Even without LeBron and A.D., the Lakers win big, plus Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are reinventing Memphis
As the first half of the NBA starts to wind down to the All-Star break, some of the weekly slates can get mundane. Teams are looking forward to their break, some players are going through the motions and excitement surrounding the league can find itself lacking.
Don’t worry, that didn’t happen this week, though.
From streaking winners to skid snappers to players who apparently wanted to rip their clothing in half, this week in the NBA was as fun-filled and storyline-packed as it gets. Let’s dive into our latest winners and losers.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
To the surprise of few, a team featuring the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is currently No. 1 in the West.
A 3-0 week brought the Lakers’ win streak to eight games and stretched their lead atop the conference to five games. After dispatching the lowly New York Knicks, the Lakers took to a nationally televised Friday night game against wunderkind Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Even without Anthony Davis suiting up, LeBron showed why he’s still one of the best in the world — even at age 35 — and poured in 35 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. Truly magnificent.
The overwhelming performance by The King even forced the phenom Doncic into such frustration that he took it out on his own uniform (more on that later).
But what really nailed down this week as a winner for Los Angeles was what took place on Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
Going up on the road, the second night of a back-to-back, the Lakers were without both James and Davis while they nursed a cold and bruised tailbone, respectively. The Thunder are a formidable opponent on any night, even with Los Angeles’ two best players on the floor. Surely the short-handed Lakers would struggle to beat a playoff team on the road, right?
By halftime, the Lakers — led by Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo — were up 73-49. Absolute domination. Los Angeles would go on to win 125-110. Kuzma finished with 36 points. Rondo nearly secured a triple-double, putting up 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Everyone knows what the Lakers are capable of with James and Davis leading the charge. They’re a championship front-runner and on most nights, downright scary. But the performance against OKC, most notably from Kuzma, adds an extra layer to the Lakers’ championship hopes knowing the team can depend on role players to potentially step up in times of need.
At 32-7, the Lakers enjoyed one of the best weeks in the NBA, and are sitting pretty as one of the league’s crown jewels thus far this season.
Winner: Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are fun.
These aren’t the ‘Grit and Grind’ Grizzlies of old: slow and boring, but effective. Nope. Now they are playing with a flash and flare they haven’t enjoyed in over a decade, and it’s all thanks to their two young studs Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson.
Winners of five straight games — three this week — the Grizzlies are back in the playoff picture. Despite being 18-22, Memphis currently holds the No. 8 seed over the San Antonio Spurs via tiebreaker (a team it just so happened to beat this week).
Morant and Jackson have been the catalysts behind this team’s recent burst, leading the way in each of the last five games. Morant, the rookie point guard from Murray State, is averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 assists per game over the winning streak, while Jackson — his big man and floor spacer — is contributing 21 points per game and shooting 51.4 percent from beyond the arc.
In a league that rewards the fast and fun, these two fit the bill perfectly.
While it remains to be seen if the Grizzlies will sneak into the postseason on the backs of Morant and Jackson, the fact that they’ve found themselves right in the mix nearly halfway through the season is just as encouraging. After finishing 22-60 last season, good enough to secure the second pick in the NBA Draft to select Morant, the Grizzlies will almost assuredly pass that win total before this year’s All-Star break.
This week continued to be a step in the right direction for the rebuilding Grizzlies, and regardless of how next week or the rest of the season goes, it’s abundantly clear Memphis has its two building block players of the future.
Loser: Donovan Mitchell
Let’s make this very clear: Donovan Mitchell did not lose this week because of anything he did or failed to do. Donovan Mitchell didn’t lose this week because he hurt his team, or his own statistics, or his fan base or any other reasoning that he would have direct control over. No, Donovan Mitchell lost this week because of the social media hype machine.
The second returns of All-Star fan voting were revealed this past week. After the first batch showed some questionable rankings and choices, surely the fans would correct their mistakes and rightfully vote for those who deserved to take part in the game. Right?
The second return was just as bad, placing Los Angeles Lakers reserve guard Alex Caruso directly ahead of Mitchell in the Western Conference guard standings. While Caruso ranks sixth and Mitchell seventh, Caruso leads the Jazz star by 78,411 votes! That’s a wider margin than Caruso and Steph Curry, who sits in fourth place among West guards (despite playing just four games this season).
