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Major Shake-Ups in the West, Raptors and Celtics Boss the East, and Other Weekly NBA News

| December 23, 2019 9:18 am PDT
Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Lebron James

Hello, and welcome to my weekly NBA recap, where I lay out all the important developments from the past seven days of league action.

This week is going to be a bit different since we’ve finally had a few teams that were able to eclipse the all-conquering forces. I will focus on several franchises that shook things up in the West and will also throw in a couple of Eastern teams that impressed me.

I have also added a special section to highlight the injuries that were sustained. Some very prominent players got hurt last week, so make sure you stay until the end of the recap, especially if you’re planning to bet on the upcoming NBA games.

Let’s get the ball rolling with the emphatic performances of the last week’s top dynamic duo.

Westbrook and Harden Take It to the Next Level

With a third of the NBA season already in the rearview mirror, I believe we’ve heard every angle there is on the Westbrook-Harden tandem. There are legitimate criticisms there, and many people still feel that this Rockets team is not championship material.

But we have to give credit where credit is due. This past week was simply phenomenal for the star duo. They looked to have reached a higher gear in the way they understand each other on the court, and that led to three back-to-back Houston wins.

It started with a home game against San Antonio, which provided the perfect setup for a James Harden revenge on Popovich and his team. The last encounter between the two teams was highly controversial as the Rockets felt officials made the wrong call on a Harden dunk.

The NBA subsequently rejected these claims, but the Houston players still felt that they were robbed.

Now this game presented a perfect opportunity to put things right, but the Rockets were actually woeful in the first half. Their shooting was nowhere near an acceptable level, and the defense was non-existent.

The Spurs are a huge mess right now, and even they managed to build a 19-point lead in the first two quarters.

But to the Rockets’ credit, they looked a totally different team in the second half, and the main reason was Westbrook and Harden. Led by their main guys, the team outscored the Spurs 56-35 in the remaining two quarters, which was enough to clinch the W.

Russ finished the game with a resounding 31 points and 10 rebounds, while Harden added 28 points, 7 assists, and 8 boards.

With the Spurs game done and dusted, it was time for the duo’s biggest coup of the week. They went to the Staples Center to face a full-strength LA Clippers team, which had lost only one home court game so far.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul Goerge combined for 59 points, and the bench contributed a further 45. The team also threw in all their defensive weapons at the Rockets, but to no avail.

Westbrook again erupted, this time dropping 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Harden was happy to watch his teammate tear up the rim and focused more on creating opportunities which led to a double-digit return on assists and a respectable 28 points.

All of Houston’s starters played a solid game, and there was some good contribution from McLemore and Rivers from the bench. It was a perfect teamwork effort spearheaded by two hungry elite players on top of their game.

The duo finished a productive week by torching Phoenix in Arizona. The Suns actually managed to score 30 points or more in each of the four quarters with Booker and in-form Oubre Jr. getting the bulk of the buckets.

Again, this didn’t rattle the Rockets one bit. It was time for Harden to take up the main scoring responsibilities once again, and the Beard finished with a cool 47 points in 34 minutes.

Westbrook had another 30-point game and added 10 assists.

The Rockets are now sitting 3rd in the West with a healthy 20-9 record and will feel confident going into the festive period. They’ve been in the shadow of the LA teams so far, but their team chemistry is growing fast, and things can get scary if they can keep it up.

Diverse Nuggets Continue Their Climb

Time to talk about the Denver Nuggets. Mike Malone’s team has not been the most entertaining franchise in the league, but they are finding their rhythm and slowly establishing themselves as a central piece of the Western Conference playoff puzzle.

They started off the week with back-to-back wins against the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves. A team with Denver’s credentials shouldn’t get too carried away with home wins against struggling franchises, but both contests were good outings for the team’s main weapons.

Jokic was one rebound shy of a triple-double against the Magic but recorded one against the T-Wolves after dropping 22 points, 10 boards, and 10 assists. The Serb has been gradually getting in the zone these past few months, so those numbers are not too surprising.

