NBA Sitrep – Disaster for DeMarcus, Jason Kidd fired and where is the Love?

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

Tragedy strikes for Cousins and Pelicans

The Pelicans just can’t shake the dreaded injury curse.

After Davis’s sketchy history with injury, they have now lost All-Star centre DeMarcus Cousins for the remainder of the season with a ruptured Achilles.

Cousins sustained the injury after following his own free-throw miss with seconds remaining in the Pelicans clash against Houston.

Cousins was just months away from likely making his first playoff appearance, as Davis will now be forced to carry the Pelicans dwindling playoff hopes.

The injury is a shattering blow for New Orleans, who had won eight of their last ten contests and surged into the sixth seed in the West.

Cousins was having a career year, averaging 25.2 points per game, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists through his 48 games.

Andre Roberson will also miss the remainder of the season after he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon against the Detroit Pistons.

https://twitter.com/MeanMugSports/status/957405845242990593

Despite his limited offensive ability, Roberson was having another stellar defensive season and was in line for a first-team All-Defense selection.

All-Star teams locked and loaded

I’m sure the All-Star draft was great, but unfortunately that’s about all anyone can say.

The NBA stuck behind their decision to keep the draft a secret, despite strong pushes from fans, media and even certain players to televise the draft.

Paul George will replace DeMarcus Cousins for Team LeBron, which also features Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook.

Team Steph is headlined by the Greek Freak, James Harden, Joel Embiid and DeMar Derozen.

As for who held the honour of the last pick, well at least Love is honest.

Next year, please televise it NBA.

All Outta Love

It’s been a rough week for Kevin Love.

An illness saw him leave the court early as the Cavaliers got trounced by the Thunder and kept him sidelined for the Cavs practice the next day.

Then the reports started to filter in about an explosive team meeting.

According to the Cavs their team meeting was not nearly as demonstrative as reported. Which is why I’m also guessing it was a complete coincidence that Crowder just momentarily lost peripheral vision and missed Loves outstretched hand.

Then Kevin began plotting his revenge.

He threw his jumper on Jeff Green’s face, who didn’t seem particularly amused.

He then skied over Isaiah Thomas to grab a rebound and handed the ball to him with significant distain.

Cue the Kevin Love trade rumours.

Are you Kidding me?

Jason Kidd’s time with the Bucks is officially over as he was sacked early last week.

The Bucks have struggled this season, despite the presence of Antetokounmpo, and sit in the sixth seed with a 26-22 record.

Kidd took the Bucks to the playoffs twice, but was knocked out in the first round both times.

Assistant Joe Prunty is serving as interim head coach and has led the Bucks to three straight wins since Kidd’s departure.

Sliders/Risers

standings week 3Photo credit: ESPN

Riser

It’s taken half a season, but the Thunder are finally clicking into gear. They have won eight on the trot, which sees them jump into fifth in the West, just one game behind the Timberwolves. The leagues largest winning streak has seen them knock off the 76ers, Pistons, Wizards and Cavaliers. This has been an up and down season for Westbrook and the Thunder, but they finally look to be bringing the offense to complement their stellar defense.

Slider

The Celtics are currently in a mini-slump, losing five of their last six contests. They have fallen to the Pelicans, 76ers, Magic, Lakers and Warriors over the stretch, with the only victory coming against the Clippers. Kyrie Irving is not worried about the string of losses, responding to reporters with “you gotta hit some adversity. We have to hit something. Like we need it as a team.” The Celtics are still the top seed in the East and will look to rediscover their winning ways against the Nuggets tomorrow.

Heat Check

Stephen Curry

vs. Knicks – 32 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 8 made three-pointers

vs. Timberwolves – 25 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals

vs. Celtics – 49 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, 8 made three-pointers

Since returning from his ankle injury, Curry has been ripping teams to shreds with his dazzling shooting. His duel against Kyrie Irving (who had 39 points of his own) was a teaser of what we could see come June. After a slow start to the season, Curry has now charged into the MVP discussion with the likes of Harden and LeBron.

Highlights 

It was a week of milestones for some of the games greats.

LeBron joined an elite group as he crossed the 30,000 mark with this jumper.

Melo became just the 21st man to reach the 25,000 point milestone.

DeAaron Fox defied gravity with this game-winning putback slam.

Your weekly reminder that Giannis is very good at basketball.

Joel Embiid is a bad, bad man.

Whoopsie Watch 

It’s been that kind of season for the Knicks.

Should have let the point guard bring the ball up Lauri.

Jeff Hornacek lets it fly from Steph Curry range.

