The Week That Was covers the previous Monday-Sunday in the NBA.
Team of the Week: Cleveland Cavaliers
So, about those Cavs struggles… Cleveland went 3-0 last week to run their winning streak to seven straight. The Cavaliers started the week by blowing out the Pistons in Detroit, which stands as Cleveland’s statement win to date. Detroit was sitting at second in the East and Cleveland dispatched them with relative ease. The Cavs then won two home games over the Nets and Hornets, the second behind a triple-double from LeBron James. The win streak has moved Cleveland all the way up to third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Others receiving consideration: Houston Rockets, Miami Heat
Houston only played two games, but they made the most of them. First, they blew out the visiting Nuggets by 30 and then had a 40 plus point turnaround in a win over the Knicks. The Rockets have now won four straight and 10 of their last 11 games.
Miami climbed over .500 with a 3-0 week that matches their current winning streak. They started the run by snapping Boston’s 16 game run, behind a big night from Goran Dragic. Then the Heat hit the road for wins over the Timberwolves and Bulls. Erik Spoelstra has condensed his rotation down to the same nine players each night and that seems to have clicked, as Miami is finally playing at a consistent level.
Player of the Week: Kyrie Irving
The Celtics saw their 16-game win streak end, but still went 3-1 for the week and Kyrie Irving was a big part of that. He averaged 31.3 points per game on 59.5 percent shooting. He also hit 44 percent from the arc and 85 percent at the free throw line. Irving has also assumed Isaiah Thomas’ fourth quarter closing responsibilities, as he led comebacks against Mavericks and Pacers with high scoring efforts.
Others receiving consideration: Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard
Davis led the Pelicans to a 3-1 week, with the lone loss coming to the Golden State Warriors. Davis scored 29 points per game, grabbed almost 12 rebounds per game and hit over 60 percent of shots. His play alongside DeMarcus Cousins has lifted the Pelicans in a crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
Lillard helped lead the Blazers to a 3-1 week by scoring over 28 points per game. He also handed out over 5 assists a night and snagged four rebounds a game. All three wins came in close contests on the road over Memphis, Brooklyn and Washington, and Lillard helped lead Portland in each victory.
Line of the Week: Kyrie Irving at Dallas Mavericks
Irving exploded for 47 points in the Celtics come from behind win at Dallas. He hit 16-of-22 shots overall, 5-of-7 from behind the arc and 10-of-11 at the free throw line. He also dished out six assists on the night. Most important, Irving saved his best for last, as he scored 17 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 10 in the extra period. With Boston’s win streak on life support, Irving came to the rescue in very Isaiah Thomas-like fashion.
Others receiving consideration: Blake Griffin at Atlanta Hawks, Khris Middleton at Phoenix Suns, LeBron James vs Charlotte Hornets
With the Clippers on a nine game slide, Blake Griffin took things into his own hands and delivered a much needed win at Atlanta. Griffin put up a triple-double of 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, as Los Angeles took control in the second half.
The Bucks needed Khris Middleton to step up with Giannis Antetokounmpo and several others out at Phoenix and step up he did. Middleton hit 14-of-26 shots and 9-of-11 free throws for 40 points to lead Milwaukee to a victory over the Suns. He also grabbed nine rebounds and nabbed four steals, as the Bucks played most of the game with four guard lineups.
In a tight game, the Cavaliers know they can always look to LeBron James to bring them home and he did so once again versus the Hornets. James delivered a triple-double of 27/16/13, but it was his defense that made the difference in a one-point victory. James defended Kemba Walker down the stretch and helped hold Walker to just 1-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter and 6-of-21 for the game.
Win of the Week: Heat home win over the Celtics
Miami threw some of Boston’s suffocating defense back at them and used timely offense to end the Celtics 16 game winning streak. Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters made big shot after big shot, as they combined for 53 points, while Tyler Johnson added 16 off the bench. The win helped launch the Heat onto their current three game winning streak.
Others receiving consideration: Oklahoma City's home win over the Warriors
It hasn’t been the season the Thunder hoped for so far, but a blowout victory over Kevin Durant and the Warriors showed Oklahoma City's promise and updside. Russell Westbrook led the way with 34 points, while Carmelo Anthony and Paul George chipped in 22 and 20 points respectively. The Thunder also held the Warriors to just 41 percent shooting from the floor, as Oklahoma City ran up a lead as large as 26 points on the night.
News of the Week: It was thought that Paul Millsap avoided significant injury when he first hurt his left wrist against the Lakers. Unfortunately, further tests revealed ligament damage. Millsap underwent surgery on Sunday and is looking at a two to three month recovery period. Fortunately, power forward is Denver’s deepest position. They have veteran Kenneth Faried and younger options in Trey Lyles and Juancho Hernangomez who can fill the void. Denver could also go big with Miles Plumlee playing minutes alongside Nikola Jokic or small with Wilson Chandler sliding up a position. And they also have deeper bench vets like Richard Jefferson or Darrell Arthur as options if need be.
Despite the depth, the Nuggets most used lineup was their standard starting group of Millsap, Jokic, Chandler, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. That group had played 224 minutes together over 14 games and was a dominating +48 during that time. Mike Malone now has some juggling to do, as Denver tries to keep pace in the Western Conference while Millsap is out.
Transactions of Note: While there were no transactions this week, outside of NBAGL assignments/recalls, the next trade window is right around the corner. On December 15th, many of the players who were signed as free agents this summer are eligible to be traded. NBA executives treat the calendar with different windows as it pertains to trade. Those windows are:
NBA Draft – many trades are made at or around the draft, as teams plan for the upcoming summer.
Offseason – the longest window of all, as team reset their franchises for the upcoming season.
Early Trade Window – this is the 12/15 window, when teams can undo some of the mistakes they may have made in free agency in the previous offseason.
Trade Deadline – this is really the window from late-January to mid-February (the deadline), when teams can push their chips in for a playoff run. Or, on the flip side, sell off pieces as they launch a rebuild.
These windows are important to note when considering why a team like the Boston Celtics hasn’t yet used the Disabled Player Exception of approximately $8.4 million. By waiting until the early trade window opens, the Celtics will have more options available to them than they do now. The early trade window had produced at least one big trade each of the last few years. With teams starting to understand their place in the NBA hierarchy for this season, this year should be no different.