What did surprise me, though, was Jamal Murray’s shooting form. Murray can be one of the best shooters in the league, but his form has been a disappointment so far this season.

So, him getting 61 points in those two games can be crucial for the Nuggets going forward.

But what can be even more crucial is the fact that Coach Malone seems to have found the right balance in rotation.

The Nuggets closed the week with a tie against the Lakers, which perfectly showcased the team’s strength in depth when all pieces contribute.

Murray’s hot hand was gone, and he finished with a measly 6 points in 32 minutes. Jokic also couldn’t replicate his previous stat lines.

Nevertheless, the team found the right approach with their star men misfiring. They were patient, and although no one was a match for Anthony Davis, they did manage to limit his supporting cast brilliantly.

The third quarter saw the Nuggets’ starters combine for some impressive offensive plays, and the fourth quarter was left for the bench to close out the contest. The team scored 73 points in the second half and won the game 128-104.

It has to be said that LeBron James sat out the tie, but we have to give credit to the Nuggets for coming up with the best gameplan and executing it to perfection.

The team is now on a six-game winning streak and is occupying the 2nd seed in the West. The Nuggets are legit, and you shouldn’t be sleeping on them. They have the right chemistry, good quality, strength in depth, and only need a bit more confidence from their main guys.

The Jazz and the Blazers Enter the Playoff Picture

Both franchises were primed to be serious postseason contenders, but they have so far struggled to play to their full potential. However, last week was a definite improvement and one that can kickstart a successful stretch for both teams.

If you look at their opponents from the past seven days, you’ll probably not be overly impressed. But in their current situation, any win is a welcome one.

The Jazz beat the Magic, Hawks, and Hornets. Their shooters felt comfortable on the floor, and Donovan Mitchell was leading by example. It’s long overdue for the supposed sharpshooters like Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles to produce, so their recent performances will be a confidence booster for the whole team.

The Blazers overcame the Warriors, Suns, Magic, and Timberwolves in a similar fashion. They controlled the tempo, their main shooters were on fire, and there were plenty of positives on the defensive side, mainly due to Whiteside’s elite rim protection as of late.

Both teams still need to work on their consistency and effectively blooding the new pieces, but they have taken some positive strides lately, even with some notable players missing.

Simply put, they’ve shown their playoff faces. Now let’s see if they can keep it up.

Oklahoma City Refuses to Fade Away

It seems that everyone is just waiting for the Thunder to collapse and enter a full rebuild mode, but that’s far from what we are witnessing right now.

Last week, they won all their four games, even taking the scalp of the LA Clippers in the process. Sure, Kawhi Leonard did not play in that one, but OKC deserves huge credit for their performance.

After dropping a career-high 32 points against the Suns, young guard Gilgeous-Alexander repeated the feat against a much stronger Clippers defense.

Chris Paul was once again tasked with pulling the strings, and Dennis Schroder had another impressive outing with 28 points from the bench.

Resident big man Steven Adams was immense on both ends, finishing with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

This team is not only capable of getting the winnable games over the line but can also spring the odd surprise. People were quick to dismiss their chances, but after another good week, they sit 7th with a .517 record.

Stretched Raptors Roll On, Stage a Record Comeback

The Raptors were once again one of the positive teams last week. Nick Nurse and his squad continue to impress week in and week out, even if they were predicted to fade once Kawhi decided to leave.

They started off with cool back-to-back Ws against the struggling Cavaliers and Pistons. Pascal Siakam once again provided the firepower up front, and Kyle Lowry dropped a triple-double in Detroit.

The Pistons game did take its toll on the health of some of the players, so a stretched Raptors roster went back to Toronto to face an energized Wizards team.

Although it turned out to be a close affair, Lowry, VanVleet, and Ibaka made sure the team stood their ground to clinch a four-point win in the end.

