10 NBA Teams in Big Trouble

Joseph AndersonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2016

10 NBA Teams in Big Trouble

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    James Harden has struggled this season, which has the Rockets sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference after finishing second last season.
    James Harden has struggled this season, which has the Rockets sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference after finishing second last season.Associated Press

    As crazy as it must seem, we are already at the halfway point of the NBA regular season for most teams.

    It seems like just yesterday we were watching Steph Curry score 40 points on opening night against the New Orleans Pelicans, but now we've seen him put up similar numbers against just about everybody he's faced.

    Some teams have lived up to the preseason expectations placed upon them by the media, while others have struggled and now find themselves in a difficult situation with only half a season left to right the ship.

    This list of those struggling teams is in no particular order and is based on a team's preseason expectations, recent performance and potential for improvement throughout the rest of the season.

    So no, you will not find the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers or Minnesota Timberwolves on this list, as their expectations before the season were not exactly high from most experts.

    Without further ado, let's get to the (once again, non-ranked) list!

Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat were a team many expected to compete for the Eastern Conference crown with a talented roster full of seasoned veterans and some exciting young talent.

    However, injuries and inconsistent play have prevented this team from completely jelling into the sort of threat that several experts envisioned.

    After losing seven of 10 games and allowing some ferocious dunks (see video above), the Heat now sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

    Miami ranks 28th in the league with just 95.8 points per game, despite shooting 45.9 percent from the field, good for ninth in the NBA.

    Part of the reason for this shockingly low point total is the Heat's inability to knock down three-pointers, as they are shooting just .331 percent from deep.

    Sure, injuries factor into their struggles to some degree, so Miami's first order of business is to return to full strength. When healthy, the Heat have proved they can play with anybody (victories over CLE and OKC), so the sky isn't falling in Miami just yet.

    If the Heat can get Goran Dragic, Luol Deng and their entire bench back to full strength, expect them to be a factor in the Eastern Conference race. If not, this could turn into a disappointing season in Miami.

     

     

New Orleans Pelicans

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    One year after making the playoffs as the Western Conference's eighth seed, the Pelicans have disappointed in 2015-16.

    Despite having one of the best young talents in the league in Anthony Davis along with one of the NBA's most underrated scorers, Ryan Anderson, New Orleans sits at 12th in the Western Conference with a 14-27 record.

    When healthy, Davis has played well with 23.1 points per game to go along with 10.4 rebounds but hasn't looked like the MVP candidate that several general managers expected he could be this season due to some nagging injuries throughout the year.

    Part of the reason for New Orleans' struggles is the fact that it just don't play defense, as it ranks 26th in the NBA with 105.2 points allowed per game.

    Even a dominant offense couldn't make up for the lack of intensity on that end of the floor, and New Orleans' 14th-ranked offense is rarely able to outscore its opponents.

    The loss of Eric Gordon for 4-6 weeks won't help things, but the Pelicans have won three of four and are only four games back for the No. 8 seed out West.

    If New Orleans can continue to improve on the defensive end, we could be seeing a second consecutive playoff berth for the Pelicans.

     

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics' inability to slow down opposing offenses of late has earned them a spot on this not-so complimentary list. The Celtics have gone 4-6 over the last 10 games, allowing 106.2 points per game in that stretch.

    For a team that had been playing well on both ends of the floor before its recent struggles, head coach Brad Stevens and his staff are certainly looking for answers.

    Boston was definitely a fringe playoff team entering the season and has the potential to end up anywhere between seventh and 10th in the East by the end of the season.

    There's certainly enough talent on this roster to be a playoff team with the backcourt of Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas to complement Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger in the post, but consistency from this young team has been an issue.

    The Celtics have some good wins this year (@OKC, @DET) but must avoid the bad losses (vs. LAL, vs. BKN) in order to get over the hump and earn a playoff spot.

    With games against Philadelphia, Washington and Denver coming up, Boston appears to have a good opportunity to shore up its defense and rise up the Eastern Conference standings.

     

     

Houston Rockets

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    Yet another team on this list that just doesn't play defense consistently. Starting to sound like a recurring theme here?

    The Houston Rockets have the fourth-worst defense in the NBA, allowing an astonishing 105.7 points per game, which is worse than cellar-dwellers like Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

    Time for a crazy stat: The Rockets have held opponents under 100 points only 12 times in 44 games this season. TWELVE!

    While its pace and style of play make it somewhat understandable that defense would take a back seat to offense, Houston's effort on the defensive end will have to improve in order to have the same success as it did a year ago.

    James Harden is shooting just 41.9 percent overall and 33.3 percent from three-point range, both among the worst of his professional career.

    His lack of effort and intensity have both been brought into question this year, and his leadership will need improvement for this team to get back on track.

    Houston currently sits in seventh place in the Western Conference at this point in the season, which is much lower than many would have expected at the start of the year.

    There is no doubting the talent and potential of this 22-22 Rockets team, but Harden and Dwight Howard must emerge as true leaders to get this team back on track.

