5 Up, 5 Down: Anthony Davis ain’t never shaving his unibrow

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

Seeds 2-5 in the Eastern Conference are on a combined 24-game win streak. I don’t know what to do with that information, other than relay it to you here and pray that everyone gets healthy over the next few weeks so as to make our playoff experience that much better.

With that said, there have been a spate of injuries that are working against us. Joel Embiid‘s got a broken face, Kyrie Irving‘s knee is all boogered up, and the Washington Wizards can’t stop slightly turning ligaments in their legs the wrong direction.

Still, it’s not all gloom and doom. Unless you’re a Utah Jazz fan. Then you might be a bit mad about this next part. Ok, let’s do it.

5 Up

Ben Simmons is Rookie of the Year

I love Donovan Mitchell. The comparisons of him to a more muscular, powerful Damian Lillard ring true. His style is there. And the Utah Jazz, on paper, have no business being 7th in the Western Conference the season after losing their franchise cornerstone in Gordon Hayward. But Ben Simmons is just … ridiculous.

The Philadelphia 76ers keep winning games even with Joel Embiid out due to injury. On the road, without Embiid, the Sixers beat the Charlotte Hornets by 17 on Sunday. Simmons posted a line of 20-15-8 without breaking a sweat.

The numbers support this too, by the way. Simmons leads Mitchell in VORP, netRTG, assist percentage, rebounding … the list goes on. Simmons is above Mitchell in both true shooting and effective field goal percentage despite the Sixers rookie going 0-for-11 from 3-point range this year.

And yes, Simmons is a rookie. Sorry, Utah. Take it for what it’s worth. If I’m a Jazz fan, I might want to stay under the radar for a little while out West. It’ll make it that much sweeter in Year 3 and 4 when Mitchell is damn near unstoppable.

LeBron James keeps breaking records

Enough about his workout regimen, I just want to wind back the clock and sit in some pure, cumulative statistical records for a while. We like to live in the world of nostalgia where it seems impossible that someone will ever be better than Michael Jordan. The fact is, if the republic doesn’t crumble into the earth and the rising sea doesn’t wash away Madison Square Garden, there’s hundreds of years of the NBA left to watch. Someone, at some point, is going to be better than Mike.

Meanwhile, LeBron James is passing the guy along with a bunch of other NBA greats in the record books. Recently, LeBron passed MJ for the most consecutive games of double-digit scoring. LBJ broke Mike’s record for years passed between All-Star MVPs, points scored in NBA Finals history, and career playoff points.

This is an era that we’re going to be nostalgic for later. We need to consciously soak it in as much as we can while it’s here. Who knows what the conversation will be in 10-20 years time. Perhaps we’ll be arguing whether anybody in 2038 can pass LeBron James in NBA history? I bet we will.

The Sixers are winning without Joel Embiid

Look, Joel Embiid getting hit in the face by Markelle Fultz felt par for the course in an NBA season that started with Gordon Hayward’s ankle exploding. So many guys have been hit by the injury bug, and The Process feels tenuous even as Philadelphia has made it clear they’re a playoff team this season.

Heck, what felt like the obvious move here was that Philly’s season would sort of unravel, and we’d all bask in loving the sadness that comes with being a sports fan. But, alas, we must continue to watch Philadelphia win. Yes, the Sixers racked up their 10th-straight win on Sunday — their third since Embiid went out with a fractured orbital bone Wednesday vs. the New York Knicks.

I think I’ve gone LaVar Ball blind

This is a personal thing, but perhaps you can relate: I’m pretty sure I have built new neural pathways in my brain over the past several months that allow me to completely ignore LaVar Ball. Honestly, unless Lonzo Ball gets blocked by someone and I’m actively glued onto Twitter, I barely even think about the Ball family anymore.

This, I assume, is what happens a couple months after the media saturation point is reached with a certain topic. It’s freeing. I hop on here and, oh, what’s that? Another Ball child has declared for the 2018 NBA Draft? This barely even registers anymore. I’m more enthralled by whatever it is James Harden is doing with his fingers after he dunks. The hell is that?

Call me when they start selling those plastic shoes for like $20,000.

Anthony Davis did a bad social media marketing thing

Anthony Davis shaved his unibrow on March 31. We all guessed it was an April Fool’s Day joke. Then, on April 1, it turned out it was. Only it was also somehow a commercial for Red Bull! Woo!

The problem with this video, if you haven’t seen it, is that it felt like something from half a decade ago. The perfectly positioned logos, the “accidental” drop of the phone while recording it. Everything was so telegraphed. Red Bull can do better than this, honestly, even for a social campaign.

Plus, they didn’t even get the day right for the joke. You can’t start it on March 31. That’s now how it works, guys.

5 Down

Joel Embiid’s got a broken face

What did we do to the basketball gods to deserve this season? Are we going to get a season where everyone is miraculously healthy the entire time to balance things out? What does this have to do with the giant garbage patch in the Pacific ocean?

