Tag Archives: Victor Oladipo

Winners and Losers of the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA was setting up to have a rather ho-hum trade deadline as the only deal was the Sacramento Kings trading Cory Joseph for the Detroit Pistons Delon Wright. The Cleveland Cavaliers also traded Javale McGee to the Denver Nuggets but that was it,

Then, suddenly, things changed shortly after 11 a.m. on the East coast as the Orlando Magic sent Nikola Vucevic (along with Al-Farouq Aminu) to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr and Otto Porter Jr and a pair of lightly protected first-round picks.

The move not only sent all of See Red Nation into a frenzy but also seemingly set the rest of the league in motion.

2021 NBA Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

To the Victor…

Chicago Bulls Fans

This is just too good to pass up for a once-proud fan base. After nearly 20 years of mismanagement, a new regime has given the roster a much-needed facelift. Vucevic (24.5/11.8/3.8, .480/.406/.827) is an All-Star but won’t solve the Bulls defensive issues inside but he doesn’t have to.

Chicago flipped Mo Wagner (acquired in a separate deal) to the Celtics for Daniel Theis who’s averaging a block per contest in a platoon role in Boston.

The Bulls also added Troy Brown and Javonte Green in the Wagner deal. They, along with Aminu, give Chicago a trio of capable wing defenders.

That the Bulls got value for Chandler Hutchison is a miracle. Even without landing a point guard Arturas Karnisovas is making a run for Executive of the Year.

Disgruntled Players

Two tales of misery (to varying degrees, of course) finally come to a resolution. We’ll start with Aaron Gordon (14.6/6.6/4.2, .437/.375/.629) who has been toiling away down in Orlando since 2014; making the playoffs just once.

He’s been vocal at times about wanting out as the Magic spun their wheels and his individual development stagnated. Going from all of that to a situation in Denver where he can just be the ultimate “glue guy” with his multifaceted game is a boon.

Victor Oladipo has been going through it since he hurt his quad while a member of the Indiana Pacers. Reports of broken trust soon turned into a blockbuster, four-team mega-deal that saw him land in Houston.

But Oladipo (20.8/5.0/4.7, .411/.333/.767) made it clear he was not long for H-Town. He heads to Miami where they’ve gotten by on grit as embodied by Jimmy Butler. Oladipo gives the Heat a proven scorer and capable closer with a mentality very much like Butler’s in that regard.

Can’t Win Em All

Luck of the Draw

Look, many people will tell you that Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics got better with the deals they made. You will not get that here. Evan Fournier (who was acquired for a song) is a nice player; averaging 19.7 points per game and chipping in 3.7 assists. Mo Wagner has length, is a decent scorer, and brings good energy.

Neither of those guys is doing a thing for the interior defense of the Celtics which has been a major issue. Kudos for stealing Fournier, but Ainge gets docked for not addressing the team’s most troublesome area.

Boston has lost its glow as the talking heads have begun to point out all of the near-deals they’ve been involved in over the last few years. Ainge was holding out for Anthony Davis but once that fell through there weren’t many ways to pivot.

Suspect drafting only exacerbated the situation. Now it seems as though the plan is to try to outscore everyone. But, as is always the case in these situations, there’s only one basketball.

A New York Minute

How did the Knicks decide to proceed while in the midst of a resurgent season? They’re fifth in the East heading into Thursday’s games and have already won more games than they did in either of the last two seasons.

So, in typical Knicks fashion, they obviously had to stand pat, right? Technically, they did move Austin Rivers and get back Terrance Ferguson but, c’mon.

Tom Thibodeau’s squad is facing a second-half schedule that is among the 10 toughest in the NBA. Added to the wear and tear he puts on his players and the Knicks, who are 4-5 in the month of March, could be in for a rough tumble on the other side of their big first half.

They’ve gotten by with the 28th-ranked offense by having the top-ranked defense. That’s a razor-thin margin to live by.

The Caveats

These weren’t all of the good moves, just some personal favorites. For example, the Rajon Rondo for Lou Williams is solid. But for all that Rondo brings to the table, it hasn’t always worked out which is part of why he’s on his eighth team.

