NBA Roundtable: Breaking down best additions, sleeping giants

With a little over a month left in the regular season, Footballlifestyle’s NBA editors answer some of the biggest questions around the league.

Which deadline acquisition not named Kevin Durant has impressed the most?

Mike Stobe / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Josh Hart is only one factor in the New York Knicks’ nine-game winning streak, but he’s been a helpful contributor since coming over from the Portland Trail Blazers. The 27-year-old wing’s 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds off the bench with the Knicks is nothing to write home about, but his value isn’t captured in box score stats. New York is plus-20 points per 100 possessions in his 257 minutes but just plus-2.0 with him off the floor since he joined. Hart often defends opponents’ perimeter stars, and he fits seamlessly playing off the ball alongside Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. – Lior Kozai

Jakob Poeltl’s return to the Toronto Raptors has been a home run thus far. The Austrian has filled the club’s long-standing need at the 5, averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 boards, 2.2 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.8 blocks to go along with a pair of double-doubles. His effectiveness as a roll man and his passing ability have been beneficial for Toronto’s mediocre offense. With Poeltl on board, the Raptors have a true rim-protecting presence. Their perimeter defenders can afford to be more aggressive knowing they have the 7-footer backing them up. – Chicco Nacion

The duo of Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley has provided the Los Angeles Lakers much-needed depth since coming over from the Utah Jazz. Beasley has been a main scoring option – averaging 13.0 points per game on 35.6% shooting from deep – while Vanderbilt has been a key glue guy, putting up 8.0 points and 8.2 rebounds. Importantly, the desperate Lakers are 6-3 with both players in the lineup, and they combined to be a pristine plus-29 in the team’s 27-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. – Matthew Winick

Which middling team could fall out of the playoff picture?

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It’s extremely difficult to win games when your top duo is unavailable for large stretches of the season – a challenge the New Orleans Pelicans have had to navigate. The top seed in the Western Conference on Dec. 30, the Pelicans are barely clinging to a spot in the play-in tournament with a 31-33 record. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have played 29 games each, but the star pairing only appeared in 12 games and 241 total minutes together. With key reserves Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr. also set for extended absences, the Pelicans will need to figure out a tangible game plan to stop their slide from preventing a postseason berth altogether. – Donald Higney

Reality is starting to set in for the Brooklyn Nets. Since they traded Kyrie Irving to the Mavericks on Feb. 5, the Nets have gone 4-8, including blowout losses to the Chicago Bulls and the Knicks. Jacque Vaughn’s club has understandably struggled to score without the polarizing point guard, posting the 27th-ranked offensive efficiency. The new-look roster needs some time to mesh, especially with four new starters. Ben Simmons’ continued ineffectiveness and unavailability doesn’t help Brooklyn’s cause either. With the play-in tournament teams quickly gaining ground, the Nets have responded nicely, led by back-to-back 30-point games from Mikal Bridges. – Nacion

It seemed inevitable at some point, but the Jazz are finally falling down the Western Conference standings. They’re now 31-34 after losing eight of their last 12 games, and they haven’t beaten a playoff team since January. While Utah still holds the No. 10 seed, the team is only half-a-game up on the Trail Blazers in 13th. The club deserves credit for staying afloat at the start of the campaign despite expectations it’d be a bottom-dweller after trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. But after another exodus at the trade deadline, the wheels are likely to come off for the Jazz. – Winick

Who should win Coach of the Year?

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Most of the Denver Nuggets’ success is rightfully attributed to possible three-peat MVP Nikola Jokic. But how about some love for head coach Michael Malone? The Nuggets have a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and are on a 57-win pace, which would be their best record in Malone’s eight seasons. Denver is 12th in defensive rating, per, a pleasant surprise for a team with multiple subpar defenders. Credit Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Co. for Denver’s second-ranked offense, but Malone has been impressive in getting the Nuggets to buy in on the other end of the floor. – Kozai

The Sacramento Kings are on the verge of ending the longest active playoff drought, with large credit due to Mike Brown. A recipient of the award in 2009, Brown has demonstrated competence, which Sacramento hasn’t had in the coaching position since the tenure of Rick Adelman. Settling on a consistent rotation, the lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, and Domantas Sabonis has driven the Kings to third in the Western Conference while playing a league-leading 732 minutes together. As long as Sacramento’s top-ranked offense holds form, the beam will be lit come April. – Higney

Joe Mazzulla unexpectedly took on the Boston Celtics’ head coaching gig after the team suspended Ime Udoka. It was a tall task for Mazzulla – he was the youngest bench boss in the Association and only had two years of head coaching experience with Division II school Fairmont State. The 34-year-old has smashed expectations and is more than deserving of the permanent job. Boston is on pace to surpass its win total from a year ago. The Celtics are the only team ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ve also managed to remain one of the NBA’s stingiest units despite extended absences from Marcus Smart and Robert Williams. – Nacion

Which of the West’s sleeping giants has the best title chance?

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The Golden State Warriors have quietly crept up the standings to take hold of the West’s No. 5 seed just in time for Stephen Curry’s return. Klay Thompson is back to his pre-injury form, averaging 25.8 points since the beginning of January. Golden State’s preferred starting lineup – Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney – has been dominant in the limited minutes they’ve played together. And while the Warriors have struggled away from home, they’ve won at least one road game in all 27 playoff series since forming the Curry-Thompson-Green trio a decade ago. Don’t count out the defending champs. – Kozai

The Western Conference is on full alert since the Phoenix Suns added Kevin Durant into the fold. The results look promising as Durant gets adjusted to new teammates and on-court conditioning after missing 20 games with an MCL injury. He’s averaging 26.7 points on a ridiculously efficient 80.8% true shooting percentage while chipping in 7.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 blocks in three games. Outside of Durant, swingman Josh Okogie has added a new element to the Suns. The 24-year-old is putting up 16.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over the last nine contests without losing a step defensively – coming away with 1.8 steals over that stretch. – Higney

With two of the best players in the NBA on their roster, it’s impossible to count out the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have both played well over the last month, and the additions of Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland bring some added scoring punch. While the team’s six-game losing streak has pushed it down to the No. 8 seed at 34-33, the Clippers are still figuring out their rotation with so many new pieces, including the enigmatic Russell Westbrook. So long as Los Angeles can make it out of the play-in round – should it need to participate – it will be a tough out in a seven-game series. – Winick

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