As we enter Week 15 of the NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks are still far ahead of the pack. But the Bucks — and every other contender — have some worries.
As the NBA season heads into Week 15 on Monday, the Milwaukee Bucks are the clear No. 1 team in the Association (NBA Power Rankings spoiler alert!). That’s not a surprise, as the Bucks have rumbled out to a 40-6 record, four games clear of the rest of the league and 8½ games up on everyone else in the Eastern Conference.
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So as Milwaukee marches toward the best record in the NBA for a second straight season and could threaten the franchise record of 66 victories set during their lone championship year in 1970-71 (they are on a 71-win pace at present), it’s not as if the Bucks don’t have some concerns that have to be at least poking around in the backs of their minds.
Specifically, Giannis Antetokounmpo — who is putting up better numbers than he did last season, when he was only the NBA’s MVP — has to be at least causing some alarm.
Antetokounmpo has missed three games this season, including two in last December because of a balky back, and in part because Milwaukee is winning so many blowouts and in part over concerns about the back that carries this franchise, his workload has diminished in January to 29.0 minutes per game.
The bigger worries though, involve two things. First off, the Bucks were the NBA’s best regular-season team in 2018-19 and wound up losing four straight games in the Eastern Conference Finals to go home empty-handed. Secondly, Antetokounmpo’s shooting is a real worry.
No, not his 3-point shooting — even if his 32.1 percent is well below the league average of 35.5 percent. The bigger concern is Giannis at the free throw line, where he’s taking a career-high 10.2 attempts per game … and making a career-low 60.6 percent of them. If teams can play the free throw game in the tighter confines of a playoff series, the Bucks could have some problems.
But so does every other contender in the NBA.
The Boston Celtics don’t have a legitimate starting center. Daniel Theis is nice as a backup, but his offense leaves something to be desired. Conversely, Enes Kanter has the defensive range of a post set in concrete. This could be a big problem based on matchups in the playoffs.
The Dallas Mavericks should be much better than their record, at least based on their numbers. Using the quick-and-dirty Pythagorean method of determining an expected winning percentage based on point differential, the Mavericks should be 33-12 right now, rather than 28-17. In the Western Conference, that’s the difference between sixth place — where they are — and second.
The LA Clippers? They’ve never gotten past the second round in the history of the franchise and let’s just say their luck come playoff time has been … less than ideal.
The best player for the Los Angeles Lakers is 35 years old and with his 35 minutes on Saturday at Philadelphia, LeBron James moved into the top 10 all-time in minutes played, passing John Stockton as he now has logged 47,766 minutes in his 16-plus seasons. James is also the only player in NBA history to top 10,000 postseason minutes, so that’s a lot of wear on those tires.
The Miami Heat have forgotten how to defend suddenly and their outstanding crop of rookies are hitting a bit of a wall as we cross the midpoint of the season, never unexpected but also never ideal.
The Philadelphia 76ers are capable of losing to any team on any given night — never a great trait — but it’s one shared by the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers (who are 0-3 against the Pistons, for crying out loud).
Given all of that, this postseason still promises to be a wild one, even if only 13 of the NBA’s 30 teams currently have records above the .500 mark.
Let’s jump into the countdown.
Atlanta Hawks 11-35
Last rank: 30th
Last week: Lost to Toronto 122-117, beat Clippers 102-95, lost at Oklahoma City 140-111
This week: Sunday vs. Washington, Tuesday at Toronto, Thursday vs. Philadelphia, Saturday at Dallas
That the Atlanta Hawks came out of a Raptors-Clippers-at Oklahoma City gauntlet with even one win is impressive; the fact they did it without newly minted All-Star Trae Young is simply remarkable. The Hawks surprised the Clippers — who in fairness were without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley — on Wednesday behind a monster game from John Collins.
Collins went off for 33 points and also matched a season-high with 16 rebounds in the victory, finishing 12-for-22 from the floor and 3-for-6 from deep to go with three steals. For the week, he averaged 26.0 points,. 11.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in 33.4 minutes per game on 67.3 percent shooting, hitting 5-of-11 from long range.