If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while applying for maybe the best job in journalism (except for having to live in Dallas)….
You don’t need Dwight Howard when you have James Harden. Well, at least in the regular season. The Rockets are 6-2 so far since Howard went down with this latest knee injury, and the reason is Harden is playing like an MVP. Tuesday night was a perfect example: Harden scored 20 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-10 shooting to lift Houston to a win over Phoenix. Then when the Rockets needed a couple daggers to kill off the Suns, it was Harden delivering them. Harden finished with 40 points on 23 shots plus grabbed 12 boards and had nine assists as Houston got another crucial win. In the eight games since Howard went down, Harden is averaging 29.9 points and 6.9 assists a game, plus is shooting 41 percent from three and has a .627 true shooting percentage. The Beard is on fire.
The sun seems to be setting on Phoenix’s playoff chances. The Suns are now just one game ahead of both New Orleans and hard-charging Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West. The Suns lost five of their last six games before the All-Star break. In those six games, the issue has been the offense, which has averaged 97 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league in that stretch). They’ve been even worse on the road of late. Maybe a couple practices and more than a week off can shake them out of this funk. If not, they once again are going to win 46 or more games and miss the playoffs. They are the poster children for changing the playoff system.
The most interesting thing happening with the Lakers: Nick Young telling dolphin attack stories. On the court, the only interesting thing left in the Lakers’ season is watching Jordan Clarkson to see if he can develop into a point guard. Off the court…. Nick Young is a constant source of entertainment.
Mike Dunleavy’s back and the Bulls look good again. After missing 19 games due to an ankle injury, their glue guy is back. The Bulls are now 24-10 with him, he is key to their offensive spacing. He only had five points on five shots and looked understandably rusty, but he did play 24 minutes. Dunleavy could be off for a night because Tony Snell spaced the floor on the way to his 24 points. The good news: the Bulls are finally healthy… er wait. Jimmy Butler had to leave the game with shoulder injury and didn’t play the second half. At least the week off for the All-Star break is coming up.
Pistons keep taking steps toward playoffs. In a game they really needed, Greg Monroe continued to thrive — 23 points and 12 boards — and the Pistons easily handled the Hornets 106-78. That moves Detroit just 1.5 games back of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East. Anthony Tolliver has been a sneaky good pick up by the Pistons, and he had 16 points in the win. Charlotte made the trade to get Mo Williams to fortify their backcourt while Kemba Walker is down, it will not be easy for Detroit to catch them (or seven seed Miami, who is two games ahead of Detroit), but this is the kind of win the Pistons had to have to give themselves a real chance.
This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”
The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.
That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.
Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.
This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000 for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a Mavericks loss.
Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.
Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.
Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.
Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.
From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.
James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.
But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).
Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.
What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.
Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.
People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.
There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).
This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.
Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.
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Sunday was not a good day for the Mavericks and Kyrie Irving.
In addition to losing their second-straight game to the Hornets (and fourth straight overall) to fall out of even the play-in out West, Irving had a Hornets fan ejected from the game Sunday. Irving pointed the situation out to the referee, and soon arena security was involved and the man was escorted out.
It is unclear what the fan said to Irving, but more players in recent years have taken this step with fans they feel had crossed the line of common decency. Irving addressed the situation in his postgame press conference.
Irving and the Mavericks heard boos from their fans at home last Friday during a loss to these same Hornets, and Irving’s response that night was more defiant in tone.
“So what? Just the way I feel about it. I’ve been in New York City so I know what that’s like. You obviously want to play well, but there’s only five people on the court who can play for the Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level. But our focus isn’t necessarily on the boos, it should be on the performance.”
That performance has been lacking — the Mavericks have lost four in a row, 7-of-9, and if the postseason started today they would be fishing in Cabo. Irving hasn’t been the problem (the Mavericks are 4.5 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court), but he hasn’t been the solution, either. Irving is a free agent after this season and said he and Luka Dončić are still getting used to playing with one another.
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