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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 December 13th-19th

While the NBA’s latest week in action got disrupted because of rising COVID cases, the on-court action managed to stand out in the end. Between history being made for the game’s greatest shooter and a team no one expected becoming the hottest across the league, the stakes continue to rise as Christmas approaches. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

Steph makes history in Steph-like fashion

On Tuesday night, all eyes were on Stephen Curry as he was two made three-pointers away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in that category. And besides Madison Square Garden being the perfect place for the long-time Golden State Warrior to make history, the way he did it was genuinely fitting.

While the Warriors were trailing the New York Knicks, 10-9, Curry ran to his spot on the right-wing, and splashed a three within a matter of seconds—a sequence we’ve seen thousands of times throughout his illustrated career—and made The Garden erupt with loud cheers.

The Cavs (yes, the Cavs!) might be the hottest team in the league

Even during an 82-game regular season, there are certain developments you didn’t expect to witness. If you were to ask anybody before this season about the Cleveland Cavaliers, their answers would have likely involved them being near the top of the NBA Draft Lottery. But the Cavaliers holding the league’s active longest-winning steak? And being the third seed in the Eastern Conference? No way.

The 19-12 Cavaliers are proving to be viable playoff contenders who could make much noise next spring. Their combination of a dynamic youth movement and impactful play by their veterans will cause further speculation of what’s next for the Central Division competitor.

Various teams are middle of the pack and can’t get out

Through the league’s first 30 games of every season, we witness teams adjust to sudden changes, discover their identity, and experience the ups and downs of life on in the middle. But when that second part of the season begins and specific trends haven’t changed, it leads to questions about whether or not a team actually has the potential to improve.

Several teams, including playoff contenders such as the Celtics, Hawks, and Trail Blazers, are mired in a vast pack of average teams across the league and are likely to go through the rest of this season as a fringe-playoff contender or worse, a low-end Draft Lottery participant.

The league battles postponements of games and troubling test results

Despite daily news of various players entering the league’s health and safety protocols becoming standard, so is the reality of games getting postponed. Since the start of this past weekend, the NBA has postponed five games, and it’s not a reach to believe only more games will receive the same fate.

With a growing number of players entering protocols and missing extensive action and teams struggling to field a roster of enough players, questions have come to rise about the NBA either changing its testing methods or ultimately pausing the season in the coming weeks.