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NBA: Five teams who must improve in 2023

The New Year is a fresh start for many, including some of the NBA’s underperformers - the halfway point in the season is right around the corner, with the trade deadline not too far off.

The coming weeks are a crucial stretch for sides who hope to be in the Play-off hunt once Spring starts. With that in mind, here are five teams who need to step up in the New Year to avoid falling short.

Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks made the first big move of the offseason when they traded for Dejounte Murray and that fit looked good in the early stages of the season.

A bright start for the Hawks put them into the top three in the East at one point, but things have turned sour.

The Hawks have a 17-18 record and they’ve slipped down to ninth in the Conference.

With rumours of behind-the-scenes issues and a potential Trae Young trade request, the Hawks need to find some answers after underperforming last season.

Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors were always expected to slip in the aftermath of their title win.

They haven’t gotten any weaker, but their core is another year older and the Draymond Green/Jordan Poole incident can’t have helped things internally.

However, no one expected the Warriors to slip this far. Their Play-off run in 2022 seemed to bring a complacency that the Warriors would be a postseason force this term regardless of their seed.

However, as it stands they’re barely holding on to a Play-in place. They’re also 3-16 on the road, which is a worry for a side who are on course to face two away Play-in games just to reach the first round.

There’s still a lot of faith in the Warriors, as they’re 18/5 To Win the Western Conference.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The biggest trade of the summer saw Rudy Gobert swap Utah for Minnesota, but the Timberwolves haven’t made the most of the Frenchman since he arrived.

The Timberwolves surrendered effectively five first-round picks and four players to land the big man, hoping he would take them to the next level.

However, the team lacks cohesion and they aren’t exactly making the most of their huge line-up. They rank 16th in terms of defensive rating despite landing Gobert and that was supposed to be their strong suit.

With the team not even in the Play-in spots, former Coach of the Year favourite Chris Finch has drifted out to 66/1 for that award.

That seems fair, especially with the drop in performance from last season taken into consideration. If the Timberwolves don’t step up, the Gobert trade will go down as a huge failure.

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Toronto Raptors

After a fifth-placed finish in the East last term, the Toronto Raptors have managed to slip out of the Play-in spots completely after a terrible run. The Canadian side are on a 3-7 run, despite the best efforts of Pascal Siakam.

The Raptors had a bounce-back year last season with a new style which focused on offensive rebounds and out-shooting opponents.

However, too many wayward shots mean the Raptors can’t find their usual groove, causing problems Nick Nurse has been unable to solve.

With Fred van Vleet set to opt out of his contract this summer and with the Raptors unlikely to extend Gary Trent Jr’s deal, they could be busy in the trade market, which could get them back on course or potentially set up a tank.

However, they’re 4/9 To Make the Play-offs this season, so the Raptors are expected to come good in the end.

Miami Heat

Things haven’t quite been right in Miami since the departure of PJ Tucker in the summer. His move to Philadelphia has exposed that he was the defensive cornerstone behind the Heat’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season.

His departure has forced a rejig to the line-up, which hasn’t panned out too well.

The Heat are now up to sixth after their latest win and they’ve finally climbed above .500, so maybe they are set up for a strong New Year.

However, they’ve spent the season floating around the edge of the play-offs. While Jimmy Butler continues to be boisterous about their title hopes, there’s a reason they’ve drifted out to 33/1 for the championship.

It does seem that Butler is holding himself back for the play-offs, but he could be waiting for the team to make moves.

He’s been a makeshift power forward this term, with the Heat needing to spring for a natural in that position to coordinate their defence. Their goal for 2023 will be to find some consistency at both ends of the floor.

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