Tag Archives: Nikola Jokic

NBA Teams Getting Hot Just in Time for the Playoffs

The 2021 NBA playoffs are set to begin in just over two weeks and, if you’ve been keeping track of all the injuries, they can’t start soon enough. But a more direct question is which teams are getting their act together just in time for the second season. The ones that have weathered the storm and now have their collective sights set on a greater accomplishment than a top-seed.

Which NBA Teams are Getting Hot at the Right Time for the Playoffs?

The Grinders

Washington Wizards

We keep trying to write the Washington Wizards off and they just won’t go away. After an 0-3 start to April, the Wizards went 13-3 the rest of the month. They’ve split their two games so far this month, but are now in 10th and have a shot at the playoffs via the play-in. Say what you want, but this is a team that was supposed to be dead in the water. All of this is gravy for Russell Westbrook and puts Bradley Beal in an interesting position regarding his long-term future.

Denver Nuggets

Everyone (present company included) thought the Denver Nuggets ship was sunk when Jamal Murray went down. Well since then, Denver is 9-2, the second-best record in the NBA over that span. Nikola Jokic has averaged 27.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 6.9 APG. Those numbers are down from his full-season averages, but part of that is due to the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. He’s been a top-20 scorer since Murray went down, averaging 25.0 PPG while shooting nearly 57 percent from the floor and over 49 percent from deep.

The Surprises

New York Knicks

A hot start by the upstart New York Knicks gave way to a lull that most probably saw coming. After all, this team is overachieving by most standards. It would make sense for a late-season swoon from a bunch of guys not used to winning. But the bounceback was strong with this one and the Knickerbockers, fresh off of a 6-9 stretch, have won 12 of 13, including nine in a row. There aren’t many teams that want to face this team in the postseason.

Phoenix Suns

We did an entire write-up on Chris Paul and how his impact on every team he’s been on has allowed him to be one of the few who escape the “rings or bust” narrative we often see around the game’s greats. Pairing him with Devin Booker has proven to be trouble for the rest of the West. Granted, injuries have run amuck in the NBA and Western Conference teams haven’t been immune. But, at a certain point, durability is just like any other skill.

The Disappointments

Lake (No) Show

Injuries have been a constant this season so barring any extenuating circumstances, it isn’t an excuse for our purposes. As such, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are limping their way to the finish line as Anthony Davis and LeBron James both knock off the rust from extended absences. It isn’t wholly unexpected, they and the Miami Heat (who have also been ravaged by injuries and COVID protocols) had just a little over two months between seasons. Basically, in this case, “disappointment” is less of a pejorative and more so just an acknowledgment.

Boston Baked Cs

Another focus of a Clocker Sports write-up, the Danny Ainge Boston Celtics have seen the sheen wear off of them. So much so that there were even questions of whether or not Brad Stevens was the right man for the job. They too have dealt with injuries and shook up their roster with mid-season trades. But for a group that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four years, anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be viewed as a failure. They’re 2-4 over their last six but they do have one of the easier remaining schedules.

Risers and Fallers Ahead of NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs are right around the corner and most of these teams are doing the right things to get themselves prepared. But things can change so they have to keep up the intensity down the stretch. For those on the skids, at least those in our examples, returning players and weaker opponents appear to be saviors on the horizon.

Triple Zeros: He was “Seeing Ghosts”

Triple Zeros

He was “Seeing Ghosts”

In this episode of Triple Zeros, Josh talks about the Utah Jazz having to make an emergency landing. He also Rui Hachimura showing respect to Russell Westbrook and asks if Joel Embiid can catch Nikola Jokic for NBA MVP. Then, things shift over to the NFL as the Carolina Panthers traded for Sam Darnold, the Atlanta Falcons announced the 4th-overall pick is available, and so much more!

Chicago Bulls: Rhythm Found and Roles Defined in Big Win

The Chicago Bears are Betting on Matt Nagy’s Scheme Over Roster

Anchor | Apple

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Looking at the NBA MVP Race and Its Many Faces

There are many faces, old and new, vying to take home the NBA MVP award this season. Whether or not they will win is a matter of perception just as much as it is on their performances. Whoever gets it will have earned it because the caveat of it being “in the bubble” is no longer an issue. The return of fans has brought some atmosphere back to games; just ask the Lakers.

Last year’s (and the year prior, for that matter) winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t likely to make it three-straight. His numbers are down almost across the board, most notably from deep and at the free-throw line. Both were areas of concern he was making strides in.

So Clocker Sports is taking a look at the top candidates for NBA MVP so far. We’ll go into the case being made in their favor, and take a look into why voters might hesitate to select them.

The Many Faces of the 2021 NBA MVP Race

1. Kevin Durant

Just a couple of months ago this space was used to make a case for Kevin Durant to win the defunct ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award. Based solely on off-season workouts and pick-up game footage, it was clear Durant would be returning at least close to the level of play he enjoyed pre-Achilles injury. Just 17 games into the season and Durant is putting up numbers close to his MVP-winning 2013-14 campaign.

