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The NBA Final-Stretch Stock Watch

Who is trending up and who is trending down as we head toward the postseason?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Trending down: John Wall for blowing it in crunch time.

Driving against LeBron James is not something anyone should wish to do. But it’s kind of part of the gig when you’re a professional NBA player who has the ball with less than 15 seconds left in a game against the King.

Wall’s two final possessions in this game contradict who he usually is in big moments: On the first, Wall picks up his dribble for a poorly-positioned hero-ball shot. On the second, he drives into the restricted area, then gives up the chance at the bucket (and/or a foul) to kick it out to no one.

I don’t think this is what the Wizards mean by “everybody eats.” Since Wall came back four games ago, he’s averaging the second-most turnovers per game, with six. (Yes, Russell Westbrook is at the top—or, uh, bottom—of that list.) What turned Wall’s time on the bench so sour, a lack of communication and trust with teammates that ended in subtweets and hurt feelings, is seeping into his return. Bradley Beal said Wall wasn’t to blame, and that being in the right position was up to the rest of them. Three games remain in the regular season to iron out those misunderstandings.

Trending up: The Nuggets for winning four straight important games.

Denver has been, and still is, in a standoff with probability. On March 29, the Nugs were in 10th place in the West with one of the league’s toughest remaining schedules. It looked like Playoff Jokic would have to wait another year.

But the Nuggets didn’t blink: Since last Friday, they’ve outlasted the Thunder in overtime, then the Bucks, also in overtime, then the Pacers, and finally, on Thursday, the Wolves. Denver is inching past these teams, winning those four games by an average of less than three points. And it’s still a stretch to think that the currently-ninth-seeded Nuggets will get into the postseason—the Clippers are up next, followed by the Blazers, and then the Wolves again—but it’s not impossible. Both L.A. and Minnesota are terrible teams in the clutch, and the Nuggets have shown they know how to let a team beat itself.

Trending down: The Warriors’ “pathetic effort.”

No need to wait for the Western Conference finals to see the Warriors allow 126 points. Or for them to get nuked from deep, or for Klay Thompson to be held scoreless in a half. Golden State will (probably) see Houston in a month, but it had to face Indiana on Thursday.

Steph Curry wasn’t active for the 126-106 loss, but to Steve Kerr, that wasn’t the problem.

“I think just caring, caring in general, that was the main problem,” Kerr said after the game. “It’s hard to win an NBA game if you don’t put forth an effort at all. Yeah, I’m mad. I’m embarrassed. I know that this game doesn’t mean anything in the seeding, but the playoffs start next week. It was an embarrassing effort, a pathetic effort.”

Embarrassing! Pathetic! (I’ll take this time to give credit to Bojan Bogdanovic, since Kerr forgot to. He had 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting, including 6-for-7 from deep.) Getting comfortable instead of amped could end in first-round disaster, especially since Curry won’t be active. But another alarm rang after the loss, one rarely seen in the Bay: disagreement!

“I thought we cared tonight,” Kevin Durant said. “We cared. Over the last three games, we cared. ... I think everyone in this locker room cares about playing ball. I disagree with that. But I understand where he’s coming from.”

Durant had one of his worst shooting performances of the season, a Carmelo-in-crunch-time-esque 8-for-23 from the field, and 2-for-10 from the perimeter.

Trending up: The Cavs are planning to start Jeff Green.

Starting now and heading into the playoffs, Tyronn Lue will start Jeff Green and Kevin Love in the frontcourt. The team began the season weary of Tristan Thompson, whose blatant weaknesses on offense make his contract, which expires in 2020, feel like an unpaid parking ticket that only gets more expensive with time. Small-ball lineups with Love were a welcome sight this season, despite Love’s own issues defensively.

Larry Nance Jr., on the other hand, was a sparky addition to the team, which has gone 7-2 this season when he starts. But he’s a welcome energy off the bench, especially since Green is one of Cleveland’s small wins on defense, which the Cavs need to tighten as much as possible for the postseason. The 31-year-old is also shooting the best he has in his career, making him one of the roster’s few relatively reliable presences on offense.