Stephen Curry – Addition through Subtraction

Steph Curry steadied into a rhythm dribble as a nervous hush fell over Chesapeake Arena. The clock ticked down on an overtime thriller between two of the NBA’s best, but Curry was about to add another chapter to the masterpiece. A mere handful of steps over the half-court line, Curry flung an incredible dagger into the Oklahoma sky as the ball ripped the nylon and Thunder hearts. Curry was left in sheer jubilation as commentators searched for the words to do justice to the incredible feat.

It was simply another highlight on the crazy ride that was Curry’s 2015/16 unanimous MVP campaign. In arguably the greatest shooting season of all time, Curry put up absurd percentages from all over the court. However, it was his long-range shooting ability that became his trademark.

Time and time again Curry would unleash a three-point barrage from uncharted territory on a basketball court. He stretched defenses to breaking point with his unmatched gravity and left entire stadiums in silence with his breathtaking shooting displays.

It’s almost two years since Curry’s signature game-winner against the Thunder and while Steph is still Steph, there is a noticeable difference to the now two-time MVP.

Familiarity has become Curry’s main nemesis.

The shock and awe of Curry’s exploits have become expected. He has set the bar so high that even incredible performances can pale into a shrugged shoulder and ‘yeah that’s Steph for you’ tagline.

After a slight drop in his numbers last year, largely due to the acclimatisation of Kevin Durant, Curry is producing another MVP caliber season.

Curry’s game and success is still predominantly based around his three-point wizardry. He leads the league in three-pointers made per game, while connecting on over 43% of his attempts. Since his return from the scary ankle injury that saw him sidelined for 11 games, Curry has connected on over 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

He is still the same lethal gun-slinger, but Curry has added a new weapon to his arsenal. Or to be more specific, he has added another layer to his game, by taking away one of his trademark moves.

Curry spent most of his unanimous MVP season re-writing the definition of bad shot selection. The lasers that Curry would fire from unguardable distances were terrible shots for every other player in the NBA.

On attempts from 30 feet and beyond, Curry shot 21-of-45 or just under 47%. That same season (2015-16) the rest of the league combined to make just 13% of those shots, even after you subtract the desperation heaves from outside of 35 feet. Nobody else in the league made more than three shots from 30 feet or beyond that season.

Not only was he lethal when he was set from beyond the arc, but Curry made over 50% of his pull-up triples in transition. He connected on 39-of-73 of the head-scratching threes that generally put the final touches on a devastating Warriors run.

Enter Stephen Curry – 2.0.

After a humbling campaign from beyond 30 feet last season, shooting just 13 of 54 (24%) on such attempts, Curry has almost entirely cut out the long-range bomb from his seemingly endless shot wheelhouse.

This season he is on pace to finish with roughly a third as many attempts from 30 feet or beyond than in his unanimous MVP campaign. More than twenty players sit above Curry when it comes to 30 plus footers attempted, in fact, Curry made more of the outrageous shots in three separate games in 2015/16 than in the entire season so far.

The steady diet of pull-up threes has also waned off, as Curry is on pace to take just 30 triples on the fast-break, compared to 73 two seasons ago.

The result of this shot selection shift has been profound. Curry has managed to use the unparalleled magnetism he still possesses to create opportunities in the mid-range and around the basket.

Put simply, Curry has become less breathtaking, but more efficient.

Curry leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.2%), which is ridiculous for a point-guard who takes over ten threes per game.

He is having a career year from inside the arc, tied with Karl Anthony Towns in seventh spot for two-point percentage in the league. The six players above him combine for an average height of 6-foot-10, while Curry is challenging the leagues tall-timber at 6-foot-3.

Curry is shooting 91% from the line and is getting to the charity stripe at a career-high rate. Prior to this season, Curry was averaging one free-throw for every 4.3 shot attempts. This season that number has nose-dived to one free-throw for every 2.6 shot attempts.

All of this and Curry is shooting 49% from the field (second highest mark of career), averaging 6.5 assists, grabbing 1.7 steals per contest and is putting up 28.1 points per game as he leads the Warriors to the best record in the NBA.

Curry is still legitimately in the MVP discussion, which considering he has missed 14 games this season through injury, highlights the magnitude of the campaign he is piecing together.

Curry is still the same dynamic scorer who can break a team’s back with a pull-up triple from the locker-room.

But he has refined his game and maximised his output through the threat of his shooting prowess.

Curry has used his unanimous MVP season to evolve into the player he is now.

In a scary proposition for the league, this may be the best version of Curry we have ever witnessed.

The version that is just as deadly from 10 feet as from 30. The one who might not dominate the highlight reel on a nightly basis, but is steering his team towards a fourth straight Finals appearance.

