We’re a quarter of the way through the NBA season, and it has been a wild ride.
In the Western Conference, just 3.5 games separate the first- and ninth-place teams. So, a few wins or losses can skyrocket or plummet a franchise in either direction. In the East, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks continue to establish themselves as the big dogs.
Here’s our weekly look at which teams and players are rising and falling.
Rising: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo, one of the most likable players in the NBA, had an uncharacteristic moment just over a week ago when he tossed a ladder out of his way when he wanted to practice free throws following a game in Philadelphia.
This past week, however, he was back in the headlines for the usual reasons.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a 3-1 record last week, averaging 35.3 points. 9.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. The Bucks are second in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the first-place Celtics.
Even Dallas superstar Luka Dončić weighed in on Antetokounmpo’s dominance after the Bucks’ forward finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday against the Mavs, his seventh game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds this season.
“It’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Dončić told reporters. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”
Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, is fourth in the league in scoring (30.9 points per game) and fifth in rebounds (11.4 per game).
He has kept the Bucks nipping at the Celtics’ heels, even though Milwaukee has been without its second-best player in Khris Middleton, who is recovering from offseason wrist surgery.
Forget ladder-gate. Right now, the only ladder that’s relevant for Antetokounmpo is the MVP ladder he is quickly scaling.
Falling: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs will always remain interesting as long as a certain 73-year-old named Gregg Popoovich is at the helm of the team.
But not much else is noteworthy about them right now, except maybe their eight-game losing streak.
Sure, this was expected to be a rebuilding year for them after they dealt their lone All-Star, Dejounte Murray, to the Atlanta Hawks. But it’s still a bit jarring seeing a team that reached the playoffs 22 seasons in a row through 2019 and won five NBA championships look so unbelievably bad.
But Popovich is taking it all in stride.
When asked how he’s making losing “not miserable,” he said it’s all about expectations and perspective.
“Winning and losing are both basically illusions when we talk to them,” he said. “Neither one really guarantees anything. You have to assess an individual’s development based on where they started from and how much they continue to glean.
” … Beyond that, you kinda slap yourself. It’s really a tough life. I can’t pay my electric bill. The players can’t pay their gas bills. Gas is too expensive for them to buy. Come on, give me a break. It’s the greatest job in the world. So, if you complain, you’re an idiot.”
Rising: Steph Curry
Golden State has been underperforming this season, but Steph Curry has never looked better, a surprising feat for a 34-year-old.
He’s keeping the defending champs afloat. They’ve won three games in a row against the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Curry is averaging 31.4 points on 52.2% shooting, 7.1 assists and 6.8 rebounds a game. It’s still early, but if he can keep up those numbers, he’ll be in elite company. According to Stathead, just one player in NBA history finished a season averaging at least 30 points, 50% shooting, seven assists and six rebounds: Michael Jordan in 1988-89.
The Warriors have had a number of issues this season, including inconsistent play from nearly everyone not named Curry and a dismal road record of 2-9.
But Curry is keeping them in the hunt. The Warriors have won five of their last six games and are in eighth place in the Western Conference, only 3.5 games behind the first-place Phoenix Suns.
Falling: Utah Jazz
The Jazz have lost five games in a row, slipping from first place in the Western Conference to ninth place.
The Jazz’s skid began after Mike Conley suffered a left knee injury against Portland. In their last five games, they’ve had the worst defensive rating in the league (122.9).
It looked as though they could snap their losing streak Monday against Chicago when Lauri Markkanen dazzled with 24 points in the first half on 9-for-10 shooting, including going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. But the Bulls contained him in the second half, holding him to just eight points.
Over the last eight days, in addition to falling to the Bulls, the Jazz have stacked up losses against the Clippers, the Detroit Pistons, the Warriors and the Suns.
Luckily for them, they’re at the top of a six-game home-stand, so they’ll have a chance to turn things around in front of their home crowd.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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