Playing The Point – April 3, 2017

By Jay Colby,

1. MVP race is going down to the wire – With only a week and half left in the NBA regular season the MVP race is still up for grabs. Frontrunners Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets, have both been making compelling statements to stake their claim for the MVP. Both Harden and Westbrook have put up historic numbers leading their teams to playoff berths. There has been much discussion of their respective teams records with OKC being 43-31 and Houston 51- 24. Citing that Harden be the more deserving player, because he is on the best team. While Westbrook may have the better numbers, but is on an average to mid-level team. That means each and every matchup, no matter the level of competition, could have a significant impact on who fits where when the dust settles on what has been a remarkable season for the deepest field in the MVP race we’ve seen in years.

2. Can the Cavs turn on the switch for the playoffs? – To say the Cavaliers struggled during the month of March would be an understatement. Going 7 – 10 and losing 5 out of their last eight games to end the month of March. Cleveland has found themselves in unusual position since Lebron James has returned. The Cavs defensive effort and inability to get make stops has become a huge reason why people are starting to question their ability to defend their title. No to mention the injury bug has played Cleveland all season losing J.R Smith and Kevin Love for an extended time period. Which has caused the Cavs defensive to suffer since both players are back on the court. Since Lebron James returned there has been no real threat in the Eastern Conference to derail the Cavs from reaching the NBA finals. This year there are a couple teams that may be give Cleveland some issues starting with the Boston Celtics who currently are the NO. 1 seed in the East. Following with the NO.3 seeded Washington Wizards led by star point-guard John Wall. Who could cause some major problems for Cleveland’s subpar defensive. With only six games left in regular Cleveland needs to show improvement if they want to make another long playoff run.

3. The postseason picture starts to reveal Itself – The NBA regular season coming to an end with the playoffs starting April 15th. The postseason picture is starting to reveal itself from an exciting regular season. While the league’s best teams will be safely playing into April and May, there are a few teams fighting for their playoff lives to clinch one of the final few spots. One of those teams are the Denver Nuggets fighting for the last playoff spot in the West. Currently two games back of Portland whom has made a push in the last few weeks to take over the 8th seed in the West. The Nuggets are nowhere near eliminated, but they have a tough schedule down the stretch. Denver plays six of its last eight on the road, while Portland plays six of its last eight at home. In the Eastern Conference, there is a logjam for the top four spots with there only being 3 games that separate all four teams. Boston is currently the NO.1 seed but Cleveland is only a half a game behind them. This race for the top seed will probably go down to the wire.

4. Kevin Durant Responds to Shaq – During last month back in fourth feud with Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and JaVale McGee. Kevin Durant stood up for his teammate by criticizing Shaq free throw shooting and lack of range. O’Neal argued that Durant “can’t talk to me like that” because he “ain’t in the club yet”. Durant responded directly to these comments stating “He said I can’t talk to him because I haven’t won a championship can see right through that. Shaq feels validated in life, not just basketball, because he’s won a championship.” Durant went on to say “To say I can’t say anything to him about my teammate who you tried to bully for no reason I can’t come to his defense because I haven’t won championships that shows me your whole life is centered around the fact that you feel like you’re someone in this world because you won a championship.” Durant also stated that he “respects” former players like Shaq but he is still going to defend his teammates.

5. Warriors starting to peek at the right time – Since the injury to Kevin Durant there has been a lot of questions surrounding the Warriors. Many analysis have questioned if Golden State can still win a championship without Durant’s services. After beating the Houston Rockets twice in last week and coming back from 22-point deficit during the first quarter in a key showdown with San Antonio. The Warriors have shown vast improvement on the defensive side of ball. During their 10-game winning streak, Golden State has managed an unbelievable 96.1 defensive rating that ranks 1st in the NBA since the streak started on March 14th. The streak has been a signature stretch for a defense often overshadowed by the Splash Brothers. With Durant, being the team’s best rim protector, in a suit, the Warriors have dug deep and ramped up the defensive.

6. Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic to miss at least 2 weeks with fractured fibula – The Portland Trail Blazers will be without center Jusuf Nurkic for at least two weeks after it was discovered he has a non-displaced fibular fracture in his right leg, the team announced Friday. An MRI confirmed the fracture, Blazers officials are unclear when the injury occurred. Nurkic played 32 minutes in Thursday night’s 117-107 victory over the Houston Rockets, recording 19 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Since being traded to Portland in February, he is averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 blocks in 20 games.

7. Kyle Lowry expected to return soon – The Toronto Raptors have been without starting point guard Kyle Lowry for the last 18 games as he recovers from surgery just after the All-Star break to fix an issue with his right wrist. Lowry’s rehab is going well and he should return before the 2017 NBA playoffs tip off on April 15. “I’m confident he’ll be able to get some games in,” head coach Dwane Casey told reporters on last week. “I don’t know exactly how many, but I’m confident. He’s pushing himself and the situation to try to get at least a couple games in, don’t know how many, but he’s trying to get back before the playoffs start.”

8. Season over for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor – The Philadelphia 76ers’ injury misery extended Friday when the team announced both Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington would be out for the rest of the season. An MRI this week revealed what the team termed a “slight” meniscus tear in Covington’s right knee. No decision has been made on whether Covington will have surgery as he researches treatment options, a team spokesman said. Okafor has dealt with intermittent right knee soreness since needing surgery for his own meniscus tear last March. He’d missed the previous four games with right knee soreness after it flared up during a game in Oklahoma City on March 22. He hasn’t had an MRI. Okafor averaged just 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 50 games this season, losing playing time because of a logjam at the center position early in the season and then with knee issues.

9. Austin Rivers may return by start of playoffs – Austin Rivers is currently sidelined after straining his left hamstring on last week during the LA Clippers’ game against the Washington Wizards.
“It’s a pretty good one,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “He’ll be out for a while.” The Clippers have four games remaining in the regular season, and the team hopes its guard can return by the time the postseason starts in two weeks. Rivers has made 74 appearances this season, his first after signing a three-year, $35.4 million contract in July, and he’s averaging 12.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

10. Nick Young still undecided about his player option – Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young owns a player option for 2017-18 worth $5.66 million as part of his contract. According to Young, he has not yet made a decision to pick it up, or choose to join the 2017 free-agent market in July. Young has until June 21 to exercise his option.

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