYN NETS
Brooklyn took the defending champion Golden State Warriors to overtime on the road this past weekend. That’s an amazing accomplishment in and of itself. However, starting the season 2-9 has the Nets as one of the worst teams in the NBA. The only real saving grace here is that Brooklyn has been more competitive as of late.
27. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Until the Lakers fully move on from the Kobe Bryant era, the team is going to struggle in its rebuilding attempt. That’s highly unlikely to happen until Byron Scott is no longer manning the bench.
26. SACRAMENTO KINGS
All the drama aside, Sacramento has won thee consecutive games entering Wednesday. It has done so riding the dominating play of one DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 36.3 points and 10.7 rebounds during that span. There’s a lot of talent here. It’s now all about George Karl overcoming the drama and finding the right mix.
25. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Minnesota’s offense has been extremely impressive, averaging 103.1 points per game. Though, this young team has struggled considerably on the defensive end of the court. The good news here is that Minnesota has won five of six road games. The bad news is that it’s 0-5 at home. This is the type of inconsistency that will continue to plague the young team.
24. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Charlotte has been on a bit of a roll after starting the season with three consecutive losses. Wins against Chicago, Dallas and Portland has been impressive as of late. The performance of new addition Nicolas Batum has been the difference here. He entered Wednesday averaging 21.2 points in the Hornets’ past five games. Though, we’re still looking at a mediocre team here.
23. NEW YORK KNICKS
Here’s a team that’s picked it up big time after a slow start. Derek Fisher and company enter Wednesday’s action having won two straight. Although all the focus here is going to be on Carmelo Anthony, rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis has been the talk of the town. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in just 25.3 minutes this season. That’s impressive.
22. BOSTON CELTICS
Brad Stevens has his Celtics playing competitive basketball thus far. Heading into Wednesday’s action with a winning record, the Celtics are looking to build off of a playoff appearance last season. Finally given an opportunity to start, Isaiah Thomas has made the most of it. He’s averaging 21 points and 6.3 assists. That’s been huge for this surprising team.
21. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The key for Milwaukee moving forward will be how its talented frontcourt meshes. In his first 11 games as a Buck, Greg Monroe has shown himself to be a tremendous presence down low. But in reality, it’s going to be about Jabari Parker returning to pre-injury form. With five wins in their past seven games, the Bucks’ trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
20. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
After starting the season with four wins in their first six games, the Blazers have lost six consecutive heading into Wednesday’s action. It’s primarily been a lack of defense (102.9 per game) that’s dogged this team during that span. No Western Conference team will have consistent success with those numbers. That’s the harsh reality.
19. DENVER NUGGETS
There is so much untapped talent on this team that it would be a playoff contender back east. Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari are averaging a combined 32 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Mudiay continues to show flashes. With wins against Portland, Milwaukee and Houston over the past week, things may be starting to come together here.
18. ORLANDO MAGIC
After losing four of its first five, Orlando has played well recently. It has won four of six games with solid victories over Toronto and Utah during that span. Very much a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, the Magic’s ability to show consistency will be key. That starts with the likes of Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo progressing from the perimeter.
17. HOUSTON ROCKETS
There’s no other way to put it. Houston has been the most disappointing team in the NBA this year. After losing three consecutive to start the year, Houston ran off a four-game winning steak, including impressive outings against the Clippers and Thunder. It’s now lost four in a row and fired Kevin McHale as coach. With the talent this team possesses, that’s a downright travesty.
16. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
With three consecutive wins heading into Wednesday night, Memphis is looking to right the ship following a disastrous start to the season. The major issue here has been a lack of a perimeter game. Memphis is shooting just 32 percent from three-point range and boasts the Association’s fifth-worst scoring offense. Both of those things need to change in short order.
15. UTAH JAZZ
Utah lost three of four during a recent East Coast trip. That came on the heels of the team winning four of its first six games. With a tough slate coming up, including games against the Raptors, Thunder, Clippers and Warriors, we will have a better understanding of where this .500 team is at moving forward this month.
