This edition covers the previous Tuesday through Sunday of the NBA.
Team of the Week: Boston Celtics
After hitting a rough patch in their schedule, the Celtics rebounded to close out 2017 with three straight wins. They handled the Hornets on the road and held off the Nets at home. Those two wins were sandwiched around an improbable comeback victory over the Rockets in Boston. Marcus Smart drew back-to-back offense fouls on James Harden to aid in the comeback. The first set up Al Horford’s game winner. The second clinched the game for Boston.
But to focus on the final seconds is to miss the fact that the Celtics came back from a 26-point first half deficit. Boston has shown great resolve this season, be it to win 16 straight after losing Gordon Hayward just five minutes into the season, or multiple come from behind victories. The Celtics now stand at 30-10, with nearly half their schedule complete already. They’ve had a compressed schedule, due in part to their upcoming London trip. With more days off coming in the coming months, Boston may only be tapping into their potential as a team. And, of course, there is always the lingering hope that Hayward could return late this season, which is something to watch for one of the NBA’s surprise teams.
Others receiving consideration: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers
The Mavericks have scuffled for most of the season, but turned it on late in 2017 and finished the calendar year on a four-game win streak. They started by topping the Raptors at home before taking three in a row on the road over the Pacers, Pelicans and Thunder. That is four straight wins over playoff teams. Dallas isn’t likely to make the playoffs, but they’re a team no one wants to play, as Rick Carlisle always has his crew prepared.
The Clippers have battled injuries all season long, but got Blake Griffin back earlier than expected and have played some of their best ball as of late. They’ve won three in a row and five of their last six game, including a perfect 3-0 week. Despite all the turmoil, the Clips are just 1.5 games behind the Pelicans in the playoff hunt. If they can get and stay healthy, they’ll be in the mix until the end of the year.
Player of the Week: Lou Williams
As covered above, the Los Angeles Clippers have faced a host of injuries this season. Lou Williams, more than anyone else, has kept the Clips afloat this year and this week was no different. Williams averaged 28 points per game on 50 percent shooting overall and 48 percent from behind the arc on over eight three-point attempts per game. He also handed out 4.7 assists per game during LA’s 3-0 week.
Others receiving consideration: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving
Stephen Curry played just one game, which normally isn’t enough for inclusion in this section. When that one game is transcendent, we can break the rules. Curry returned from an ankle injury to score 38 points on 13-of-17 from the floor and 10-of-13 from three in just over 25 minutes. No one can change a game the way Curry can and no one is more fun than he is when he has it going.
Kyrie Irving helped shoot the Celtics out of their slump, as he put up 25 points per game in Boston’s 3-0 week. He also dished out 4.7 assists per game, while grabbing 4.7 rebounds a night. The Celtics offense can go missing at times, but Irving is almost always there to come to the rescue and keep the team going.
Line of the Week: Stephen Curry vs Memphis Grizzlies
Stephen Curry was ridiculous in his return to the court. As covered above, he basically hit everything, including making 10 three-pointers. When Curry gets it going, there is no better show in sports. Sometimes we forget just how good he is, because the Warriors don’t really need him to be MVP Curry anymore. Nights like this one serve as a good reminder that no once changes a game like he does.
Others receiving consideration: Bradley Beal vs Chicago Bulls, DeMarcus Cousins vs Dallas Mavericks
Bradley Beal led the Wizards to a come from behind victory over the Bulls with 39 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. Washington has been very inconsistent this year, but Beal has raised his level of play quite a bit. He’s now a true go-to guy whenever the Wizards need a bucket.
The Pelicans lost to the Mavericks, but DeMarcus Cousins did everything he could to prevent it. The big man scored 32 points, grabbed 20 rebounds, handed out eight assists, snagged two steals and blocked five shots. Cousins has been playing some of the best ball of his career, as New Orleans continues to prove that going big, when everyone else is going small, can still work.
Win of the Week: Celtics win over the Rockets
It was covered above, but the Celtics comeback from being 26 points down to one of the NBA’s best teams is the best win this week. Boston used their NBA-best defense and some timely offense to complete the rally.
Others receiving consideration: Charlotte Hornets win at the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets win over the Los Angeles Lakers
The Hornets have struggled with injuries all season and haven’t been able to find the consistency needed to make a playoff run. In Oakland they put it all together behind a throwback performance from Dwight Howard, as they upset the Warriors on the road. Howard scored 29 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and handed out a surprising seven assists in the victory.
The Rockets snapped a five-game losing streak with a double overtime win against the Lakers on New Year’s Eve. Chris Paul carried Houston in overtime, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the extra sessions, after James Harden was forced to leave the game with a hamstring injury. Kudos to the young Lakers as well, as they went toe-to-toe with a contender on the road.
News of the Week: Isaiah Thomas’ return to the court for the Cavaliers is getting really close. He’s now progressed to scrimmaging five on five and it would seem his Cavs debut is imminent. Thomas himself has been clamoring to play. He’s well-known for being impatient and tough when it comes to playing through injuries, but Cleveland has the long view in mind. Thomas is rounding into shape just in time for a game back in Boston on Wednesday night.
When Thomas does return, it will be a boon to the Cavaliers, who have to rely on LeBron James to create just about all of their offense. On occasion, Dwyane Wade or Jeff Green have been able to take over the playmaking duties for James, but neither is able to do it nightly. Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are all terrific shooters, but none creates their own looks. By getting Thomas back, the Cavs will have someone to give James the occasional breather. And it might not only be within games, as James may be able to take the occasional game off as well, with Cleveland having a second All-Star level player on the court.
Transactions of Note: A notable empty roster spot was filled and two-way contract transactions continued this week, as NBA teams prep for a couple of upcoming roster milestones. 10 Day contracts can be signed as early as 1/5/18, all contracts become fully guaranteed on 1/10/18 and two-way contracts lock in on 1/15/18. And, of course, the trade deadline is right around on the corner on 2/8/18.
The roster spot filled was the Rockets signing veteran swingman Gerald Green to a non-guaranteed contract. Beset by injuries and needing depth, the Rockets signed the Houston native to essentially a make-good deal. Green provided some immediate dividends with solid minutes. With his ability to run the floor and make shots, he should be a good fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system.
Two-way contract shuffling continued, as the Pacers signed Alex Poythress to a fully guaranteed contract for the rest of the year, with a non-guaranteed second year for 2018-19. Poythress has started to pick up some rotation minutes for a Pacers squad that is a little thin at the forward position. This is ideally how it should work, with a player being rewarded with a standard NBA deal after outperforming his two-way contract.
Still on the two-way train, the Heat waived guard Matt Williams from his two-way contract and signed Derrick Jones Jr. to replace him. The writing was on the wall for Williams, who couldn’t crack the Heat rotation even with multiple wings out with injuries. Jones Jr. started the year with the Suns and was let go when Phoenix converted Mike James from his two-way deal. Jones will give Miami the athletic forward-type they’ve had success developing into NBA-level players in the past.