Norman Powell for Gary Trent (and other pieces) was good too. But was it enough of an upgrade to make Portland a legitimate threat in the West? This is probably their best-constructed team in quite some time when everyone is healthy.

2021 NBA Trade Deadline Has Come and Gone

This was a surprisingly active trade deadline. Not only because it slow-rolled into the last-minute flurry. But also because this was supposed to be a seller’s market with the expanded playoff field leaving more teams in the mix.

Just think what this summer could be like.

Even with a limited free-agent crop, teams could be more inclined to make deals with renewed revenue. Don’t be surprised to see deals like Lauri Markkanen for Lonzo Ball re-visited.

NBA Offseason Aftermath Pt. 2: Just the Worst

We already know who’s had the best NBA offseason, but which teams have had the worst so far? It’s been a little over a week since the NBA Draft and free agency has hit its lull.

Restricted free agents like Brandon Ingram have even signed after seeing no movement outside of Bogdan Bogdanovic who ended up with Atlanta.

There was a surprising amount of activity but not all offseason moves are created equal. There was also at least one team with a disturbing lack of activity.

Who Had the Worst Offseason in the NBA?

Honorable Mentions:

Utah Jazz

Perhaps this is being nitpicky. But a team that finished sixth in the Western Conference and got bounced in the first round (albeit in seven games) didn’t add anyone of consequence to their roster this offseason?

Outside of the return of (another) defense-oriented big in Derrick Favors and adding another in Udoka Azubuike with the 27th overall pick they must be counting on more 50-point explosions in the playoffs from Donovan Mitchell.

Or maybe they’re relying on the return of Bojan Bogdanovic and perhaps second-rounder Elijah Hughes (that’s sarcasm, though he was a near-20 PPG scorer at Syracuse last season). We may have seen this group peak already.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks listing here is even more nitpicky as they did manage to do some very nice things with their roster. Trading for Jrue Holiday is a move very much akin to bringing in another Khris Middleton.

A player who can handle the ball, perform off the dribble, or as a spot-up shooter. He is also a very capable defender. Milwaukee was also able to unload the albatross contract of Eric Bledsoe in the process.

Can he, D.J. Augustine, and Bobby Portis keep Milwaukee in contention for not only a championship but also retaining the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo next offseason? Their little snafu with Bogdan Bogdanovic probably didn’t help the situation.

5. Charlotte Hornets

It’s pretty hard to have a roster as bad as the Charlotte Hornets, take arguably the best players in the draft, and add a former 20-point per game scorer to the roster and still be considered among the worst.

Drafting LaMelo Ball third overall was a no-brainer. But that former walking dub, Gordon Hayward, will cost Michael Jordan and the Hornets just shy of $40 million a year. That’s his $30 million deal (already grossly overspending) plus an additional $9 million from stretching the remainder of Nicolas Batum’s horrendous contract.

And that’s the rub, this isn’t abnormal for the franchise formally known as the Bobcats. Cody Zeller has never averaged more than just over 11 PPG and has never averaged close to double-digit rebounds yet is making upwards of $15 million this season. And has anybody checked on Terry Rozier?

4. New York Knicks

Can anyone answer why a team that has been searching for a point guard since Linsanity was a thing decided to pass on arguably three of the best and go for an older prospect with questions about his fit at the next level? One Kevin Knox isn’t enough so you go and get one with a lower ceiling?

Never mind Tyrese Haliburton, Cole Anthony, and Kira Lewis were all still on the board. Austin Rivers is here to join Dennis Smith in the endless recycling of once-promising lead-guard prospects. The additions of Alec Burks and Omari Spellman are cool in a vacuum for a good team.

The acquisitions for the Knicks, at least in Burks’ case, are puzzling. Then again, this is the Knicks we’re talking about. That’s why they aren’t higher on this list. You can only be so upset about something you expected to happen.

3. Detroit Pistons

Here we have a team that, while expected to do silly things, actually provided a glimmer of hope in the draft just to sabotage their own work with odd free agency decisions. The easier path to the playoffs in the East has the Detroit Pistons drafting for the future but working free agency largely for the now and overpaying in the process.