To understand the absurdity of this, Caruso has failed to score in double figures 29 times this season. Mitchell, during his three-year NBA career, has failed to score in double figures just 14 times. Three years, 14 occasions. Thirty-six games, 29 occasions. The two players aren’t even in the same stratosphere.
Caruso is currently averaging 5.8 points in 19.5 minutes per game, yet any time he does something remotely interesting social media outlets fawn over him. Highlights are posted and re-posted, shared and liked into the thousands, drumming up this idea of a player that doesn’t currently exist.
While it’s mostly all in good fun hyping up a player with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, it no longer becomes lighthearted when that player overshadows the best player on a potential championship contender. Mitchell leads the Jazz in scoring with 24.2 points per game. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s sporting a career-high true shooting percentage (55.7). His turnover rate (9.9) is at a career low while his assist rate (22.9) is at a career high. Nearly every aspect of his game has improved to contribute to a winning style of basketball for Utah.
Yes, the West is packed with great guards, including Luka Doncic, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and D’Angelo Russell. It’s clear the backcourt talent in that conference is overwhelming. That’s without mentioning the likes of Curry and the injured Klay Thompson. If Mitchell were to be put in a position to lose an All-Star bid to one of those players, so be it. I’m sure the reasoning would be just.
But to be pushed further down the ladder for Caruso, who essentially represents nothing more than a glue-guy off the bench who can add some decent minutes, is downright disgraceful. Mitchell didn’t lose this week because he failed to produce. He lost this week because NBA fans failed to recognize his production.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
After ending a seven-game losing streak, the Nets are headed back in the right direction, and reinforcements have finally arrived.
A two-game winning spurt was aided by the return of star point guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 21 points in 20 minutes and missed only one shot in what was an absolute beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks.
At 18-20, the Nets have obviously underachieved by preseason and offseason standards after signing the likes of Irving and Kevin Durant. Though it was known Durant wouldn’t play this season, adding Irving to what was a playoff team last season had fans expecting at least a replica of 2018-19’s success. Before Sunday, Irving hadn’t played since mid-November, and while Spencer Dinwiddie filled his shoes more than admirably, it wasn’t enough to keep Brooklyn afloat.
But fear not, Nets fans. Irving is back, and the winning ways could soon follow.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup on Nov. 16, Dinwiddie has averaged 24.1 points and 7.2 assists per game. The load of carrying a team appeared to be just a bit too much for the fifth-year point guard, but now being able to turn that comfortability within the offense into playing alongside Irving can set Brooklyn up for a strong second-half push. It also help Caris LeVert is also back from his injury absence.
Turning a losing streak into consecutive wins, ultimately keep themselves within the playoff picture in Irving’s absence and the surprising efficiency Irving displayed in his return all lead to this week being categorized as a big W for the Brooklyn Nets.
Loser: Luka Doncic’s Jersey
Personally, I really don’t think the Dallas Mavericks’ alternate jerseys are ugly.
They give off that nostalgic vibe, like something Will Smith would wear on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The combination of chunky letter design and neon colors just does something for me as a 90s child. But apparently Luka Doncic doesn’t feel the same way.
Luka nearly ripped his jersey in half, then kept playing 😅 pic.twitter.com/HcooSDmM6q
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 11, 2020
Alright, maybe Doncic doesn’t actually hate the jersey. Maybe this had to do with the fact that the Lakers were handling the Mavericks on live television, coupled with the fact that in a game that was getting out of hand, the 80 percent free-throw shooter missed two straight freebies.
Or you can just pretend Doncic can’t stand his apparel and will do anything to get it off his body. Even if that means going Hulk mid-game.
Either way, this isn’t the first time Doncic has suffered a wardrobe malfunction by his own doing. Last year, during his rookie season, Doncic went after his clothing for the first time.
Luka ripped his jersey in half pic.twitter.com/NyZUYXHPl4
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 23, 2019
Granted, this instance was heading into halftime, so a quick jersey swap was no issue. But look at the score, the Mavericks were leading! Seems like a bit of an overreaction.
Doncic is enjoying an MVP-caliber season and the Mavericks are right in the thick of the playoff race out in the Western Conference. All things considered, though, Doncic’s jerseys and equipment managers should be on high alert for the remainder of the season. This Slovenian superstar is started to develop a trend.
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