Welcome to the Hype/Concern Index, a semiregular post capturing the NBA news and events to get hyped on or concerned about.
Hype: The Rockets Keep Rolling
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Rockets have been 30–1 when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela have played together. And as much as this stat keeps getting touted, it cannot be stressed enough how impressive it is. Now, the Rockets have won 12 straight, and they look pretty much unstoppable.
Houston doesn’t play Golden State again for the rest of the regular season, which stinks from a viewing perspective, but is great from a drama perspective. The Rockets might lose fewer games for the rest of the season than I have fingers on one of my hands, and so the excitement for their eventual (hopeful) conference finals matchup with the Warriors will only continue to grow.
Hype: Okafor Has Been Freed. No, the Other One.
In a post–DeMarcus Cousins world, the Pelicans have turned, in part, to 35-year-old Emeka Okafor.
This was a move equivalent to exchanging a brand-new Maserati for a 2002 Toyota Corolla — a car that I own and thus can make fun of. It seemed absurd to think that the ground-bound Okafor, who hadn’t played in the league in four years, would be able to help the Pelicans in any way. But the big man has made a difference for New Orleans. Small-sample-size alert: In six games, and 97 total minutes played, Okafor’s on-court net rating is 12.4, nearly three times that of the next-best New Orleans player.
The Pelicans have won five in a row, vaulting them to the 6-seed in a packed West. Okafor’s serviceability has been surprising, but the anchor of the Pels’ success has been Anthony Davis. He’s averaged nearly 40 points in the past five games to go with 14.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. Should this continue, expect some dark-horse MVP votes to go AD’s way.
Meanwhile, Okafor, who has averaged 6.3 rebounds and two blocks a game, reportedly was signed by the team for the rest of the season on Monday, after making it through two 10-day contracts.
Hype: The Process Is All Right
Philly lost to the Wizards on Sunday by 15 points. The loss broke a seven-game winning streak that had put the Sixers in a tie for the East’s 6-seed. The Processees now hold the 7-seed and have the league’s easiest schedule the rest of the way. Their point differential (1.8) is good for fourth best in the conference, so I have a feeling they won’t be on the fringes of the playoff race come April. Plus, Joel Embiid has been on another level and, most importantly, we have signs of life in Fultz Land:
For Philly fans still experiencing a post–Super Bowl daze, this is the perfect hangover treat. Fultz looks good! His shot looks smooth, and they’re going in. Enter the heat check:
A Philadelphia-based company put up three billboards on highway to downtown Cleveland this morning saying that city wanted LeBron. Here they are in order. pic.twitter.com/vntsa8h3mE— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 26, 2018
Shoot your shot, I guess. But before we even get to talking about LeBron, I, for one, am ready to see Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Fultz run the floor together in the first round of the playoffs.
Concern: The New Cavs
Nothing like some regression to the mean to tamper the takes about how the Cavs were suddenly fixed after playing musical chairs at the trade deadline. Sunday’s game against the Spurs was a wince-worthy affair for the Cleveland role players who were supposed to have given the team new life. George Hill? Two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Jordan Clarkson? 17 points but a minus-10 off the bench. Rodney Hood? Six points on 2-of-6 shooting. Even the old so-and-sos like Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith had nothing going. LeBron had his usual carry-the-team 33 points, but no Cavs player had a positive plus-minus. The game got us a rare LeBron mini rant that included a complaint about the officials and ended with “Chicks dig the long ball.” No joke.
Though things are better in Cleveland, they are far from fixed.
Concern: Remember When the Pistons Traded for Blake Griffin?
Let’s check in on the Pistons and Blake Griffin, who lost to the 10-seed Charlotte Hornets by 16 points on Sunday. Detroit is 5–5 over its past 10 games, has a negative point differential on the season, and looks very average. The Pistons lost to the Hawks and the Clippers during a 1–6 stretch that has put them outside the playoff picture.
Fourteen of the Pistons’ past 23 games are on the road, where they are currently a paltry 9–18.
Concern: Doom Is Upon Us — the Warriors Are Awake
Watch the second half of Warriors-Thunder from Saturday night and you’ll be reminded that everything is meaningless because the Warriors exist. Golden State turned a close game into a blowout in the second half again, and Nick Young, of all people, was the difference-maker. These are the Warriors we know they can be. So complain about Zaza Pachulia’s “dirty play” all you want and while you can. Enjoy the regular season while you can.
Concern (for the rest of the league): 10/10
Hype: The Tanking Race
Tanking is an art form, and these teams are painting a masterpiece. Embrace it.
Concern: John Wall’s Outfit Choices
The Wizards are on a roll. They’ve won nine of their past 12 and look like the Eastern power we all believed they could be. This has all been without John Wall at the helm. Let’s see how he is coping with being sidelined as his team thrives without him.
Look good, feel good, watch your team play good.