Jerami Grant’s deal will see him average $20 million based largely on his bubble performance. He’s a valuable, versatile player. But no one expected to see him sign a deal worth that much. We haven’t even gotten to Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor. Just why?

Again, you expect them to screw things up for themselves. But their promising draft which included Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey out of Villanova (one of the most underrated prospects in this draft) is overshadowed by poor free agency decisions.

2. Indiana Pacers

How have the Indiana Pacers done so little in the offseason check-in so high on the list of worst offseasons? That’s exactly how, actually. Indy finished fourth in the East but, like Utah, was a first-round out via sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat.

Their saving grace was that arguably their best player in Victor Oladipo wasn’t at full strength and they were without Domantas Sabonis who also has a claim as their best player. But since their elimination, it has been reported that there is a rift between Oladipo and management resulting in the two-time All-Star seeking a way out.

For an organization that didn’t do much to add to its early-exit roster, losing an All-Star caliber player seems less than ideal. The entire thing looks even worse considering Oladipo could have opted out to preserve himself but played to help in the playoffs.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

A second-round exit and subsequent implosion (that may have been taking place all season) are why the (still) star-studded Los Angeles Clippers find themselves atop this unflattering list.

Getting bounced by a one-legged Luka Doncic is bad enough, but to have all the tea spilling about players dissatisfied with the treatment of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Montrezl Harrell was a name continuously mentioned among those displeased and found his way to the rival Lakers; making his feelings on the situation very well known. They replaced him with Serge Ibaka and Landry Shamet with Luke Kennard.

Consider what the Lakers added. And the fact the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead with many of the same players they’ll have this season. The latter has dropped the ball on what may be a pivotal offseason. Both Leonard and George can opt out and become free agents after this season.

It’d be a shame if both left for greener pastures.

 

A Piece (Mostly) About Actual Live Basketball

There are actual, real-life NBA games taking place today. They’re scrimmages but, at this point, who even cares? When the NBA scrimmages begin, it will mark the first NBA-sanctioned on-court action since March 11; more than four months ago. While these games are just the ramp-up to the ones that count, their significance is no less important.

Actual Live Basketball  is Returning

The Morale of the Story

A return of sports in America has been pushed by a great number of people and for many different reasons. Some of those reasons are valid and just while others, not so much. The only thing that has been consistent is the inconsistency. But no one argues against the impact sports have on the overall morale of the country.

In fact, that has been an argument against re-starting for some. They fear sports will serve as a distraction from what they say ails the country. If people can escape into yelling at their favorite sportsball team, they won’t concern themselves with the plight of others. Conversely, the argument has been made (and flexed by several NBA players) that both can be accomplished.

We have already seen the likes of Jerami Grant, Tobias Harris, CJ McCollum, and Josh Hart use their media availability to seek justice for Breonna Taylor and Pamela Turner. The latter was what Hart desired to put on his jersey but can’t due to the NBA creating a list of approved messages.

The imminent return of the NBA has even put that PR flub in the rearview. No one is even talking about how players, including LeBron James, aired their frustrations with the list and the lack of inclusion in the process to come up with it. Instead, aided by the aforementioned players taking it upon themselves, the focus has been on the court and who will or won’t be playing when things tip-off.

For those keeping track, Marvin Bagley won’t, Victor Oladipo might. Regardless, starting with Wednesday’s four-game slate, all of the focus will be on the NBA. Major League Baseball has already begun their season, but the NBA is already the bigger spectacle under normal circumstances. The bubble just puts them that much further out in terms of intrigue.

From The Cheap Seats

The one (MAJOR) negative to all the leagues returning to business? None have plans for the foreseeable future to have fans. The New York Jets and Giants of the NFL sent out a joint statement following notification from the governor of New Jersey about capacity limits. Likewise, social media was rife with screenshots from fans about game cancellations from their favorite teams.

