Kyrie Irving Returns, Kuzma Catches Fire, and Other Weekly NBA News
Just as we thought we had figured out the 2019/20 NBA season, it produced one of the most surprising weeks in recent memory. There were loads of unexpected results and a few very uncharacteristic showings from the top dogs.
In this weekly recap, I will focus on the players who were able to step it up in these rollercoaster circumstances of the past week. I will also highlight one of the most anticipated returns and talk about the fortunes of the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs.
I will finish this off with a quick summary of the key NBA injuries. There are a couple of big ones in there, so make sure you stick around until the end and get up to speed with the latest news on them.
I’m kicking things off with the Lakers once more, as it was a week that showcased it’s not all about LeBron and AD there.
Kuzma Provides the X-Factor
The Western Conference leaders started off the week with a blowout win against the New York Knicks. Nothing too surprising there. The Knicks simply couldn’t live with the Lakers’ intensity and lost by a 30-point margin.
The big story was Anthony Davis taking a hard fall, which took him out of the game. This opened the door for Kyle Kuzma, and the forward immediately made an impact, dropping 16 points in 21 minutes. However, the Knicks are hardly a big test, so everyone was waiting to see how Kuzma would fare in the next two games.
The first challenge was going up against the Mavericks in Dallas. With AD and Porzingis out of the contest, all the talk was about Luka Doncic squaring off against LeBron. And although this naturally proved to be the biggest duel on the court, the Lakers showed they have the roster depth to get things done.
Sure, LeBron was the best player in the game. He dropped 35 points, racked up 16 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists. However, he did receive big help from veterans Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, who looked like they were still in their prime years.
But the big takeaway was Kyle Kuzma’s performance. Kuz was a huge spark on the offense and scored some crucial buckets throughout the game. The extended role he received didn’t seem to faze him, and he ended the game with 26 points in 34 minutes.
These two games must’ve done wonders for the player’s confidence as he saved the best for last.
The Lakers had to wrap up the week with a stern test in Oklahoma City. The Thunder has been one of the most positive teams in recent weeks, and they had all their weapons at their disposal. The Lakers, on the other hand, were missing both LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard continued their great form and were again two of the outstanding performers. Rondo was effectively pulling the strings and ended up just two assists shy of a triple-double while also scoring 21 points.
Howard was a beast around the rim and posted the game’s highest rebound stat with 14.
But once again, it was Kuzma who ran the show. This time, it was even more impressive, as he couldn’t rely on help from LeBron in the frontcourt. He dropped 36 points in 40 highly-intense minutes.
This performance capped off one of Kuzma’s most impressive weeks in the NBA. Amid all the trade rumors, the player managed to show coach Vogel that he can be a reliable offensive option.
It’s more good news for the Lakers, who continue to breeze through the league and seem to be figuring out more and more pieces of the puzzle en route to the title.
Kyrie Irving’s Return Sparks Up the Nets
The Brooklyn outfit was frustrated by a battling display by the OKC Thunder in the first game of the week. Despite good performances from Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert, the Nets fell to their opponents in overtime.
After that, the team managed to capitalize on some bad defending against the Heat. Jimmy Butler dropped an impressive 33 points in that one, but Miami’s uncharacteristic lapses on D were their downfall.
Dinwiddie was once again the standout performer with 26 points and 14 assists, and he enjoyed some good support from starters Kurucs, Prince, and Allen.
Even though the Heat are a tough team to beat and we should give credit to the Nets for their effort, it’s still evident that this team needs more consistency and firepower.
That is why they should be thrilled to have welcomed star guard Kyrie Irving back to the fold. Irving made his return against the Atlanta Hawks, and his impact was felt immediately.
Although missing a long stretch of games, Kyrie took matters into his hands right from the start and propelled his team to a 108-86 win. The six-time All-Star was by far the best player on the court and finished with 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in just 20 minutes.
Sure, it was against one of the worst teams in the NBA, and they were missing their talisman Trae Young, but it was still a hugely important performance for both Irving and the team.
Everyone in the organization will be hoping that Kyrie remains healthy. The roster is not terrible, but they need the quality and experience of their star player if they are to string together consistent runs more often.
