We are halfway through the 2022/23 season and moving into the new year. The season is flying by and after a week of basketball in 2023, I have a lot to talk about.
Teams that deserve a shoutout
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings don’t fly under the radar or surprise anyone. They’ve gone from being one of the bottom teams in the league in recent years to a surprisingly good team to start this season and are now leading the Pacific Division. But not only has Sacramento’s rise been swift and quickly eclipsed the skepticism and pessimistic tones of others, but the Kings also give us some seriously entertaining basketball to see along the way.
I’m a West Coast guy, so I’ve stayed up a lot of nights this season watching Sacramento take on all sorts of opponents. And for lack of better words – it was a bloody explosion.
The Kings have already played 23 games with “clutch time” minutes, meaning when the game’s point spread is no more than five points with five or fewer minutes remaining. Sixteen of those games were decided by two or fewer possessions (eight wins, eight losses) and 10 ended in one-score games (five wins, five losses). Ultimately, wins and losses matter most, but the offense Sacramento displays in these situations is worth noting. The Kings’ 130.3 offensive rating during the clutch ranks highest in the NBA, and they have De’Aaron Fox’s 5.0 points per game to thank these minutes, which is the second-highest of any player to score at least five times in the clutch were. Game situations this season.
If Mike Brown can get his team to tighten his bottom-five clutch defense (121.2 defensive rating), the Kings could be a scary playoff opponent.
LIGHT THE BEAM.
The Pacific Division is incredibly tight with three games separating first from last and kings don’t get much attention in futures odds.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Three weeks ago, the mood in Chicago wasn’t where it should be. The Bulls were 11-18, losers from four games in a row and had dug themselves deep into a hole they couldn’t seem to get out of. Today, they’ve won eight of 12 games, including a recent four-game win streak, to get back to nearly .500.
What has changed? The offensive is awake. DeMar DeRozan’s contributions have been consistent throughout (although he retired with a quadriceps injury in the third quarter of Monday’s loss), but now others are on form after an uneven start to the season. Zach LaVine, in particular, looks like old Zach LaVine as he moves further and further away from an off-season knee surgery.
LaVine’s goal tally, efficiency and offense influence increase. In November he averaged just 20.5 points at 39.9/31.8/82.0 splits, but in December he averaged 24.5 points at 52.1/42.9/82.8 splits. Earlier this month, his January stats of 28.6 points per game on efficient splits of 50.5/49.0.3/92.3 suggest the All-Star version of LaVine is back. And if the Bulls are going to ride this thing out, they need this version of him to hang around all season.
The Bulls lost a close game to the Celtics on Monday night, but there’s no shame in that. So, kudos to them for turning it around a bit. Let’s see where it goes from here.
The LA Clippers put all their eggs in the championship basket years ago when they traded Paul George and signed Kawhi Leonard as a free agent. Unlike the Clippers, the Houston Rockets strayed from their championship hunt nearly two full years ago by sending James Harden to Brooklyn in a three-team trade that earned a total of four first-round picks and four first-round pick trades . Finally, San Antonio bid farewell to DeRozan during the 2021 free agency period and traded Dejounte Murray to Atlanta the following offseason, signaling a rebuild.
So what could a team with championship ambitions have in common with two of the NBA’s three youngest teams? the athleteLaw Murray posted this gem via Twitter last Friday night — the Clippers, Spurs and Rockets are the only teams in the Western Conference not to have won more than three games in a row.
The Lakers will win their fourth straight game tonight after beating the Hawks, leaving the Clippers, Rockets and Spurs the only West teams without a 4-game W series so far this season
— Law Murray 🥳 (@LawMurrayTheNU) January 7, 2023
How much that stat adds up to in the grand scheme of things depends on who you ask, but there’s no doubt LA shouldn’t be proud of it. Personally, it tells me how bad things have gone for the Clippers this season, which should have been the season for her. Still struggling with the injury virus, they have an aging and unbalanced squad that has still not worked this season. As a result, they have a disappointing 21-21 record that puts them close to falling into the play-in seeds.
Questions for the Clippers to answer are: What, if anything, will the trade deadline for this list bring? Can their stars stay together on the court for a long time? Will the Clippers find out about this before it’s too late?
Based on how the season had been going for the defending champions leading up to their Dec. 14 date with the Indiana Pacers, pessimism about a legitimate Warriors playoff run seemed justified. The locker room stuff from last season was a distraction, the bench didn’t perform and normally reliable contributors like Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole struggled out of goal. And whatever hope those optimistic few had that Golden State would regain its form was certainly dwindled that night in Indianapolis after Stephen Curry suffered a shoulder injury that would sideline him for several weeks.
Already under .500 and 10th in the West, two blowout losses in New York followed shortly thereafter and the Dubs fell to 11th in the conference. But a clear victory over the Memphis Grizzlies this Christmas could have changed the course of their season. Even without Curry, they chipped and somehow managed to advance from the play-in tournament (11th place) to the playoffs (sixth place).
That the Warriors weathered the storm 6-5 without a Curry could be the turning point in the season they look back on later this year. You can give them credit for improving their standings overall, or you can argue that part of their fortunes could also be due to the fact that the majority of the Western Conference are mediocre and unable to separate themselves . Regardless of how you slice it, the Warriors aren’t dead and buried like many thought they could follow their best player’s injury. Instead, they’re on an uptrend as Curry, who is rated as likely, may spring back into action for Tuesday night’s game against Phoenix, which should spook the rest of the West.
(Photo by De’Aaron Fox: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)