Baseball has pumped in crowd noise and utilized cardboard cutouts of actual fans. They will have to figure out what to do with the Toronto Blue Jays, though. The NBA, being in the bubble, will obviously also be without fans. That means we all get to enjoy our favorite sporting events from the cheap seats of our living rooms.

There is another connotation of that, and it has been swept under the rug. No fans is insurmountable for vendors and hourly employees at stadiums. Most organizations have agreed to pay their hourly employees, even while slashing the earnings of those in executive roles and requesting players to help alleviate some of the financial burdens.

Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, recently spoke of facing losses in the nine-figure range (more on the baseball side) with expenses for stadiums and no income. Owners, players, and media alike have also pondered the impact this will all have on future seasons. All of them agree tough times are likely ahead.

The subject of the quality of testing available to athletes while the rest of the country lags is also a reasonable gripe. In other words, like in many aspects of life, the concern is centered around a select few at the upper end. Meanwhile, those on the other end are left to figure things out once the initial plans run their course.

Two Sides, One Coin

There is plenty to pick apart with all of this. The fact remains that when the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers tip at 3 p.m. EST, all eyes will be on the NBA. We will once again have real-life, NBA basketball to dissect. For all of the flaws with the process, this will be a welcomed thing. Especially if players keep the energy they have brought to social justice early on.

Victor Oladipo is the Finesser of the Year

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is the Finesser of the Year. A man of many talents, he just added another to the list. Not only is he former All-NBA,  a two-time All-Star, All-Defense, and steals champ, but he also sings (well!). That’s not why we’re here though. Oladipo just added to his ever-growing resume.

Finesser of the Year Goes to Victor Oladipo

A Little Background

Oladipo ruptured his quad back in 2018 after 36 games. He was averaging 18.8/5.6/5.2 at the time and was third in clutch points. The Pacers were 21-15 and a darkhorse candidate to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. They finished 48-34, good enough for fifth in the East, and got swept in the first round by the Kyrie Irving Boston Celtics.

The loss of Oladipo was felt instantly. Indiana hadn’t lost more than two games in a row before he went down. They lost the next four following the game he got injured versus the Toronto Raptors. He had missed time earlier with knee soreness and the Pacers went 7-4.

Oladipo wouldn’t return to the floor until January of this year; over a year removed from his surgery. Playing a career-low 25.9 minutes per game, he’s averaging 13.8/3.2/3 and slashing .391/.304/.780 for a Pacers team that is 13 games over .500 and once again finds itself sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Current Situation

The NBA’s planned restart date is drawing nearer and the conversations around the mechanics of it all are ramping up. Even though the guidelines have been set, many questions remain. Much of the conversation has been about players opting-out of the restart altogether.

Kyrie Irving got a lot of heat but ultimately said he wouldn’t hold it up if the players agreed. But soon, players like Trevor Ariza (family) and Davis Bertans (securing the bag) quickly decided against playing. Avery Bradley and Willie Cauley-Stein would follow. The former was significant given his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, are among the title favorites.

Wilson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha; other names that dropped out but, for the most part, no one of significance was set to miss the action. Irving was never going to play and even Bradley is a role player; albeit a potentially important one. Then we got news on Friday of Oladipo’s decision.

Victor Oladipo, Finesser of the Year

Up until now, players opting-out of playing were doing so while also not traveling with the team and would forego the remaining portion of their salary for this year. Oladipo announced that he will rehab in Orlando while also being with his team. This will allow him to still get paid.

At 28, coming off a serious leg injury, and facing free agency in 2021 it makes perfect sense for Oladipo to sit out. It’s certainly a blow to the Pacers title hopes to lose a player who averaged 16.8/4.3/4.5 in 27 MPG from February 12th on. Indiana went 6-1 in the games Oladipo played over that span and 2-2 in the four contests he rested.

It’s a huge blow for the Pacers, but an understandable move for Oladipo. The added bonus of not missing out on any cash is (very expensive) icing on the cake. It will be interesting to see if any other players follow suit or if the league finds some method of stopping it.

For now, at least, Victor Oladipo is the Clocker Sports Finesser of the Year.

