Lakers double whammy? With Anthony Davis out, a drop from Los Angeles could finally land Wembanyama in New Orleans

Did we fool the Los Angeles Lakers? It is absolutely possible. Two weeks ago, we argued that their recent improvement would likely prevent the New Orleans Pelicans from stealing Victor Wembanyama. And then on Friday, Anthony Davis suffered a foot injury that will keep him out for at least a month. A more plausible explanation is that Davis played the entire second half and all of overtime in that classic game against the Celtics in the Lakers’ previous game, or that he was just a victim of bad luck, but considering the other way around this week’s schedule placed on Killian Hayes, we can’t rule out some sort of magical intervention.

Regardless, the Pelicans are back in the ballgame. Davis could miss a month. It may be missing longer. The more games he misses, the less likely the Lakers will trade to salvage this season. If they don’t trade, Davis and/or LeBron James are more likely to miss late-season non-stakes games. The Lakers aren’t going to finish with the worst record in the NBA. But fifth or sixth? Back at the table.

Wemby, Mets 92 ends with big win

Mets 92 and Wembanyama dropped two straight against Roanne and Monaco, but bounced back over the weekend in a big way with a 91-71 road win over Paris Basketball. Wembanyama was in foul trouble throughout, and his struggles from 3-point range continued — he fouled out and went 1-of-5 from beyond the arc, making him 2-of-15 in his last three games from distance — – but nevertheless made a significant impact as his side got a much-needed win. As usual, that came through especially on the defensive side of the ball as he tallied a season-high six tackles, including another thrilling defense-on-offense streak.

Watching Wemby

There are only two games left in the calendar year for Wembanayama and the Mets 92 team with a Friday home game against Cholet followed by a road game in Strasbourg before a round-that date game against ASVEL — Wembanyama’s former team. Cholet sits third in the LNB Pro A standings, one spot behind Mets 92, after Monaco knocked off Mets 92 to take control of first place in the league standings, so the coming games look big for regular season play .

  • Friday, Dec. 23: vs. Cholet (2:30 p.m. ET)
  • Tuesday, Dec. 27: at Strasbourg (2 p.m. ET)
  • Friday, January 6: vs. ASVEL (2:30 p.m. ET)

Cholet has an experienced group led by former Kansas standout Perry Ellis and leading scorer Dominic Artis, a former Oregon player who later transferred to UTEP. Former first-round pick Justin Patton, the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder, is also part of the crew that will try to hold serve against the 92 Mets on Friday in a pivotal regular-season matchup.

Race to the bottom

Each week, we’ll rank the seven teams most likely to win the coveted No. 1 slot on lottery night. These rankings will take into account current record, recent performance, upcoming schedule and injuries to subjectively rank the NBA’s worst teams.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder remain in the bottom seven, but are just a hair behind the Lakers now that Davis is on the sidelines. The Thunder have a minus-1.6 net rating this season. The Lakers are minus 6.6 in minutes played without Davis. We have two fairly reliable samples at this point that suggest the Thunder are better than the Davis-less Lakers. The Lakers have the benefit of the doubt for now, but a few losses could set them back.

6. Orlando Magic: The Magic won six straight games recently before finally seeing their streak snapped against the Hawks on Monday. Unfortunately, that streak was largely the result of a lot of shooting luck. Magic opponents made just 28.8 percent of their open 3s and 27.7 percent of their openers in those six games. Orlando, meanwhile, has made 48.9 percent of its 3-pointers from wide range in those six games. There are some good things happening in Orlando right now. These wins are heavily based on randomness which is already starting to recede into the mean.

5. Washington Wizards: There is no randomness with these guys right now. (Okay, maybe a little bit as the Wizards somehow took down the Suns in Phoenix on Tuesday night.) Before that, Washington was just terrible — as was the 0-to-December 10-game losing streak. Bradley Beal’s comeback wasn’t enough to beat the Lakers without Davis, but he dropped 27 on the Suns. Speaking of the Lakers, Kyle Kuzma (29 points against Phoenix) has been quite openly flirting with his former employer. Kristaps Porzingis’ feel-good story is shooting 16 percent from deep in December. The less time wasted on this rotten husk of a basketball team, the better.

4. Charlotte Hornets: Will the return of LaMelo Ball save the Hornets? Probably not. They are 2-5 in the games he plays and allow 120 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while scoring a paltry 106.7 with him off. The ball is their only source of reliable attack. Their already bad defense gets worse when he steps on the floor. As good as he is, he can’t fix the battered remains of a roster whose rise, at best, has always been capped in the play-in round.

3. Houston Rockets: Here’s a depressing thought: the Rockets are the only team in the NBA to lose by double digits to the Spurs. In fact, the Rockets have lost their two games against San Antonio by a combined 28 points. San Antonio’s other eight wins have combined for 48 points. The Rockets may not lose every game, but boy do they find ways to lose the biggest ones. Those two head-to-head wins are the only things keeping the Spurs ahead of the Rockets in the standings right now.

2. Detroit Pistons: We’ve already revived one Pistons draft bust, so let’s jump into another — there have been quiet signs of life from Kevin Knox over the past month. In 15 games as a regular member of the rotation, he’s averaging just under nine points in about 19 minutes per game. He and Alec Burks are the only Pistons with a positive net rating, and he’s shooting very well despite the relatively meager sample. This is how bad teams should spend their rotation minutes. The Pistons turned to a talented player who hadn’t found his footing in the NBA and so far it has paid off.

1. San Antonio Spurs: Rookie Jeremy Sochan is shooting 43 percent from the foul line this season. He shot about 59 percent at Baylor. So on Monday, he experimented a bit with the one-handed release.

He went one for four, so we may not see that form for much longer, but give the rookie some credit. Unlike many bad free throw shooters, he’s actually willing to look a little silly in pursuit of better results.

Waste of the week

Kudos to the blow-it-up Bulls for dropping an impressive nine spots in the defensive rating rankings from ninth to 18th (h/t Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation) over the course of one game. Chicago allowed a Minnesota team that isn’t exactly lighting people on fire to put 150 points on its head Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the defensive tape is as bad as the numbers, I promise, it was!

The Bulls are now 12-18. Any plans that might have changed this season should have been out of the way by now. If they can’t even be bothered to guard a leading shooter as his team takes the ball down the court, there’s simply no saving this team.

Games of the weak

Friday, December 23: Spurs at Magic: We’ve covered why we don’t believe in either of these teams, but it’s worth noting that the Magic are 6-1 in their last seven and the Spurs are 4-2 in their last six. Both of these teams are coming off wins they’d probably prefer to avoid, and that puts pressure on both to find a way to lose on Friday.

Friday, December 23: Hornets at Lakers: The Spurs and Magic may want to lose, but the Lakers need a win on Friday. With Davies out, goal scoring will be critical.

Monday, December 26: Rockets at Bulls: Despite holding off the Heat on Tuesday night, there’s a reasonable chance Chicago enters this game 1-6 in its last seven. The Bulls, currently losers of four of five, will visit the Hawks on Wednesday and then the Knicks on Friday. If they’re going to make it out of Wemby Watch, we’ll know by the time this race is over after Christmas.

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