Reasons to be NBA cheerful: Warm plates

Each NBA team gets the cheery treatment as the season starts to get weighty





Atlanta Hawks

Luke Babbitt will not be available for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers, but his lower back injury could return him to the starting lineup sometime next week.

Entering Wednesday: 3-14, last in the East.

Brooklyn Nets

Hiring people with humility and patience to run basketball clubs works, it works well, and we’ll express as much in December.

Entering Wednesday: 6-10, 13th in the East.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are worth all the plaudits you want to give them. Whatever you want to talk about on Thursday is fine, as long as you do it with grace and humor.

For both of those elements, I usually turn to TV’s Brett Butler.

Entering Wednesday: 16-2, tops in the East.

Charlotte Hornets

Nic Batum update:

A little tip for any defender stuck between Nicolas Batum and the rim on any fastbreak between now and 2018-19:

Mr. Batum will not be driving toward his left for the foreseeable future, nor will he be finishing with that particular hand. No political significance, it’s just that half of him probably can’t basketball right now.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, 11th in the East.

Chicago Bulls

I did not watch Chicago’s loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, but I did buy a Bulls-colored hat at a gas station while back home. Column on Monday.

About the Bulls, and not the hat. Not a big hat guy.

Entering Wednesday: 3-12, 14th in the East.

Cleveland Cavaliers

This is Jae Crowder’s first time without an exacting play-caller running the show from the sidelines, LeBron James doesn’t count because he still wears a mouthguard, and his absorption into whatever the hell Cleveland is will take some time.

Obviously. Cleveland, still top five and usually higher on offense, still gets shit done on that end.

Crowder will eventually find some lanes. He’ll figure out where to run to and where to dive into and he won’t continue to try to prove his entire worth with every anticipated corner three.

And any worries about his ankle go away the minute I flip over to Brooklyn, in time to see how much fun DeMarre Carroll is having on no skates. Why did they let DeMarre on the ice.

If LeBron leads, Crowder will come around.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the East.

Dallas Mavericks

For years, Rick Carlisle made basketball in bad basketball uniforms entertaining. Now he’s making bad basketball entertaining. They’re still in bad uniforms.

Entering Wednesday: 3-15, 15th in the West.

Denver Nuggets

It really is early.

The Nuggets are going to have to burn people with Paul Millsap out, but it’s not like the 18th-best NBA defense has gotten in the way of too much (even with all those scheduled Colorado losses amplifying things) this season.

Millsap will now get months to sit on the bench and observe, exactly, where he’ll eventually fit in, because he will. Summer visualizations only take you so far once the leaves turn.

In the meantime, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will have to ham-and-egg it in ways that will still compel.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the West.

Detroit Pistons

LeBron James scored 16 points in the first quarter on Monday evening against Detroit and, mindful of history, he more or less settled after that. He wouldn’t want to alter too much those career averages of 24 points, 6.8 boards and 6.9 assists against Detroit.

(LeBron averages 27.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game as pro.)

The Pistons, on average and for nearly as long as my two high school-aged daughters have been alive, turn LeBron James into a very good version of Jamal Mashburn.

Which is what Charley Rosen probably had in mind all along.

Entering Wednesday: 11-6, third in the East.

Golden State Warriors


Entering Wednesday: 13-4, tops in the West.

Houston Rockets

Entering Wednesday: 13-4, tops in the West.

Indiana Pacers

From the 11-21 BtB, and Indiana’s takedown of Orlando:

Constant movement from Indiana from tip to top, the Magic thought they had a bit of that of their own in the bag, but the Pacers set up a good demarcation point for movement and mettle – their sets in the fourth quarter are run through with the same aplomb as the first quarter sets.

I can listen to Pacer games on the radio in my kitchen with a rabbit ear and you’re damn right I count that as a blessing.

Entering Wednesday: 10-8, eighth in the East.

Los Angeles Clippers

Not the Clippers.

Entering Wednesday: 5-11, 13th in the West.

Los Angeles Lakers

Ignoring everything but the actual games the Los Angeles Lakers play in doesn’t make you ill-informed, it just makes you selective.

Just like in college. I had a very selective view of what classes I should attend, and what classes I should give a miss to; and though I was asked to leave in no time at all, I’ve no academic regrets.