Less breathtaking, but more complete.

Addition through subtraction.

NBA Sitrep – Rockets swing-and-miss vs LA, knock over Warriors instead as Curry & LeBron lead All-Star teams

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

Seven-game series anyone?

The best of the West squared off yesterday in their last regular season clash, in what loomed as a preview of the Western Conference Final.

The game didn’t disappoint as the Rockets showed the league that they can hang with the defending Champions.

Harden found his groove in his second game back from a hamstring injury, dropping 22 points on the Warriors and leaving Curry with Kyrie Irving flashbacks with this step-back dagger to ice the game.

Harden then played defense. No, not a typo. He blocked Curry’s last-gasp three ball attempt and the Rockets sunk the Warriors 116-108.

Chris Paul was up to his usual antics, connecting from downtown six times for his 33 points, 7 dimes, 11 rebounds and three steals.

Bring on a seven-game series between these two.

Only in LA

Welcome to Hollywood’s newest Soap Opera – NBA edition.

The script started innocently enough. The Clippers played a heart-felt video tribute to their former captain, Chris Paul, before he received a standing ovation from the Staples Centre crowd.

Then it got interesting.

What followed was must-watch reality television.

First, Blake tried to take Gordons head off.

Then Mike D’Antoni got a little grumpy after Blake ‘accidently’ knocked into him.

And Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverly were their usual annoying selves.

The end result of all this drama. Griffin and Ariza were ejected and the Clippers upset the Rockets 113-102.

Oh, and after the game Chris Paul led James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green down a secret passageway that joins the teams dressing rooms to confront Austin Rivers.

Clint Capela tried to storm the Clippers locker room from the front entrance, but he had the door slammed on him by a Clippers staff member.

Ariza and Green were both suspended for two games and the Rockets – Clippers rivalry was officially born.

Just another day in LA.

Best of the Best

Steph Curry and LeBron James have been named as the 2018 All-Star captains, finishing atop the vote in their respective conferences.

Curry led the West starting line-up consisting of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

LeBron was joined by former teammate Kyrie Irving, as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozen and first-timer Joel Embiid.

Curry and LeBron will now select their starting line-ups from the pool of both conferences in traditional school-yard style. They will also get to select from a number of All-Star reserves, which will be announced by the coaches in the coming days.

The quirkiest surprise of this year’s voting belongs to Manu Ginobili, who somehow managed to poll more votes than Harden and Westbrook in the fan-vote.

The ageless Spur didn’t fare so well in the media and player votes, rightly handing over his starting spot to MVP candidate James Harden.

Injury curse strikes again

The clock is ticking on Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs season as their superstar faces a race against time to be healthy for playoffs.

Leonard’s lingering quad injury has sidelined him for all but nine games this campaign, with a worrying pattern of injury riddled seasons threatening to mar his career.

The Spurs have managed to hold onto the fourth seed (30-18 record) without Leonard, but face little hope of contending without him come playoffs.

Sliders and Risers

standings - 2

Photo credit: ESPN

Riser

After falling out of the playoff seeding in December, the Philadelphia 76ers have leapfrogged back into the seventh seed on the back of a host of impressive victories. ‘The Process’ is currently sitting on a three-game win streak, having won eight of their last ten contests. Since the New Year the 76ers have knocked over the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors, Pistons and Spurs. If they can hang onto a playoff seed they will feature in post-season action for the first time since 2012.

Slider

In correlation with the 76ers rise, the Detroit Pistons have slid down the standings and currently sit just outside of the playoff race. They have dropped eight of their last ten contests and are currently holding the second longest losing streak in the league (five games, bested only by the Kings with seven).  It has been a dramatic fall for the Pistons, who started the season with a 14-6 record and held a top four seed for much of November.

Heat Check

Damian Lillard

vs. Phoenix Suns – 31 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal

vs. Indiana Pacers – 26 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds

vs. Dallas Mavericks – 31 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 7 three-pointers

It has been the Lillard show for Portland over the last week as their superstar has led them on a three-game win-streak that sees the Trailblazers sitting in the sixth seed in the West.

Highlights

Spencer Dinwiddie laid the nail into the Pistons coffin with this tough finish.

Wiggins you are cleared for takeoff. Jakob Poetel what are you doing?

Wade up top to LeBron. Just like the good old days.

https://twitter.com/_MarcusD2_/status/954832217716510721

LeBron returns the favour to his former Miami teammate. Behind-the-back and through-the-legs if you don’t mind.

Speaking of assists, is there anything the Greek Freak can’t do!

