Jan 10, 2024, 10: 53 AM ET
The 2023-24 NBA season is nearing its midway point, and with the Feb. 8 change closing date looming, teams are starting up to pay closer consideration to the standings.
Issues are in particular tense in the Western Conference, as several teams with postseason ambitions are caught at some stage in the pack. Whether or no longer it is due to accidents, inconsistent play or a combination of every, these teams face some gargantuan questions.
The Golden Direct Warriors and Original Orleans Pelicans, who face off Wednesday night (8: 30 p.m. ET, ABC), are among these teams making an try to create momentum getting into the 2nd half of of the season. Other teams, equivalent to the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, are additionally combating to preserve in playoff (or at the least play-in) opponents.
Is there a change or tweak that will presumably change the trajectory of any of these squads? Our NBA Insiders ruin down what these teams must quit to circulation up the standings.
Fable: 22-15 (No. 6 in West)
The easiest scheme for the Pelicans to climb in the standings and steer certain of a play-in berth is maintaining the leads they’ve built in the first halves of games.
The Pelicans beget held a double-digit first-half of lead in 30 games and are a plus-265 before halftime. Only the NBA-handiest Boston Celtics beget a greater trace at plus-307.
These are the makings of a team that needs to be toward the tip of the West standings. So why are the Pelicans correct 22-15? Attributable to they’ve had complications preserving on to these leads and performing at the identical stage in the 2nd half of.
Original Orleans has blown eight double-digit leads this season, and handiest the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs beget misplaced more. Within the 2nd halves of games, the Pelicans are minus-110, which ranks 26th in the league.
In snatch minutes — defined as the acquire being with five features in the closing five minutes and extra time — the Pelicans beget struggled from deep and the free throw line. The team has tried a league-low 25 3-pointers at some stage in snatch time whereas taking pictures a league-worst 60.9% on free throws.
On the diversified hand, the Pelicans beget 14 wins by double digits, tied for third handiest in the league, in conjunction with their previous four victories. Of their first and handiest snatch game since ahead Larry Nance Jr. returned from a broken rib, the Pelicans pulled out a 112-105 make a selection in opposition to the Utah Jazz.
Since their embarrassing in-season match semifinal loss to the Lakers in Las Vegas, the Pelicans are 10-4 and taking pictures 42.3% from deep, the handiest trace in the NBA since Dec. 11, whereas making an try handiest 31.6 3s per game, which ranks in the league’s backside five.
Being healthy has helped. CJ McCollum missed time due to a punctured lung, however Original Orleans is 17-7 in games he has performed and 11-0 when he scores at the least 20 features. The more McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson play with one one more, and abet Original Orleans capitalize on more early leads, the upper the Pelicans will upward push.
— Andrew Lopez
Fable: 22-16 (No. 7 in West)
After the Mavericks’ Christmas Day make a selection over the Suns, Luka Doncic answered questions about:
His 50-point, 15-assist masterpiece, at some stage in which he handed the 10,000-point milestone;
Having this kind of spectacular efficiency at the expense of the rival Suns;
The impactful return from injure by rookie middle Dereck Active II;
His overall happiness after changing into a first-time father last month.
Doncic used to be a piece miffed that one more subject wasn’t broached.
“No one’s going to demand about my protection?” Doncic muttered at the pause of his media availability, barely overjoyed with the four steals and three blocks he recorded to beget out a historically prolific line in the field acquire.
Protection serving as a source of pleasure for Doncic is an especially encouraging model for Dallas. For the Mavs to circulation up in the West standings, principal much less be unhealthy in the playoffs, Dallas must be a drastically improved defensive team.
The Mavs had been trending in that direction despite dealing with accidents, in conjunction with Kyrie Irving lacking 12 games due to a heel contusion and several diversified rotation avid gamers lacking time. They’ve had a top-10 protection over the previous month, allowing 113.5 features per game. Since Dec. 23, they snide eighth in the league in scoring with 119.7 features per game.
With Doncic and Irving, the Mavs are one in every of the league’s most explosive offensive teams. That wasn’t ample to even gain the playoffs last season due in broad share to a depressing protection, which is why the Mavs got defensive-minded feature avid gamers Active, Grant Williams, Derrick Jones Jr. and Dante Exum. The hope is to repeat the formula from the Mavs’ West finals lag two years previously, when Dallas ranked seventh in defensive efficiency with Doncic and Jalen Brunson surrounded by dirty-work feature avid gamers.
Active is a teen learning on the job, however he’s a springy 7-foot-1, performs laborious and has absorbed coaching, proving capable of being a staunch away major contributor. Jones has filled Dorian Finney-Smith‘s sneakers as the Dallas participant who generally will get basically the most sophisticated defensive project. Exum’s on-ball protection helped him assemble a starting up feature in Irving’s absence, even when Exum is dealing with a plantar fascia stress that has sidelined him for the previous week.
Nothing matters if Doncic is a defensive matador opponents can exploit. That has been the case now and then in the previous, however as Mavs coach Jason Kidd puts it: “He has taken the difficulty.” Sooner than Tuesday’s 120-103 loss to Memphis, Doncic had allowed 0.85 features per possession in isolation performs, which ranks in the 67th percentile of the league, in accordance with Synergy recordsdata. He had allowed handiest 0.48 features per put up-up possession, which ranks in the 98th percentile.
