Miami Heat: The Heat are on one of the most astounding win streaks of all time, a win streak that started with the team 19 games under .500, and has now reached 11 straight wins. No team in NBA history has had such a long winning streak with such a poor record, and it’s unlikely that any team will have one again any time soon. Dion Waiters came out of nowhere to become a strong sidekick to Goran Dragic, who is having a season every bit as good as his All-NBA campaign back in 2013-2014. Those two have beaten up on other backcourt repeatedly during the streak, and their chemistry is undeniable. Veterans such as Wayne Ellington and James Johnson have stepped up as well to fill in the gaps. Their talent remains relatively poor, but they have scrapped out win after win. Pat Riley and the Heat front office/scouting team also deserves huge credit for repeatedly finding diamonds in the rough: Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, and Hassan Whiteside. I don’t think this run of superior play is sustainable, but Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and Miami is certainly no longer a bottom 3 team. If they somehow make the playoffs, “Spo” would fully deserve coach of the year.
New Orleans Pelicans: My favorite to win the 8th seed in the Western Conference can’t seem to find their footing. Just 4-6 in their last 10, the Pelicans remain behind the Nuggets and Blazers, and are dead even with the Kings and Mavericks. They are struggling despite possessing an MVP caliber player in Anthony Davis (mostly healthy this season), and a borderline All Star level point guard in Jrue Holiday (likewise). Even offseason acquisitions such as Terrence Jones and E’Twaun Moore are having solid seasons. So what’s wrong? Tyreke Evans has been unable to stay on the court. Donatas Motiejunas, who was hailed as such a sneaky good under-the-radar signing a couple months back, has proven a bust. The Pelicans simply can’t score. Despite ranking 8th in the NBA in defensive rating, a terrific place to be, they are 27th in offensive rating. Considering the talent they have on their roster, they shouldn’t be that bad. At some point, heat has to start falling on the Clippers’ old friend Alvin Gentry, who just hasn’t been able to mold his team into a winner. Dell Demps, the GM, also deserves criticism, and if the Pelicans do miss the playoffs this season, expect a full cleaning of house. As is, I think they are going to be very active around the trade deadline in a final push to make the postseason.
Minnesota Timberwolves: After a brief stretch where the Wolves seemed to be pulling things together, they have fallen back into the bottom five teams in the NBA, losing four games in a row. Worst of all, Zach Lavine, their highlight-producing starting guard, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Lavine is a good young player, and the Wolves are going to miss him badly. Andrew Wiggins, who was drafted to be a franchise player back in 2014, has actually been worse this season than last, and questions around his basketball IQ and decision making are starting to mount. Karl Anthony Towns is still amazing, but his defense hasn’t taken the step forward that was expected, and the Wolves’ defense has paid the cost. Veterans such as Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich have had underwhelming seasons as well (Hill has barely even played), and none of them looks like a long-term piece to keep alongside the Wolves’ youth. Minnesota is now 4.5 games back of Denver, and they are unlikely to make a playoff push any time soon. Lance Stephenson was just picked up on a 10-day flier, but Clippers’ fans know better than most that Lance isn’t going to turn a team around overnight. Overall, it has been a highly disappointing season for the massively overhyped Timberwolves, who are at least a year away (probably two) from making real noise in the Western Conference.