One season after being the most competitive faction of the league, the Southwest Division provides half of the most disappointing NBA teams through one-quarter of the 2015-16 season.
A Western Conference franchise hasn’t taken the leap many expected, while the logjam of good-not-great clubs on the Eastern side make for slim pickings — an encouraging development following an unimpressive 2014-15 campaign for the conference.
How can the fifth-place team in the West be disappointing? Well, the Mavericks haven’t really accomplished much versus top-tier opponents.
Just two of their 14 victories have come against teams with records above .500. Only the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets have a lower winning percentage than Dallas (2-8).
Offseason signing Wesley Matthews recently had a terrific 28-point performance, but he’s otherwise struggled since returning from an Achilles tear. Injuries and general poor play have affected Chandler Parsons, who is supposed to be the driving force of the team.
The Mavericks should managed to limp through the next three weeks, but the competition level increases dramatically in mid-January. Unless Dallas starts competing with the best teams, the playoffs aren’t a realistic goal.
Inconsistency is a major issue for the Wizards, who knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers and proceeded to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers the next night. Blame it on a back-to-back if you want, but good teams beat the Lakers.
Bradley Beal opened the year with five consecutive 24-plus-point outputs, seemingly minimizing the impact of Paul Pierce’s departure. The promising young guard has encountered a slump since then, though, battling a couple injuries and cold shooting streaks.
Washington isn’t built to outscore opponents, yet they’re not playing the same level of elite defense as recent seasons. After three straight seasons of top-10 defensive ratings, the Wizards have the fifth-worst mark in 2015-16.
The lack of depth is a major issue. John Wall and Marcin Gortat can’t do everything.
New Orleans Pelicans
Expectations for 2015-16 rose dramatically when New Orleans slid into the playoffs last season. Yes, the Pelicans took advantage of an injury-riddled Oklahoma City Thunder team, but as coaches always say, “you play the hand you’re dealt.”
This year, New Orleans ought to find a different table. These cards are awful.
Tyreke Evans missed a full month. Jrue Holiday isn’t playing back-to-backs and is on a minutes limit. Anthony Davis has fought through numerous ailments.
On the bright side, the Pelicans are only four games removed the playoff picture despite starting 1-11. New Orleans is slowly trending up, but the first quarter of the season wasn’t kind to the franchise.
Signing Greg Monroe gave the Bucks a desperately needed offensive boost in the frontcourt. However, consistency has also evaded them.
Remember that thing about beating great teams and then losing to the Lakers? Milwaukee — which has also beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers — has the most embarrassing two-game stretch on lockdown.
The Bucks shocked the Golden State Warriors 108-95 and had two days off. Instead of partying responsibly, some of Milwaukee’s players went to a strip club the night before taking on Los Angeles, who upended the Bucks 113-95.
Now, this isn’t the party police. Do you, Milwaukee. But is it too much to ask for the players to be smarter on off days? The Bucks have a couple fantastic wins over the league’s elite, yet they’re a disappointing 10-17.
If the Pelicans weren’t the most-hyped team of the offseason, then that title belongs to Utah. The makeup of the roster, highlighted by Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, is an appealing core of young players.
But Gobert’s extended absence has shown exactly how much he means to the team’s success. Through one month, the Jazz had a top-10 defensive rating. Since Gobert’s knee injury in early December, Utah has the fifth-worst mark, per NBA.com.
Head coach Quin Snyder is a remarkable at player development, so it’s no surprise Jeff Withey has played reasonably well in Gobert’s place. Nevertheless, the Jazz have lost seven of their last nine contests.
Utah remains squarely in the playoff hunt, but the franchise is a handful of losses worse than hoped at this point.
Theoretically, the Rockets only improved after reaching the Western Conference Finals. They shed Josh Smith and acquired Ty Lawson, which would help take pressure off of Houston and give the offense a second creator.
Houston is the perfect example of why games aren’t won on paper. For an understandable but not tremendously smart reason, the organization fired coach Kevin McHale — who signed a three-year contract extension last year — after a 4-7 start.
James Harden deserves some blame for his awful-at-times defensive effort, but he’s the only one scoring. The Lawson experiment has failed miserably. Dwight Howard is a shell of his former self.
The Rockets have lost to the Nuggets three times and to the Brooklyn Nets twice. Houston needed a 50-point explosion from Harden to edge the 76ers by two points. The coaching staff hasn’t effectively tweaked an inefficient and undisciplined offense.
Bad joke aside, yes, there are serious problems in Houston.