Whoopsie Watch

CP3 with an Oscar winning performance.

Rodney Hood vs Phone. Fairly predictable ending.

‘The Process’ in action.

Class of 2017 Stand Up

The class of 2017 doesn’t exactly bolt out of the gates.

We saw the number one pick for all of four games before a mysterious shoulder injury, that apparently isn’t a shoulder injury but rather a scapular muscle imbalance, which according to his coach was caused by his trainer’s decision to tweak the shot, which according to his trainer is not true. As if it wasn’t mysterious enough, Fultz’s agent claimed that he had “fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder” and then weeks later changed his story completely and said, “fluid was put into his shoulder – not taken out.”

The result of this backstory worthy of an ESPN 30 for 30 is alarming to say the least.

https://twitter.com/TheRenderNBA/status/922658154999140352

Insert the painful reminder that The Process has now drafted Michael Carter Williams (#11 overall), Evan Turner (#2 overall), Nerlens Noel (#6 overall after trade with Pelicans), Jahlil Okafor (#3 overall) and now Markelle Fultz.

As for when we will see Fultz on the court again, 76ers coach Brett Brown didn’t sound overly optimistic.

The number two pick entered the NBA with more fanfare than even Lakers fans are accustomed too. And unlike Fultz he didn’t need a scapular muscle imbalance to ruin his shot, Lonzo managed that all by himself.

With the top two picks in a heated battle for ‘who can terrify their coaching staff and fan base more’, we are left with the rest of the rookie class to fall back on.

And at the midway point of the season, it’s fair to say that there passing with flying colours.

line breaker

donavon mitchell

Donovan Mitchell
Utah Jazz

18.9 points per game, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 44% FG, 35% from 3

Donovan Mitchell is the dux of the class of 2017.

He leads all rookies in scoring, leads the Jazz in scoring and has showcased footwork, nous and a repertoire of moves that are simply uncanny for a 21-year old rookie. Mitchell has taken it upon himself to fill the void left by Gordon Hayward and is commanding possession of the ball and the Jazz offense. Mitchell has the 20th highest usage rate in the entire league, and is hoisting up 16 shots a game, which is uncharted territory for a rookie.

But stats and numbers can become boring and monotonous in today’s game, so here are five reasons why Donovan Mitchell is the steal of the draft at pick 13.

Exhibit A – Donovan Mitchell likes embarrassing people.

Exhibit B – Donovan Mitchell has handles.

Exhibit C – Donovan Mitchell has already scored forty points in a single game.

It took Westbrook and Harden three seasons to post their first 40-point performance.

Exhibit D – Donovan Mitchell can fly.

Exhibit E – Don’t box out Donovan Mitchell at your own peril.


line breaker
tatun

Jayson Tatum
Boston Celtics

13.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 1 steal, 50% FG, 46% from 3

Jayson Tatum is an enigma when it comes to conventional stand out rookie seasons. He has put together a superb Rookie of the Year resume, all while playing on the Eastern Conference’s top seeded team. Usually rookies on contending teams, such as the Celtics, are devoid of opportunity and are generally unearthed in the leaner years to come.

Not Tatum though. He has exploded onto the scene, cementing himself as an integral piece to the Celtics championship push. Tatum is an incredible defender for his age, with his size and wingspan allowing him to compete with the NBA’s elite wing players. Add to that his shooting percentages, which are simply off the charts, and you have one of the most complete rookies to enter the league in a long time.

line breaker
kuzma

Kyle Kuzma
Los Angeles Lakers

16.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 46% FG, 37% from 3

Kyle Kuzma, wrongly or rightly, entered the NBA as an afterthought to many within the league. Taken with the 27th pick by Brooklyn, he found himself in LA as part of the D’Angelo Russell fiasco, the deal sweetener thrown into the trade to make the bookkeeper happy.

At the halfway point of his rookie campaign, Kuzma is no longer an afterthought, in fact he has taken centre stage in the Lakers rebuild. While the Ball family may still hold a monopoly on the LA spotlight, Kuzma is letting his game do the talking. With his 6-foot-9 frame and athleticism to match, he can score from anywhere on the court, nearly anytime he wants.

While he is carrying the Lakers scoring load (leading scorer on LA’s roster), Kuzma needs to develop his defensive game if he wants to fulfill his All-Star potential. He ranks in the bottom 30 players in the league for defensive real plus/minus stats, which in plain English means he is not a very good defender. He has the length and physical ability to have an impact on the other side of the court, so this is simply an area of his game he will need to develop.

line breaker

lauri

Lauri Markkanen
Chicago Bulls

15.5 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 43% FG, 37% from 3

Lauri Markkanen is part of the new wave of NBA seven-foot unicorns. No longer does the big man sit in the paint and attack the rim all game, now they display handles the envy of many a guard and knock down threes from Steph Curry range.

