After a first assessment in the quarter of the season, it is time to take stock of the teams, the classic « Power Rankings », halfway through the campaign. A complicated exercise because the Omicron wave disturbed the balance of almost all the teams, distorting a lot of results and breaking some dynamics.
Memphis and other fit teams
The main lesson from this second quarter of the season is that Ja Morant and his Grizzlies have indeed taken off. It is first without its leader that Memphis (29-14) found its marks, stringing together victories by really setting up its defense, before the Morant rocket carried them even higher. Since the beginning of December, the Tennessee troop has been the best team in the NBA, with 18 wins in 22 outings, the third attack, the best defense, a « Net Rating » of +12.6 and victories against the Nets, the Warriors (x2) , the Suns or the Heat.
The trajectory of the club, to compare with that of the first quarter of the season, is thus bluffing.
Despite the injuries, Cleveland (24-18) is probably the other very good surprise of the second quarter. The start of the Cavaliers season was already good and despite the quarantines as well as the hard knocks (Collin Sexton, Ricky Rubio …), the « very tall ball » is bearing fruit, with a defense that is still as delicate to maneuver, a Darius Garland who grows visibly and a collective that seems globally on the same wavelength.
Toronto (20-18) has also raised the bar well. Nick Nurse has regained his full rotation, as well as a Fred VanVleet – Pascal Siakam duo in good shape, and that necessarily changes a lot of things. The team remains limited, but its army of versatile winger can cause problems for anyone.
We can obviously add Chicago (27-12) who took control of the East despite the turbulence of the many, many quarantines and injuries. The Bulls may have benefited from a lenient schedule and some miracles signed by DeMar DeRozan, but the (new) mental toughness of Billy Donovan’s group is to be highlighted, as well as Nikola Vucevic’s growing influence in the game, in order to to balance everything.
Overall, we can also add Miami (26-15) and Philadelphia (23-17), who especially held the shock despite the absences, thanks to a dense collective or a dominant Joel Embiid.
Jolts among the cadors
Phoenix (31-9) and Golden State (30-10) are still top of the league but both clubs, so brilliant in the first quarter, have shown some flaws recently.
The Suns cough and sometimes offensively, but still remain extremely solid, especially thanks to their management of the end of the game. Chris Paul and his squad have won 14 of their 17 games that have been played with five points or less in the final five minutes this season. It’s the best ratio in the league.
The Warriors are clearly looking for a second wind. Particularly targeted, visibly tired and consequently frustrated, Stephen Curry marks the occasion and Steve Kerr will have to find solutions to revive his attack, which went from 3rd place to 26th place between the first and the second quarter of the season. Fortunately, the defense still holds the shock but Golden State is counting on the return of Klay Thompson to release a little his “Splash Brother”, and bring back efficiency on the offensive plan.
Utah (28-14) should have been among the fit teams. It was even the team with the best record of the second half of the season… until Rudy Gobert was isolated. Obviously, without its defensive totem, the balance is much complicated to find but the defensive collapse is embarrassing, with four consecutive defeats which illustrate how much this army of shooters relies on the French pivot on the defensive level.
For Brooklyn (26-14) and Milwaukee (26-17), these are different observations, with the Nets who always worry in the hardness and the impact under the circle, and who have just won their first success against a « cador » of the season, his « Big Three » does not mechanically not able to build automatisms with a Kyrie Irving limited to only away games. The reigning champions Giannis Antetokounmpo are them on alternating current and generally fail to launch their season.
The first team that comes to mind is obviously Atlanta (17-23). It was the year of confirmation for the conference finalists and it’s an understatement to say that Trae Young and his gang are disappointing.
Granted, they’ve been troubled by the quarantines and injuries, but the defensive issues are just too many, with a Clint Capela losing some of his impact and can’t catch everything anyway. The appointment of Nate McMillan had shaken the group last year but, this season, the technician can not find solutions for a group which, like John Collins, is lacking benchmarks. Especially since the Hawks are far too predictable, and that weighs them down in the fourth quarter.
Portland (16-24) For his part, it seems clear at the end of a cycle that the injuries of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are not helping. It seems to be a bit the same to Indiana (15-27) that the arrival of Rick Carlisle did not revive. It’s hard to think that the Blazers and Pacers will remain intact at the « trade deadline » …
We can also put the « histories »: LA Lakers (21-21), Boston (21-21) and New York (21-21), surprisingly all with the same results. For LeBron James and his troops, it is the very balance of the team that is problematic, without Anthony Davis, with an always embarrassing defense and an attack which relies on the exploits of LeBron James and the eruption of a few « roles ». players ”, while Russell Westbrook seems on his side lost.
As Bob Cousy aptly explained recently, the Celtics seem to lack a conductor while the Knicks, even if there are some sparks lately, they need to find the ardor of Julius Randle of last season if they want to move up the standings in the second part of the season.
Many teams in this interval since this funny season does not seem to allow almost no rhythm. Charlotte (23-19) is capable of great things, but LaMelo Ball’s troops remain crumbly defensively. Washington (22-20) remains above the waterline with astonishing composure in the end of the game, but still seems too limited to really hope for more than a runner-up in the next playoffs.
West, Dallas (22-19) seems to have found a certain defensive stability, which allowed him to get back in the standings, but it will take a hell of a build-up from the duo Luka Doncic – Kristaps Porzingis at the end of the season to aim higher. For Denver (20-19) and the LA Clippers (21-21), the problem is linked to the many absences. Without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, Nikola Jokic is far too lonely with the Nuggets, while it is difficult for Los Angeles to hope to shine without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Minnesota (20-21) For his part, seems the personification of that soft underbelly, with alternations between winning streak and losing streak, and overall statistics that rank the team around 15th place in just about every area. But it remains a progress for the club compared to the last seasons.
There are therefore seven dunces left, even if their balance sheets are quite different. New Orleans (15-26) This is going up the slope after a disastrous start to the season, and while the return of Zion Williamson is more and more hypothetical this season. For Sacramento (17-27) and San Antonio (15-26), it is the frustration that dominates when discussing the results of the two clubs at mid-term.
The Kings are too inconstant, with a De’Aaron Fox who seems less sharp, when the Spurs lack « star power » but do not deserve in complicated conditions. For Oklahoma City (13-27), Houston (12-31), Detroit (9-31) and Orlando (7-35), the operation
tanking reconstruction continues and the only interesting prospect is the progression of the young players. For the results, we will have to wait a little longer.