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.
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.
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
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.