Starting to think that article about LeBron’s healthcare routine is nonsense. He’s clearly sucking the life force out of other players. At least Philly is still winning.

Vince Carter undercutting Patrick McCaw

This play was ugly for a couple of reasons. First, because Patrick McCaw was getting some run with Stephen Curry (and a bunch of other Golden State Warriors players) out.

Second, this one hurt because we’ve all either seen something like this or been part of something close to this. You’re in the heat of competition, and someone’s brain just goes completely blank for a minute and they do something so unimaginably stupid and out-of-character that it’s inexplicable. Vince Carter knew he did something dumb, and dangerous, and something that wasn’t sporting. McCaw sounds like he’s going to be OK, which is good news at least.

Kawhi Leonard vs. the San Antonio Spurs

Each week I say this is the last time I’m going to mention this, and then some other detail is added that puts it right back into contention as perhaps the biggest off-court storyline of the season. In a year in which the San Antonio Spurs need to take advantage of a dinged-up Golden State Warriors squad, the former NBA Finals MVP is on the bench.

Gregg Popovich mentioned this week that after Leonard returned from rehab in NYC that it’s sort of up to Leonard’s “camp” to decide when and if he’ll return to the floor. I don’t think this means a divorce between Kawhi and the Spurs, but it definitely complicates the interaction between the two sides when they go to negotiate a new contract this summer.

Isaiah Thomas and the Brinks truck

This one is tough. Isaiah Thomas is out with surgery, again, and that has major implications for whether he’s going to get a big, new contract this summer. Odds were already low, but with his hip ailing again Thomas might never get to back up the Brinks truck like he wanted.

It’s a hard situation to analyze because, with all his perceived gerrymandering, Thomas has painted himself as a sort of villain. In reality, he was the heart of the Boston Celtics last year and a legitimate MVP candidate. Now he’s gone all Year 1 LeBron James with the Miami Heat on us. It feels like he wants to be the bad guy.

A lot of guys have had problems with coming back from a hip injury, but so too have many returned as productive players. With time on his hands, let’s hope IT comes back healthy and adapted to a new team next year.

Kyrie Irving’s knee

Kyrie Irving — currently out after knee surgery — needs to come back healthy and quickly. Or maybe not, if you’re a Toronto Raptors fan. But the West, especially with a humbled Warriors squad, isn’t as deep as it seemed to be after several signings in July of 2017. There’s a real shot here to make the Eastern Conference playoffs — which includes a glut of watchable teams including the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat — really compare in terms of competitiveness in the first and second rounds.

We need Irving back so the East can have another power squad. Boston is more than holding it together in Irving’s absence (they’re currently on a five-game win streak) but they need him come playoff time. We need him, especially if the top of the East stays where it is and we get a second round matchup between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”

Watch Bam Adebayo score 38, lift Heat to win over Wizards

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MIAMI — Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 38 points and the Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-107 Friday night.

Caleb Martin added 20 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points while Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 assists for the Heat, who won their second straight at home against Washington after their 113-105 victory Wednesday.

Adebayo’s two free throws with 1:37 remaining put Miami ahead 105-104 lead then extended the advantage on a short jumper with 38 seconds left.

“It was one of those things where my teammates gave me the ball and I was taking advantage of the mismatch,” Adebayo said. “They were shots (Washington) let me have.”

Adebayo has scored in double digits in all 18 of his appearances this season. He’s had double-doubles in half of those games; Miami is 6-3 in those contests.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders. I think at some point we’ll print up these shirts, `Mr. Reliable,’ and I’ll wear them, probably.”

Lowry also had eight assists, seven rebounds and a four-point play with 3:15 left for a 103-102 lead – the 11th of what would be 13 lead changes on the night.

And it was another close game for the Heat, who are already 4-3 in games decided by three points or less this season.

“That’s what’s happened really for, it seems like several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels like every single one of these games is going down to the last possession.”

The Wizards cut the deficit on Bradley Beal‘s dunk before Martin made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for the final margin, then hounded Beal defensively on the game’s last possession and forced the Wizards’ All-Star into a miss to end the contest.

“I take pride in trying to make stops,” Martin said. “Those are the types of situations you dream about, game on the line against a guy like Bradley Beal with the ball late shot clock. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”

Beal and Kyle Kuzma finished with 28 points Kristaps Porzingis added 18 points for the Wizards.

“We did enough throughout the course of the game to put us in position to win,” said Beal, who returned from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps contusion. “We had several leads and ended up giving up those leads late. It was a matter of us getting stops at the defensive ends.”

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness) missed his fifth straight game because of right knee soreness while shooters Max Strus (right shoulder impingement) and Duncan Robinson (left ankle sprain) also sat out.

The Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit late in the first quarter and cut it to 59-56 at halftime.

“Obviously, we had shots late that were makeable to keep them at bay,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.