6 Teams That Must Reverse Slow Starts to the 2013-14 NBA Season
It's too early to start bursting playoff bubbles and crushing championship dreams, but there is no reset button for the 2013-14 NBA season, either.
The six teams on this list have only added a series of twists and turns to their postseason pursuits.
Some entered the campaign with legitimate title plans. Others looked poised to snap strings of fruitless regular seasons.
No matter where they began the year, though, all are in dire need of a reversal of fortunes. The weight behind "it's early" excuses will start to grow thin. The comfort of "there's still time left" safety nets will evaporate.
The race to the 2014 NBA championship stage has already started, and not in the way these six clubs imagined.
2013-14 Record: 3-7
Conference Standing: 13th
In the latest of a long line of examples that money guarantees nothing, the Brooklyn Nets' slow start has been even slower than it sounds. If not for a Joe Johnson save against the Phoenix Suns, the Nets would be sitting on a six-game losing streak.
The championship experience Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were supposed to bring? Turns it out it's really nothing more than age. The Nets look old, slow and completely outmatched on the sideline, as B/R's Howard Beck points out.
Brooklyn has been shredded defensively (105.1 defensive rating, sixth-worst) and punch-less on offense (99.4 offensive rating, 20th overall). The injury bug has been more of a virus. Deron Williams (ankle), Andrei Kirilenko (back), Brook Lopez (ankle), Pierce (groin) and Garnett (ankle) have all missed time already.
With one season—general manager Billy King's words, not mine—to make good on Mikhail Prokhorov's $200 million investment, the Nets already appear to be running out of time. Players-only meetings, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, are never a good sign, but they're a tangible panic button in the middle of November.
Maybe the names on the backs of these jerseys will still strike fear in the heart of opponents. Right now, though, the one across the front reads more like a break from the schedule-makers.
2013-14 Record: 4-7
Conference Standing: Tied for 8th
This was supposed to be the Cleveland Cavaliers' year. After winning the lottery in June, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said, "We were hoping...that this would be our last lottery," via the Associated Press.
But with top pick Anthony Bennett off to an atrocious start and Kyrie Irving stumbling out of the gate by his own standards (21.3 points on 39.5 percent shooting), Cleveland might be hoping for more of Nick Gilbert's luck next summer.
The court of public opinion said Mike Brown had three starting-caliber guards on his roster: Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. But none of the three is shooting above 40 percent from the field.
Offseason gamble Andrew Bynum has fared even worse in limited minutes (34.1 percent). And Bennett (14.3 percent) is giving credence to the anonymous general manager who told ZagsBlog.com's Adam Zagoria that 2013 was a "historically weak draft."
Now that a players-only meeting and rumors of a physical confrontation have surfaced, via Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, this could get a lot worse before it gets any better.
This is Cleveland, after all.
2013-14 Record: 6-5
Conference Standing: 10th
It's a bit unfair to put the Memphis Grizzlies on this list. After all, they'd be battling for home-court advantage if they switched conferences.
But life is brutal in the wild West. The Grizzlies know this firsthand. They grit-and-grinded their way to 56 wins out there last season.
With rookie coach Dave Joerger taking over for Lionel Hollins, though, this group has struggled to capture the same success this time around. A three-game winning streak, including a 106-102 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, has helped alleviate some of their early-season concerns, but the second team remains an issue.
Joerger's getting just 27.6 points a night from his reserves, via HoopsStats.com, 11th-fewest in the league. Jerryd Bayless is struggling from everywhere (.333/.300 shooting), three-and-D wing Quincy Pondexter has lost the "three" from his job title (28.6 three-point percentage), and Ed Davis (3.1 points, 41.4 percent shooting, 12.0 minutes a night) remains a 24-year-old project.
Is it the Grizzlies' fault that they play out West? Certainly not. But it's the hand they've been dealt, and it hangs more bust than boom potential over this season.
New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Record: 4-6
Conference Standing: Tied for 12th
Some teams make the most out of limited resources. The New Orleans Pelicans do not fall under that category.
Despite employing a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in sophomore Anthony Davis (3.6 blocks, 11 rebounds per game), the Pelicans are struggling to get stops. New Orleans has allowed the 11th-most points per 100 possessions (103.1), a troubling trend given the team's 0-5 mark when allowing at least 100 points.
The offensive end has hardly been a place of refuge. Tyreke Evans (9.6 points on 38.5 percent shooting) might be the worst free-agent addition of the offseason. Jrue Holiday has had trouble shaking his volume scorer's rep (13.8 points on 13.2 field-goal attempts) and remains haunted by turnover demons (3.8 per game).
Ryan Anderson's return may cure some of this club's offensive ills. He had 26 points and shot 6-of-10 from deep in his 2013-14 debut. But the 2011-12 Most Improved Player won't help Davis seal off the rim.
The Pelicans have the talent to turn things around. But this list—and, more importantly the Western Conference—is loaded with on-paper ability.
New York Knicks
2013-14 Record: 3-6
Conference Standing: Tied for 11th
It must be something in the water. The Empire State is home to the NBA's two biggest disappointments of the 2013-14 season.
The New York Knicks' problems feel different, though. Serious flaws have appeared that make it difficult to buy this team's ability to recover.
Since Tyson Chandler suffered a fractured fibula on Nov. 5, this team has been handing out express passes to the rim like desperate theme-park promoters. The Knicks have given up 104.2 points a night without Chandler after allowing just 94 over their first four games.
No one expected the Knicks to go on without a hitch after Chandler's injury. But seeing this frontcourt suffer without a 31-year-old who has a history of injuries shows how thin the team's margin for error is.
Yet even with these floodgates opened, the New York Times' Beckley Mason wrote that "the real problem may be at the other end of the floor." Part of the problem, Mason writes, is that "the Knicks’ 3-pointers and free throws attempted, key indicators of offensive effectiveness, are down significantly."
Despite taking fewer triples (25.4, 28.9 last season), New York is converting a lower percentage of its attempts (33.6, 37.6 in 2012-13). Turns out there's more to this offense thing than relying on Carmelo Anthony to create on the low block.
To add insult to, well, insult, the Knicks have been outscored by eight points per game since holding a players-only meeting on Nov. 5. Is there a monthly limit on these player pow-wows?
2013-14 Record: 2-7
Conference Standing: Tied for 14th
Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman might not be on hot seat. Yet.
Even if that's true, the 54-year-old is threatening to make a liar out of John Wall's footwear. The fourth-year pro, and recent max-money recipient, told B/R's Howard Beck that "every game pair" of his shoes will have the word "playoffs" scribbled on the side.
Not even the weak Eastern Conference can hide Washington's paltry 2-7 mark.
Landing Marcin Gortat's post scoring before the season was supposed to put this offense over the top. Two-plus weeks into the season, though, no offense has struggled worse than Washington's (97.8 points per 100 possessions, worst in the league).
Apparently $80 million couldn't buy Wall a jump shot (.365/.316 shooting). And try as he might, Wittman can't push a go-to scoring role on sophomore Bradley Beal just yet (20.2 points on 18.6 field-goal attempts per game).
The Wizards have cracked triple digits just three times in their last seven games, twice with the assistance of an overtime session. So the team's playoff-caliber defense (100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, eighth overall) has been wasted.
With Wittman's job Wall's shoe game to protect, it's time the Wizards get offensive about their sluggish start.