Markkanen is averaging 2.5 made threes per contest. No rookie in the history of the NBA has made that many threes per game, regardless of their position or size. Markkanen just cracked the 100 mark for his career three-point tally in just 41 games. Again, nobody in the history of the league has even come close to that mark.

Let’s compare two players and their rookie seasons to put Markkanen into perspective.

Player A – 14.3 PPG, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 made 3’s per game, 42% FG, 33% from 3

Player B – 15.5 PPG, 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.5 made 3’s per game, 43% FG, 37% from 3

Player B is Markkanen and Player A is Kristaps Porzingis. Enough said.

Enes Kanter also learnt the hard way that Markkanen can do more than just shoot.

line breaker
dennis smith

Dennis Smith Jr.
Dallas Mavericks

14.3 points per game, 4.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 39% FG, 33% from 3

Dennis Smith Jr has played in 36 games so far this season, and has been a starter in all 36 of them. While this says a lot about the Mavericks current struggles, it also highlights the level of talent within Smith. While the shooting numbers leave room for improvement, Smith has been handed the keys of an NBA offense as a rookie and should be expected to struggle with efficiency early on.

What Smith hasn’t struggled with is dunking. The one-man highlight reel is constantly looking to add to his already impressive poster collection.

Smart move Durant, very smart move.

line breaker

collins

John Collins
Atlanta Hawks

10.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 58% FG

Hidden away on the barren wasteland that in the Atlanta Hawks 2017-18 season, Collins often isn’t featured in the Rookie of the Year conversation. While he may not possess the scoring capabilities of other rookies, Collins has developed into a rim-rolling nightmare who can shoot the mid-range and lock down on the defensive end. Through his first 37 games he has also shown a knack for offensive rebounding, pulling down 2.8 offensive boards per contest (11th best in NBA).

Did I mention that he likes to dunk?

line breaker

lonzo

Lonzo Ball
Los Angeles Lakers

10.2 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 35% FG, 30% from 3, 48% FT

Lonzo Ball has more All-Star votes than Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal. If you need more convincing the All-Star voting is just a popularity contest, look no further. Also, don’t look at Lonzo’s shooting percentages. Just don’t.

In all seriousness, Lonzo came into the league with completely unrealistic expectations. Through no fault of his own he was put on a pedestal that he simply isn’t ready for yet, which is why there has been such heated debate about his performances.

In defense of Lonzo, he is actually piecing together a decent season. He is top 10 in rebounds, steals, assists and blocks amongst point guards in the NBA. The Lakers are 0-7 when he doesn’t play and the ugly shooting percentages are slowly creeping back up to respectable.

Lonzo is not the immediate savior the Lakers thought they were getting, but he still has the potential to be an elite player in years to come.

line breaker

Honourable mentions

Jordan Bell – 5.2 PPG, 4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 66% FG

De’Aaron Fox – 10.3 PPG, 4.3 assists, 1 steal, 40% FG, 30% from 3

Josh Jackson – 9.7 PPG, 1.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 39% FG

OG Anunoby – 6.4 PPG, 2.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 46% FG, 37% from 3

I have not included Simmons in the class of 2017 as although he is a rookie this year, he is still technically part of the class of 2016.

NBA Sitrep – Cavs slumping, KD passes 20,000 plateau and the NBA hits London

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

The Cavs lost all three games last week in ugly fashion, while they have now lost seven of their last ten.

It was the first time in LeBron’s career that his team has lost by 25 or more points in back-to-back games as the Timberwolves (127-99) and Raptors (133-99) piled on the pain for Ty Lue and his men. Safe to say that LeBron wasn’t particularly happy with his team’s effort.

LeBron then missed a game-tying layup, and stepped out of bounds, as the Cavs fell to the Pacers 95-97.

The Cavs will look to halt their skid against the Warriors tomorrow in the Finals rematch.

Kevin Durant became just the second youngest player (behind LeBron) to break the 20,000-career points barrier.

With Curry out injured (ankle) and Thompson resting, Durant took just one half to tally the 25 points required to reach the milestone against the Clippers.

However, KD’s night was spoiled as the Clippers beat the Warriors for the first time since 2014 behind Lou Williams 50-point outburst.

The Bulls and Knicks played out an expected Double Overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden, with Lauri Markkanen dropping 33 points and Porzingis countering with 24 and a huge dunk to send the game into double OT.

