Connect with us

NBA

NBA Daily: Major Impact of Returning Players

Several teams have been missing some of their top talents due to lengthy injuries. As these players near a return to the court, it will play a major role in how the playoff picture unfolds.

Chad Smith

Published

on

Two months remain until the regular season comes to a close and the playoff matchups are set. Most organizations have a solid feel for where they are at in terms of roster talent, on-court chemistry and the overall direction of their team. The trade deadline looms next week and buyout candidates will likely have a significant impact on many contending teams.

One other thing that could shake things up is the return of key players who have been out of the lineup with significant injuries. Several teams will get a major boost in the coming weeks, including one team that has already started to benefit from a player’s return. It may take some time to get back into the rhythm of the game, but these players have plenty of time to find their footing for the stretch run.

These teams are all in different situations in terms of their respective futures. Still, the impact of these returning players cannot be overstated. Playoff seeding will be important this year not just for home-court advantage, but avoiding the play-in tournament by being one of the top-six teams in the conference as well. In a league suddenly ripe with parity, every game will count.

Caris LeVert, Indiana Pacers

The aforementioned team that had their player back this week was the Pacers. Caris LeVert made his debut with the team on Saturday in Phoenix as Indiana faced the red-hot Suns. After recovering from surgery on his left kidney to remove a small mass, the newest member of the Pacers was able to help guide them to an impressive victory.

The value of LeVert to this team is tremendous. Indiana desperately needed another creator on offense, having to run everything through Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers have been struggling on offense and especially in crunch time, where they rank 27th in the league.

The former Michigan Wolverine certainly knows how to score and will help in late-game situations. Despite his 51-point outburst earlier this season with the Brooklyn Nets, LeVert found it difficult to get consistent opportunities as a starter. He could flourish in this new role with the Pacers. That, along with the eventual return of TJ Warren, could get Indiana back into the top six of the Eastern Conference.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

With apologies to Joel Embiid, this is the biggest return in terms of impact. While Embiid is expected to miss another week or so with his recent bone bruise, the Philadelphia 76ers have been able to win without him. That has not been the case for the Lakers, who are 4-6 in their last ten games and have struggled significantly in Davis’ extended absence.

The Lakers without Davis are just another playoff team. With him, however, they are a serious threat to win back-to-back championships. The half-court offense has sputtered since Davis went down, as Los Angeles has been unable to adequately incorporate many of their role players into the lineup. And they might have to try and stay afloat for a while longer, as the team may not have their dynamic big man for a few weeks or more, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Though his production has declined this season, Davis is still one of the best two-way players in the league. He is always a threat on both ends of the floor and the Lakers rely on his defense now more than ever. With their frontcourt struggling to defend, Los Angeles needs him to be healthy for the postseason. Their hopes of an 18th banner depend on it.

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

The three-headed monster in Brooklyn is more like the Loch Ness Monster. Durant has been sidelined since Valentine’s Day with a left hamstring strain, still with no timetable for his return. The 2013-14 MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP had an excellent start to the season but has only appeared in 19 games for the Nets.

This is where Brooklyn has the luxury of having two other superstars to guide the ship while Durant gets healthy. Kyrie Irving and James Harden have done just that, to the tune of a 27-13 record, second in the Eastern Conference. Give credit to their role players too, as Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton and Landry Shamet have all stepped up in recent weeks.

Just like the Lakers, Brooklyn understands that they just need to have their star player healthy and ready for the postseason. They will also be one of the top destinations for buyout candidates, with Blake Griffin already making his way to Barclays Center. There have been glimpses of how good this team is when they have all three of their superstars on the floor, which does not bode well for their competition.

CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

One of the worst moments of the early season was the injury to CJ McCollum. The star guard suffered a broken left foot on January 16 and has been one of the many extended absences for Portland this season. It has taken slightly longer for CJ to heal because this is the third time he has broken his left foot. The good news is that McCollum will make his return tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, aiming to pick up right where he left off.

The talented scorer from Lehigh was putting up career numbers before his injury. His 27 points and five assists per game were just part of the story as he was shooting over 44 percent from three-point range and nearly 85 percent from the free-throw line. His 26.3 Player Efficiency Rating was also critical for Portland’s early success.

Portland has been able to keep their heads above water, in large part to the MVP-caliber play of Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers currently hold the fifth seed in the loaded Western Conference. They should also get Jusuf Nurkic back in the lineup in the coming weeks to shore up their interior defense and offensive game close to the basket. Having their healthy one-two punch of Lillard and McCollum is crucial to their hopes of avoiding the play-in tournament.

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

Houston has a big, big problem. And, while the solution is more than just one player, Christian Wood’s value to this team is well represented in their record. Wood has missed the Rockets’ last 16 games and they have not won a single one. After putting the league on notice to start the year, the UNLV product was almost assured of winning the Most Improved Player Award.

The 25-year-old has demonstrated the ability to do it all. In his 17 games this season, Wood is averaging a double-double with 22 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He finds open teammates off of double teams and is shooting 42.1 percent from behind the arc and 55.8 percent from the floor overall. His defensive skills have been on display too, as he is averaging career-highs in blocks and rebounds.

The Rockets are clearly in “sell everything” mode as their season has crumbled even before it began with the departure of Harden and Russell Westbrook. Getting Wood back on the floor will not give them hope of reaching the playoffs but it will help them rebuild as the organization evaluates their roster and what their plans are going forward. Wood will be at the forefront of it all, though, as he clearly has a bright future ahead of him.

Jaren Jackson Jr, Memphis Grizzlies

One big man that has not been on the court at all this season is Jaren Jackson Jr. The former Michigan State Spartan has not been able to suit up as he continues to rehab from meniscus surgery. The Grizzlies are on the cusp of the postseason yet again, as they are in a position to be one of the teams competing in the play-in tournament. That is a testament to head coach Taylor Jenkins, who continues to do an impressive job with this young team.

The continued high-level play of Ja Morant has been important, but it has truly been a team effort for the Grizzlies this season. Several guys have stepped in to fill the void of Jackson, most notably Kyle Anderson, Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton and Dillon Brooks. Jonas Valanciunas has also been tremendous this season in terms of scoring and rebounding, as he’s averaged 16 points and a career-best 11.7 rebounds per game. Even without Jackson, Memphis is a top-ten rebounding team.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s return is still a bit foggy at the moment. Chris Herrington and Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian recently reported that the team will update his status either later this month or early next month, but that they fully expect him to play this season. That is the hope for the Grizzlies, their fans and basketball fans everywhere, as the Morant and Jackson duo should be exciting to watch for many years to come.

Advertisement




2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: NBA Voice - Find the Latest NBA Headlines & Top Sports Breaking News!

  2. Pingback: NBA Daily: Major Impact of Returning Players - sublimatedsportsuniforms.net

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

Published

on

It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco

Published

on

With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John

Published

on

It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

ZigZagSport - Best Online Sportsbook & Casino

Advertisement
American Casino Guide
NJ Casino
NJ Casino

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

Bet on NBA at BetNow Sportsbook

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now