The best was saved for last as the Dallas Mavericks made the trip to the Scotiabank Arena. They were missing star man Luka Doncic, but the Raptors had bigger problems on that front. Siakam, Gasol, and Powell were all out, and Kyle Lowry had to shoulder an enormous burden.

Luckily for Toronto, he didn’t disappoint. The Mavs were looking like the clear winner after establishing a 86-63 lead at the end of the third quarter.

But with Lowry leading the charge, the Raptors’ rotation players absolutely exploded in the fourth quarter and staged the franchise’s biggest comeback in history. After outscoring Dallas 47-21 in the last quarter, Toronto won the game 110-107.

Lowry finished as top scorer with 32 points, but Hollis-Jefferson and G League prodigy Chris Bouchier were both highly impressive throughout the contest.

The win meant that the Raptors have now won 21 NBA games this season, trailing only the LA teams and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Jayson Tatum Enjoys a Career Night, Celtics Flying High

After suffering back-to-back defeats against the Pacers and Sixers, Boston turned on the style last week to claim wins in all three of their games.

The Doncic-less Mavs struggled to contain the on-fire trio of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, who combined for 82 points in a 109-103 win.

The Celtics then limited both the Pistons and the Hornets to only 93 points. Those were another couple of impressive outings for Boston’s starters with Jayson Tatum dropping a career-high 39 points and 12 rebounds against Charlotte.

Even without Gordon Hayward, the team is showing great quality, and players like Enes Kanter and Grant Williams are gradually turning into crucial pieces in the rotation.

Good vibes all around the TD Garden.

Injury Report

Unfortunately, the week saw several important players get hurt.

  • LeBron James
  • Pascal Siakam
  • Marc Gasol
  • Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Mike Conley
  • Matisse Thybulle
  • Rui Hachimura

LeBron James missed his first game of the season after sitting out Lakers’ loss against the Denver Nuggets. LeBron will be evaluated in the next couple of days, but it has been confirmed that his absence is due to a legitimate muscle injury and has nothing to do with load management.

With a crunch game against the Clippers coming up, LeBron and the Lakers’ staff have some big decisions to make. My understanding is that the injury has been bugging the King for quite some time, and there’s a real chance he won’t feature again until January unless LeBron does a LeBron and opts to play through the pain.

The Raptors were also hit with a couple of big injuries after losing Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol indefinitely. The team closed out the week brilliantly in the absence of their star players, but it seems both are facing lengthy spells on the sidelines.

Karl-Anthony Towns is another All-Star caliber player who got hurt, but it looks like his injury is not serious. He is currently day-to-day but has a chance to return as soon as the Wolves’ next game.

The Jazz was impressive last week, but it looks like they will be without Mike Conley for a while. The point guard injured his hamstring last week and is expected to miss multiple games. A blessing in disguise for the in-form Jazz? Let’s wait and see, but Conley can definitely use a breather.

Two prominent rookies also sustained nasty injuries. Matisse Thybulle of the Sixers is expected to miss at least two weeks of action with a knee contusion. The actual extent of the problem is unknown, so it might turn out that the rookie will need more time to recover.

The Wizards’ Rui Hachimura also got hurt, and his groin problem is expected to keep him out in the next five games.

Final Words

This wraps up my look at last week’s key news and events from the NBA. After dominating the headlines for all the right reasons, the LA teams finally had an off week. That gave several franchises in the West the chance to flex their muscles and inject some fresh juice into the Western Conference.

How did you rate the teams’ performances last week? Do you think I’ve overlooked any important developments? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to read some feedback.

Also, make sure you stop by our NBA Betting Headquarters if you’re planning to bet on the upcoming games. You’ll find all the latest odds and free betting picks from our experts. And as always, remember to visit our blog next Monday for my weekly recap!

Elias Wagner

Elias Wagner has been a soccer fan since he was a young boy. He still has a huge passion for the sport itself as well as betting on it and writing about it.

Outside of soccer, Elias also enjoys other sports including basketball, tennis, and snooker. He's been writing for GamblingSites.com since 2018.

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