The Bulls eventually walked away with a 122-119 win in the arguably the unlikeliest classic of the season so far.

The Celtics overcame a 22-point deficit to beat the 76ers in the eighth NBA game played in England.

Led by Kyrie Irving (20 points) & Jaylen Brown (21 points), the Celtics romped home to stun the 76ers 114-103 and notch their seventh straight win.

J.J Redick was the leading scorer for the 76ers, while Embiid shot just 6-17 from the field. Simmons major highlight was his hip and shoulder on Marcus Morris.

Sliders and Risers

standings

Photo credit: ESPN

Riser

The Lakers have won four games in a row. I repeat, four games in a row! They have now crept up to 12th in the West and the lid is officially off. According to most Lakers fans a late playoff push is still on the cards, Lonzo Ball is charging up the Rookie of the Year ladder and LeBron spent another weekend checking out schools in LA.

To bring reality back into the situation, three of the four wins did come against the Hawks, Kings and Mavericks.

Slider

The New York Knicks faint playoff hopes are fading away after losing their last three games and eight of their last ten. This week they lost to the Bulls in double OT, to Minnesota by 10 points and to New Orleans by 5.

Heat Check

Anthony Davis

vs. Detroit – 30 points, 10 boards, 1 block

vs. Portland – 36 points, 9 boards, 2 blocks

vs. Knicks – 48 points, 17 boards, 3 blocks

The numbers speak for themselves. Even while he missed the game vs Memphis with an ankle sprain, his three performances were incredible even by his lofty standards.

Honorable mention: Lou Williams – averaged 35 points over his four games last week. Read more about his case for an All-Star appearance here.

Highlights

There were a plethora of clutch shots and game winners across the league last week.

Richardson put the Heat on the high-side against the Jazz in one of their seven wins on the trot.

CJ Williams (Who?) sunk the game winning three against the Hawks. Pretty much sums up the entire season for Atlanta.

One week, two game winners for the resurging Heat who currently sit in the 4th seed in the East.

Please put Larry Nance in the dunk contest.

LeBron said no siree to Tyus Jones.

But Tyus Jones took no chances the second time around. It was just the second dunk of his career. Fair to say its probably his favourite.

The battle of the seven-foot freaks didn’t end well for Giannis.

Whoopsie Watch

Durant may have cracked the 20,000 career points mark last week, but these weren’t two of them.

Caris LeVert with the laser pass to the third row.

At this point, I no longer have the words to describe Lance Stephenson.

Oh Sweet, Sweet Lou

Don’t let the nickname fool you, because on the hardwood Lou Williams is anything but sweet.

‘Sweet Lou’, as he was endearingly coined back in his Philadelphia days, is the definition of the shoot first, think later player prototype. In fact, Lou may stretch that out to shoot first, second, third and then think. He is a professional gunslinger, who has unfortunately been a gun for hire for much of his NBA career.

After falling to pick 45 in the 2005 draft, Lou struggled out of the gates as his weaknesses were exposed against NBA caliber talent. At 6-foot-1 he was considerably shorter than the prototype shooting guard, his defense left much to be desired, his shot-selection was poor and his decision-making as a playmaker was even worse. He took the court in only 30 games of his rookie season and averaged a measly 1.9 points, albeit on an average of just under five minutes of game time.

Slowly but surely, and with the void opened by the departure of Allen Iverson, Williams started to earn more minutes and with it, more opportunities to unholster his gun and do what he does best. The shooting percentages made for ugly readings at times, but Lou managed to crack the double-digit scoring barrier off the bench and was in perennial conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

After averaging his highest scoring tally (14.9 points per contest) in the 2011-12 season, Williams was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and his journeyman career officially began. After spending his first seven seasons with the 76ers, he has pulled on five different jerseys in his last six seasons. After averaging just under 15 points through the second half of the season with the Rockets last year, Lou was traded to the Clippers as part of the Chris Paul deal.

To say Williams has taken his game to the next level this season wouldn’t do his phenomenal performance justice. With the Clippers never-ending injury curse, Lou has been left to shoulder much of the offensive load for Doc Rivers men. That’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a slender 175-pound man, but for Lou it just means more of an opportunity to shoot the ball. Something he has very willing obliged.

Lou Williams is averaging 23.1 points per game. He leads the Clippers in scoring and at the half-way mark of the season sits 16th in scoring across the league. With his recent 50-point outburst against the Warriors he joined Harden, Beal, DeRozen and LeBron as the only players to crack the 50 plateau this season. The only players to have notched more than five 35-plus-point games this season, Harden, Cousins, DeRozen, Davis and wait for it, ‘Sweet Lou’.

