The Week That Was covers the previous Monday-Sunday in the NBA.
Team of the Week: Boston Celtics
The Celtics continued to roll with a 4-0 week, including their first win over the San Antonio Spurs since 2011. Boston also had a come from behind victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and picked up blowout wins over the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic. With a home heavy schedule coming, along with some weaker opponents, it isn’t inconceivable that the Celtics could be on a 13-game win streak headed into a home game with the Golden State Warriors in a week and a half.
Others receiving consideration: Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers
Minnesota had a 4-0 week, including an overtime victory over the Miami Heat, followed by their three best defensive efforts of the season. In consecutive wins over New Orleans, Dallas and Charlotte, the Timberwolves held them all under 100 points. It’s taken a while, but Tom Thibodeau’s group finally seems to picking up the defensive intensity he wants from game to game.
Philadelphia went 3-0 last week as part of an overall four-game win streak. They kicked off the week with a road victory over the Houston Rockets and then handled both Atlanta and Indiana with relative ease. The Sixers averaged 118 points for the week and have proven to be a handful to guard, led by their 6’10’’ point guard Ben Simmons.
Player of the Week: Ben Simmons
Speaking of Simmons, he was the NBA’s best player last week, as he averaged 19 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game. In a win over the Pacers, Simmons recorded his second triple-double. He’s truly playing point guard now as Philadelphia has transitioned to a big lineup that features Simmons in the backcourt with J.J. Redick, and a frontline of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. That group is incredibly hard to guard, as opposing teams have nowhere to hide a traditionally sized point guard.
Others receiving consideration: James Harden, Damian Lillard
Harden led the Houston Rockets to a 3-1 week by scoring over 36 points and dishing out 10 assists per game. He also hit an average of 5.5 three-pointers per game on 51 percent shooting clip. Despite being without Chris Paul most of the year, the Rockets are atop the Western Conference and Harden is the reason why.
Lillard helped the Portland Trail Blazers to a 2-2 by averaging 34.3 points per game on 48.8 shooting. He also made it to the free throw line 44 times in four games and missed just once. Lillard’s hot start to the year has helped the Blazers keep pace in a deep Western Conference.
Line of the Week: LeBron James vs Washington Wizards
Maybe he was tired of listening to the Wizards say the Cavaliers ducked them in the playoffs last year. Maybe he was tired of hearing his team doesn’t have it this year. Maybe he just wanted to remind everyone who the best player in the world is. Whatever the reason, LeBron James was a monster against the Washington Wizards. He scored 57 points on 23-of-34 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out seven assists, blocked two shots and snagged three steals. All game long, James got whatever he wanted, as the Wizards had no answer for him.
Others receiving consideration: James Harden vs Utah Jazz
In any other week, Harden would have run away with this one. He scored 56 points on 19-of-25 shooting, including 7-of-8 from behind the arc and 11-of-12 at the charity stripe. He also recorded 13 assists, making him responsible for at least 82 of the Rockets 137 points.
Harden also joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to score at least 50 points on better than 75 percent shooting, while handing out 10 or more assists in the same game. As part of his big night, Harden scored 22 points in both the first and third quarters and sat for the last seven and a half minutes of the game.
Win of the Week: Boston Celtics win at Oklahoma City Thunder
Boston’s win streak looked in jeopardy, as they fell behind by 18 points on the road against the Thunder. Then the stingy defense and Kyrie Irving took over. The Celtics held OKC to just 39 second half points, while Irving scored 22 of his 25 points after halftime to extend the win streak to seven games.
Others receiving consideration: Philadelphia 76ers win at Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks win at Cleveland Cavaliers
Playing without J.J. Redick, the 76ers offense shot 55 percent in a road win over the Rockets. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid combined for 46 points on 19-of-27 shooting. And the Sixers bench outscored Houston by a 40-23 margin, led by 17 points from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
The shorthanded Hawks became the latest team to take advantage of the leaky Cleveland defense, as Atlanta scored 37 points in both the first and third quarters, as part of a 117 point night. Dennis Schroder destroyed the Cavs over and over in pick and roll and finished with 28 points. The Hawks are just 2-8, but now have a win they can feel good about over the defending Eastern Conference champs.
News of the Week: Are the Cleveland Cavaliers in trouble? It wasn’t just the loss to the Hawks that exposed things, but it put a little more light on a season-long problem. The Cavs are last in Defensive Rating at 114.5, a full two points behind 29th ranked Phoenix. Cleveland has also allowed a league-worst 55.3 percent effective field goal percentage.
We’ve had this sort of hand-wringing before with the Cavaliers and they figure it out when it counts. But this is an older team and many on the roster are coming off three straight runs to the NBA Finals. That takes a toll on players, both physically and mentally. If Cleveland can’t fix this, they won’t be making a fourth straight run in June.
Transactions of Note: While there were no noteworthy transactions this week, there is something to monitor and it involves the new two-way contracts. Players on these deals are allowed to spend 45 days with their NBA club while their G League club is in season. It is important to note that the rule is 45 days and not 45 games. This includes practices, travel and off days. If they are with the NBA club, it all counts, with very few exceptions. Once a player’s 45 days are used up, the NBA team has to convert his contract to a standard NBA deal, or they have to waive the player.
With the NBAGL season having tipped off, the clock has now started for several players. For most two-way players, this won’t come into play anytime soon. They’ve been assigned to their NBAGL team and will spend most of the next few months there. But for Mike James and the Phoenix Suns, this issue is going to come to a head sooner, rather than later. With Eric Bledsoe benched, James has been starting at point guard for the Suns. Because of this, James will use up his 45 days quicker than most. Without an open roster spot to slide him into, should they have to convert him, Phoenix will have to make an additional transaction to open one up.
Given that James is starting and the Suns improved play as of late, this is a situation that is worth monitoring. A spot could open up when Bledsoe is eventually traded, but without anything imminent on that front, keep an eye on James and the 45 day clock.