NBA Debate: Are the Pelicans contenders? And are the Nets again?

Whereas the same old suspects stay atop the Japanese Convention standings, there’s a new contender rising out West. 

This week, our panel of NBA reporters — Ric Bucher and Melissa Rohlin — takes a have a look at New Orleans’ sudden arrival, if the Brooklyn Nets have regained their mojo, and which new face in a brand new metropolis has taken their sport to new heights.

1. New Orleans is No. 1 within the Western Convention standings. Are the Pelicans an actual title contender?

Rohlin: I don’t know if the Pelicans are legit title contenders, however I may see them having a deep playoff run. With out Zion Williamson final season, they stunned everybody by reaching the primary spherical of the playoffs behind CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. And with Williamson again within the lineup, averaging 23.9 factors and seven.2 rebounds, the Pelicans are an actual menace. The issue is the Western Convention is simply so congested proper now that it’s laborious to gauge which groups are standouts. In spite of everything, the top-seeded Pelicans are solely 3.5 video games forward of the ninth-place LA Clippers. So, the convention is vast open. That being mentioned, I actually like what Willie Inexperienced is doing over in N.O. And with Williamson taking part in dominant ball, this staff may make some actual noise. Actually, what’s to say they received’t shock us once more by taking part in in June?

Bucher: No, however they’re wildly entertaining, and I might count on them to win an honest quantity of regular-season video games. They aren’t notably good in shut video games or towards successful groups, which is what they’ll see within the playoffs. And Zion presents as a lot of a conundrum for the Pelicans as he does their opponents. He’s too good to not put the ball in his arms, however he has the staff’s highest utilization fee and the fourth-highest help whole per 100 possessions, simply an oz forward of Devonte Graham. Translation: He isn’t creating photographs for others. Attacking the basket, whether or not it’s off the dribble or on putbacks, he’s electrical — if he can get to his left hand. Good groups, playoff groups, aren’t going to let him, no less than not constantly. If he doesn’t have the ball in his arms, he’s not a lot of a menace, apart from cleansing up the glass, which creates a spacing downside. And then there’s the defensive finish of the ground. How do I put this kindly? He’s atrocious. Doesn’t field out, doesn’t keep in entrance of his man, doesn’t block photographs. As wonderful as he’s — and I do suppose he’s a particular expertise — the Pelicans don’t miss a beat with out him. However they must play him. I can’t wait to see how this performs out.

2. The Miami Warmth completed first within the East final season and have been one sport away from the NBA Finals. This season, they sit tenth within the convention. What’s gone unsuitable in Miami?

Rohlin: Their largest downside: The Warmth are bottom-five in offensive ranking. In fact, accidents haven’t helped. Jimmy Butler has missed 10 video games and the reigning Sixth Man of the 12 months Tyler Herro has missed eight. However the humorous factor about this staff is despite the fact that their report is cringe-worthy, it’s nonetheless laborious to rely them out. There are nights once they seem like a staff that reached Japanese Convention Finals final season and has an opportunity to compete once more, equivalent to once they beat the Boston Celtics final Friday. However they’ve additionally had so many inexplicable collapses, equivalent to Monday, once they fell to a Memphis Grizzlies staff with out 4 starters, together with celebrity Ja Morant. I wouldn’t be stunned if this staff has a late resurgence.

Bucher: I’m by no means going to rely them out as a result of few groups constantly maximize what they’ve in addition to the Warmth, however they want their core — Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry — out there and taking part in at a excessive stage to compete with the league’s finest. Butler having missed 10 of 25 video games (they went 4-6 with out him) hurts, as has the decline of Lowry. These two are additionally their lone playmakers, therefore the offensive struggles.

3. Boston led by as many as 45 factors in Phoenix on Wednesday. What did you make of the Celtics’ blowout win over the Suns? Is Boston that far forward of the pack?

