As the 2016-17 NBA regular season reaches the halfway point of January, certain struggling teams can’t wait for the All-Star break, while streaking teams just want the season to continue. The midway point of the season is usually a stepping-stone for the serious contenders, creating separation against the teams in their conference.
On the other hand, the midway point also demonstrates whether some of the borderline teams are official contenders for the NBA playoffs. While you certainly can’t knock out a phenomenal second half start, the production in the first half of the season certainly does set a stage for teams to come.
As the case for the Los Angeles Lakers, and some other teams in the NBA, they are still figuring out that level of chemistry and consistency, especially with rookie head coaches.
Lakers Nation takes a look at the rising and falling contenders in both the Eastern and Western conference in our second edition of our weekly power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (34-6) – When taking a look at the Warriors roster, basketball aficionados understand that this team still hasn’t hit their stride yet as a complete unit. As Kevin Durant continues to acclimate himself to the system and his teammates, the highest scoring offense (117.5 PPG) in the NBA will only continue to get better.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (29-10)
The Cavaliers weren’t shy in stating that there were two categories the team needed to upgrade upon. Although they have yet to find a point guard capable of physical defense and offense execution, they upgraded with the addition of sharpshooter Kyle Korver. The Cavaliers exude such a strong team connection on the court, as they continue to acclimate Korver and focus on improving their team.
3. San Antonio Spurs (31-9) – The class of the NBA certainly still resides with the Spurs, as head coach Greg Popovich continues to provide lasting results, albeit with a different team. With LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt, the ball rotation has led to the fifth most assists per game in the NBA (24.1), while superstar Kawhi Leonard continues his efficient offensive output.
4. Houston Rockets (32-11) – In his first season with the Rockets, head coach Mike D’Antoni has connected with James Harden to produce outstanding results. Harden potentially resides as the leading MVP candidate as of now, as he has taken off with the point guard position. His constant pick and rolls have led to an increase playmaking role, as he has yet to have a game this season with less than seven assists.
5. Toronto Raptors (27-13) – The Raptors brought back the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan this offseason, in an attempt to keep the nucleus of the team intact. They have built a certain chemistry, as the pair is always seen joking around with one another off the court. While DeRozan continues to produce efficient results (duplicating Kobe Bryant’s deadly mid-range jumper), the Raptors reside once again as the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (28-14) – The absence of Blake Griffin has certainly hurt the Clippers in terms of execution, as a somewhat injured Chris Paul and offensively lacking DeAndre Jordan are left to fill in the void. Upon losing four straight games, the Clippers have bounced back and won six in a row. The major concern for the Clippers moving forward resides in finding that defensive production that catapulted them at the beginning of the season.
7. Boston Celtics (25-15) – Coach Brad Stevens has quickly become one of the most well respected young coaches in the NBA, taking over and bringing a grinding mentality to the Celtics. Their backcourt of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart each leave it all on the court, as it seems the Celtics are poised for a second straight playoffs appearance.
8. Utah Jazz (26-16)
Gordon Hayward, perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA, is carrying this Jazz team to new heights. While plagued with injuries last season, he and coach Quinn Snyder have built a sense of trust, as this playoff hopeful team has benefitted tremendously by the additions of veteran players such as Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (25-17) – If there is one mantra to take away from this team, it is that they will go only as far as Mr. Triple Double (Russell Westbrook) takes them. While Westbrook remains the only consistent scoring option (much like Bryant in 2005-06), the team truly benefits when he gets his teammates involved. The Thunder are 19-6 in games where Westbrook has at least 10 assists.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (25-18) – Much like the Celtics, the Grizzlies reside as the most physical, grinding team in the Western Conference. Franchise players Mike Conley and Marc Gasol deserve to be All-Stars, while grind-father Tony Allen is never scared of a defensive challenge. Veteran bench play from Vince Carter and Zach Randolph aide a thin bench, while Chandler Parsons slowly returns to his healthy form.
11. Atlanta Hawks (24-17) – The addition of Dwight Howard has certainly helped the interior defense of the Hawks, while also creating some spacing on the floor between him and Paul Millsap. The departure of Kyle Korver certainly hurt their three-point shooting, while Millsap is still mentioned in trade rumors.
Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
12. Washington Wizards (20-19) – It seems like point guard John Wall has been involved in some sort of scuffle each week this season, as the Kentucky alumnus has certainly been frustrated this season. He, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat must continue to produce on all cylinders for the Wizards to stay afloat in the battle for playoff position in the East.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (20-19)
Upon a disappointing 2015-16 season, head coach Jason Kidd and the Bucks have shown tremendous growth this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a breakout season (23.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.7 APG), while Jabari Parker is flourishing into the player the Bucks envisioned. The 6-4 record in their last 10 games has jumped them up into a three-way tie for fifth in the East.
14. Indiana Pacers (20-19) – The tone and outlook for the Pacers is much different now than at the beginning of the season. Paul George told media that his team lacks any chemistry earlier this season, after multiple offseason acquisitions presented an entirely new roster, with new head coach Nate McMillan. The Pacers are 4-1 in 2017 and hope to continue to climb the standings.