Entering Wednesday: 8-10, eighth in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies

I thought about this team a lot while I drove, and the best we can still offer is Memphis’ promise.

The club started 7-4 so that it could do 0-5, which it has done since losing to the Rockets on Nov. 11, and a whole lineup of potentially signature wins awaits.

The home showing against Dallas on Wednesday probably shouldn’t count, but both coaches will make damn sure that it will, and then you have the trip to Denver on Friday night. Hardly full rest for a team that doesn’t know what to do with the pause.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, ninth in the West.

Miami Heat

Only Erik Spoelstra could coach a team like this without sweating.

The Heat are the fifth-worst turnover club in the NBA, but few do the miscue as spectacularly.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, 11th in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks

What happens when Thon Maker warms to expectation?

What will happen this time when some guy starts putting up Kareem-stats in Milwaukee?

To you, this time. You gonna drive up there, while tickets are still cheap?

Entering Wednesday: 8-8, ninth in the East.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Shabazz Muhammed hasn’t started since a 1-9 showing in his second 2017-18 turn in that role, and he’s just played 99 minutes over the last 10 games for a Wolves team that is still fourth from the bottom in defense.

If Minnesota has any chance of turning him into Joakim Noah via trade, Muhammed will have to take in more minutes. Scott Layden, of all people should know this.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the West.

New Orleans Pelicans

There is an internal force here, probably the combined NBA anxiety of literally EVERYONE involved on the Pelicans, but the team has strung wins together in a West that gave everyone a chance in November.

We don’t know what the plan is, but we can see the checkmarks. If NOLA can be the batshit team you can’t counter, look at those percentages where it counts, then this can keep up.

Alvin Gentry’s dealt with batshit before, he’s made both Earl Boykins and Michael Olowokandi laugh, and those two were Starkweather and Doggie Dumps in short pants.

Entering Wednesday: 9-8, seventh in the West.

New York Knicks

Doug McDermott somehow managed to turn things around in New York, running without the ball and delighting a home crowd starved for shooting. Go figure.

He wasn’t brought into the Chicago Bulls via the best of trades, but that was never his fault, and though former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau ran plenty of plays to show off the don’t underestimate him as an athlete-push, but by and large anger and McDermott’s Chicago-styled murk of a knee injury didn’t help things.

He’s shooting, still, winning games for a Knick team that also enjoys Courtney Lee at 45 percent from outside. Doug shoots the same percentage, hitting for 8.4 points off the Knick bench in 23 minutes.

Entering Wednesday: 9-7, sixth in the East.

Oklahoma City Thunder

We’re only a month in, so I’m not averse to recognizing Paul George’s mighty defensive turn, and what sort of award(s) this stretch might merit. Maybe I just miss swingmen winning Defensive Player of the Year.

Heaps of steals and deflections for the NBA’s third-best defense. Maybe some of this is the Roberson effect, but last time we checked those were PG’s fingerprints all over the ball.

That’s about it for Oklahoma City, so far. Prove me wrong, Wednesday.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, ninth in the West.

Orlando Magic

This is a look of a man that just stopped a fast break.
Entering Wednesday: 8-9, tenth in the East.

Philadelphia 76ers

Brett Brown’s team is getting better out of timeouts, the team is coming out of halves better and they’re playing well at home.

Brett Brown finally has a basketball team, and the best part is that Brett Brown also knows that a great modern team can’t all fit on one bus.

Entering Wednesday: 9-7, sixth in the East.

Phoenix Suns

Don’t look at Suns stats, you’ll only wonder why Josh Jackson doesn’t appear to be clinging to sort of available loose balls (your steals, your rebounds, even your attempts at dumb blocks) that already appear in the hands of his contemporaries in terms of age, but the guy irritates a little and I enjoy watching him.

Jay Triano has this team at 7-8, somehow, as he stares down the same sort of lost season Mike D’Antoni spied in 2003-04. He’s established a modicum of professionalism. The Suns expect to have a chance, now.

Entering Wednesday: 7-11, 12th in the West.

Portland Trail Blazers

From the 11-21 BtB:

Portland is up to second in the NBA in defense, what the hell happened to our league, and they look every bit the part.