He is not just taking more shots, but he is making more shots at a career-high efficiency. His field goal percentage of 44.8% is the second-best clip of his career, surpassed only by his three-ball mark of 41.4%, which is the only time in his career that he has cracked the 40% barrier. Add a strike rate of just under 91% from the line and a True Shooting percentage (considers two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy) of over 60% and you have one of the league’s premier efficient scorers.

Lou has not just developed into an elite scorer by chance or situation, rather every performance is an exhibition on how to merge the ball with the nylon. With so many different methods of attack, Lou is a defender’s nightmare from the second he crosses half-court.

Lou has always had the ability to attack the rim with a variety of crafty finishes.

Some of them bordering on plain ridiculous.

He also has a beautiful touch on his floater, which has allowed him to avoid the league’s tall timber despite his size.

Once again, don’t let the ‘Sweet Lou’ nickname fool you.

Lou loves to fade from his left, with an incredible ability to straighten his body and the ball trajectory while moving laterally.

After struggling from beyond the arc early in his career, Lou has developed into a knock-down shooter from three-point land. He has made 122 three balls so far this season, which has been bested by only four other players (Harden, Thompson, George and Eric Gordon).

With the Clippers point-guard brigade (Beverly, Teodosic and Rivers) all missing lengthy stints through injury, Lou has been forced to become the primary ball handler in many situations.

He is averaging a career-high 4.9 assists this season and has formed a rim-rattling connection with DeAndre Jordan on numerous occasions.

Lou really hasn’t changed over his career. Yes, his skill-set has developed as he’s honed his craft, but the core fundamentals of his game haven’t changed. He is still a lack-luster defender, still under-sized and still makes silly decisions at times. What has changed is how the league and his team have accepted and utilised him. Because for all his deficiencies, Lou has developed into a genuine All-Star candidate and Sixth Man of the Year front-runner.

While in all honesty he is unlikely to make the All-Star team in a stacked Western Conference, his recent play makes a fine resume that stands its own against the league’s best.

In his last 13 games, Lou is averaging 30.1 points per contest. Over that stretch the Clippers have lost just three games and have finally evened up the win-loss column, sitting just one game outside the playoff bracket. While others have contributed to the Clippers rise, much of the credit should fall on Lou’s shoulders.

However, as the trade deadline approaches, rumours still swirl around Williams future at the Clippers. Not because he isn’t good enough, but rather he may be too good for the future path the Clippers want to take.

So, despite his incredible season, ‘Sweet Lou’ may still be a gun for hire.

The rise and fall of James

Basketball can be a cruel game sometimes.

James Harden burst towards the rim in trademark style as the clock wound down at the Toyota Centre. It was an innocuous play, a move that Harden pulls off so routinely that there was a hush of disbelief when the ball caromed off the rim without scratching the score-sheet. However, only seconds later the Houston faithful had all but forgotten the missed basket as Harden gingerly limped up the court.

When the dust settled, Harden was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. With 57 ticks left on the clock, Harden had a firm grip on the league’s most coveted individual award. With 55 ticks, he had lost the ball, his footing and his foothold on that elusive MVP trophy.

Prior to the injury, Harden was the clear favourite for the 2018 MVP trophy. After crossing the line second in 2015 (lost to Stephen Curry) and 2017 (lost to Russell Westbrook), Harden has taken his game to the next level and was finally the frontrunner for the illustrious trophy.

He leads the league in scoring (32.2 points per game), while still dishing out just over nine assists per game (second in the league). Throw in five rebounds per contest, 1.8 steals, 45% shooting from the field with a 39% clip from three and you have a near undeniable case for MVP.

For Harden, it now comes down to his undeniable case against a harsh reality. The last ten winners of the MVP trophy have missed an average of just 2.5 games over the course of the season. The only player since 1978 to miss more than seven games and still hold the MVP trophy aloft was Allen Iverson in 2001, who played just 71 games.

Harden is slated to be re-evaluated two weeks from the injury (would likely be the 16th of January), with an immediate return seeing him miss seven games. However, many doctors believe this is an incredibly generous return schedule for a Grade 2 hamstring strain. If Harden took the more likely three weeks to recover, he would miss ten games. Suddenly the weight of history would be against him.

Enter part human, part cyborg, LeBron James.

The likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are all piecing together phenomenal seasons. But if anyone was to wrestle the MVP away from Harden in 2018, LeBron would be the clear candidate.

At the age of 33, with 15 seasons, 1,316 games and over 51,000 career minutes under his belt, LeBron is arguably getting better.

