January 4, 2021, 4:00 pm
Welcome, Hoop Ball readers, to another edition of The Week Ahead!
As the dust begins to settle, we are starting to see which teams are contenders or pretenders. For example, the Cavs and Magic started out on an undefeated tear, but it is unrealistic to believe that they are title contenders and their current records (both 4-2) prove that. Meanwhile, teams such as the Nets and Bucks that would be considered contenders are struggling to rattle off wins. The Nets clearly have a flaw on the defensive end of the floor and the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie for the season is proving to be a crucial hit to their rotation.
In other news, Damian Lillard said that Stephen Curry is struggling to get open looks and it won’t be as easy to score as it was during those four to five golden years. Curry took those words to heart and came back next game and dropped a career-high 62 points on Lillard’s head. Let’s see what excitement the upcoming week will have in store. Here are my early predictions for the playoff seeding:
- 76ers (55-17)- A team full of shooters like Seth Curry and Danny Green to surround Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but we will see if that is enough to lead them to playoff success and not just regular season success.
- Bucks (52-20)- The Bucks do not appear to be drastically better with the acquisition of Jrue Holiday, so they could find themselves as another second round or Eastern Conference Finals exit if they do not pick up their play.
- Celtics (50-22)- The Celtics are not playing well right now as they sit at 4-3 on the season, but they are missing Kemba Walker and have that trade exception sitting there in case Trader Danny decides to make a move. This team can be very scary when the playoffs roll around.
- Nets (48-34)- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can only do so much. The team has no defensive capabilities and their offense is going to have to be monstrous each and every night for them to come out of the East.
- Heat (47-25)- The defending Eastern Conference champions made their team better by adding Moe Harkless and Avery Bradley, but so did the other teams in the conference so their chance to repeat is not guaranteed.
- Hawks (43-29)- Identical structure to the Nets without players that are as good as KD and Kyrie Irving. They have a top-5 offensive team, but defense will hold them back for sure.
- Pacers (41-31)- The Pacers are never able to stay healthy, but their fully healthy squad could cause problems for one of the top teams in the East.
- Raptors (38-34)- The Raptors do not look nearly as good as they did last year, but I’m not sure that it is time to panic yet. However, they do not look like a team that will sit atop the East.
- Magic (36-36)- Started off hot but this team will be a low-end playoff squad that gets booted in the first round of the playoffs.
- Cavs (35-37)- Copy and paste the Magic prompt.
- Clippers (57-15)- We still have not seen their full lineup as Marcus Morris has been out, but aside from their embarrassing blowout loss to the Mavs they look like the best team in the NBA.
- Lakers (56-16)- The defending champs look great once again and I am sure we will see a different gear come playoff time.
- Jazz (53-19)- The Jazz are a force to be reckoned with. They are a deep team that should not struggle on either side of the ball. They are playing hungry after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets last season in the bubble playoffs.
- Suns (52-20)- Acquiring Chris Paul opened up doors for their offense to gel and the Suns have never looked better. They have a shot to compete in this conference, but defeating the Los Angeles powerhouses will be their biggest obstacle.
- Nuggets (49-23)- The Nuggets have started the season rough as they were the last team in the NBA to get a win, but they are going to turn it around and end up as a mid-level playoff team in the West.
- Pelicans (45-27)- The young studs on the Pelicans have taken a step forward and it seems as though the acquisitions of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams should be enough to help them reach the playoffs this season.
- Trail Blazers (42-30)- The Blazers have a talented lineup and a deep team, but it seems as though the remainder of the starting lineup is having issues getting in a rhythm. However, they should still be able to secure a playoff spot.
- Rockets (41-31)- This team is confusing. John Wall looks great. DeMarcus Cousins looks awful. James Harden wants out. We could see the roster change if that blockbuster ever occurs, so you never know with this squad.
- Warriors (40-32)- Steph Curry needs help. The supporting cast has looked awful and can only get better from here, so the fact that they are even a .500 team right now is surprising.
- Mavs (39-33)- Luka Doncic has to hold down the fort and keep them competing until Kristaps Porzingis gets back. This duo could create problems in the playoffs.
