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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 20th-26th

Even though daily news of NBA players and coaches having to enter health protocols have become common, it was nice to go through a week where the focus was on the games. Alongside the league’s annual slate of Christmas Day matchups, there was plenty to watch and learn from an assortment of players and teams who made one last statement before this year ended. Down below are my four takeaways from the league’s latest week in action.

Harden and Westbrook represent the line between success and failure

Besides being teammates twice throughout their illustrious careers (First in Oklahoma City and then Houston), James Harden and Russell Westbrook have a lot in common as arguably two of social media’s most criticized yet accomplished superstars. But last Saturday, we discovered what makes the two players different and ultimately favors one of them to win their elusive first championship.

As the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers competed in a 122-115 thriller that was won by the Nets, Harden’s combination of efficient and timely playmaking and scoring (36 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists) outlasted Westbrook’s inconsistent and ugly performance (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists). Despite struggling for most of this season, Harden has found ways to ultize his strengths to benefit his team; an action Westbrook has not discovered yet in LA.

When will help arrive for the Joker?

As much as NBA Twitter loves to proclaim their favorite player should be “freed” or given additional help, no one is more deserving of either claim than Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” is having an all-time season (he’s on pace to break the record for highest player efficiency rating at 33.33) and could win league MVP again if reinforcements arrive by his side in Denver.

With dynamic guard Jamal Murray’s return from his torn ACL injury still unknown and forward Michael Porter Jr being out because of his back injury, one has to wonder if the Nuggets could make a trade or two for additional scoring and playmaking that lessens Jokic’s load.

Keldon Johnson is worthy of your attention

Regardless of how you’re watching the NBA on a nightly basis, there’s one player who is worthy of your time: Keldon Johnson. The third-year San Antonio Spur, who you may remember as a late-minute addition to the US Men’s gold-medal-winning basketball team last summer, is quickly becoming one of the team’s best players, and rightfully so.

Johnson is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds per game (15 and 6.6) while also shooting a remarkable 47% from the three-point line. The Kentucky product’s development is a more than welcomed sign for the Spurs, who already have a promising talent in Dejounte Murray.

Houston is balancing Jalen Green’s development and their desire to compete

While some teams love to have dynamic, young talent and still collect high lottery picks, others are fine with having young talent who could help them win right away (Think Evan Mobley and Cleveland). Even though the Houston Rockets, and their 2021 No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green, aren’t in a position to compete for the playoffs, they’re happy with being competitive and making each other better.

Despite the team’s seven-game winning streak earlier this month without Green because of his injury, the Rockets would rather have him on the court. Out of 19 games played, Green has scored 20 points five times and proves to be a viable offensive threat with his athleticism and, at times-solid shooting. It’s just a matter of making him more effective while also eliminating their tendency for extensive losing streaks.

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Sports Strength

What We Learned From This Year’s NBA On Christmas Games

Amidst all the concerns about rising COVID cases and player entries in their health protocols, the NBA managed to have another star-studded and exciting day of Christmas Day games. Whether it was Kemba Walker achieving a first-time accomplishment to both of the last-minute thrillers that occurred in Phoenix and Los Angeles, here are our three biggest takeaways from this year’s NBA on Christmas games.

Kemba is making the most of his return to action

There was an ongoing discussion regarding Kemba Walker and his career for three weeks due to his surprise benching by New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau— who attributed Walker’s benching to his lack of aggression. But over the past week, the former All-Star guard is not only playing again, but he’s making history in the process.

During the team’s 101-87 victory against their close rival Atlanta Hawks, Walker produced a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists) and became the first Knick to accomplish that feat on Christmas. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest,” Walker said after the game. “It was special, just to be home, with that New York on my chest … a New York City kid, born and raised. It felt amazing.”

Giannis proves why he’s the best player in the world

Even though the conversation about who is the best player will always exist, there are times where there’s a clear answer. Last Saturday, Antetokounmpo presented an open and shut case for his claim as the best player in the league via his spectacular second-half performance against the Boston Celtics.

When looking beyond the reigning Finals MVP’s stat-line (36 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists), Antetokounmpo’s impact on both ends of the floor became a massive obstacle for the Celtics to overcome, despite leading by double digits throughout the game, including with five minutes remaining in regulation.

The Warriors and Nets proved their toughness in last-minute thrillers

During primetime matchups such as the Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns or the Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, the idea of a measuring test existing between either team comes to life. And while there was much to observe in both of those two games, one thing was for sure. The Warriors and the Nets are the best teams in their conferences.

Even with several key contributors and stars out of action and playing in challenging environments, the Nets and Warriors relied on their toughness and “next man up” mentality to secure a pair of big wins. At this point of the season, speculation could be created for a potential Finals matchup between these two teams.