Rohlin: That loss was dangerous. However I’m unsure we are able to learn that a lot into it. Initially, Chris Paul returned towards the Celtics after a 14-game absence and was removed from himself in that sport, ending with as many turnovers (4) as factors and assists. Secondly, Devin Booker, who was coming off of 40-plus and 50-plus-point performances only a week earlier, had an excellent off evening towards the Celtics, ending with 17 factors on 35.3% taking pictures. That being mentioned, the Celtics would possibly very nicely be the perfect staff within the league proper now. And there’s no query that they’re hungry after lastly reaching the NBA Finals for the primary time in 12 years final season earlier than falling to the Golden State Warriors. They’ve the highest rated offensive (119.9) and so they’re within the top-10 staff in defensive ranking. However the Milwaukee Bucks are proper at their heels, solely two video games behind. And there are a number of different groups that may give them a run for his or her cash, doubtlessly even together with the Suns, barring one other collapse. 

Bucher: No possibly. The Celtics are the perfect staff within the league proper now and never simply due to their report. They’re additionally a horrible matchup for the Suns, whose energy is their wings and level guard play towards most groups. The issue: That’s Boston’s energy as nicely and proper now, nobody is taking Booker, CP3 and Mikal Bridges over Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Good. Throw in Malcolm Brogdon coming off the bench vs. Cam Payne and it’s not a good combat. Which the ultimate rating indicated. And then there’s chemistry. The Cs have that over the Suns as nicely. In any other case, how is DeAndre Ayton taking solely three first-quarter photographs towards a entrance line of Blake Griffin and Grant Williams?

4. A number of large names discovered new properties this offseason. Which large identify in a brand new metropolis has been the perfect up to now this season?

Rohlin: I like what Donovan Mitchell is doing in Cleveland. He’s averaging career-highs in factors (29) and discipline objective proportion (49.6), whereas main the Cavaliers to the third-best report within the Japanese Convention (16-9). Following 5 seasons with the Utah Jazz, it’s clear {that a} change has benefitted him. He’s making the Cavaliers related once more for the primary time since LeBron James took the staff to the NBA Finals in 2018 after which left in free company. Since then, they’ve missed the playoffs 4 straight seasons. Behind Mitchell, that streak may finish very quickly. 

Bucher: It’s laborious to look previous Mitchell, for certain, however simply to unfold the love, I’ll go along with Jerami Grant in Portland. He may not even qualify as a giant identify, which is what makes his efficiency for the Blazers much more sensational. Recognized principally for his protection, he’s averaging a career-high 23 factors, partly as a result of he’s turn into a knock-down three-point shooter. He’d by no means shot the three higher than 39% earlier than this season; but he’s taking pictures 46.1%. He’s even hit a buzzer-beating game-winning baseline jumper, and I’m moderately assured in saying that’s not solely the primary game-winning buzzer beater he’s made, it’s the primary he’s taken within the NBA. Brogdon deserves a nod as nicely. I’m satisfied Good is taking part in as effectively as he’s as a result of he is aware of Brogdon, an effectivity maestro, is over there ready.

5. Brooklyn has received 5 of its final six and eight of its final 11, and is now fourth within the East. Are the Nets again? Can they nonetheless problem within the East?

Rohlin: How rapidly storylines change within the NBA. Only a blink in the past, the Nets have been mired in additional drama than a Telenovela. Now, they’re within the headlines for a special purpose: They’re successful. The most important distinction has been they’ve really determined to play protection. They went from having the worst protection within the league to being eighth in that class over their final 10 video games. Humorous what taking part in a little bit protection will do, huh? Ever since Kyrie Irving has returned from suspension, the Nets have been related once more. In the event that they maintain taking part in like this, issues could possibly be very fascinating come April. 

Bucher: I have a look at their roster and suppose, “Why not?” Then I have a look at the load Kevin Durant and Irving are carrying — each taking part in 37 minutes an evening — and contemplate their damage historical past and I believe, “This isn’t sustainable.” And then there’s their urge for food for drama; all is comparatively quiet however I’m simply unsure they will help themselves, notably Kyrie, from doing one thing that’s going to be a distraction. They’re not beating the Celtics or the Bucks, so, no, they’re not going to problem within the East.

Ric Bucher is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Journal and The Washington Publish and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA ahead Brian Grant’s battle with younger onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He additionally has a every day podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Observe him on Twitter @RicBucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand lined the league for Sports activities Illustrated, the Los Angeles Instances, the Bay Area Information Group and the San Antonio Categorical-Information. Observe her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He’s the creator of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Observe him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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