With NBA All-Star 2019 in the rear view and a few days to catch a refresher before the action picks back up on Thursday, let’s take a look at what happened since training camp broke on the season to date.
Harden can’t stop scoring
The last time James Harden scored fewer than 30 points, the Rockets were sitting at 12-14 and No. 14 in the Western Conference. The next game, Harden dropped 50 on the Lakers in a victory. Then he had 32 in the next game and 47 after that … and then 30-plus again and again until he stood alone with Wilt Chamberlain, who had previously owned the four-longest streaks. As we exit the All-Star break, Harden and Chamberlain are tied for second at 31 games; Houston plays the Lakers on Thursday (10:30 ET, TNT).
Harden ran out of real estate this season on a chance to tie the all-time record – Wilt reached 65 straight in 1961-62 – but he stands to finish with the single-highest scoring average the league’s seen since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87. Harden also managed to find a widely lampooned boundary for the outer reaches of his patented step-back jumper:
Giannis levels up
We all realized Giannis Antetokounmpo had made a jump last season, and that the Milwaukee Bucks, under new coach Mike Budenholzer, could be among the Eastern Conference contenders — especially with LeBron James moving out West.
What maybe we didn’t count on was Antetokounmpo taking it up another notch as Budenholzer and GM Jon Horst surrounded him with shooting, shooting and more shooting as they gave him full reign over the offense. Antetokounmpo has averaged an astounding 27.2 points (58.1 field goal percentage), 12.7 rebounds, six assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. The Bucks are an NBA best 43-14 at the break, and Antetokounmpo is the current Kia MVP favorite.
Also, he does things like this:
Kawhi of the North
The Toronto Raptors made a bold move before the season, sending DeMar DeRozan — the homegrown face of Toronto’s franchise revival — to the San Antonio Spurs in a package that returned impending free-agent Kawhi Leonard, who played only nine games last season while dealing with a quad injury.
While he and the team have been cautious about back-to-backs and the overall “load management”, if you thought Kawhi wasn’t still the player who turned back LeBron to win Finals MVP in 2014 before consecutive Defensive Player of the Year campaigns, well …
Here’s Kawhi Leonard doing whatever the robotic equivalent of laughing is. pic.twitter.com/2ZzHM0B7nY
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) September 24, 2018
Leonard is averaging 27.7 points (49.2 field goal percentage, 36.3 3-point percentage), 13.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 steals and has led Toronto — with a big supporting nod to breakout starter Pascal Siakam — to the second-best record in the league, just two losses back of leader Milwaukee.
Westbrook’s world? Triple-doubles, daily
Another season, another triple-double average for Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook. And this time, it’s not close:
Westbrook, despite struggling to keep his shot north of 40 percent from the field, 25 percent from 3-point range and 65 percent from the line, is averaging 21.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. And he’s done it while essentially deferring to Paul George as the team’s No. 1 option — his usage rate (the percentage of his team’s possessions used) is at its lowest mark since his second season.
He has literally entered unprecedented territory, both with this third full season of statistical prowess and the still ongoing streak of 11 games with a triple-double.
The previous record — held, of course, by Chamberlain — was 10. Russ had threatened several times in recent years, stringing together runs as long as seven games. He’s rocking out, indeed:
The Kings are BACK
On no one’s timetable but their own, the Sacramento Kings made a collective leap out of the NBA dungeon to put the league’s longest-running playoff drought in danger. Bolstered by the backcourt duo of speedy De’Aaron Fox and sharpshooting Buddy Hield, the Kings have risen to 30-27, good for ninth in the super-competitive West — just four games back of No. 4 Portland.
They added Harrison Barnes for the stretch run, and should be primed for more fun moments like this Bogdan Bogdanovic buzzer-beater:
The confounding Celtics
Here are some mini-records: 10-10, 15-5, 12-6. All the Celtics! They’re clearly one of the better teams in the East when everything’s firing … but Gordon Hayward hasn’t looked quite right all season, they keep dropping bad losses between the winning streaks. And, every so often, someone seems to pop off about leadership or commitment or fun or some other aspect of “This is off and we can’t quite nail it down.”
Heck, Kyrie Irving even called LeBron to apologize for being a knucklehead in Cleveland after realizing he was running into similar situations, now from the other perspective, with the Celtics’ young core.
If the league’s most famous beef this side of Joel Embiid-Russell Westbrook can find resolution, anything’s possible. Either way, maybe not quite the time to be super confident as a fan of one of the other East contenders until you see the four Ls this spring.
Jimmy Butler is something else
You might have heard Jimmy Butler made a trade request this summer while heading into this contract year that he started with the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you missed that, you probably heard about the practice. Oh, that practice.
Butler showed up for the first time in months, reportedly ran the other starters off the floor while playing with all-reserve teammates and, ah … was maybe not quiet about it.
Four weeks later, he was headed to the Philadelphia 76ers with Justin Patton for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick. Butler promptly hit a pair of game-winners and reportedly stirred the system drink as he attempted to (what’s the opposite of ease?) impose his way in.
Butler’s impending free agency — for all the chatter about the Sixers’ long-term plans with this “Big 4” — is going to be wild interesting.
Turnover in the ranks
Klay shatters the 3-point record
Out here playing pop-a-shot:
A slip-up for Steph
We all love Stephen Curry around these parts, and have much respect for how this greatest-of-all-time shooter has changed the game. But that this water-slide wipeout didn’t make Shaqtin’ A Fool is tragedy:
A rare humbling moment for the three-time champ. Not expecting many more this year, ha.
Wizards can’t conjure a break
John Wall had season-ending surgery on his heel. Then slipped at home and ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. Dwight Howard has been out with gluteal soreness (12 games) and then lower-back surgery (35 games). Le sigh.
But they’re still only three games out! And Bradley Beal is an All-Star!