Maybe you enjoyed your All-Star break a little too much, perhaps you’re still neck-deep in Kanye hysteria, or possibly, the sleepy trade deadline lulled you into a spellbound slumber from which you just awoke. Either way, welcome to a world where Lance Stephenson, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen and Chris “Birdman” Andersen are teammates. If you have been paying attention to the NBA this past week, two things probably stuck out.
1) Damian Lillard completely eviscerated Golden State in what became a 32-point blowout, dropping an I-can’t-believe-it’s-that-buttery line of 51 points, seven assists, six steals and no turnovers. The full list of players ever to score more than 51 points with seven or more assists, six or more steals and no turnovers: Damian Lillard.
2) Anthony Davis defiled the Pistons for 59 points and 20 rebounds Sunday, with an unstoppable run of tip-ins, tip-dunks, step-backs, fadeaways, side-fadeaways and unblockable floaters. I actually had to refresh the box score to make sure it was right. The full list of players ever to score at least 59 points and grab 20 rebounds in the modern era? Anthony Davis, and Shaq.
There’s a school of thought that this season’s best teams are so good that the rest of the league gets boring and the regular season is just not worth watching. Here’s the counter-argument: young superstars racking up insane career highs just days apart. Wild stuff happens all around the league when you aren’t looking. I bet nobody outside the state of Louisiana, the Detroit metro area and the basketball-loving Internet actually saw Anthony Davis score 59 as it happened. Somebody you know who did not see the game will probably lie to you today about how unreal it was. It may have already happened. Trust no one.
Anyway, don’t limit yourselves to the Warriors (but still watch the Warriors). Enjoy all of the basketball. Enjoy this week’s Power Rankings.
Golden State Warriors
After a sluggish loss in Portland, then being pushed by the Clippers in L.A., the Warriors continue on their travels. This could be a tough four-game week, culminating in a showdown at OKC. Then again, these are the Warriors.
Kevin Love did not get traded, and returned the favor with his best game of the year in Oklahoma City. Credit the Cavs for coming back focused after the week away, and the sooner they can extend their lead on the conference, the easier it will be for Ty Lue to start preparing for the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard may or may not actually have a calf injury, but as the Spurs finish out a run of eight games on the road, it’s not the worst time for some well-earned rest. On the other hand… they just surrendered 113 and 111 points to the Lakers and Suns.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Maybe it wasn’t just KD and Russ who enjoyed their vacations, as the Thunder opened up especially sluggish after All-Star and got embarrassed by the Cavaliers. Finding some sort of groove will be prudent before their next marquee matchup: OKC would love to deal Golden State an elusive loss on Saturday night.
Los Angeles Clippers
Beating a sloppy Kawhi-less Spurs team didn’t move the needle too much for me, but playing the Warriors close and staging a high-velocity comeback certainly did. A much softer next week is on tap for the Clippers, who are suddenly not too far behind the Thunder for the No. 3 spot in the West.
With the Raptors opting not to add another big man before the deadline, it’s a good time to point out Jonas Valanciunas has begun to hit a groove (15 points on 64% shooting, 8.7 rebounds in February). The team can further justify the front office staying put with a win over the Cavs this week.
The right trade may not have been out there for Boston, and despite our wildest trade-machine dreams, that’s totally fine. A lot of things are going right here: the Celtics are young and largely cost-controlled, they’ll still have trade assets to play with come July, and if they hit on Brooklyn’s pick, they’ll be quite happy they stood pat.
The Pacers have climbed back to a comfortable place in the standings, flying under the radar in the process. With a healthy Ian Mahinmi and Myles Turner continuing to impress, they’ve gone back to two-big lineups and appear to have found some consistency.
Chris Bosh’s health hangs over the rest of the Heat’s season, and here’s hoping the big man will overcome whatever’s ailing him. Miami came out of the break with two wins nonetheless, and will be tested by the Pacers, Warriors and Celtics this week.
Unquestionably the best thing to come from the trade deadline is the self-proclaimed “Goon Squad” Grizz, adding Lance Stephenson and an ageless Birdman to a cast of characters including Z-Bo, Tony Allen and Matt Barnes. None of this happens if Marc Gasol never breaks his foot… and now this is a fascinating wild-card of a team with a chance to spice up the final stretch of the season and live forever in my tweets.