14. DETROIT PISTONS
After winning five of its first six, Detroit head into Wednesday losers of four of five. Heck, it dropped a real basketball game to the Lakers by 12 points on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether the Pistons are simply struggling or if their early-season success was a fluke. Either way, this team simply isn’t playing good basketball right now.
13. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
More than the somewhat minor shoulder injury Bradley Beal is suffering through, the primary issue for what has been an average Wizards team is consistency. A two-game stretch earlier this month represents this fact to a T. Following a solid win against the San Antonio Spurs, Washington dropped a road game to Boston by 20. That can’t happen if you want to be taken seriously.
12. INDIANA PACERS
Simply put, someone needs to step up for Indiana if it is going to be a serious conference title contender. Paul George just can’t do it all by himself. Free-agent addition Monta Ellis is shooting just 40 percent from the field while averaging 13.3 points per game. Meanwhile, the team is averaging 20.6 assists compared to 15.4 turnovers per game. That’s not going to get it done.
11. DALLAS MAVERICKS
After a slow start to the season, Dallas has found its footing over the past week-plus, winning four straight heading into Wednesday night. More than anything, the key here has been getting Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons back into the fold. If the latter can actually log the necessary minutes to make an impact, the Mavericks’ recent success could very well be more than a mirage.
10. PHOENIX SUNS
Most of us had a pretty good idea that Phoenix would be entertaining this season. However, the team has been much more than that early on. Tyson Chandler’s interior presence and the team’s stellar backcourt play has it thinking playoffs. With wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and an improved Nuggets team in the past week, things are looking up in the desert.
9. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant’s hamstring injury is the biggest concern here. Although it’s just a strain, we know how these injuries can linger for an entire season. Without Durant at 100 percent, the Thunder are not a seriously title contender. As it is, this team enters Wednesday at 5-5.
8. TORONTO RAPORS
We still have no idea whether the Raptors can be considered conference championship contenders. The trio of Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan may be among the best in the conference. Toronto simply needs to play better basketball against inferior competition. That’s something this team has struggled with.
7. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Los Angeles has lost four of six since starting the season with four consecutive wins. With a home game coming up against the Golden State Warriors, Doc Rivers and Co. have an opportunity to move past this mini-slump by defeating its California rivals. However, it’s going to need to get Chris Paul back at full health after he’s missed the past two games with a groin injury. That’s the biggest key here.
6. CHICAGO BULLS
Having won three straight heading into Wednesday, Chicago seems to be playing its best basketball. That’s been made possible by the growing relationship between Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose in the backcourt. The latter has been consistently logging between 27 and 35 minutes this season and has seen himself put up double-digit points and five-plus assists in his past five games. That’s huge.
5. MIAMI HEAT
With three consecutive wins last week, the Heat seem to be finding their groove. The play of Chris Bosh (19.0 points, 9.7 rebounds) and Hassan Whiteside (15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.6 blocks) is what has this team thinking conference championship. And in reality, the talent is most definitely here for that to become a reality.
4. ATLANTA HAWKS
Losers of three straight, the Hawks have hit a bit of a rough spot recently. You simply can’t lose to Minnesota and Boston and be among the top three teams in the NBA. However, as we have learned throughout the past year-plus, there’s no reason to sleep on this team. It’s still a beast in the east.
3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
It’s becoming readily apparent that San Antonio is the Warriors’ biggest threat in the west. The coaching, the talent and the team-first mindset all have this squad playing tremendous basketball. With an 8-2 start through Tuesday, San Antonio is right there with the big boys. Oh, and LaMarcus Aldridge is meshing perfectly fine here.
2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
As of right now, the Cavaliers and Warriors have to be favored for a rematch in the Finals. Even without Kyrie Irving, Cleveland has won eight of its past nine with its only defeat coming to the Bucks in double overtime. For his part, LeBron James is still playing otherworldly basketball, averaging 27.3 points while shooting a ridiculous 50.7 percent from the field.
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
There isn’t much more we can say about this team. Heading into Wednesday night, the defending champs are clearly the best team in the NBA. With an average scoring differential of 15.4 points, it’s not really that close. Heck, the Warriors are putting up an average of 114.2 points per game. Golden State is the class of the Association.