• Mpho Mutloane

Is it still to early to panic about the Mavericks, Heat, and the Raptors?

We are a third of the way in the NBA season and as much as it is early, we are starting to see patterns forming. Last season’s playoff teams in the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat are showing worrying patterns this early season with records that have more losses than wins which has made many question whether to panic or to still have patience in them to turn is around.

The Dallas Mavericks who finished last season with a 1st round playoff elimination are currently sitting in 13th position in the west with 9 wins and 13 losses. They are 4 wins behind the team in 10th spot which this season in the Play in tournament spot. They started the season well with a 51 point blow out of the team that eliminated them in the playoffs last year, the Clippers. However, it all went downhill from there. They are 19th in offense when they finished last season as the best offensive team in the league and their 3-point shooting which last season was 10th best in the league, this season they are last. What has happened is they have not been able to play with their full roster as the team has been affected by some COVID cases and the leagues health and safety protocol. At this point in the season, one would panic and prepare for non-playoff season. However, there are a few things Dallas can look to. Their defence has not deteriorated and is producing similar stats to last season. Additionally, the starters are returning back to fitness which presents an opportunity to improve offensively for a team that is current 2nd last in assists per game and Luka is still scoring 27 points, 9.6 assists and 8.9 rebounds. The only question is whether they have dug a big enough hole for themselves that they cannot get out of.

NBA 2020 Finalist the Miami Heat find themselves with a Covid stricken season that has seen Jimmy Butler miss more than half of their matches. In losing their talisman and other starters, they find themselves 13th in the East 4 games away from a playoff spot. What is evident is that they are struggling on both ends 26th in offence and 21st in defence which is a far cry from a team that was top 10 in both last season. They like the Mavericks were a high 3-point shooting team 2nd best last season and now they are 24th. The heat is also last in rebounds and 27th in allowing opponents offensive rebounds. Heat fans can attest that it has not been pretty. Working in their favour is that the east is a lot less competitive with 5 teams having won more than half their games which is a benchmark for a playoff team so there are lots of teams around them that they can beat. They have time to turn it around and get a low seed in the east like how they did in the second half of last season. There is also so much veteran knowledge for them to make a run for the playoffs. The players are there, and the structure is there and of the 3 teams discussed in this article they have a much stronger case to make the playoffs.

The 2019 Champion Toronto Raptors, who were eliminated in the 2nd round of the playoffs last year, have had to leave their home comforts of Canada to play this season in Tampa Bay Florida. This move in itself has affected players a lot more mentally with many leaving their families in Canada while they are in the USA. Outside of that the Raptors are 10th in the East with 9 wins and 12 losses and are seemingly on the comeback with 2 wins on the spin. Early season offensive struggles from Siakam, Lowry and Van Vleet has landed them outside of the playoff spots. Defensively they had taken a step back from the league’s 2nd best defence last year. Notably they are 26th in defensive rebounds showing that they have not filled the shoes left by Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Nick Nurse has seemingly found the defensive identity that will make them move up the standings recently but the question with the Raptors is how they will fare offensively with their stars blowing hot and cold more often this season. Signs of improvement but this will be a roller coaster ride for Raptors fans.

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