Raptors in make-or-break territory, Jazz atop the league

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Here’s a stat for you: Of the 30 teams in the NBA, there are currently 13 with records above .500, and seven more that are between .500 to two games below that mark.

That’s two-thirds of the league that can legitimately make cases for themselves as clubs that could be buyers at the fast-approaching March 25 NBA trade deadline, and is a major reason why this season has felt so muddled.

The NBA is a league, usually, with a clear pecking order, but this season has proven to feature much more parity all around, for better or worse.

Here’s a look at how we view things this week.

The NBA’s top five

At the rate that they’re going, the Utah Jazz may need a tier all their own right at the top soon. Utah is now the best team in the league, with the best record thanks to a remarkable run that’s seen it win 15 of its last 16 games or, put another way, lose just once in a full month’s time.

Looking at the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks are back at the top of the list as the club hit a softer part of their schedule and have taken advantage. Additionally, they are No. 1 in both offensive rating and net rating this season.

Good NBA teams

We proclaimed a few weeks back that the Brooklyn Nets were destined for the top tier, but so far it hasn’t happened, and that’s primarily because they’ve been dreadful defensively. As potent as Brooklyn’s offence has been, when you give up just as much as you put up you’re going to run into problems. Additionally, Kevin Durant is, once again, stuck in COVID-19 health and safety protocols until at least Friday, so there could be some trouble there for Brooklyn this week.

Looking elsewhere, Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is probably the frontrunner for MVP right now. He went for 50 points in a game that Denver played without Jamal Murray against the Sacramento Kings. And despite the result of the contest not going Denver’s way, there’s no denying Jokic’s brilliance.

And how about the San Antonio Spurs? Very quietly, they possess the seventh-best record in the NBA as DeMar DeRozan has appeared to make the full transition as a point forward, averaging just 20.5 points per game, but dishing out a career-best 6.6 assists.

The messy middle

The injury bug has really hurt the Boston Celtics. They’ve lost four of their last six games and will need Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to get back to 100 per cent if they’re going to make their push up the standings again.

Included in that stretch of recent Boston losses came one to the streaking Kings, who have won six of their last seven games, including four straight and have picked up victories against the aforementioned Celtics and Nuggets and even the Los Angeles Clippers.

The dynamic guard and wing play, bolstered by rookie Tyrese Haliburton, that the Kings boast has helped them to a winning record, with hopes that what they’re doing is actually sustainable.

Also, just want to say: Even though it came in a loss, holy crap Stephen Curry went for 57 in his last game!

Teams in make-or-break territory

Each of these clubs will need to make a decision on the direction they want to go this season pretty soon, in our opinion.

As an example, the Toronto Raptors have shown they’re capable of pretty outstanding highs and can play some good basketball as Fred VanVleet’s 54-point game and their big win against the Nets last week proved, but the fact remains that this is a team that has, essentially, remained stuck in place for most of this season with a middling 10-13 record amidst up-and-down play. At some point those encouraging signs need to turn into actual wins, no?

But hey, at least the Raptors aren’t a team like the Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat, two clubs with high expectations that have severely disappointed so far.

In particular, the Mavericks have been something of a disaster, having gone through a stretch where they lost six straight. Things look to have turned around a little recently with Dallas coming away with two victories in their last three, including a big Saturday night win over Golden State where Luka Doncic managed to overcome Curry’s 57 with a line of 42 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

The G League season starts this week

Good news for all of these bottom-feeding clubs here — the NBA G League season gets going this week and this group of six should definitely be keeping an eye on the new Ignite team that’s set up to be an alternative to college for top prep recruits.

Included on this G League Ignite club are top prospects Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green, a couple of explosive wings who figure to be in the top-five conversation come draft time.