We’ll see soon enough whether Irving will be enough to lift them as the Nets have some very stern challenges coming their way in the next two weeks.
The Celtics Take a Tumble
Boston suffered one of the worst weeks of their season despite having pretty much all their valuable pieces available.
They managed to score only 94 points against a Washington Wizards team that is ravaged by injuries. Their shooting was woeful throughout the night, and the efforts of Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Enes Kanter to close out the opposition proved insufficient.
They had a chance to bounce back quickly in a homecourt game against the Spurs, but they completely botched it. The C’s had their strongest starting lineup ready but again failed to find their shooting form.
On top of that, they somehow allowed the Spurs to score 30 points or more in every single quarter. You just can’t let that happen, especially if you have the reputation of one of the best defensive teams in the league.
The Philadelphia 76ers were next in line, and Boston looked more confident in that one. The Sixers were missing Embiid, and the Celtics were ready to capitalize on that. They scored 35 points in the first quarter, and the defense looked far better.
But as was the case in the previous two encounters, the team’s energy levels dropped as the game progressed. Philly ended the third quarter just three points behind and was completely dominant in the fourth.
The Celtics allowed 32 points and only scored 18 in the final quarter, which led to a disappointing 109-98 defeat.
All three games are huge blows for the team, and to receive them in such quick succession is even worse. Coach Brad Stevens has not been happy with the performances after the turn of the year, and tensions are definitely rising in the TD Garden.
The C’s did end the week on a high, though. They scored 140 points against the Pelicans behind Jayson Tatum’s career-high 41 points.
It doesn’t solve all the problems, but the team definitely needed that. I still feel they are a long way from getting the best out of this roster, so I expect more rocky weeks ahead.
The Spurs Rise to Slay the Giants
Unlike the Celtics, San Antonio enjoyed a terrific week, which will definitely help breed some confidence and hope into the players and fans. There hasn’t been a lot to cheer for at the AT&T Center this season, but the team finally managed to show they have real postseason credentials.
The Spurs started with a brutally efficient performance over the Milwaukee Bucks. The top Eastern team was a heavy favorite to come away with a comfortable win but had no answer for San Antonio’s combination of deadly sharpshooting and purposeful defending.
Coach Pop’s team managed to limit reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 24 points in 34 minutes and was forcing their opponents to take tough shots all night. The hosts were also the more dominant force around the rim, posting 14 rebounds more than the Bucks.
On the offensive end, things just clicked for everyone. DeRozan had one of his best nights in a Spurs uniform, and he was brilliantly complemented by a gritty and determined LaMarcus Aldridge.
Patty Mills and Rudy Gay offered great contributions from the bench. Their shooting has been a problem all season, so their combined tally of 38 points was a sight for sore eyes.
Even Dejounte Murray, who has been criticized for his lack of scoring potential, got in on the act by dropping a cool 13 points.
I already talked about the Spurs’ win against the Celtics, and while Boston was definitely at fault, we should acknowledge San Antonio’s shooting numbers. The team finished with a 55.2% field goal percentage and made 92.3% of their free throws.
It’s a very rare occurrence for teams to boast such numbers at the TD Garden, and the 114-129 scoreline is not something we see there often as well. Yes, the Celtics were not at their best, but we can’t take anything away from that Spurs performance.
The team did lose their next game against Memphis, but there wasn’t this sense of despair that fans have felt numerous times this season. It was a very entertaining contest to watch, and the game could’ve gone either way.
Both teams had a great shooting night, but the Grizzlies’ young players had more energy towards the end. It was a definite disappointment for a team that had built momentum, but it didn’t feel like the end of the world.
And the performance in their last game of the week proves there is a big improvement within the group. The Spurs traveled to Toronto, who had everyone bar Marc Gasol back.
Pop’s guys were second-best throughout the contest, but this time, they found their rhythm when it mattered the most. DeRozan, Aldridge, and Mills completely dominated the fourth quarter and helped their team to a 36-22 score.
The offense was fluid, and Siakam, Ibaka, and Kyle Lowry were completely shut down. This even led to a 17-0 run in the last quarter and eventually handed the Spurs the win.
