NBA Stock Watch: L.A. teams headed in different directions

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We’re less than a month away from the NBA trade deadline, so it’s especially interesting to look at which teams are thriving and which ones are flailing in this week’s Stock Watch. 

Rising: The Lakers

The most surprising recent win streak has belonged to the Lakers, who strung together five straight victories without Anthony Davis before falling to Denver on Monday in a game without LeBron James and AD. 

When Davis suffered a stress injury to his right foot in mid-December, it seemed a sure bet that the Lakers were going to plummet in the standings. Davis was playing MVP-caliber basketball and, without him, how would the 38-year-old James be able to shoulder the load of both superstars?

The joke’s on us. 

James has scored at least 30 points in 10 of his last 13 games, including two 40-plus point performances. Over his last 15 games, James has averaged 32.3 points on 55.6% shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists. James was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, his first time winning the weekly award since December 2021.

James has been a force. Thomas Bryant has excelled as a starter. And during the Lakers’ win streak, the team quickened its pace to make up for size deficiencies and locked in on rebounding.

It has been a winning recipe for a team that’s going to have a tough stretch ahead, with injury news coming out Friday that key role players Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV are expected to miss the next week or two. But the Lakers also got some very promising news: This week, Davis will begin the ramp-up process to return to the floor, as ESPN first reported. 

The Lakers have withstood Davis’ absence so far. Now the question is, when Davis returns, with James playing so well, can the Lakers dig out of 12th place in the Western Conference and into playoff contention? Currently, they’re only one game behind Portland for the final play-in slot and just three games behind Sacramento for fifth place. 

Falling: Brooklyn Nets

Why are the Nets in this category, you might be asking. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games, skyrocketing to second place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 27-13. 

Well, this is an anticipatory fall. 

The Nets received quite a blow Monday when superstar Kevin Durant was diagnosed with an isolated MCL sprain in his right knee. He’s reportedly going to be sidelined for about a month, according to ESPN. 

Durant has been phenomenal this season, averaging 29.7 points on 55.9% shooting, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He has been the Nets’ glue the past few seasons, consistently playing great basketball amid the team’s frequent drama.

Now, it’s going to be Kyrie Irving‘s time to pick up the slack. 

When Durant suffered an MCL injury in his left knee in Jan. 2022, the Nets were 5-17 over his more than 1.5 month absence. However, during that time, Irving wasn’t with the team during home games because of the New York City vaccination mandate. 

It’s going to be on Irving to make sure a similar slide doesn’t happen again. 

Rising: Memphis

The Grizzlies are the hottest team in the league right now, winning their past seven games. They’ve achieved their second-best 40-game start in franchise history at 27-13, trailing only their 29-11 record in 2014-15.

They’re hungry. They’re deep. And superstar Ja Morant is on a mission to prove that his team is the real deal and will be playing into the summer. 

The Grizzlies are tied for the best defensive rating in the league (109) and have the 11th best offensive rating (113.9). 

Even with Morant sidelined the last two games, the Grizzlies haven’t missed a beat with wins over Utah and San Antonio. Against the Spurs on Monday, all five starters scored in double figures. 

Falling: Clippers

The Clippers have lost six games in a row for the first time in the Kawhi LeonardPaul George era. 

Most recently, they fell to Atlanta on Sunday, even though they had an 11-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. 

It’s frustrating for a Clippers team that entered this season with championship expectations. Leonard missed all of last season because of an ACL injury and Paul George played only 31 games. With both of them back, the Clippers were expected to make some real noise in the league. 

But it’s clear the Clippers have been taking their foot off of the gas, highlighted by their 33-point loss to Denver last week. 

“This is the spot where we see if you really enjoy the game and if we’re a team, seeing if we can dig out this hole,” Leonard told reporters Sunday. “It is fun. It’s a good challenge for us.”

George has missed the team’s last two games because of a right hamstring injury. But Leonard played a season-high 38 minutes Monday, finishing with 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists — but it still wasn’t enough. 

The Clippers have shown a distinct lack of focus and urgency recently and things aren’t going to get easier for them anytime soon. This week they play Denver on Tuesday and Dallas on Friday, teams that are in first and fourth place in the Western Conference, respectively. 

The Clippers need to figure out a way to turn things around soon before yet another season that began with lofty expectations ends in disappointment.

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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