“It correct reveals all people that he’s locked in,” Jones said of Doncic. “I indicate, if he’s locked in on the defensive pause, all people needs to be.”
— Tim MacMahon
Fable: 19-18 (No. 9 in West)
When the Suns made the 2021 NBA Finals and had the handiest legend in the league the following season, they were solid on each offense (fifth in offensive rating in 2021, fourth in 2022) and protection (ninth in defensive rating in 2021, third in 2022). This season, they’re middle of the pack on all sides of the ball with no instruct identification. The Suns snide 27th in turnover percentage and 21st in 3-point assist rate.
On protection, the Suns beget direct creating possession changes, rating 23rd in defensive rebound percentage and 23rd in turnover percentage created. Simply set up, Phoenix’s offensive concerns are per a team enjoying with out an even point guard.
This Suns roster used to be built around three elite particular person offensive creators in Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, and stats like team swish taking pictures percentage (seventh in the NBA) and free throw rate (2nd in the NBA) indicate how correct the team is at creating in isolated eventualities.
However the Suns either must play at a sooner tempo (third-slowest tempo in the league at 97.5 possessions per game) or, more likely, herald a ground primary to create a more efficient offense with out turning the ball over at this kind of high rate.
— André Snellings
Fable: 19-19 (No. 10 in West)
The Lakers beget a direct with 3-pointers: They may be able to’t acquire them, and they also can’t halt diversified teams from hitting them, either.
The team is taking pictures correct 35.2% on huge-originate 3s, in accordance with 2d Spectrum monitoring, which puts the Lakers at 2nd to last in the league. They’re additionally last in 3-pointers tried (30.5 per game). It does no longer abet that the Lakers create no longer gain barely diverse these originate looks, when in contrast to the leisure of the league. They preserve handiest 15 huge-originate 3s per 100 possessions, the fewest in the NBA.
“I deem or no longer it is some distance a undeniable fact that we preach, attacking the paint and attacking the rim barely a lot … however when we gain in the paint, being keen to gain that extra dash,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before Tuesday’s 132-131 make a selection over the Toronto Raptors when requested to diagnose his team’s 3-point deficiencies. “And no longer handiest making the dash to an originate man on the perimeter, that originate man being ready to shoot it.”
On the diversified side of the ball, the Lakers’ protection has allowed opponents to shoot 42.2% on huge-originate 3s — which ranks 28th in the league — and they also’re additionally seeing teams take care of 22.4 3s per 100 possessions in opposition to them, which is the 2nd most in the NBA. In Tuesday’s game, the Toronto Raptors made 15 huge-originate 3-pointers, its most in a game this season, per 2d Spectrum.
This methodology, Ham admits, has been share of L.A.’s defensive strategy.
“You create no longer ever must fully disrespect a man that is an NBA participant, however you’d barely beget perchance more feature avid gamers taking 3s than [Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard] or whoever that risk is on the diversified team,” he said.
He additionally mentioned the used adage: “It be a gain-or-leave out league, man.”
To position it merely: The Lakers’ offense has been accountable for too many misses from beyond the arc, and their protection has allowed some distance too many makes. Except these numbers give a take care of to, this may perhaps presumably also be sophisticated for L.A. to turn into independent from from the play-in lag.
— Dave McMenamin
Fable: 17-19 (No. 12 in West; one game out of play-in)
When Warriors primary manager Mike Dunleavy spoke with newshounds following Draymond Inexperienced‘s indefinite suspension Dec. 13, he said, “The larger affect will most definitely be how we quit the subsequent 15, 20 games. … I create no longer deem I resolve on any longer overview of Draymond as a participant. We need a piece of more overview of this team: the chemistry, the lineups and all that.”
The Warriors beget long previous 7-6 since Dunleavy made that assertion, and Inexperienced is now working toward his return to the court docket from that suspension. By pinpointing the 15- to 20-game vary as a vital overview interval, Dunleavy used to be generally defining the time-frame avid gamers needed to present their price, or some major shakeup may perhaps presumably come before the Feb. 8 change closing date. Commerce candidates on the Warriors may perhaps presumably be avid gamers equivalent to Chris Paul (who’s now expected to leave out 4-6 weeks after undergoing hand surgical scheme), Moses Wretched and Andrew Wiggins. Sources knowledgeable ESPN the Warriors usually are no longer barely ready to deal third-12 months ahead Jonathan Kuminga.
Golden Direct has confronted spacing concerns when two of these avid gamers — Kuminga and Wiggins — piece the bottom. The wings beget a minus-20.6 ranking rating in 146 minutes, the worst trace among two avid gamers who beget performed at the least 100 minutes together. It has been an in particular tricky season for Wiggins, who’s placing up career-low numbers in features and assists and has a minus-150 plus-minus, the worst on the Warriors.
Curry leads the NBA with 155 3-pointers whereas taking pictures correct below 40% from beyond the arc, however since Dec. 23 has shot correct 22% on off-the-dribble 3-pointers, in accordance with ESPN Stats & Knowledge be taught. Getting one more shooter and scorer to abet Curry and Klay Thompson may perhaps presumably be more priceless than fully focusing on measurement — an condominium of the 2023-24 Warriors that is incessantly criticized.
With the emergence of Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Warriors beget one more swish middle to spell Kevon Looney. And whereas they easy beget undersized lineups, or no longer it is sophisticated to deem the Warriors making a sensible postseason lag with one more non-shooter on the bottom or in the rotation.
— Kendra Andrews