The end of football season is the time for many people to jump into the NBA season (or jump back in after falling behind) and figure out what's going on as we head toward the All-Star Break. Here's a quick primer:
The Cavs are in first place in the East, but they're going through their annual midseason drama phase
This was supposed to be an entirely drama-free season for LeBron James and the Cavs. They won a championship last season and after Monday's overtime win against the Wizards, Cleveland is 35-15 and once again in first place in the East.
Yet, in recent weeks, after a blowout loss to the Warriors in Golden State, LeBron has asked management to upgrade the roster, called out Charles Barkley for calling him whiny, and after the win in Washington, blasted a report suggesting LeBron has been pushing for the team to trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony.
So, things are normal. On the bright side, we live in an era where NBA players now address trade rumors by posting a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill on Instagram:
The Warriors are as dominant as we expected them to be, with the occasional bickering
The superteam is rolling along at 43-8 and are leading the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Kevin Durant has fit in perfectly, averaging 25.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and shooting 53.7 percent from the field. But there have been occasional moments of frustration between Draymond Green and Durant, who had a disagreement in January during a loss to the Grizzlies about how the offense was being run during a late game possession:
Over the weekend, in a loss to Sacramento, Green and Durant got into another argument during a timeout:
During last night's game vs. the Kings, Kevin Durant & Draymond Green got into a heated exchange pic.twitter.com/jD7VN0TbkT- Lee Harvey Oswald (@MusikFan4Life) February 5, 2017
These are not indications that the Warriors are falling apart internally, but moreso an indication they're still striving to be the best version of themselves, which actually is a pretty scary thought for the rest of the league.
The Wizards are emerging as a dark horse team in the East
Yes, those Wizards of Washington, who couldn't land a free agency meeting with D.C. native Durant this summer, just won 17 straight games at home, and since a 6-12 start, have gone 24-9. At 30-21, they look primed to challenge for the second spot in the East behind the Cavs.
Wall (23.0 points, 10.4 assists, 2.2 steals) has been incredible, Beal (22.2 points) has been healthy and played in 47 games so far and the Wiz are getting key contributions from Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. Is this sustainable? We'll see. But in the East, without a clear-cut second best team after LeBron's Cavs, a healthy and functioning backcourt of Wall and Beal might be as good as any duo.
Isaiah Thomas is the new clutch player of the NBA
The Celtics have won seven in a row, and check out this recent three-game stretch from Isaiah Thomas: 41 points vs. Detroit, 44 points vs. Toronto, 38 points vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Thomas is leading the league in fourth quarter points per game, becoming the new clutch player down the stretch.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is unclear and changing by the day
The Cavs are in first, the Celtics are pretty good, the Wizards are streaking. After that? Your guess as to how every other team is doing is as good as any. The Raptors -- considered by many to be the consensus second best team in the East -- recently lost eight out of 10 before righting the ship a bit. The Hawks traded Kyle Korver to Cleveland but are 30-22 and fifth in the East. The Pacers have won seven in a row and appear to be surging. All of these teams will be jostling for playoff position for the remainder of the season, likely with an eye towards avoiding the 4-5 matchup in the first round, which would mean facing the Cavs in round two.
Dion Waiters finally finds his home in Miami
Waiters, who once made teammates call him Kobe Wade when he was at Syracuse, signed with the Miami Heat this offseason, and many people joked that he would be Dwyane Wade's replacement. Well, this really happened:
And the Heat, after starting 11-30, have won 11 in a row and now sit just two games out of eighth in the East. For years, it was Wade County in Miami. Now, it's possible in 20 years we'll remember D-Wait more than D-Wade.
OK, probably not, but still pretty exciting to think about.
Carmelo Anthony's time in New York is probably over
The Knicks are going through another lost season, and Phil Jackson just took another shot at Carmelo on Twitter Tuesday. Jackson and Anthony had a brief meeting recently to address trade rumors, and by all accounts, Anthony's time in New York appears to be over. He still has to waive the no-trade clause in his contract, but if 'Melo is still a Knick after the trade deadline, it will not be because Jackson didn't try.
The Brooklyn Nets are still rebuilding
Meanwhile, Brooklyn has the worst record in the league (9-41) and yet still seems more functional than the Knicks. The Nets are terrible this year, they don't own their first-round pick this year or next, but under new general manager Sean Marks, they have cleared the slate and are heading in the right direction, even if it will be painful and take several years. Also, this section is an excuse to post Larry Nance's dunk on Brook Lopez this season. Pay attention to the reaction from the Nets' bench:
Dwight Howard finally pulled off a good joke
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are doing ridiculous things
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo has vaulted to superstardom in his fourth season, playing point guard for Milwaukee, averaging 23.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists and even hitting a game-winner at Madison Square Garden.
The Chicago Bulls still can't quite figure things out and might hate each other
The Bulls are fighting to hold on to one of the final playoff spots in the East, and entered the season with their own version of the Big Three with Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. Rondo's tumultuous first season with the Bulls came to a head last month when he posted this to Instagram criticizing Butler and Wade's leadership approach:
My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.
