We’re only two weeks into the NBA season and we’ve already had plenty of exhilarating finishes and record-breaking performances. Some teams have exceeded expectations like Milwaukee and Sacramento. However, there are some clubs whose seasons haven’t begun the way they’d hoped. This early in the season, we can’t be so eager to overreact to a great team underperforming. We do, though, need to take notice when there are real foreboding signs. Their starts have been far from auspicious but which teams should be going into panic mode and which should be confident that time will fix their complications?
Last season, the Houston Rockets, not the Golden State Warriors, were the best regular season team. That team posted the best record in the NBA at 65-17 and nearly knocked off the Warriors in the playoffs. This formidable roster, captained by MVP James Harden and all-time great point guard Chris Paul, was a machine.
On December 20th, 2017, the Houston Rockets dropped their fifth game of the season to the Los Angeles Lakers, lowering their record to a mild 25-5. On Tuesday, October 30th, the Houston Rockets dropped their fifth game of the season to the Portland Trail Blazers, lowering their record to a concerning 1-5. Portland came into Houston and throttled the weakened Rockets. It was the third straight loss by double digits on their home floor.
Many predicted a regression this season for Houston, partly due to their offseason moves and partly due to their playing style being simply unsustainable. Houston’s offense is built on James Harden and Chris Paul isolations. When shots aren’t falling or worse, those two aren’t on the court, the offense falls apart, as we see from their 26th ranked offensive rating. Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute hasn’t helped their 24th ranked defense. In reality, adding Carmelo Anthony is really subtraction by addition. His limited offense and abhorrent defense would have him out of the NBA if his name wasn’t Melo.
Is it time to hit the panic button?
No…for now. Chris Paul and James Harden have both missed time due to injury or suspension. Is this Houston team going to come close to their 2017-18 production? Probably not. But this Rockets team is a playoff team in the West and should figure things out in due time. With Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss becoming trade eligible, a move for Jimmy Butler could be on the horizon. Things could turn quickly in Houston’s favor. However, we should keep our panic button near in case they don’t make a trade or things stay the same even when their superstars get healthy again.
The Washington Wizards are a strange bunch. On paper, this Washington team looks good enough to contend in the East. Two all-star guards, a solid center, and plenty of depth should be a formula for a good NBA team. However, one must look beyond the scorecard in order to evaluate this Wizards team.
The Wizards have always experienced chemistry problems and nothing is new this season. Everyone hates each other. Players are singling out each other and drawing lines in the sand. These petty quarrels are a direct cause of Washington’s 1-6 record.
The only case I can make in favor of Washington’s situation revolves around Dwight Howard. The Wizards sit dead last in the NBA in rebound percentage at 43.3%. Howard, who averaged 12.5 rebounds last season in Charlotte, should help Washington out of rebounding hell. However, Dwight Howard will be more of a minus than a plus for Washington in the long run.
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With constant locker room issues without his career, it is highly probable that this Washington locker room goes from bad to worse once Howard is in the mix, not setting screens and demanding touches in the post.
Is it time to hit the panic button?
That panic button has been sitting in Ernie Grunfeld’s office for at least two seasons, begging to be pressed. The Wizards should be in panic mode for no other reason than the hard realization that they are going nowhere with this current core. There’s a reasonable chance that the Wizards bounce back and make the playoffs this season. However, the Wizards haven’t won 50 games or made it past the second round in the John Wall era. The myriad of chemistry problems the Wizards deal with aren’t going anywhere. It’s time to blow it up.
John Wall probably isn’t going anywhere due to his egregious contract, poor defense, and lack of team play. Moving Bradley Beal and/or Otto Porter for young assets and a high draft pick is the best action to take going forward. And if you can find a suitor for Wall, trade him before the other GM can hang up the phone. It’s been a solid run for Washington but it’s time for them to return to the drawing board.
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Los Angeles Lakers
Among all other things, the presence of LeBron James is synonymous with lofty expectation. When James signed with the Lakers signed with the Lakers this Summer, the hopes of Los Angeles collectively skyrocketed. The King had led a dysfunctional Cavaliers roster to the finals against the greatest team of all time and if it weren’t for some antics, may have stolen a game or two.
The Lakers’ start of the season hasn’t been what many Laker fans had hoped for. The Lakers sit at 2-5 and have been disappointing in many areas. LA has been a turnstile on defense, posting the 23rd ranked defensive rating in the NBA. They haven’t been shooting the three at a high level, shooting a paltry 33% from long range. The team has already gone through some controversy, resulting in multiple suspensions.
Is it time to hit the panic button?
Put away your panic button because there is still plenty of room for optimism in the City of Angels. LeBron James is still LeBron James; he’s averaged a quiet 24.4 points, 8.3 assists, and 9.1 rebounds this season. JaVale McGee has been a very pleasant surprise, posting 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and three blocks per game. Lonzo Ball is an elite defender and playmaker and Brandon Ingram is a capable secondary scorer.
The Lakers offense has been humming this season, fielding the seventh best offensive rating in the NBA. Led by James and some creative offense by Luke Walton, the Lakers have been one of the best teams in the NBA at scoring in the paint, helping to compensate for their lack of spacing. Whenever LeBron James joins a new team, they start slow. The Lakers will be fine. This team is not a championship contender but they will be in the thick of the playoff hunt when the time comes.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.
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