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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

NBA Highlights From the Season’s Opening Week

If there’s anything to accept about the NBA, it’s that there’ll never be a week without action or drama! As we’re officially one week into the 2021-2022 season, fans and media have been left with plenty to discuss. Between this year’s rookie class getting off to a good start, various games having exciting finishes, and the reigning world champion Milwaukee Bucks looking better than ever before, there is a lot to unpack from the NBA’s opening week. So down below are the four biggest takeaways from it! 

The Bucks are clearly favored to repeat

Minus a rare blowout loss to the Miami Heat last Thursday night (They lost by 42 points!), the Milwaukee Bucks (2-1) have looked and played the part of a team that is becoming increasingly favored to repeat as NBA champion. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Averaging 22 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 5 assists per game) is gearing up for another run at league MVP. Right now, the Bucks have six players who are averaging double-digit points, with George Hill or Brook Lopez are on the precipice of becoming the seveneth(both are averaging eight points per game).

And by the way? Don’t sleep on second-year forward Jordan Nwora (11 PPG and 5 RPG). The Louisville product put a lot of people on notice on opening night with his 15-point performance against the Brooklyn Nets. If he continues to find his groove, the reigning NBA champion will have the kind of depth that contenders need to endure the long regular season, especially when the currently-injured Donte DiVincenzo returns. 

LaMelo Ball and the Hornets won’t remain your League Pass Darlings anymore

With more basketball fans watching games through NBA League Pass or other more illicit forms of streaming, there will always be specific players or teams that become must-watch TV despite their current lowly situation. Although that extra attention may be welcome, it’s often heaped upon teams as a kind of damning praise—the only reason they’re League Pass Darlings is because they aren’t good enough to merit many games on the NBA’s national broadcasts. But in the case of the Charlotte Hornets, this is a good thing. After fighting their way into the play-in tournament last season and being knocked out by the Indiana Pacers, the Hornets have returned wiser, stronger, and somehow more entertaining as they finished opening week with a 3-0 record.

Reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball (22/5/6) and the ultra-dynamic fourth-year forward Miles Bridges (25 PPG and 8 RPG) are taking the leap you want to witness from your team’s brightest stars. Veterans such as Gordon Haywood and Kelly Oubre are providing top-notch on and off the court support. And who would have thought Ish Smith becomes a feel-good story at any point of this season while still proving his ability to get a bucket at any moment? 

We have another stellar rookie class to watch this season

Fewer things are more exciting than watching the league’s newest members thrive as pros, but when their impact is immediate? Priceless! As this year’s rookie class takes their first action in the NBA, it has become clear these guys will be game-changers for their franchises. Top picks Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Scottie Barnes have kicked off the Rookie of the Year race. Davion Mitchell might become the Sacramento Kings’ best two-way player in due time. 

And it isn’t a complete rookie class without those mid-late first-round picks (Indiana’s Chris Duarte) who are surprising everyone with their production too!

Exciting games = near heart attacks but it’s worth it

Of course, last-second games are expected throughout an NBA season, but what we watched during opening week? Chaotic! Between the double-overtime thriller between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics and what we experienced on Sunday night with the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, the league is witnessing teams sharpen each other’s iron and set the tone for what’s ahead in the following weeks.

As the season continues, we’re going to witness the immediate effect of close games on teams regarding their load management and handling of rotations. But to a further extent, that effect could be felt sooner than later.