FOX Sports NBA Reporter
Are we seeing an Anthony Davis revival? And how about those resurgent Sacramento Kings? Yes – the Sacramento Kings.
Nearly 20 games into the NBA season, here’s our weekly look at which teams and players are rising and falling.
Rising: Anthony Davis
When Lakers coach Darvin Ham was hired over the summer, he took Davis out to dinner. His message to the big man was simple: You are the key to the team’s success.
Ham believed LeBron James would be LeBron James. He thought Russell Westbrook was going to improve (he couldn’t play much worse than he did last season). So, he looked at Davis as the real difference-maker on the team. Simply put, when Davis is engaged and aggressive on both ends of the court, the Lakers are competitive. When he’s not, they’re mediocre.
Davis has proven Ham’s theory to be correct.
With James missing the team’s last four games because of a strained left adductor, Davis has made it his mission to put the squad on his back. He has led the Lakers to three straight wins for the first time this season, averaging 35 points and 17.3 rebounds over that stretch. In the team’s latest win, a 31-point rout over the San Antonio Spurs, Davis had 30 points on 12-for-19 shooting, 18 rebounds, three steals and a block.
“He has to be the focal point, he has to spearhead the charge,” Ham said. “It’s just the way we’re built.”
Falling: The Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers slipped from the top seed in the Western Conference to the eighth seed after losing three games in a row, including four of their last five.
They experienced a setback when Damian Lillard suffered a right calf strain against Utah on Saturday. He will be reevaluated in one to two weeks. Lillard leads the team in both points (26.3) and assists (7.0).
While another calf strain sidelined Lillard for four games earlier this month, the current silver lining is that this calf strain is expected to not be as serious.
Without their superstar, Anfernee Simons is going to need to pick up some of the offensive load.
Rising: The Sacramento Kings
When Mike Brown took over in Sactown, there was a newfound sense of hope for the organization. Maybe it was Brown’s charismatic smile. Or his promise to revamp the team’s culture. Or just being a highly respected coach who was being given another opportunity to lead an organization.
There was something that made you root for both Brown and a franchise that had missed the playoffs 16 years in a row. Then the Kings opened the season with an 0-4 record, and the notion that things could be different seemed like wishful thinking.
But the Kings have turned things around.
They’ve won six games in a row for the first time since January 2005. They currently have the best offensive rating (118.6) in the league, and De’Aaron Fox was named the Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 25 points on 60% shooting and 8.0 assists over the team’s last three games.
The Kings could be a playoff team if they can improve defensively (right now, they’re 26th in the league). And it’s not far-fetched that they’ll improve in that area considering Brown is a defensive specialist who helped the Warriors win a championship last season by focusing on that end of the court as an assistant coach.
It’s cool to see Brown imbue a longtime-failing franchise with some excitement and hope. Sure, it’s early, and the Kings are in fifth place in the Western Conference, only a half-game ahead of the ninth-place Dallas Mavericks. But the fact that they’re finally experiencing some success is no small feat.
It’s good for the league, and it’s a relief for Kings fans who have suffered for more than a decade and a half.
Falling: The Detroit Pistons
They’ve lost seven games in a row and have only won three games this season. And it doesn’t look like things are going to turn around any time soon.
The Pistons weren’t considered a playoff team heading into this season, but they also weren’t expected to be this bad. They were a .500 team over the final 42 games last season. Returning much of the roster, it seemed like they’d only improve.
But Detroit has the fifth-worst offensive rating in the league (108.7), only to be surpassed by its abysmal defense (second-worst in the league at 117.7).
Not to mention, the Pistons have been struck by the injury bug. Star guard Cade Cunningham is expected to miss a significant amount of time, potentially the entire season, because of a stress fracture in his shin. And the team will be without Isaiah Stewart (sprained right toe) for at least a few more weeks, while Saddiq Bey is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Things aren’t looking very good for the Pistons right now — except for the fact that they could be in prime position to win the Victor Wembanyama lottery.
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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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