Durant has the Brooklyn Nets as the current three-seed in the East despite starting 5-5 to begin the season. His 30.8 PPG is second in the NBA and the second-best mark of his career. He’s shooting better than 53 percent from the floor, again the second-best mark of his career, and hitting a career-high 45 percent of his triples. Durant’s averaging 32.2 points, 7.8 boards, and 5.4 assists per contest in his last 11 games.

The only argument one could make against him is his supporting cast in James Harden and Kyrie Irving is second to none. We’ve seen in the past how having a stellar teammate or two can detract from your efforts in the eyes of voters and fans. But consider Irving’s flakiness or Harden’s defensive issues and ask yourself if Brooklyn, who was the seventh seed last year, would be in the position they’re in without Durant.

2. LeBron James

You’ve heard all the narratives. 36-years old, washed, etc. All have been used to describe LeBron James in recent years just to have him go out and show why those assessments were misguided. Last season he helped bring the Los Angeles Lakers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and their first championship since 2010.

We thought James would ease into the season considering, well, his reaction to the quick turnaround and the sentiments of teammates. While he isn’t leading the league in assists, he’s still leading his team in that category, scoring, and is second on the Lakers (third place in the West) in rebounds. Not bad for an over-the-hill, washed, superstar, huh? Only the foolhardy bought into that narrative.

James got dinged in the MVP race last year and voiced his displeasure. He’ll likely have to do so again because, while Anthony Davis isn’t having the MVP-type season we predicted early on, he’s still a perennial All-NBAer and arguably top-five in the Association. Perhaps the dip in Davis’ numbers can actually be used to boost the argument for James as MVP.

3. Joel Embiid

The best player on the best team in the East, Joel Embiid is having his best season since the 2018-19 campaign, of not his career. Averaging a personal-best 28.6 points and 1.2 steals per game, he’s also knocking down shots at career-best clips slashing .549/.423/.843 and a .588 eFG%. He and Tobias Harris have enjoyed Doc Rivers’ arrival on an individual level the most.

It’s a continuation of last year’s playoffs when Embiid put up 30.0 PPG (a career-high) and 12.3 RPG. Over his last eight games, Embiid is putting up 33.3 PPG and 10.5 RPG. More importantly, the Philadelphia 76ers are 8-0 in those games and 1-2 without him in that span. Philly lost the other two games he’s missed this season as well; not so uncertain evidence.

As always with The Process, it could come down to health. Embiid missed all of his first two seasons as a pro and has yet to appear in more than 64 games, though to be fair, that was his mark in 2019, and the pandemic shut down the season last year. If Embiid can stay on the floor, he has a legitimate shot at being the first center to win the MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.

4. Nikola Jokic

The Joker is currently the odds-on favorite to win the Maurice Podoloff trophy, thanks in part to his 47-point outburst against the Utah Jazz the other night. Nikola Jokic, much like Embiid before him is experiencing a banner year. He’s sitting with career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. This, unlike Embiid, is an improvement upon last year’s playoff performance.

Jokic has scored fewer than 20 points just four times this season, and in two of those outings, he had 19 points. He’s only failed to grab double-digit boards four times as well. In three of those performances, he had nine rebounds while he had eight in the other. No player has more 19-plus point, 10-plus board double-doubles than Jokic this season. We haven’t even addressed his passing of which he has nine games with double-figure dishes.  He also has five triple-doubles; tied with Luka Doncic for the lead.

Of course, we can’t let it all be rainbows and puppies. Some of the issues that may come up in the discussion in regards to Joker must be addressed. We cannot ignore that his career scoring year comes with a career-high in usage and shot attempts. Denver was also the three-seed last year and sits at fourth currently. That’s is the smallest of regressions but it must be noted. The Nuggets are getting better production from non-Jokic and Jamal Murray pieces, too. Will that hurt him when the vote comes?

5. The Field

The rest of the list gets kind of cluttered with some decent cases, but not many strong ones. Giannis’ case is the strongest. The reigning back-to-back winner is having a down year, yes. But we know how he goes, so go the Milwaukee Bucks. And for all the picking apart of his game, he still has the Bucks sitting second in the East. Not bad for a guy who can only run and jump.

Paul George has gotten a lot of love for his “redemption” season. Many will overlook his numbers simply because it’s happening in the regular season. ‘Playoff P’ is the guy we all want to see. But he has a bigger problem: Kawhi Leonard. Not only is Leonard ahead of George in PPG, but he’s also ahead in FG% while only slightly trailing in 3P%, rebounds, and assists. This isn’t saying George isn’t having a great year. Just remember who he plays with.

You’ll get calls for Davis to get consideration but, ya know, LeBron. Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers are 11-9 right now. That ain’t getting it done. Doncic was a preseason favorite but Dallas is 9-13 and he has struggled from deep this season. Still, he has as good of a shot as anyone listed at getting back into the thick of the race. That’ll require some more wins and the Mavericks are fresh off a six-game slide.