Even superstars are supposed to regress at some point. You lose a step here or there, you can’t jump quite as high as you used to and you humbly hand over the baton when Father Time comes knocking on the door.

The season that LeBron is putting together quite simply beggar’s belief. Although he would want to hope that his performance yesterday (10 points on 4 of 8 shooting) against the Timberwolves was an aberration. Considering the last time he only managed 10 points in a game was in October 2007, I’d say he is fairly safe there.

TNT and NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony put it best when he said, “There’s never been a player in his 15th season who was unquestionably the best player in the league. It’s not just that [LeBron] is really good in his 15th year. He’s the best player.”

This season he is scoring at a higher rate than in his dominant Miami years, when he was supposed to be in his prime. His 27.2 points per contest is the third best in the league and his highest rate since the 2009/10 season.

He’s not only putting the ball in the basket more, but he’s doing it at a historic efficiency. As we creep towards the half-way point of the season, LeBron is having the second most efficient volume shooting season in league history. The only player to maintain a higher Effective Field Goal Percentage over an entire season, Steph Curry back in his blistering 2015/16 campaign.

LeBron is shooting 55.8% from the field, the third highest mark of his career. More impressively though, he is finishing through contact and tighter defenses with increased efficiency.

LeBron has always been able to absorb contact and finish at the rim, mainly because no-one has figured out how to stop a 250-pound freight-train with a crash course for the rim. This season, with defenders between 0 and 60 cm’s away (0-2 feet), LeBron is converting at 76% on 1.6 attempts. That’s a 3% increase from last season and a massive 15% increase from the season before.

After having his worst career free-throw shooting performance last season, LeBron has turned it around and is now having his second best career free-throw shooting campaign at 77.7%. LeBron credits much of this spike to his tweaked shooting form, which is just quietly turning his biggest weakness into another weapon in his endless scoring arsenal.

Over the off-season LeBron’s shooting elbow mysteriously swelled to the size of a tennis ball, despite X-rays finding nothing structurally amiss. LeBron was forced to tweak his shot form, which now has a noticeably higher release and to the terror of the league, a noticeably higher efficiency.

LeBron has never been a great three-point shooter. It has been one of the few knocks on his Hall of Fame career. Make LeBron a shooter and you have done the best you can was the cry in unison from coaches to their defensive troops.

This season, LeBron is shooting the three-ball at 39%, the second highest mark of his career. That’s 3% higher than the league average. He is shooting the three-ball at the same efficiency as Kevin Durant and James Harden. Kyrie Irving is shooting the long ball only 0.3% higher than him.

He is not only making more threes, but he is taking more threes. Just under 27% of his shots are coming from beyond the arc this season, the highest rate of his entire career. Beyond the numbers, LeBron’s three-ball is finally starting to pass the eye test. When LeBron casts up a three-ball now there is an expectation it’s going to rip the nylon, rather than the collective groan from years past.

LeBron has never really relied on a go-to, signature shot in the big moments. He is such a dynamic scorer he simply doesn’t need one. However, with the increase in his three-ball efficiency this is starting to change.

The step back three-pointer on the left wing. Earlier this season New York got a taste of the LeBron step back three as he sized up Kristaps Porzingis and delivered the dagger to the Knicks faithful. Seconds earlier Knicks commentator Clyde Frazier pleaded for his team to be wary of the three, “He’s going to shoot the three from there…He likes to shoot the three from this side.”

As Frazier eluded to, Porzingis was not the first victim of LeBron’s step back three.

Even the Warriors aren’t immune to LeBron’s step back.

Over the last two seasons, LeBron is shooting 13 of 25 on step-back three-pointers. That’s a clip of over 50%, much higher than his 38% efficiency from beyond the arc in entirety over the same stretch.

All this and LeBron is still averaging a career-high 9 assists per game (equal third in the league), grabbing 8.2 rebounds a contest (second best season) to go with 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

It’s a compelling resume, especially in combination with carrying a somewhat spluttering Cavaliers to the third-best record in the East. Unlike Harden, LeBron is also yet to miss a game this season.

LeBron would have to break the age barrier to hoist his 5th MVP trophy. Just under 80% of all the league’s MVP winners have been between 24 and 30 years of age. But if anyone could deny the ticking hands of time, it would come as no surprise to be the ageless LeBron.

If he were to ascend the throne for a fifth time, he would join an elusive group of legendary greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the all-time record with six MVP awards, while LeBron would slot comfortably onto a pedestal with two others in second place.

One of them is the Celtics Bill Russell, and the other is slightly more likely to cause a few heated debates.

Don’t quote me, but I think he played for the Bulls.