It’s always intriguing to see how teams handle this time of year, overcoming the pressures and distractions of the holiday with the normal routine of travel and games. With the new year on deck at the end of the week, it’s worth taking a look at the teams that have the toughest stretches to deal with in an attempt to project who to fade as the grind intensifies.
Topping this list are the Clippers, who enter the week in a foul mood regardless of how many presents they found stacked under the tree. Their dominance over the Lakers, an 11-game run that dated back to Oct. 2013, ended Christmas night without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to aid the cause.
Paul, nursing a hamstring injury, is likely to miss at least another game this week and may end up being sidelined longer.
Griffin isn’t due back until the latter part of January. Key guard J.J. Redick is also dealing with a hamstring issue that could keep him out a few days as well. Making matters worse, they’ll leave town after Monday’s date with the Nuggets for a three-game road trip that starts Wednesday in New Orleans and features a Friday-Saturday back-to-back at Houston and Oklahoma City.
Odds are good that the Clips might spend the first moments of 2017 on a charter looking to get out of Oklahoma unless the team decides to spend the night. Even if they were completely healthy, this would be a long week. If Paul and Redick’s injuries linger, it could be downright dreadful.
Toronto and Milwaukee will actually spend the entire week on the road, so it will be interesting to see whether not being home at all will help maintain a sense of normalcy since routines will remain the same for most. Both are exceptional test cases, but not identical. Neither had to play on Christmas Day, but while the Bucks got to enjoy the holiday with family before leaving town for D.C., the Raptors celebrated in Portland, where they arrived to play the Blazers after opening a season-long six game road trip with a win in Utah.
Toronto is arguably the league’s hottest team, sporting a 13-2 record over the last 15 games that no one else can match. They’ve covered the number in 12 of them to build up a resume that currently has them as the NBA’s most profitable bet this season. The Raptors have been held below 100 points only once since Nov. 6, a span of 23 contests, so the over has been a great wager, prevailing 17 times and making a Raps/over parlay a very popular play.
One thing to keep an eye on with them this week involves All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, who saw his streak of four consecutive 30-point games snapped by Brooklyn on Dec. 20 and enters the final week of 2016 on a 16-for-44 slump, even struggling with free throws. If there’s nothing physically wrong with him, expect a bounce-back since he’s been an elite scorer all season, putting together the most efficient, explosive numbers of his career.
The Bucks really got to celebrate in style after smoking the Wizards 123-96 on Friday and opened their week against Washington on Monday to start a four-game swing that features stops at Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. That’s not a taxing trip, even though the games against the Timberwolves and Bulls are a back-to-back.
Spending New Year’s eve so close to home is also a luxury, so if they continue their mastery of the Bulls on Saturday, this could be a very happy group despite having to spend the entire week on the road. Milwaukee swept a home-and-home against Chicago in the middle of this month by a combined margin of 37 points and seems to have a significant edge on its Central Division rival due to its edge in length and athleticism.
Giannis Antetokounmpo put up eye-popping numbers against the Bulls in the dominant wins and has averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists over his last five games after torching the Wizards for a career-high 39 points last Friday night.
The Bucks will run into a Pistons squad on Thursday that looked burnt out most of last week before a spirited performance in a home loss to Golden State, so they’re on this list of potential late-week fade candidates as well.
Detroit was a co-owner of an NBA-long five-game losing streak entering the week and got awful news when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving unexpectedly decided to play in a back-to-back Monday following the Golden State win. Stan Van Gundy’s team will spend New Year’s Eve in Miami before playing the Heat on Jan. 1 after a Friday night game in Atlanta, so fading them that day could be a must.