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NBA Saturday: Stephen Curry Struggling to Find MVP Form

Stephen Curry hasn’t reclaimed his MVP form since the loss of Kevin Durant, which is a concern for the Warriors.

Jesse Blancarte

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Stephen Curry Struggling to Find MVP Form

It’s a common practice to look for silver linings or potential positive outcomes from a bad situation. Injuries to star players in the NBA are no exception to this. For example, it was reported in December that Blake Griffin needed knee surgery. The positive viewpoint: At least it happened early enough for him to fully recover for the postseason and maybe playing fewer regular season games would keep him fresher for the playoffs. Another example, Chris Paul underwent surgery in January to repair a torn ligament in his shooting hand. The positive outlook: He’ll be back in time for the postseason and in the meantime, Austin Rivers can take on a bigger role, gain experience running the team’s offense and can build up his confidence while Paul is sidelined.

On February 28, when Zaza Pachulia was tossed to the ground by Marcin Gortat and bumped into Kevin Durant’s knee, the entire basketball world wondered whether Durant had suffered a season-ending injury, such as a torn ACL. The Golden State Warriors later announced that Durant suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise. The Warriors have not set a firm timeline on when Durant may return, but there is a possibility that he will be back before the start of the postseason.

While losing Durant is a significant blow to the Warriors, many people saw it as a potential opportunity for Stephen Curry to step back into the lead role for the team and rediscover his superstar level of play that earned him two MVP awards over the last two seasons.

Last season, Curry averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 45.4 percent from three-point range (on 11.2 attempts per game). Steph had a historically great regular season and was an unstoppable force.

When Durant signed with Golden State, it was known that Curry would have to take a step back and give up some parts of his game to accommodate his new superstar teammate. Curry did so and the Warriors were, for the better part of this season, a dominant squad that few teams could hope to contend with. Curry’s numbers haven’t been as great this season but no one really paid much attention to this since the team was so good. Now that Durant is sidelined and it’s not clear that he’ll be 100 percent healthy for the playoffs, it’s imperative for Curry to reclaim his MVP form.

Unfortunately, the early returns have not been great for Curry. While Curry is averaging 25.4 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game since Durant suffered his knee injury, he is shooting just 41.2 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range (on 11.2 attempts). What made Curry so dynamic last season wasn’t just his per game stats, but his overall efficiency. So far this season, Curry simply has been unable to mimic that efficient level of play. The likelihood is that Curry will break out of this slump at some point this season, but for those that thought he would find his old form once Durant got hurt, these early returns have to be concerning. To his credit, Curry is maintaining a positive attitude.

“I don’t ever lose confidence,” Curry said after hitting five of his 13 three-point field goals against the New York Knicks. “My assistant coach Q [Bruce Weber] was telling me to think about nothing. Which I was trying to do — like, don’t worry about mechanics, don’t worry about what’s gone on the last two or three games. Just shoot.”

The Warriors lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night – their fourth loss in their last six games. This is the first time the Warriors have lost four out of six games in the regular season since Steve Kerr took over as head coach in 2014.

Against the Timberwolves, Curry shot 10-27 from the field and 1-8 from beyond the arc. He did hit a floater with just under 20 seconds left in the game to put the Warriors ahead 102-101. However, after Andrew Wiggins hit two free throws to put the Timberwolves back on top, Curry missed a go-ahead jumper with three seconds left on the clock. Minnesota pulled out the win, continuing Golden State’s struggle to win close games this season.

The Warriors still have the best collection of talent in the league and a top-notch coach in Steve Kerr, but it appears as though this recent slump is starting to take a toll on the team. After last night’s loss to Minnesota, several players provided frustrated and eyebrow-raising responses to questions from the media.

Kerr announced after the game that he would rest Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala in their Saturday matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. This is an interesting decision considering that the Spurs trail the Warriors by only 1.5 games in the standings. However, Golden State may still have a shot against San Antonio considering that Kawhi Leonard is currently sidelined with a concussion and it was announced earlier today that LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely with a minor heart arrhythmia.

The Warriors have too much talent for this recent slump to continue indefinitely, but their championship hopes will be determined in large part by Durant’s health and by whether Curry can get closer to his MVP form from last season. Through this early stretch without Durant, the results have not been promising for Curry and the Warriors.

LaMarcus Aldridge Out Indefinitely

Earlier today, the San Antonio Spurs announced that LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely with a minor heart arrhythmia. This unfortunate news comes as the Spurs are closing in on the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors.

Aldridge has averaged 17.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.1 blocks in 58 games this season. He has been particularly effective scoring around the basket while relying less on his perimeter shooting.

If any team can manage the loss of a key player like Aldridge, it’s the Spurs. However, if Aldridge is unable to return for the postseason (a question which is impossible to determine at this point), it will be difficult for the Spurs to overcome some of the other talented Western Conference contenders.

Hopefully Aldridge makes a speedy and complete recovery.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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