Portland Trail Blazers
League Pass brethren, please, please go back and watch Damian Lillard decimate the Warriors. Even better: The entire team is clicking, they’ve become a chore to defend, and after falling nine games under .500, the Blazers are 14–3 since Jan. 10.
It wasn’t broke, so the Hawks didn’t fix it. Al Horford and Jeff Teague are still there. But two losses and a leaky defense have Atlanta pointed in the wrong direction—and with Golden State up twice in the next four games, at a not-so-great time.
Steve Clifford’s defense has worked wonders in February, and the front office moved shrewdly to land Courtney Lee to patch up the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-sized hole in their roster. Good showings at Cleveland, Indiana and Atlanta can further cement the Hornets as a team to take seriously.
David Lee will become the Mavs’ newest reclamation project as they continue on course for their seventh postseason berth in Rick Carlisle’s eight years and 15th in the franchise’s last 16. Lee will have a chance to get settled and sample the barbecue as Dallas gets eight of its next nine games at home.
The trade deadline reunited ex-Bulldogs Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward in Salt Lake City, which is undoubtedly magical but may not totally move the needle for the Jazz at point guard. It may also signal the end for Trey Burke in Utah after the former lottery pick saw his minutes slip in a big-game loss to the Blazers.
With Jimmy Butler still absent, the Bulls managed to end their free fall with important wins at home over the Raptors and Lakers, establishing a decent buffer from lottery teams in the standings. Perhaps more notably, the Kirk Hinrich era is over in Chicago. Again.
It was an all-around solid week for the Wizards, who came out of a dreaded back-to-back-to-back with two wins, pushing back toward the .500 mark. With Markieff Morris newly on board, all their chips are on the table.
With Utah and Portland playing inspired basketball, Houston’s playoff chances have never been quite as dire. Coincidentally, its next two opponents are Utah and Portland. Maaaaybe a good time to make a statement.
The Pistons were aggressive landing Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas (pending his physical), and they’ve got zero incentive to fold with their first-rounder now going to the Rockets barring a giant collapse. Still, they’ve lost five straight… and giving up 59 points to Anthony Davis isn’t an ideal start to the back end of the season. Speaking of which…
New Orleans Pelicans
Just to say it aloud and make sure it’s still real, Anthony Davis had 59 points and 20 rebounds in a game. Of course, the Pelicans are still an extreme playoff longshot who didn’t sell on a guy with plenty of trade value (Ryan Anderson) and do not have a clear, logical plan to build around Davis.
There’s been talk of the Magic angling for a big fish in free agency after aggressively freeing up cap space at the deadline. But an immediately-important plus to Orlando’s dealings should be extra minutes and defined roles for Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja.
Consider Jabari Parker up to speed: a career-high 28 points in 51 minutes during a double-OT win in Atlanta is just another sign he’s rounded back into shape—and form. A dynamic couple months could to be on the table for him, and could mean a whole lot for the Bucks’ outlook in 2016–17.
Two poor defensive efforts amounted to an All-Star hangover for the Nuggets, who were playing steady ball the first half of February. Conveniently, they get eight of the next 10 games at home to work some things out.
Coming back from the break with two wins, though against non-playoff caliber teams, was nice. That said, it’s been an entire month since the Kings held an opponent under 100 points. With the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder on deck this week, it could be a while before the clean-up crew arrives.
New York Knicks
Will Jimmer-mania be the new Linsanity? A better bet is the Knicks subtly waving the white flag and surrendering their playoff hopes.
I’m sticking to the stance that Andrew Wiggins has a long way to go to become a superstar, but it’s more a testament to how great he could be than a reflection of where he’s at. As a scorer, he's just fine: the bouncy wing is enjoying his most impressive month of the season (23.9 points on 49.2% shooting over seven February games).
Rather than try to cut a trade in his first four hours on the job (which would have made for an intense reality show), Sean Marks made his initial stamp on this team by grabbing the lowest-hanging fruit and cutting it loose. Spread your wings, Andrea Bargnani. Fly free.
Los Angeles Lakers
After 56 games of close examination, Byron Scott says D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will start for the rest of the season. Grade-A observation, Byron.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that as the Sixers’ best player, Jahlil Okafor wound up in trade rumors at the deadline. It is, however, a little funny that a 20-year-old averaging 17 points and seven boards has become a relative afterthought to many people quick to gush about this year’s draft class.
The Suns have lost their last 10 games. The Suns have lost 17 of their last 18. The Suns have lost 26 of their last 28. Long live the Suns.
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