NBA Playoff Surprises and Disappointments: Eastern Conference

The Western Conference was the focus of the last article but this time, it’s the Eastern Conference that gets a turn. It’s playoff time! A long, grueling NBA season has finally given way to the postseason and there will be no shortage of excitement. Before breaking down the first-round matchups (an article for another day), let’s continue identifying the playoff teams that surprised by making it. Conversely, we will also discuss a pair of squads that enter with more doubt than confidence.

Playoff Winners and Losers in the Eastern Conference

Pt. 1

Brooklyn Going Hard

Somewhere Jay-Z has to be throwing up the dynasty sign. A decade after the release of the hit single that served as the theme when they relocated from New Jersey, the Brooklyn Nets are living up to the hook. They had back-to-back 44+ win seasons in 2013 and 2014; following the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. But that was always an ill-fated attempt to capture (someone else’s) lightning in a bottle. This is, by and large, a homegrown product that has turned around the fortunes of the once-wayward franchise.

D’Angelo Russell’s maturation has been the catalyst to what GM Sean Marks and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson have built. Heavily reliant on the three-ball (34.1% of their offense, 5th in NBA) the Nets are also among the best at defending it (31% of opp. Scoring, 5th in NBA). Russell (.369) and this year’s winner of the three-point contest, Joe Harris (.474), can and will shoot it out with the best of them. And Spencer Dinwiddie, their second-leading scorer, is slashing .442/.335/.806 while leading the team in free throw attempts with 5.2 per game.

Now for the not so positive part. Brooklyn allows the highest shooting percentage and the third-most attempts in the paint in the Association. That is a problem for second-year big man Jarrett Allen with one Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers on tap for the first round. Allen averages two blocks a game but Embiid (30% from 25+ ft) is fully capable of pulling him away from the basket. Allen allows 38% on such shots. The other major knock on the Nets: turnovers. Brooklyn turned the ball over at the fourth-highest rate in the NBA. That is a problem as Philly is scoring 21.4 points per game in transition, eighth-most in the league.

Do You Believe in (the) Magic?

Mouse in the house! The Disney sponsored Orlando Magic have reached the postseason for the first time since Dwight Howard last donned the blue and white (2011-12). Their 42-40 mark is their best since the 2010-11 season when they won 52. The Magic are 11th in three-point percentage (35.6%, 10th out of playoff teams. More impressive, they are fifth in turnovers (13.2) and second in personal fouls (18.6); playing a very clean game on both ends. Orlando also managed to block 5.4 blocks per game, good for sixth across the NBA.

Maybe it was divine intervention that kept Nikola Vucevic with the Magic. More likely it was lack of a quality offer. Whatever the case, Vuc set career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists; going for 20/12/3. He did that while slashing .518/.364/.789 and committing a career-low 2 fouls per game. Perhaps his contract situation contributed to his (and Terrance Ross’) mid-career breakout, but Head Coach Steve Clifford, and Magic fans will take it. Aaron Gordon showed more of his playmaking ability, notching a 16.6 assist percentage, and tallied a career-high 5.1 win shares.

Where they may need some actual magic, getting easy buckets. Orlando is dead last in free throw attempts per game. They draw fouls at the second-lowest rate too, so it isn’t as if the calls they get are simply on the floor. The Magic are a screen-heavy offense but that is where the positives about their hustle stop. They are 27th in deflections, 27th in loose balls recovered, and a paltry 29th in contested shots. Their first-round opponent, the Toronto Raptors, are no worse than third in any of those categories.

Green Envy

The Boston Celtics finished 49-33, fourth in the East. That is a drop from the 55 wins and second-place finish of last year. But a closer look shows they had improved production in several areas this season. They increased their scoring output, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and assists. They also managed to cut down on blocks, increase steals, and blocked more shots. Their advanced metrics improvement is also largely across the board.

So why are they a disappointment? Well, for starters (no pun intended) Marcus Smart will miss the entire opening round and, quite possibly, all of the second with a torn oblique. Smart has a slash line of .422/.364/.806 with career-high effective field goal and true shooting numbers. But his greatest impact is on the defensive side of the ball. He tied for eighth in steals per game during the regular season and is in the top-40 in defensive win shares. Boston will attempt to replace what Smart brings with Terry Rozier, who also resides in the top-90 for defensive win shares, but lacks Smart’s size to defend wings.