My favorite part of this saga was the fact that Rondo's Instagram post actually went through three drafts:
Rondo said he spoke to KG after he sent out his instagram post. Said it was the third draft of his post.- Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) January 27, 2017
Add to the fact that the Butler trade rumors aren't going away, and the Bulls continue to feel like they're running in circles as they move past the Derrick Rose-Tom Thibodeau era.
In case you missed it, the young Wolves have been posterizing everyone
Minnesota has struggled in its first season under Thibodeau and won't come close to reaching some of our pre-season expectations of competing for a playoff spot. But, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine might have the two best posterizations of the season:
Devin Booker is putting together an incredible sophomore season in Phoenix
In his second season, the 20-year-old guard from Kentucky is averaging 21.1 points per game for Phoenix, a team no one is really talking about as they are the basement dwellers in the West. In January, Booker averaged 25.4 points per game including back-to-back 39 point games. So far this month, he's scored 31 points against Milwaukee and 31 points against Sacramento, including this game-winner.
Booker is definitely a player to keep an eye on for the rest of this season and beyond.
Kawhi Leonard is having an MVP season.
Leonard is quietly putting together an MVP-caliber season, averaging 25.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals, and the Spurs are once again lurking in the West, in second place behind the Warriors. More importantly, here's a video of Leonard smiling:
James Harden and Mike D'Antoni are creating the new Seven Seconds or Less Suns in Houston
Mike D'Antoni said this summer he would make James Harden his full-time point guard and everyone started talking about the insane stats Harden would put up. Then, Harden assumed his new role, and surprise, he's been putting up stats even more ridiculous that we could have imagined, scoring 28.9 points per game, handing out 11.4 assists and grabbing 8.2 rebounds to boot.
So, James, do you have your rhythm going now?
The King Cake Baby mascot in New Orleans is still scary as hell
Seriously, what can be done about this situation? I really hope he's not featured prominently during All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
Besties pic.twitter.com/kW7sNvBKtz- King Cake Baby (@KingCakeBaby) February 1, 2017
The Jazz are your dark horse team in the West
Everyone picked the Jazz to make a leap in the West this season. They started off slow, but are now where most people expected them to be at 33-19, fourth in the West and rising, having won seven out of their past 10. A Jazz-Clippers first-round matchup (the two teams are currently slotted to play in the 4-5 matchup) would be intriguing because both teams have huge free agency decisions this summer and a first-round ouster might accelerate the retooling process.
For now, make sure you follow Rudy Gobert on Twitter:
Almost pic.twitter.com/inHttogA8l- Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) February 6, 2017
They already decided who the DPOY is gonna be Nic...i'll just keep controlling what i can control and keep helping my team win games. https://t.co/MrzrFYIaTz- Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) January 27, 2017
If i wanna watch clowns i go to the circus... https://t.co/9MvZR6Q4oy- Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) January 24, 2017
The Clippers are doing their annual "what exactly will we make of them come playoff time" routine
Every year we ask, "Will this be the Clippers' year?" This season, the team started 14-2, then lost 115-98 at home to the Warriors in early December in their first true test. Then, Blake Griffin missed extended time with a knee injury, and now, Chris Paul is out six-to-eight weeks after having left thumb surgery. At 31-21 and having lost three in a row and seven out of 10, the Clippers know only playoff results will matter, but how far will they fall in the standings by the time Paul returns?
On the bright side, Griffin thinks Austin Rivers looks like Ali G:
The DeMarcus Cousins experience is as crazy as ever
Boogie picked up his 16th technical in Monday's loss to Chicago, which triggered an automatic one-game suspension. Meanwhile, Vlade Divac says there's no way the team will trade Cousins. The Kings are on the outside looking in for a playoff spot in the West once again, but Cousins is averaging 27.9 points and 10.7 rebounds, so if you were the Kings, with a chance to sign him to a long-term extension this summer, would you really trade him? This postgame interview sums up the Boogie experience so far.
Russell Westbrook's one-man show is working out in Oklahoma City
The Thunder are in a playoff spot without Durant, and Westbrook is averaging a triple double at the moment, scoring 30.9 points, grabbing 10.5 rebounds and dishing out 10.2 assists. Even though he's lost both matchups against Durant and the Warriors, Westbrook's gotten a few good trolls shots in, including showing up in their first game in an official photographer's outfit, a dig at Durant who worked last year's Super Bowl as a photographer.
There was also this after their second matchup:
Clearly the little chat didn't change things between Russ & KD ���� (NSFW) pic.twitter.com/W4B9FyGD6a- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 19, 2017
Other favorite off-court Westbrook moments from this season:
His reaction to a 76ers fan flipping him off courtside on opening night:
Him possibly shouting "Thank you Kyrie" on Christmas after Irving hit a jumper late in the fourth quarter to beat Durant and the Warriors.
And then all of us realizing the timestamps didn't add up and Westbrook was actually shouting out one of his trainer's daughters Jamie.
Russell Westbrook comments on the video of him screaming in the tunnel. (Some NSFW language here): pic.twitter.com/vcp6fdfoCU- Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 25, 2016