3 NBA Teams Who Need a Wake-Up Call Now
The days of hitting the snooze bar are over. Struggling NBA teams need to wake up—immediately—if they hope to get their act together in time for the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets played their 41st game of the season last night. Most teams are a few behind, but we are nearing the mid-way point of the season.
That means that the accumulated stats and the win/loss numbers now mean something.
Teams can no longer hide from their record.
And if these three don't fix their current problems, each will face a long offseason filled with excuses.
3. New York Knicks
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For the first two months of the year, the New York Knicks were the talk of the town, in Gotham and beyond. I have lived in NYC for more than a dozen years and can't remember a single winter during which the Knicks have been discussed more than the New York Yankees' hot stove.
They were undeniably the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and with the Boston Celtics stuck on terrible, they appeared to be the only team who had any chance of preventing the Miami Heat from returning to the NBA Finals.
Then 2013 started, and the team started to fall back to earth.
The Knicks have lost four of their seven games in the new year, and two of the wins they have managed to pick up have come against the New Orleans Hornets and Orlando Magic, the fifth and seventh worst teams in the league, respectively.
Really, the struggles started in the closing days of 2012.
Add in the Raymond Felton injury and drama that got Carmelo Anthony suspended, and this team has done a 180 from its early season heights. The magic elixir of ball movement and marksmanship may be wearing off.
Since December 25, the team has shot just 43.5 percent, according to NBA.com. Only five teams have been less accurate since Christmas.
A lot of this drop off has come because the team isn't making as many three-pointers as it had been. Over this same stretch, according to NBA.com, the team has shot just 36.9 percent from behind the arc. In a vacuum, that is a fine number. It is even the 10th best rate in the NBA over this period.
But considering how much the Knicks rely on the three—they have shot 27.9 threes per game during this stretch, good for second most in the league—it is no surprise that their win/loss record has also fallen off.
Contrast this with the 39.5 percent they made from deep (on 29.5 attempts per game) in their first 27 games of the year, and the reason for the drop from grace seems to be pretty simple; shots that were going in no longer are.
The result: New York was 20-7 going into its Christmas day matchup with Los Angeles and now sit at 24-13.
This is still a very good team, which will only get better when Raymond Felton returns.
There is no need to panic.
But there is a need to find other ways to win when the threes aren't continuing to fall at unsustainable rates.
The team cannot just get frustrated and continue to try to will shots to go in. It needs to get to the line more, attack the interior and play better defense—something it showed it is capable of early in the year.
Fortunately, a wake-up call might be right around the corner as soon as the team returns from its trip to London to play the Detroit Pistons.
The Knicks have just three wins over marquee teams since December 11. The most recent was a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on January 3.
The other two?
They both came against the Knicks' new crosstown rival, the Brooklyn Nets.
On Martin Luther King Day, Manhattan once again squares off with BK.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
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Don't expect to see anything similar any time soon.
The Sixers are just 2-8 in their last 10 games, and this includes two blowout defeats to the lowly New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors.
Really, almost everything has been a blowout of late.
Without the services of bowling connoisseur Andrew Bynum down low, the high hopes Philadelphia had in the preseason have naturally been dampened.
What is happening right now, however, is just unacceptable.
The team's last six losses have been by 12, 18, 20, 23 and 24 points, and it gave up at least 100 points in all but one of its last six games.
Worse still, the defense hasn't even been the largest issue; since December 28, the 76ers have scored just 95.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them dead last in the NBA over that stretch, according to NBA.com.
This isn't a team struggling to overcome adversity.
This is a team in free fall.
One player deserves less of the blame than the rest. Imagine where the Sixers would be without Jrue Holiday, who has averaged 20.3 ppg and 8.6 apg in January, while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from thee-point range.
Stellar play from Holiday is nothing new; he has been doing this all year and deserves a spot on the All-Star team.
Really, it takes a Herculean effort in futility by the other members of the rotation for a team to play so poorly when its point guard is playing so well.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off back-to-back wins. That may sound promising, but it is sullied by the fact that this ties for the team's third-longest winning streak of the season.
Worse is what happened just prior, when the Lakers lost six in a row, mostly against the teams that they could face off with in the playoffs.
If they get there, that is.
That really is up in the air right now.
Everyone seemed to think that this ship would correct course. The early season firing of Mike Brown was invariably going to delay the process of this team jelling.
The injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and the slow recovery of Dwight Howard also slowed growth. But it was all supposed to work out eventually.
There is just too much talent for any other outcome.
At this point, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Lakers are simply a mediocre team—at best. As the season nears its midpoint and the All-Star Game gets closer and closer, the numbers that have piled up can now be taken seriously. No longer is it worthwhile to talk about tough schedules, or injuries or adversity that a team has had to overcome.
The fact is that the Los Angeles Lakers have now played 38 games and lost most of them.
Basketball philosopher Charles Barkley has a go-to phrase for anyone who likes to tell him that a struggling team is better than they seem.
“I hate when teams say they are better than their record. No you are not better than your record. Your record is your record.”
There is nothing that can better sum up the current play of the Lakers than that.
They are a bad basketball team until proven otherwise, especially on the defensive end. During their recent six-game losing streak, for example, they allowed an alarmingly bad 112 points per game.
If they cannot figure out a way keep other teams from scoring 100 with ease, there is no way anything changes, no matter how many Hall of Famers they put on the court.
If the Lakers cannot fix these defensive problems, there is no way they make the playoffs.