Colorado State Radio



Colorado State Radio


Upcoming Events
Follow Us on Twitter

NBA Southwest: Pelicans and Grizzlies on the Rise as Rockets Stand Strong

NBA Southwest: Pelicans and Grizzlies on the Rise as Rockets Stand Strong

Greg James

Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks have experienced a resurgent success this season that in the preseason nobody could have predicted.

In fact, signs were pointing towards another year sitting in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference. Instead, the Mavericks are playing like a team possessed, at a level unseen since the days of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the rest of the 2011 champion winning team.

It’s been a rough existence for the Mavericks, never really able to consistently have an x-factor player. That all changed when Slovenian rookie phenom, Luka Dončić burst on the scene in 2018. Now a prominent part of the lineup in the 2019-20 season, he has become a consistent triple-double producer for the team.

With the addition of Latvian big-man Kristaps Porzingis, as well as having several solid guards like Seth Curry and JJ Barea and depth at the four and the five with Willie Cauley-Stein and Maxi Kleber already in place, the Mavs have built a solid roster.

They currently sit at second in the NBA Western Conference’s Southwest Division at a record of 33-22, trailing the Rockets by one game, and seventh in the western conference overall.

The chemistry between Porzingis and Dončić has been a key to the Mavs success. Whenever they are on the court together, the game-play is electric.

They feed off each other and work together so seamlessly that it is close to what Anthony Davis and Lebron James have in Los Angeles. With Dončić averaging 29 points-per-game and Porzingis averaging 18, they are the heart and soul of this Dallas team.

Many questioned the decision to sign Porzingis after New York dropped him when he became caught up in a sexual assault accusation, a situation that is still ongoing. But, Porzingis has been able to become the big man that Dallas needed to replace Dirk Nowitzki and has filled that role well.

Team owner Mark Cuban was one of the firm believers in Porzingis from the start.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a max-out player like that, who has changed his game to fit what’s needed for the team, as quickly as (Porzingis) has,” Cuban said.

The Mavs have the solid foundation to make a run in the playoffs, but their shaky performance and utter lack of competency when either Luka or Kristaps are not playing at their best is cause for concern and will likely be the reason that, even though they are in the top eight for the first time in eight years, they will sadly make an early exit from this year’s playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are barely holding onto the eighth seed in the west at 28-26, and that is par the course for them.

For a franchise that has existed as a perennial eighth seed that often gets bounced in the first round, only making a Western Conference Finals appearance once in 2013, the major difference this season is rookie Ja Morant.

The second overall pick in the 2019 draft has earned that draft slot, as he has become a leader for this relatively young franchise. In the games that the Grizzlies have played to this point in the season, the rookie has glittered like a diamond in the rough and has the confidence to boot.

Off the court, Morant has gotten into it with some of the league’s premier veteran point guards like Steph Curry, James Harden and former teammate Andre Igoudala, who is now in Miami. Over Twitter, the young guard lamented the trade of Igoudala to the Heat.

“It’s in the past,” Morant told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “We just have to focus on what we have on our team now and just keep pushing.”

But as much trash that Morant talks off the court, he backs up with results on. He averages 17.6 points per game and is shooting at a respectable 49% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.

Surrounding Morant are talented bigs like Jonas Valančiūnas and Jaren Jackson Jr., as well as experienced veterans like Gorgui Deng, who give that veteran insight to a very young team.

The one thing that Memphis has going for them is that they are clearly planning for the future. They did not use the off-season to throw money at an aging all-star of today, but rather, they made the right drafts and trusted in the continued development of the pieces they have already worked to acquire.

Head Coach Taylor Jenkins knows what he’s doing. As an assistant at Atlanta, he helped create the all-stars that we know today from the Hawks, and as an assistant at Milwaukee, he was part of their 2018-19 campaign where they had 60 wins on route to a franchise-record and return to the Eastern Conference Finals.

This is definitely not Jenkins first time in the rodeo, nor will it be his last.

I don’t think the Ja Morant led Grizzlies will make it past the first round this year, because in games against the NBA’s premier franchises, they have crumbled under the pressure. But I definitely see this team, under the tutelage of a newly minted head coach in Taylor Jenkins, developing into a well-oiled machine that brings the Grizzlies to a prominence that they have waited decades to achieve.

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are currently in the driver’s seat of the NBA Southwestern division, sitting at a 32-20 record.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook have been the driving force behind this great record. The dynamic duo has each contributed large numbers with Harden producing 32 points a game and Russ not far behind with 27 points per game.

One facet of the game that has not worked in their favor is being able to play well in tandem. The two have struggled to both be effective while on the floor together. This problem seems to stem from the fact that prior to the trade, both guards were stars for their respective teams.

Harden has been the go-to guy for the Rockets for a good number of years, ever since he got traded from Oklahoma City, and Russ has always been OKC’s dude, especially after the departure of his longtime teammate Kevin Durant.

The potential is there, though, for one of the league’s premier backcourts to eventually get things clicking offensively.

That’s not to say that the Rockets have struggled this season, it’s just that either Harden has a monster game or Russ does. Never both. I’d like to see the duo return to the late 2000’s/early 2010’s chemistry they had in OKC.