Now here is an overview of the week ahead:
Weekly Schedule Breakdown
4 games: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Clippers, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Nuggets, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Warriors, Wolves
3 games: Grizzlies, Hawks, Mavs, Pacers, Pelicans, Suns, Trail Blazers, Wizards
Best Schedule: Bucks (Pistons, Pistons, Jazz, Cavs)
The Bucks have four home games this week and three of them are ones that they should be able to win easily. This is the week that they can turn their rocky start around if they take advantage of their doubleheader with the Pistons and game against the Cavs. Start Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo and Bobby Portis as they should have a field day this week. We could see the Bucks surge to the top of the standings after these games.
Worst Schedule: Wizards (at 76ers, at Celtics, Heat)
The Wizards are playing three of the best teams in the league after winning two straight games and finally looking like they can turn around their 0-5 start. However, they could steal one of these games with their high-powered offense. It still is a tough look for a team that finally looked like they were getting in a rhythm and could climb their way back into the picture. Start Bradley Beal, Thomas Bryant and Russell Westbrook with confidence as it could be a tough week for the rest of the roster.
Game of the Week: Celtics at Heat on Wednesday at 7:30 PM ET
On Wednesday, we will see an Eastern Conference Finals rematch and it should be a very competitive matchup. Although the Celtics are missing Kemba Walker and let Gordon Hayward walk in free agency, their additions of Jeff Teague, Tristan Thompson and Payton Pritchard have proven to be valuable for their rotation thus far. The Heat are healthy right now and look to get in a rhythm as they have been unable to string together some wins. Tune in on Wednesday night to see Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo face off with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Waiver Wire Watch
George Hill- Hill is a player that I would recommend to add now, but be cautious as the Thunder could start playing their young guys over him down the stretch if things get ugly. Currently, Hill is averaging 15.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.3 triples per game on 56.1-percent shooting. He should easily be owned in all formats as he is putting up those numbers in just 25.2 minutes per game, but just keep that idea in the back of your head that he could get benched down the line. However, it could definitely be worth that risk as Hill is a lock for top-125 value as long as he is in the starting lineup next to Shai Gligeous-Alexander. Add Hill immediately as he could be a difference maker, especially if the Thunder are able to stay in competition for the playoffs.
Tyus Jones- It seems Jones will be handling the point guard position until Ja Morant is able to return to action. Over his last four games, he is averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game on 43.2-percent shooting. He could bring those numbers up a bit, but his main value will come from assists and steals. The Grizzlies are full of injuries right now, so they are more than willing to give veteran guys like Jones or Gorgui Dieng minutes to try and hold down the fort until Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. return to action. Go add Jones immediately if you have a spot as he will be worth owning in standard leagues until Morant returns.
Tyrese Haliburton- Haliburton has looked like the most polished rookie thus far as he has delivered some solid performances. He is averaging 10.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.0 3-pointers in 26.9 minutes per game. He is also shooting 52.9-percent from the field and has looked great playing next to De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt. Haliburton could be the piece that finally lifts the Kings into the playoffs if they are able to stay healthy and get into a rhythm. He should be owned in most formats as he should continue to see enough minutes to provide standard league value.
Kevin Love (calf) will be out for the next three weeks with a strained right calf. He did not even play two full games for the Cavs before aggravating the injury, so it is tough to say if this team was actually good or not. However, his absence will open up the door for Larry Nance Jr. to get some big minutes.
TJ Warren (foot) will be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. The absence of Warren will open up more minutes for both of the Holiday brothers and potentially Doug McDermott as well.
Ja Morant (ankle sprain) will be out for the next 3-5 weeks with a left ankle sprain. This is a huge blow for the Grizzlies as they will be unable to successfully win games without Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Tyus Jones will likely see the biggest boost in minutes while Morant is out.
Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day:
Onyeka Okongwu, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, PJ Washington, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr., Isaac Okoro, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Marcus Morris, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, Tyrese Haliburton, Derrick White, LaMarcus Aldridge
Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.
Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!