Now we’re talking.
The NBA season doesn’t really get started until there are reports of internal strife within locker rooms, teams barely showing up for games, and contenders with far worse records than they could have possibly imagined. This is the stuff NBA Twitter dreams are made of.
By the end of this weekend, some teams will have played 10 games, so it’s not like it’s too early to his the panic button. Today, will highlight three teams who qualify for one of the above and might be doing exactly that if they don’t start to right the ship. On to the games…
The Denver Nuggets should not be this bad, and that’s true in multiple senses.
First and foremost, a team with one of the league’s only legitimate MVP candidates, another young player who many pegged for his first All-Star birth this season, and competent, well-rounded supporting cast has no right starting the season 3-5.
On a related note, Denver shouldn’t be 3-5 because they don’t have the statistical profile of a 3-5 team. For starters, they have the third ranked offense in the league, trailing only the contending Bucks and Clippers. The issues have obviously come on the other end, where Denver has the 26th ranked defense, but they’re 10th in the league in turnovers and sixth best at preventing opponents’ shots at the rim. Unfortunately, when teams get there, they’re hitting almost three of every four attempts, which is the second worst mark in the league.
That’s a price you happily pay to have the ground-bound Nikola Jokic as your center, but it hasn’t helped them late in games, which have regularly been close throughout the year. Two of their losses have come in overtime, and another was by three points in Phoenix. They have been in every game.
That should hold true once again against a Philly squad that has the other main contender for All-NBA First Team Center in Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ to-ranked defense got exposed by Washington’s and Brooklyn’s shooting in the last two games, and Denver has the third highest effective field goal percentage in the league.
This matchup will probably come down to how well Philly’s 13th ranked offense fares against Denver’s D, and I’d bet on yet another close one for the Nuggets.
The Pick: Denver -5 @ -107
On the heels of the worst loss of Atlanta’s season – a 102-94 loss to the Hornets - an Athletic story emerged detailing some minor strife within the Hawks locker room.
The story detailed how John Collins, Atlanta’s talented young big man who is playing for a new contract after reportedly turning down a $90 million extension this summer, spoke up during a film session prior to the Charlotte game about Trae Young taking too much of the offensive burden on his shoulders. Young, Collins reportedly said, should pass earlier and more often rather than jacking up shots early in the shot clock.
On cue, Young had not only his worst game of the season (7 points, 0-for-3 from downtown, 3 assists and 7 turnovers), but his most deferential one as well. Young only took nine shots, the lowest total he’s put up in a game in over a year. The report indicates that there was some friction throughout the game, and mentions some discontent with the head coach, Lloyd Pierce, that goes back to last season.
This is all to say that if the line is right in any game they play, now might be the time to hop on whoever is facing the Hawks. When that team so happens to be the one that just beat them, it’s an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.
Speaking of Charlotte, they’ve been inconsistent and largely not very good (25th in the league in net rating, although they do have the 12th ranked defense), but have quality wins against the Nets, Mavs and most recently these Hawks. Gordon Hayward went off for 44 on Wednesday, although the guy to keep an eye on Saturday may be Devonte’ Graham. He’s struggled mightily all season long, shooting just 26 percent from the field, but Trae Young is a great guy to get well against.
Charlotte will be on the second night of a back to back, so this feels a little dicey, but the edge still goes to the Hornets
The Pick: Charlotte +5 @ -105
The Wolves are the worst team in the league by a comfortable margin. Their net rating on Cleaning the Glass – which filters out garbage time minutes – is minus 16.9, which is almost twice as bad as the next worse team. They have also lost six in a row and are giving up 122.2 points per 100 possessions, which is rec-league bad.
But all this has come without their star center, Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been upgraded to questionable for this matchup with the Spurs and might make his return. That could make a significant difference against a Spurs team that is coming off consecutive victories in Los Angeles against both the Clippers and Lakers.
Will it be enough though? The Wolves’ issues run deep, and while they have a lot of guys who can create with the ball, the number of players they have to do the dirty work may be lacking. KAT’s return could help, but with every additional win his former coach Tom Thibodeau achieves with the Knicks, the spotlight grows brighter on Towns, who reportedly was never on the same page with his old coach and his demanding ways.
San Antonio, meanwhile, may just be hitting its stride, and if there’s any coach in the NBA who knows how to take advantage of a struggling defense, it’s Pop.
The Pick: San Antonio -5 @ -109
NBA's Other Games
Phoenix at Indiana
The Suns are coming off a road tilt in Detroit, while the Pacers have been off since their Wednesday victory over the Rockets. Phoenix is playing as well as anyone, but Indiana is no slouch, and Sabonis will be a test for the still learning Deandre Ayton. Go with Indy.
Miami at Washington
The heat have alternated wins and losses since opening night and are due for a W after dropping their last game against the Celtics. They’ve also been off since Wednesday, while the Wizards played Friday night in Boston and have struggled all year. Miami is the pick.
Cleveland at Milwaukee
The Bucks have been running roughshod over the league with an NBA-best plus 11.8 net rating. They have the disadvantage of a back to back here, but they’re at home and have blown out most every opponent they’ve faced in Milwaukee. Don’t overthink this one.
Orlando at Dallas
The Magic are 6-2 but have few quality wins, and Dallas is definitely a step up in competition for them. Luka looked great in his return to action following a one-game absence. Mavs at home all the way.
Portland at Sacramento
Not a game you want to touch with recent drama in Sacramento and Portland’s Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde act on a night to night basis. If you must, take the points.
NBA Expert Picks
Denver -5 @ -107
Charlotte +5 @ -105
San Antonio -5 @ -109
NBA Free Picks
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