It has been a busy week in the NBA as we are just past the middle of the Pre-Season, with the regular season starting just over a week away (October 28th). While the Pre-Season is almost always a state of flux (what with the arrival of new players, new coaches and the changes in strategies and new plays), the last week has shone a light on both the prospect and ambition of some teams that finished in the middle of the standings last season, and the worries that some of the “dominant” teams may be facing heading into the regular season. While it would be impossible (or just take a long damn time) to cover every single team, here are this week’s five teams that definitely deserve a mention:
The Grizzlies have had a fantastic start to their Pre-Season, as they remain undefeated so far. The Starting Five seem to be totally on form, and although they’re clocking some serious minutes on the court, it’s not having any substantial effects on the team as a unit. This is a comforting change for the Grizzlies as their strong season last year meandered into a pretty meager performance in the Playoffs. Marc Gasol, who was the main driving force for the Grizzlies during the Playoffs (performing well both defensively and offensively), is now aided by a much more concrete support from Courtney Lee and Tony Allen, both of whom managed to get more points on the scoreboard than Gasol in their dominating win over Minnesota Timberwolves this week (90-68).
The Clippers have had a poor Pre-Season so far. They have lost three out of their four games to date, and with upcoming games against Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers this week, it’s difficult to remain hopeful for a drastic change in performance. After all the drama that ensued during the Free Agency, fans were glad to have DeAndre Jordan return to the Clippers. But so far, his impact on the court has been next to nothing, and there seems to be a distinct lack of chemistry throughout the whole team, culminating with each match having periods of miscommunication, bad plays, or in the case of their devastating loss against Charlotte Hornets (113-71) last Wednesday, simply bad passing between team-mates. With the exception of Blake Griffin (who has been offensively fantastic in the last few games), coach Doc Rivers better hope he can whip his team into the same standard their set last season.
The Lakers have managed to only win one of their last five Pre-Season games (excluding their win to Maccabi Haifa). Although Kobe Bryant has returned from injury to resume regular play, his presence on the team has not made much of a difference to their Pre-Season attempts. Indeed, he was absent from their only victory against Golden State Warriors last Saturday (85-70). Bryant seems to be taking a much more foundational, all-round supporting role this season because let’s face it, the guy is getting old. While I would love it if he pulled out a few surprises this coming season, it seems more likely that he’ll end up getting himself injured again.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
OKC are delighted to have their star player and leader Kevin Durant back playing regularly. Their Pre-Season results have highlighted this, as they have won four of their five games so far, with their only loss coming from their game against Memphis Grizzlies, where both Durant and Russell Westbrook were absent. Durant scored 23 points in their last game against Denver Nuggets, with both Westbrook and Serge Ibaka helping to keep a good margin in points. Enes Kanter has also been performing particularly well offensively, and if he manages to polish his defensive skills a bit better, OKC could have a dangerously good start to the season.
The Cavaliers had a very strong season, and came within grabbing distance of snatching the NBA Championship. But it was not to be. However, nobody could have believed that a team to have performed so well a few months ago would be this far into their Pre-Season without a single win. LeBron James has only played in two of these games, though in his first he only managed to put 8 points on the scoreboard. With Kyrie Irving missing from all the Pre-Season games so far, and Kevin Love only returning last week in their defeat to Toronto Raptors, it’s hard to be TOO skeptical for the Cavaliers, as they may simply need the focus of the regular season to return to form with all their key players.