The Blazers really, really get after shots. They’ve had a few boners so far, something about an 82-game season and diligence, but this outfit contests looks like mad without being burned too badly at the line. Portland is around the league average in letting their defenders get to the stripe, not bad for all this aggression, but they close out on the defensive glass and I see no reason why this can’t continue.

The West isn’t holding its own, at least to its famed end in the post-MJ era, this season. That doesn’t mean the 10:30 kids aren’t putting in.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, sixth in the West.

Sacramento Kings

From the 11-18 BtB:

This is a strange roster, and this is the strange roster’s first month together, so none of this can be easy. George Hill and Zach Randolph can’t put the Kings on their backs, not with the mosh pits from 2012 still ringing in their ears, but the sense of duty can at least lead.

Sacramento is bad, but they are led by a good coach and some ardent professionals. There is a lightness and lilt to this (very bad) team, and absolutely none of these words have to do with DeMarcus Cousins.

We have to be careful in assigning heft to the Boogie Era. Let’s just wait a bit.

Entering Wednesday: 4-13, 14th in the West.

San Antonio Spurs

Look at the position teams like the Spurs put themselves in.

Most other planes, and this is a knotty schedule – in New Orleans on Wednesday against a Pelicans squad growing in confidence by the hour, off to Charlotte to see if this two-game Hornet winning streak is worth worrying about, back home against Dallas, and then a Memphis/Memphis next week.

Like, the Spurs can handle this. These are trip-up games that even the Van Gundys would have trouble preparing their teams for, in spite of all … that … talking, and the Kawhi-less could enter December with a tidy record. Or they could blow the week and still come out with perspective that smells of freshly pulled sage.

If you decided to leave the NBA orbit around the same time Rick Moranis released his first CD, then you’ll be assured to note that the Spurs still don’t foul people.

(Read that Moranis run. He’s a charmer.)

Entering Wednesday: 11-6, second in the West.

Toronto Raptors

Here are your Raps from the 11-15 BtB:

The Raptors just lost a close one in Boston that DeMar could have won and they made close games out of trips to Golden State and San Antonio. Denver was a scheduled loss, but the Rocket win is their most impressive yet after road conquests against the Blazers (who slept through most of that defeat), Utah and the Lakers.

Pascal Siakum had a few boners but he didn’t let it affect his next possession. The alert Jakob Poeltl was around for answers on both ends and Fred VanVleet had his feet ready. Also on both ends. Delon Wright made all five of his shots, including some set to douse Rocket momentum, scoring with ease in Toronto’s space-filled offense.

And from the 11-18 episode:

All of Toronto’s losses have come against good-to-great basketball teams (Nuggets, Wizards, Celtics, W’s, Spurs). This team is swinging.

You know what they say about GMs that draft well. They provide legitimate buttresses for the inherent gamble in assigning maximum value player contracts to franchise staples who may be at or beyond their primes, due to their abilities to locate and develop rookie cap-tiered talent.  

Entering Wednesday: 11-5, second in the East.

Utah Jazz

Though a lot of stats still say this is a just-below-average team, there is groundswell in some corners of Jazz fandom that is warm and set in for a rebuilding turn – Ricky Rubio’s sub-40 percent shooting hasn’t melted enough hearts yet, Rudy Gobert might not be right until 2018.

We wouldn’t encourage such a thing – December’s schedule probably makes it so won’t have to.

Until then, Donovan Mitchell is at 43 percent from field as a starter, 34 percent from long range after missing six of seven against Philly, 17.8 points per game on a team that really needs it.

The miscue mark dropped a mark in Rudy’s absence, but the Jazz are still second-best at causing turnovers. That’s still Ricky on the break. Bi-weekly, when allowed.

Entering Wednesday: 7-11, 11th in the West.

Washington Wizards

This is still the team, just about, that started 2016-17 by splitting its first 38 games, so I’m not going to tell you that the Wizards will have it all turned around by the time you pretend to like cranberry sauce on a sandwich, but some good hallmarks are here.

The Wizards have a top-seven point differential and they’re top eight in both defense and offense, they have three perimeter types playing heavy minutes using up PERs over 20, and they haven’t even started getting to the line yet.

They also know, like, everyone’s phone number at this point. There is something to be said for continuity, and the national TV entertainment it provides.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fifth in the East.

Behind the Boxscore on Thursday morning, stay safe on Wednesday night.

Thank you for reading.