Of course, this is a team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. But Irving (23-6-5) has been the talk of NBA Twitter this season in regards to where he will even be playing next year. Meanwhile, Hayward (11-4-3) is having a down year in his comeback campaign after playing all of five minutes last season. Then there is young Jayson Tatum, who is also dealing with an injury. Undoubtedly adjusting to life as something other than the top option, he has seen his scoring efficiency fall in his sophomore season, though he has upped his point totals, rebounding, assists, and steals.

Keeping the Pace

Indianapolis Pacers Head Coach Nate McMillan has to be a darkhorse favorite for Coach of the Year. Sure the Pacers record is the exact same as last year. But Indy has managed to raise their production across the board, save for dips in free throw percentage, offensive rebounds, steals, and a minor drop in two-point attempts. Oh yeah, they also only got 36 games out of their best player, Victor Oladipo, after he went down with a quad tear back in January. That was supposed to be the death knell for the Pacers in 2019 and instead, they head to the NBA postseason.

For all the praise they deserve for even getting here, the loss of Oladipo might be about to catch up to them in a major way. We already know that the team with the best player usually wins in the playoffs. One could argue that even if Oladipo was healthy, he would still not be the best player on the floor in their first round matchup against the Celtics. But, it is hard to envision a scenario in which a player who averaged 22 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in the playoffs last season would not help.

All of this feels like a slight to the amazing season Bojan Bogdanovic is having. He is averaging 18-4-2 this season; well above his career numbers of 13-3-1. He also parlayed career-high usage into his best efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage. He has been the de facto lead dog for a team with seven players averaging double figures for the season. Where they lack sans Vic is in isolation. They are the 24th in Isolation play frequency so that could obviously be the reason. But there will be times in the postseason when the play breaks down and they will need a player to go get a bucket.

Eastern Conference Has Warts

Just like it was for the teams in the Western Conference surprises and disappointments piece, these are indeed still playoff teams. There is a case to be made that this is all nitpicking, and maybe so. But the issues raised here only accentuate what is already assumed. Save for Boston, none of these teams are thought of as true contenders for a title. Even the Cs have less luster than last year with what, in total, is a better team simply by having Irving and Hayward healthy.

The NBA is Getting Set for Second Act

The NBA returns to action Thursday and the second act is set up to be just as thrilling as the first. With that in mind, we can take a brief moment and assess some burning questions. Some are award related while others will be about playoff seeding and advancement. And then some pertain to player movement this offseason.

NBA Second Act Sure to Deliver

The Bearded Freak

This year’s MVP is seemingly down to two people in most eyes, with the Houston Rockets James Harden defending his mantle against the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is not an easy choice, Harden leads the NBA in numerous categories (scoring, minutes per game, box plus/minus, and PER to name a few) and mostly increased his counting stats over last year’s MVP-winning effort. Likewise, Giannis has increased his numbers while leading the NBA in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and total win shares. His team also sits atop the East at the moment.

Harden leads the NBA in turnovers and some even consider his high free throw totals a knock. He leads in usage rate due to the rash of injuries the Rockets have sustained. Harden carried the team through stretches this season but even he conceded the team would not keep winning playing exclusively through him. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon are healthy and Clint Capela is set to join them, so it remains to be seen if Harden’s numbers take a hit. The biggest thing working against him, specifically in this conversation, is the Rockets record. If they finish top-three and his numbers stay close, he could repeat.

The Greek Freak

Antetokounmpo — the Bucks Swi…Greek-army knife – is also seeing a jump in his stats, albeit to a lesser extent. He leads the team in points, assists, and rebounds. He is shooting a lower percentage from three and the stripe this year, but he raised his attempts per game on such shots. His biggest positives, at least for purists are his team’s record and his effort on the defensive end. If they win the East it will be hard not to give the award to the best player on the best team in a conference; a feat the Rockets are unlikely to achieve.