15. Chicago Bulls (21-21) – After assembling their trio of guards this offseason, the Bulls felt confident, with a deep, proven assembly of players. However, Rajon Rondo’s role with the team has been cut in half, splitting it with trade acquisition Michael Carter-Williams. Dwyane Wade, 34, was sought out as a player who can truly impact the playoffs, but if the team keeps demanding a lot in the regular season, he may be gassed come playoff time.
16. Charlotte Hornets (20-20) – Head coach Steve Clifford takes pride in the Hornets’ ability to make stops on defense. The frontcourt youth of Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller provides helpful interior defense, while Kemba Walker has put up All-Star numbers this season (22.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.4 APG).
17. Portland Trail Blazers (18-24) – The Blazers may be the biggest disappointment of the 2016-17 season, after such a successful 2015-16 season. While Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum carry the offensive load, the role players and defense haven’t been as stable as in the past. The Trailblazers allowed the 27th most points in the NBA (110.4 PPG allowed) while owning a dismal 7-15 road record.
On The Fringe Of Contention:
18. Detroit Pistons (19-24) – Now that point guard Reggie Jackson has recovered from his knee injury, the Pistons finally have a healthy roster to compete with. Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond have worked relatively well alongside each other, while coach Stan Van Gundy has his team allowing fewer points per game than any of the nine Eastern Conference teams ahead of them (101.0 opponent PPG).
19. New York Knicks (18-24) – As the season continues, it seems as though the New York Knicks are less and less likely to make the playoffs. The offseason assembly of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee hasn’t faired as planned, while rumors continue to swirl regarding Rose and Carmelo Anthony possible trade destinations. If the Knicks want to invest in a rebuild without Anthony, the sooner the better.
20. Sacramento Kings (16-24) – The Kings made headlines a few weeks ago, putting together a notable winning streak, but have since steadily declined. Although DeMarcus Cousins continues to get his statistics as the best center in the NBA, his team has now lost seven of their last 10 games. They remain one game back of the eighth seed Blazers, which provides some hope moving forward.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (16-25) – The Pelicans have won six of their last 10 games, as a finally healthy roster is beginning to put forth results. With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans returning to the team, head coach Alvin Gentry can start creating offensive executions that fit his roster. Watch out for Anthony Davis, as a surge into playoff contention would hoist him into All-Star contention.
22. Denver Nuggets (15-23) – The Nuggets 2016-17 season can be categorized as one with premiere scoring, but awful defense. The Nuggets are fifth in scoring this season (108.8 PPG), while also allowing the 28th most points (111.2 PPG). Their up and down pace has translated into results, but their defense hasn’t been able to get crucial stops when needed.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-27) – Alongside the Blazers, the Timberwolves are viewed by some as the biggest disappointment of the season. Franchise players Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine have shown signs of improvement this season, but it hasn’t translated into victories. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has certainly been frustrated, as he takes more pride in his defense than offense.
24. Orlando Magic (17-25) – The Magic own one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA, as their rotation of players, may indeed reside as the tallest in the NBA. With a starting frontcourt of Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka, and Bismack Biyombo, the Magic are ninth in the NBA with 5.4 blocks per game. However, their large lineup has suffered from three-point range, as their 33.8 three-point percentage is ranked 26th in the NBA.
25. Los Angeles Lakers (15-30)
The frustrations continue for head coach Luke Walton and the young core of the Lakers, as their growing pains have continued to show. With such a young team, Walton is attempting to create learning lessons with each mistake, but the young roster has yet to take that next learning step. Although the phenomenal play of Nick Young and Julius Randle this season have helped guide the team to victories, Walton’s unit has some growing up to do to have any hopes of playoff contention.
Entering The Lottery Sweepstakes:
26. Philadelphia 76ers (12-26) – The phrase “New year, new me” may be the accurate way to describe the 76ers, as they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Joel Embid and his teammates certainly trust the process now, as they are 4-2 in 2017.
27. Dallas Mavericks (13-27) – It seems as though the Mavericks have been in a downward spiral ever since the spectacle regarding DeAndre Jordan. The offseason acquisition of Harrison Barnes can now be viewed as the successor to Dirk Nowitzki, as the Mavericks should soon consider thinking beyond this season.
28. Phoenix Suns (13-27) – Although the Suns have one of the most exciting backcourts in Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight, the offense hasn’t been enough to carry their defense. The 111.8 points per game allowed are the most in the Western Conference, only behind the Brooklyn Nets.
29. Miami Heat (11-30) – The 2016-17 season took a rough hit for the Heat when they lost Justice Winslow for the season due to shoulder surgery on a torn labrum. Without a key starter and defensive player, the supporting cast (Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Dion Waiters) will have to continue to exceed their averages to aid Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside.
30. Brooklyn Nets (8-32) – Kenny Atkinson’s head coaching debut hasn’t exactly panned out, as the Nets hold the worst record in the NBA. The Nets own the second smallest payroll this season ($76,449,868), which has certainly harmed their ability to produce on the court. Their noted offseason acquisition, Jeremy Lin, has been plagued by a hamstring injury.