The NBA awards races heated up in January, even as the playoff races got seriously shuffled as some teams rose up and others hit cold spells.
January was a wild month in the NBA, both in terms of the races for the NBA awards and the playoff chase.
A month ago, the Atlanta Hawks were putting out the “For Sale” sign on All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, entering the New Year at 17-16 and prepared to try and get something before the veteran would likely opt for free agency this summer.
After an 11-4 January propelled the Hawks into fourth in the Eastern Conference, Millsap is off the market, per ESPN.com and Atlanta is ramping up to try and secure a top-tier seeding as they trail the second-place Boston Celtics by just two games heading into February and are only 4½ games off the pace set by the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland and the Toronto Raptors roared back to the pack last month, going 7-8 and 8-9 respectively.
The Celtics’ 10-4 January moved them past the reeling Raptors into second place and the Washington Wizards–left for dead after opening 6-11–enter All-Star month tied with Atlanta after going 12-4 and January and 22-9 since Dec. 1.
What the Western Conference lacks for dramatics at the top it makes up for with an absolute Mortal Kombat of mediocrity chasing the eighth spot.
Entering February there were six teams–the Denver Nuggets (21-26), Portland Trail Blazers (22-28), Minnesota Timberwolves (19-29), Sacramento Kings (19-30), New Orleans Pelicans (19-30) and Dallas Mavericks (18-30)–within 4½ games of each other in the chase to be sacrificed to the Golden State Warriors in Round 1.
NBA action–it’s hazmat-tastic!
As for the race for the individual awards, we can scratch Dwight Powell of the Mavericks from the Sixth Man of the Year chase. Reduced playing time in January left his campaign stranded alongside one of those long stretches of open highways Texas is known for.
The Milwaukee Bucks are just a game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, but that was enough to wipe Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Most Valuable Player talk–no player from a non-postseason team has won the award in 41 years, so … yeah.
Otherwise, there’s been some shuffling and some shifting. Let’s get on with the show!