Stats will favor Harden and even Giannis’ lead in win shares is only .1 with the former’s offense nearly countering the defensive edge of the latter. Harden’s detractors will say he has been stat-chasing this year. It is not unfair to keep bringing up the injuries to Houston but Milwaukee just seems to be put together better and, most importantly, around the Greek Freak. That might hurt him in the eyes of some, but again, the best player on the team with (potentially) the best record may be enough to override that.

Playoff Hokey Pokey

The Los Angeles Lakers are in year one of the LeBron show in Hollywood and have dealt with numerous injuries including a groin injury to LBJ. The first has typically been a transitional year when Bron has changed teams in the past, but he does not have many of those left. They have the horses to make the playoffs but will need to get things together because their remaining schedule is the ninth-toughest with games against the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and two against the Bucks. If they make it and catch the Dubs early in the postseason things could get interesting.

Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo ruptured his quad at the end of January but the team had won six straight before losing to the Bucks before the break. Their remaining schedule is the eighth-toughest and has two more road games than home games; notable given their 16-12 record away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They are not a team built around a single player, per se. But he was their best player and that matters down the stretch and in the playoffs. Their remaining slate features the Bucks, Warriors, and two apiece against the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. All of those could very well be losses.

West Coast Royalty

The Sacramento Kings currently reside in the ninth spot in the West. They made the surprise acquisition of Harrison Barnes and went 6-4 in before the break. They will also face one of the easier schedules the rest of the way. The Los Angeles Clippers (the team currently occupying the eighth-seed) have a slightly easier schedule but the Kings are the more talented group. It has been a long time (13 years) since they have even sniffed the playoffs but this year is a fun story to watch that may get an extended run.

Back East, the Brooklyn Nets are very similar to the Kings. They have been toiling in the doldrums of the league as they recovered from their failed attempt at a super team. They made some shrewd moves and drafted well and now sit sixth in the East. D’Angelo Russell has blossomed and even made his first All-Star appearance as an injury replacement. They are a young team though and that could hurt them down the stretch. They face the third-toughest schedule in the NBA.

Send Me Your Location

Before the break, we had the drama of Anthony Davis trying to fly the coup after the New Orleans Pelicans rebuffed the Lakers offers. The belief was that New Orleans wanted to wait for more potential bidders this summer, namely the Boston Celtics. That decision cost GM Dell Demps his job. While it is understandable after trading for and then losing Boogie Cousins, who was brought in to aid in retaining Davis, how does this help with getting close to fair trade value?

A video surfaced from All-Star weekend of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spending a lot of time together. The two are friends and Irving even bristled at the notion that a particular clip constituted any basis for hints at the pair teaming up on the New York Knicks. Irving may not want to entertain the potential team-up, but it will not stop the rumor mill from swirling. Some of it is certainly noise, but both stars have given somewhat vague answers regarding their futures. Again, that is their prerogative. Irving’s response was even Durant-like in its defiance.

Dame’s Lane

Damian Lillard recently reiterated he would rather stay with the Portland Trailblazers without a championship than “sell himself out” for one. That is a noble and refreshing take, especially with the current landscape of the Association. This could be a situation where a team has to ‘save’ Liilard from himself. It is possible he could win a championship in Portland, but his current team’s roster does not stack up well against the rest of the continuing teams. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lillard and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum.

Raptors fans had to have been thinking things were looking up when it came to keeping their prized trade-acquisition, Kawhi Leonard. That is until he came out with this during this past weekend’s festivities. It highlights a fundamental snag in their plan from the start. He is from California and has been determined to get to L.A. or bust. That may be the Lakers with LeBron, it may be to the Clippers with KD. Whatever the case Leonard is not a fan of snow and Canada won’t be getting rid of winter anytime soon.

Let the NBA’s Second Act Commence

No one knows how the second half of the season will unfold. You can bet it will be full of surprises and upsets but please hold the injuries, basketball gods. That way we can focus on if one of the favorites wins MVP, who makes the playoffs and who misses, and where will all the pieces land when the dust settles after free agency this offseason.