As week 21 of the NBA approaches, we look at the players worth keeping an eye on and the teams which may be in a spot of bother ahead of the playoffs and play-in.
The new-look Knicks march on
With eight wins in a row, the New York Knicks have rarely looked – or felt – this good. The latest victory was perhaps the most impressive; a high-octane thriller versus the Miami Heat, featuring a last-gasp, game-sealing shot from the exuberant Julius Randle.
Alongside him, Jalen Brunson has been carving up opposition defenders, averaging 23.9 points per game on 48.7 per cent shooting.
Carry on in this form and they’re headed for at least the number five seed in the Eastern Conference. The number four spot also looks tempting to steal, especially as they’re only 1.5 games behind the current occupiers, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Big showdowns over the weekend against the Celtics again are followed by meetings with the Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings, and Los Angeles Clippers.
Lakers in freefall
No LeBron James, no problem? Los Angeles Lakers fans wish that were the case. The reality is that without their talisman, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury, the chances of making the play-in tournament are next to none.
Sure, they do hold an impressive home record and can make up some ground offensively with players they brought in during the trade window for this exact situation (yes, we’re looking at you, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley). But James and Anthony Davis’ absence could create a gap too wide to fill.
This next run of games holds even more importance, beginning with a clash with the Golden State Warriors, live on Sky Sports as part of the Sunday prime time slot.
The bad times in Memphis roll on
The Memphis Grizzlies are facing what the kids call a “triple-whammy”, with Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks also probable to be listed as absentees in the next week.
Clarke, the Grizzlies’ reserve big man, has suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will be out for the season’s remainder. He picked up the injury during his team’s blowout loss to Western Conference leaders Denver Nuggets on Saturday. Now he joins Steven Adams on the treatment table for a substantial spell.
Whether Xavier Tillman Sr. and Santi Aldama can replace those two is another question altogether. A more immediate concern to mull over, however, is what they’re going to do without Brooks, who faces a one-game suspension without pay for receiving his 16th technical foul of the season.
Factor it all in and it’s understanding why Grizzlies fans feel like everything’s going wrong for them at the moment. This next week’s bunch of games against the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, and Dallas Mavericks might prove it can get worse.
The wheels come off the Brooklyn Nets train
With five defeats in their last seven games, it’s clear that the wheels have come off the Brooklyn Nets’ train. It’s been heading this way ever since the departure of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
The starting five has looked questionable since, with Mikal Bridges chosen as the man to lead them through the chaos. The move has so far paid off as the 27-year-old averages 23.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. But even still, the roster needs more than just a front man.
It’s clear that the Nets need to find their footing fast if they’re to hold off the Miami Heat for the number six in the Eastern Conference. Their first chance to prove that comes in week 21 against the Charlotte Hornets.