And it can prove to be quite an important win in the long run. We’re not used to seeing this season’s Spurs bounce back like this.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this past week will definitely serve as a huge boost, and I’m very curious to see whether coach Pop can turn things around with this roster.
Jokic Slowly Getting Back to His Best
It’s hard to say you’ve had a successful week when the Cleveland Cavaliers beat you at home. However, despite the major hiccup, the Nuggets can take away many positives from the past seven days.
And the biggest one is undoubtedly Nikola Jokic’s form. The center started the season slowly, but recent displays are starting to remind us that he can be one of the best players in this league.
He opened the week with an incredible 47-point game against Atlanta, which also saw him register 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Joker was also instrumental for his team against the Dallas Mavericks, where he ended with 33 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. It was a close contest and one that the Nuggets would’ve probably lost at the start of the season, but Jokic proved to be the difference.
The Serbian then had another man of the match performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, this time dropping 20 points and registering 15 rebounds. Jokic was the main engine behind a sturdy defensive display and ran a diverse offense that often left the Clippers’ elite defense stranded.
Both games were huge statements from Jokic and the Nuggets. The loss against Cleveland will hurt, but if Jokic continues his improvement, I don’t expect anyone in Denver will care about that.
Carmelo Hits First Game-Winner Since Return
I wasn’t sure what to make of Melo’s return when he signed for the Trail Blazers, but I have to say that his impact so far has been mostly positive. This was evidenced again last week when Anthony was the team’s best player against the Toronto Raptors.
Not only did Carmelo drop 28 points, but he also took on the responsibility of firing the all-important last shot of the game and buried it. It’s the first time Melo has hit a game-winning jumper since his return, and it was supposed to provide the team with a huge morale boost.
However, the Blazers ended the week miserably after losing to the Timberwolves and Bucks. Melo had another good night against Milwaukee with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but his team was never close to winning it.
I feel Carmelo’s performances last week were a definite highlight, and he is the sort of player who can lead by example. So far, he hasn’t been able to single-handedly make the Blazers compete at the top, but he has adapted to life in Portland well, and I expect he will be a key figure for the rest of the season.
Weekly NBA Injury Report
Time to look at the injuries sustained by players during the past week. Usually, the list is long, and while it’s positive that not a lot of serious health problems have occurred this time around, there are a couple of big names on there.
- Joel Embiid
- Blake Griffin
- Wendell Carter Jr.
Joel Embiid underwent surgery on his left hand to repair a torn ligament. The information available at the moment states that he will be re-evaluated in two weeks’ time. However, it is possible that Embiid will miss at least a month of action.
There’s no point in saying that this is a huge loss for the Sixers, and it’s not exactly coming at the best of times for them. The team is struggling to establish themselves as a powerhouse in the East, and missing Embiid will not help their cause.
Another big name that won’t be playing soon is Blake Griffin, as the former All-Star underwent surgery on his left knee. The Detroit Pistons have confirmed that he will require a long period of rehabilitation, and there is currently no timetable for his return.
Griffin’s knee has been bugging him for a while, and obviously, he has decided that he can’t play in this condition anymore. The player had posted some of the worst numbers of his career this season, and this was quite possibly a direct result of these health issues.
Although there’s no concrete statement on his status, I expect there is a big chance that Griffin could miss the remainder of the season. This puts the Pistons in a very tough situation, not only because they have playoff aspirations this season but also because it puts their entire current project at risk, and I won’t be surprised if they decide to pull the plug here.
One of the best players on the Chicago Bulls also went down with an injury last week. Wendell Carter Jr. will be out for around 4-6 weeks after a severe ankle sprain. Although he’s only in his second year, Carter Jr. has already established himself as a core player in Chicago.
His loss is a huge blow as the team is often abysmal without the young forward on the court. I expect a very tough stretch for them in the next month or so.
This wraps up my take on the key events, results, and players of the past week. A lot of interesting stuff went down, so I hope that I’ve managed to cover it all. If you think there’s something missing, feel free to leave me a comment and share your opinion on how I can make this recap better.
Otherwise, make sure you tune in next Monday when I will again provide a summary of the most recent and notable developments in the NBA.
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