FOX Sports NBA reporter
We’re a quarter into the NBA season and it’s been a wild ride.
In the Western Conference, only 3.5 games separate first and ninth place finishers. So a few wins or losses can skyrocket or crash a franchise either way. 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 promoted and relegated.
rising: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo, one of the NBA’s most likeable players, had an unusual moment just over a week ago when he threw a ladder out of the way while trying to practice free throws after a game in Philadelphia.
Last week, however, he was back in the headlines for the usual reasons.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a 3-1 record averaging 35.3 points last week. 9.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. The Bucks are second in the Eastern Conference, two games behind first-placed Celtics.
Even Dallas superstar Luka Dončić contributed to Antetokounmpo’s dominance after the Bucks forward finished Sunday against the Mavs with 30 points and 11 rebounds, his seventh game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds this season.
“It’s hard to compete 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 watch him play, but it’s not that fun to play against.”
Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, is fourth in the league (30.9 points per game) and fifth in rebounds (11.4 per game).
He’s kept the Bucks hot on the heels of the Celtics even though Milwaukee was without their second-best player in Khris Middleton, who is recovering from off-season wrist surgery.
Forget the ladder gate. Right now, the only ladder relevant to Antetokounmpo is the MVP ladder, which he’s climbing fast.
traps: San Antonio Spurs
Spurs will always be interesting as long as a certain 73-year-old named Gregg Popoovich is at the helm of the team.
But otherwise there’s not much notable about them at the moment, except maybe their eight-game losing streak.
Sure, this was expected to be a rebuilding year for them after relinquishing their lone All-Star, Dejounte Murray, to the Atlanta Hawks. But it’s still a bit jarring to see a team that made the playoffs 22 straight seasons through 2019 and won five NBA championships looking so incredibly bad.
But Popovich puts up with everything.
When asked how he makes losing “not miserable,” he said it’s all about expectations and perspective.
“Winning and losing are basically illusions when we talk to them,” he said. “Neither of them really guarantees anything. You have to judge a person’s development by where they started and how much they continue to accumulate.
“…Beyond that, you beat yourself. It’s really a hard life. I can’t pay my electricity bill. Players cannot pay their gas bills. Gas is too expensive for them break. It’s the greatest job in the world. So if you complain, you’re an idiot.”
rising: Stephen Curry
Golden State have underperformed this season but Steph Curry has never looked better, a surprising achievement for a 34-year-old.
He keeps the defending champions afloat. They have won three straight games against the LA Clippers, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Curry averages 31.4 points on 52.2% shooting, 7.1 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. It’s early days but if he can maintain those numbers he will be in elite company. According to Stathead, only 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 problems this season, including inconsistent play by almost everyone not named Curry and a dismal 2-9 road record.
But Curry keeps them hunting. The Warriors have won five of their last six games and sit eighth in the Western Conference, just 3.5 games behind first-place finisher Phoenix Suns.
Traps: Utah Jazz
The Jazz have lost five straight games, slipping from first place in the Western Conference to ninth place.
The Jazz’s tumble began after Mike Conley suffered a left knee injury against Portland. In the last five games, they have had the worst defensive rating in the league (122.9).
It looked like they could end their losing streak against Chicago on Monday when Lauri Markkanen shone in the first half with 24 points in 9-for-10 shooting, including a 5-for-6 goal from beyond the arc. But the Bulls held him back in the second half, holding him to just eight points.
Over the past eight days, the Jazz have not only lost to the Bulls, they’ve also lost to the Clippers, the Detroit Pistons, the Warriors and the Suns.
Luckily for them, they’re at the top of a six-game home stand, giving them a chance to turn things around in front of their home crowd.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has 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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