The NBA announced its starters for the All-Star game this week, but the big movers and shakers were still unclear. The LA Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and Utah Jazz were all listed in the top 10 in the Power Rankings. These teams have a great shot at the playoffs, but a lot will depend on the All-Star starters. Here are a few of the big X-Factors.
While the Atlanta Hawks have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA, their regular season has been far from spectacular. Hawks center Trae Young has been a disappointment, hitting just two of seven shots in the first half. The team led the series at halftime thanks to 11 points from Danilo Gallinari, who is also the Hawks’ leading scorer and assist maker. Five players made 3-pointers in this game, and the tipoff was delayed due to a suspicious package found near the stairwell to the MARTA subway station.
Despite the recent struggles of the team, the Hawks’ biggest X-Factors have been Trae Young and Kyle Korver. Trae Young has played a total of 75 games this season and was second on the Hawks in minutes played to Delon Wright. Young also ranks second among guards in the league with 28.9 points and 9.7 assists per game, and is only surpassed by Luka Doncic in that category.
The Lakers must guard Young and the other Lakers players on the perimeter. Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson are vital to the Lakers defense. They must also guard Trae Young and stop him from running the pick-and-roll. The Lakers haven’t been able to master the pick-and-roll defense and need to prepare for lobs and three-point attempts from Atlanta’s perimeter players.
The Atlanta Hawks are the biggest X factor through three weeks of NBA action. With a 43-39 record, they’re the first team from the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff spot. The Brooklyn Nets, meanwhile, defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament. If the Hawks win four games in both conferences, they’ll be one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Celtics: While the Boston Celtics are coming off a successful road trip, they lost to the Pacers in a four-game stretch. The Celtics’ upcoming three-game homestand starts on Sunday. The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, won’t be able to take a break for three weeks. The Celtics’ road trip continues to end in a play-in round.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans, who are in the middle of their season, are hard to gauge in the final stretch. After losing four games in a row to open the season, the Pelicans won a game on Sunday to beat the Rockets. With 14 games to play, the Pelicans still sit 10th in the Western Conference. Brandon Ingram is expected to miss a few games with a hamstring injury.
The Pelicans finished last season with a 31-41 record and missed the playoffs and a play-in tournament. After losing the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks, they fired head coach Stan Van Gundy and added Willie Green to the coaching staff. The Pelicans finished with a disappointing season and are not sure how to improve. In the meantime, the Pelicans are still a fun team to watch.
As for the playoff picture, the Pelicans can’t get any closer to the Western Conference finals than they are at the moment. However, they do have an edge in the final week as they must win one of their remaining three games to get in. However, a win is crucial for New Orleans to advance to the Play-In Tournament. And the Pelicans need big games from Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum to have a chance to make it.
With John Collins out, the Atlanta Hawks are a better offensive team. The Pacers, meanwhile, rank twenty-five in defensive efficiency. With a new addition like Myles Turner, they should be able to replicate last season’s postseason run. The Sacramento Kings improved after a rough start and have added C.J. McCollum to their roster. Despite this, they’ve lost six of their last seven games against Western Conference playoff teams.
Despite paying John Wall $44.3 million, the Houston Rockets don’t plan to punt on the season. They’ve signed center Daniel Theis and guard Eric Gordon, but they still value their college-age core. The team also understands that relying heavily on its college-age core will only result in losses. So, they’re trying to balance the needs of their core with veteran talent, a decision that may lead to more wins.
The big X-Factors for the Utah Jazz this postseason are their starting five, which should be healthy. In addition, the Jazz should have an aggressive bench, as only Royce O’Neale and Montrezl Harrell are capable of guarding a defender. Additionally, the Jazz will need to get rid of Donovan Mitchell, who has shown no signs of improvement since his trade to Utah. Royce O’Neale, a cagey veteran, is another key player to keep an eye on.
Bojan Bogdanovic has missed the last five games with a calf injury. In addition, he has missed the last four games with a bone bruise. Meanwhile, Udoka Azubuike has missed six straight with an ankle sprain. On Monday, Juancho Hernangomez started in the small forward spot and is expected to return this month.
With the recent addition of Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have regained their No. 1 spot in the NBA Power Rankings. The Jazz have the fourth highest offensive and defensive ratings, which is a good sign. Rudy Gobert protects the rim with authority and Jordan Clarkson has been scintillating from three-point range. However, the Jazz have struggled to be a high-energy offense in the fourth quarter.
One of the Jazz’s biggest problems this season has been their lack of depth and versatility. During the Nuggets series, the Jazz didn’t have any reliable backup center. That led to Morgan and Tony Bradley to be used as backups. And although they didn’t have a backup center, they didn’t get the job done in this series without them. Fortunately, the Jazz lost by one point, but this was not due to their schematic issues. Instead, the Denver Nuggets got a late return of Gary Harris.
Jordan Clarkson has found his niche in Utah. The elusive sixth man role has given him a fresh lease on life. With an average of 16 points per game, Clarkson is the third-leading scorer for the Jazz. While the roster lacks a true shot creator, Clarkson injects much-needed creativity into the second unit. He averages the second-most attempts per game.