     

     

Charlotte Hornets

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    Sure, the expectations for the Charlotte Hornets coming into the year weren't as high as some others on this list, but they certainly got the league's attention with a 14-8 start to the season.

    However, since that hot start, the Hornets have gone 5-15, and much of that slide can be attributed to poor defense over that stretch. In the past 20 games, Charlotte has given up an average of 105.2 points per game.

    Unless Kemba Walker is scoring 50-plus points each night, the Hornets just simply don't have enough offense to make up for their poor defensive effort.

    Charlotte finds itself in 12th place in the wide-open Eastern Conference but just 2.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot.

    Outside of cleaning up the defense, the Hornets must find consistent scoring threats to complement Walker and create a more balanced offense.

    Al Jefferson's injury hasn't made things easier for the Hornets, so role players such as Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lin must continue to blossom in order for Charlotte to remain any sort of threat in the Eastern Conference.

Phoenix Suns

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    Injuries have absolutely derailed what had the potential to be a playoff-bound Phoenix Suns squad.

    Coming into the year, Phoenix was expected to compete for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with an offense that could go toe to toe with anybody.

    However, losing star guard Eric Bledsoe for the season has turned Phoenix into a rebuilding team this year, as it turns its focus toward getting a top-five draft pick in this year's draft.

    Despite the injuries, the Suns defense still ranks 29th out of 30 teams with 106.7 points allowed per game.

    A team with Tyson Chandler at the heart of its defense should not be the second worst in the league, so shoring up that side of the ball will be a major goal as this season draws to a close.

    At 13-30 and in 13th place in the West, this season can already be looked at as a disappointment as Phoenix hopes for a healthier 2016-17 campaign.

    Phoenix's best hope is that its bevy of young talent continues to develop, and when Bledsoe returns in 2016-17, the Suns can once again be a contender.

Orlando Magic

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    Losing to the 76ers on your home court will certainly get you on a list of disappointing teams. However, that embarrassing loss isn't the only worry for the 20-21 Orlando Magic.

    With a talented young backcourt with the likes of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier built around budding star center Nikola Vucevic, expectations were understandably high entering the season.

    However, inconsistency out of their young players on the offensive side of the ball has hampered Orlando's season to this point.

    The Magic average just 98.3 points per game while allowing only 98.7, so their defense will have to carry them the rest of the season.

    Despite its struggles on offense, Orlando is just one game out of the No. 8 seed in the East. Someone has to earn that spot, and most of the teams in contention don't have a defense as solid as Orlando's.

    If the Magic can come up with a more potent offensive attack, look out for this talented young team in the second half of the season.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    After losing four of five starters from last year's team in the offseason, it's safe to say expectations were somewhat lower in Portland this season.

    Still, any team with Damian Lillard is a dangerous team, and the third-year point guard has definitely not disappointed.

    Lillard and his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum are each averaging more than 20 points per game, while nobody else on the team is averaging more than 11.1 (Allen Crabbe) on a nightly basis.

    Depth is certainly one of the factors holding the Portland Trail Blazers back, yet they sit just one game out of the final playoff spot in the West.

    With a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense, the Trail Blazers will definitely need to rely on their star power to carry the team through the second half of the year.

    Adding another scorer to go along with a powerful backcourt could give this team the push it needs to earn a playoff spot this season.

Chicago Bulls

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    Joakim Noah's injury only worsens what has already been a tough season for the Bulls. As it has in recent years, health seems to be one of the main factors holding Chicago back from competing for an NBA Finals appearance.

    Jimmy Butler, Paul Gasol and Derrick Rose can definitely carry the Bulls into the playoffs, but the loss of Noah's interior defense will be difficult to replace.

    After finishing in the top 10 in terms of points allowed per game over the last five seasons, Chicago ranks just 14th this year, allowing 101.2 points per game.

    Although Chicago currently sits at 24-17 and in fourth place in the East, it has played .500 ball over the past 10 games, which includes bad home losses to the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.

    The Bulls have enough talent to make up for some discrepancies; however, they will need to reestablish the defensive identity that defined this team for years if they are going to make any noise come playoff time.

     

     

Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings just might be the most difficult team to figure out in the NBA.

    When you're third in the league with 106.4 points per game but sit dead last with 107.9 points allowed per game, you're bound to be inconsistent.

    Sacramento seems to balance out its big wins (@OKC, @LAC) with even worse losses (vs. PHI, vs. NO), a sign of a young and inconsistent team.

    DeMarcus Cousins has continued to develop into one of the NBA's premier centers, while Rajon Rondo has undergone a career resurgence in 2015-16.

    Offense is clearly not a problem for this team, but with just a half-game advantage as the No. 8 seed in the West, Sacramento's defense must improve in order to separate from the pack.

    The Kings have a strong nucleus to build around and would be a dangerous opponent for any of the West's top teams in the playoffs.

    In order to get there, Sacramento will have to tighten up on the defensive end and start playing more consistent basketball on a nightly basis.