It's mid-week and time to take a quick look around the NBA. Here's a few topics catching my eye.
1. Toronto Raptors: At 3-12 after 15 games, a disappointment to say the least. Was I expecting a powerhouse team? Far from it. Was excited going into the season that this team would be much improved and in the hunt (I repeat, in the hunt) for a playoff spot and probably a year away from being a playoff team. If 'first impressions are lasting', then it hasn't been a good first look. Have lost a bunch of close/winnable games that would easily have them right around the .500 mark and we'd all feel like they're at least pointed in the right direction. Instead, you don't get those W's and the doubts and negativity start to creep in again. My biggest concern is that the schedule (six of next seven on the road) put them in a position (already nine games under .500) that they're already fighting for their lives and it's not even the quarter mark. It's awfully tough to make up ground in this league considering it's difficult to string together a bunch of wins when this organization hasn't had a bunch of long winning streaks in years. Moving rapidly into a danger zone where you get too far under water to get back to breathe.
Again, realism must exist in significant doses here. Nobody expects an Eastern Conference or NBA champion out of this group but I think it's fair to expect a team/organization that can show they're getting closer. They have been close in lots of games but they need to create their own breaks and get over the hump. Losing becomes a habit that's hard to get out of. The effort/performance against Houston was unacceptable. They've played better and been quite competitive so hopefully that's an aberration but you just hope that the losing isn't starting to create slippage. Theres' plenty of time/opportunity to change things and turn it around, yet the sense of heightened urgency has to be at an all-time high right now to prevent things from spiraling out of reach.
Take a look at the Eastern Conference playoffs in the past 10 years and you realize that it's going to take on average 40/41 wins to get that eighth spot. With only 67 games left to play and about 37/38 wins needed in that span, that's a brutally difficult task that lies ahead for them. Can it be done? Sure,but not looking like it at the moment. Moment of truth has arrived early. At this point, it's about the steady improvement we see in the next 67 games with the playoffs being a long shot, yet you want to see more consistent and much improved play and results. That is an attainable/realistic goal.
2. Kevin Love (T'Wolves): Against Sacramento on Tuesday, he had 23 points and 24 rebounds. This team has been crushed with injuries this year and is very fortunate to be hanging around at 6-7. Having Love's highly skilled and rugged game back in the lineup will allow them to stay in the hunt until they get more re-enforcements, particularly Ricky Rubio. They are a fun team to watch and hopefully they can stick around. If so, they'll be a load to deal with in the second half of the season.
3. Jeff Teague (Hawks): His team has played quite well at 8-4 and he's made some nice improvements in his game. His numbers are solid with 13.8 ppg and 7.3 apg. He's shooting it well at 48 per cent from the field, 42 per cent from three-point range while shooting and 91 per cent from the line. His overall efficiency and consistency are much better. He gets after it defensively with his quick feet and hands. Lots of changes in the ATL and, with the opportunity to have a bigger piece of the puzzle, he has taken advantage and risen to the occasion. Opening eyes around the league this season with his progression.
4. Brook Lopez (Nets): Boy, did they miss this guy last year. He's been a beast for Avery Johnson's squad in the early going. Averaging 19.2 ppg and 6.5 rpg and is playing with a little more of an edge than we've seen in the past. More confident in his post moves and is taking his time triggering his moves. Having skilled perimeter players that know how to feed the post and play effectively off a legit big guy has created good flow in their offence and solid inside/out play. They did everything possible to get Dwight Howard here and failed so having a healthy Lopez around has been a huge boost.
5. Terrence Ross (Raptors): I said it before and I'll say it again, this young man has talent and has a chance down the road to be a good player in this league if he gets stronger, tougher and improves his stamina/second and third effort along with his defence. Just watch him; the tools are there and he will need some time for them to come to the surface. At a record of 3-12, it makes complete sense to me to throw him out there to the wolves and let him get a taste of the game each night and see if he can compete that evening. Some nights he'll impress and others he'll struggle but the only way he's going to grow/blossom is for him to experience it a little bit. Obviously, he has to earn his minutes and not have them given to him, but if this team is going to struggle and be a non-playoff team, the organization owes it to itself to invest in a potential valued asset. With all due respect intended to Alan Anderson, Landry Fields, Linas Kleiza and Dominic McGuire, which perimeter player other than DeMar DeRozan has the highest ceiling in the organization? If you feel it's Ross, then in a losing situation, you owe it to the long-term benefit to give him at least a look each game. Dwane Casey is starting to do that and I agree with it.