With some pre-draft-deadline additions to the roster in Robert Covington and Jordan Bell, the Rockets hope those changes will be the adjustments they need to surge through these last few games in the push to the playoffs. Of course, they did have to give something up for that trade to be a trade, and they lost a big part of their frontcourt in Clint Capela and Nenê who were shipped off to Atlanta.

As the fifth seed in the Western Conference, the Rockets are in prime position to make some noise and prove they belong in the finals contender conversation. They have had standout performances against tough opponents like Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, but they also have had losses against Western Conference opponents they should have handled with ease, like the Warriors.

The Rockets are by no means a bad team, they just suffer from the ineptitudes all “shallow” teams suffer from. When their stars like Harden, Westbrook and even Eric Gordon are having a great game, the team wins, but if they’re not producing, the team falls short.

Mike D’Antoni is a great basketball coach, and he has to be to coach in one of the NBA’s most fierce divisions, but I just don’t think Harden and Russ can outlast a far deeper Nuggets, Clippers or Lakers team in the NBA Finals.

San Antonio Spurs

With the departure of the last of the Spurs star-lineup in Manu Ginóbli’s retirement at the end of the 2018 season and Tony Parker’s departure at the end of the 2019 season, the Spurs are now in rebuild mode.

They are a team to watch for the future. Greg Poppovich is one of my favorite coaches in the NBA because he is committed to excellence and is a patient leader. With Becky Hammon (a CSU alumni) and Spurs legend Tim Duncan assisting Poppovich, the team is well-coached.

Another thing the Spurs have going for them is their youth. The Spurs have easily one of the youngest teams in the league.

Of course, having experienced vets is important as well, and the Spurs have that in Demar Derozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills. But the core group of young players like Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Trey Lyles really make this team stand out as a future playoff contender.

This year, of course, with a dismal 24-32 record, the Spurs are currently #10 in the West and at the bottom of the NBA Southwest division and struggling to find an identity.

After years of making it deep in the playoffs, last season they were bounced by a Denver Nuggets team in the first round.

As much as I believe in the power of youth, it’s been the power of the team’s best asset, Derozan, that leads the team. Derozan is averaging 22 points per game and has a 53% field goal percentage.

I don’t think Derozan and Jakob Poeltl were worth the trade that San Antonio made, losing Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, two of the best players on the team that won the 2014 championship. Toronto got the better deal there, winning their first championship behind the power of Leonard.

The other part of that deal was a protected first-round pick in the 2019 draft. What did the Spurs do with that pick?

They chose Keldon Johnson from Kentucky, who has only played in 5 of 56 games to this point and has averaged 2.6 points per game. Not impressive. The young players they have can be made into NBA caliber athletes if given time, though.

Under the leadership of Popovich, I believe the Spurs can and will make it to the NBA Finals again and return to the glory of NBA supremacy, which they have already achieved five times.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans’ season looked promising as they had a solid veteran core with Derrick Favors and J.J. Reddick and some young stars like Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes and Josh Hart.

But by far the greatest asset they had come on to the team was rookie sensation Zion Williamson from Duke. Electric in college, Williamson was going to get his chance to dazzle at the next level.

Unfortunately, a pre-season knee injury sustained against the San Antonio Spurs put those plans on hold. What resulted was a Pelicans team without a star player to rally around.

The Lakers, when trading for Anthony Davis, gave in return Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, three of the league’s rising stars. While all three have gone on to have great seasons individually, none of them are the leaders that Anthony Davis was for New Orleans.

Davis possesses the insatiable desire to win that has not been evident in the Pelicans game since. Williamson, however, possesses this quality and is about the same height (Davis is 6’10” to Williamson’s 6’6”).

But the one area Williamson has Davis beat in is age. Davis, who is not old by any means, is still 7 years older than Williamson, who is still a teenager at 19.

Once the Pelicans announced that Zion would be returning to the lineup, there was a lot of buzz to see Zion’s true NBA season ‘debut’. In that game on Jan. 22 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Pelicans ultimately lost 121-117, but it wasn’t because of Williamson.

Williamson had 22 points and 7 rebounds for his team, leading the team in points alongside Brandon Ingram. Williamson is a player that exudes confidence in his play, while also being incredibly humble through it all.

He carries a lot of the same traits that made Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and many other NBA-greats so great. He is cool and collected and is a leader that. If given time he can develop into one of the premier big men in the league like Giannis, Lebron and Howard before him.

Alvin Gentry has made the right moves to secure a future for the Pelicans. As crazy as it sounds, Anthony Davis was not the right fit for the New Orleans system. He is a great player and works great with Lebron James. That was the problem, there was no facilitating player like James with him in the backcourt the whole time he was in the Big Easy.

Zion was a great pick up at the #1 pick, and that trade for three young players from the Lakers was a really smart move, but in order for this lineup’s potential to be fully realized, I think the Pelicans have to develop the young players they have into stars. I think the talent is there, it just has to be unleashed. That may take a couple of years, but the effort will be worth it in the long term.

The Pelicans have a 25-33 record and sit at fourth in the Southwest division of the Western Conference. They won’t make the playoffs with their, to put it nicely, “spotty” record this season, where they lose games against teams they should beat, win games that they were expected to win, or lose to teams that are playoff competitors.

I like the team Gentry is building, but it’s just not done cooking. Set the oven to 375 and let it cook for a while, you’ll have yourself a chicken dinner, and the Pelicans will be winners in years to come…but not this year.