With All-Star Weekend in the rearview, the “second half” of the NBA season is officially underway.
Contenders like the Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors will look to build on their strong starts.
While lottery-bound teams such as the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and Houston Rockets will look to better their draft position.
But there are of course teams in between those two groupings.
Franchises that had postseason expectations before the season started but have not lived up to those expectations.
These three teams need to turn it on, and quick, during the second half of the year.
3. Atlanta Hawks
The first team on the list is the young Atlanta Hawks.
Hovering around .500 this year would not have been as bad if they did not make a surprise run to the Conference Finals last year.
Trae Young and company have not built off last season’s success.
Young has continued his sensational play – 27.9 points per game on .458/.376/.894 shooting splits.
As an offense, they rank ninth in points per game, second in offensive rating, sixth in field goal percentage, and first in three-point percentage.
However, the offense is not the problem with this team.
Atlanta can score with the best of them but cannot defend with the best of them.
They allow the 19th most points per game, which looks worse when you consider their 27th ranked defensive rating.
The Hawks don’t force turnovers and allow opponents to shoot efficiently from the field.
Last year’s team also wasn’t great at defense, but they got better as the year wore on and were a unit in the top half of the league towards the end of the season.
That has not been the case this year.
The Hawks have lost two of three out of the break, but only gave up 106.3 points per game.
Below their season average of 111.5.
Atlanta needs to focus on both ends of the court to finish this season strong.
2. Brooklyn Nets
Next, we have the Brooklyn Nets, a heavy title favorite going into the year.
They started the season strong and on January 22 were in first place in the East at 29-16.
Despite the fact that Kyrie Irving had only played in six games due to not being vaccinated.
But star Kevin Durant suffered a sprained MCL on January 15 and Brooklyn could not keep pace.
They went on an 11-game losing streak starting January 23 and have lost 15 of 18.
The Nets now sit at 32-31, good for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
This year’s Brooklyn squad could become a “what if” team down the line.
Their “Big Three” of Durant, Irving, and Harden shared the court for just two games this season before Durant’s injury and Harden’s trade.
Their offensive rating topped 130 in both contests.
Brooklyn looked like title favorites.
But those games are a distant memory, and the Nets must now try to avoid the play-in tournament.
Durant is set to return soon, and NYC may be adjusting their vaccine mandates which would allow Irving to play home games.
KD and the Nets are 4.5 games out of the six seed to avoid the play-in tournament.
With 19 games remaining in the second half, they have their work cut out for them.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers.
A team that, like Brooklyn, was one of the favorites to win the NBA Finals in 2022.
But a team that, also like Brooklyn, has failed to live up to those expectations so far.
The Lakers are currently 27-34 and sit in ninth place out West.
They are a mere two games away from being out of the playoffs entirely.
And a whopping 11 games away from the sixth seed and avoiding the play-in tournament.
They hovered around .500 until January 25 where a win at Brooklyn put them at 24-24.
Since then, they have lost 10 of 13 and are spiraling out of control.
But the main problem has been their third star teammate, Russell Westbrook.
James and Davis both vouched for the Lakers to acquire Westbrook in the offseason instead of Buddy Hield.
Westbrook would take some of the offensive burden off James and Davis and keep the team afloat in the regular season thanks to his relentless motor.
Instead, Westbrook has done quite the opposite.
His inability to shoot outside the paint has severely cramped the offense.
The Lakers score the 13th most points per game but have the 25th ranked offensive rating.
For defense, it is the opposite: they allow the 24th most points per game but have the 14th best defensive rating.
All told, they have a net rating of -2.0, which ranks in the bottom 10 of the NBA.
With Davis still weeks away from a return, the Lakers have a steep hill to climb in the second half.
At age 37, James may have his toughest task yet.