This edition covers the previous Monday through Sunday of the NBA.
Team of the Week: Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers only played two games in the last week, but they won them both as part of their current four-game winning streak. What made their 2-0 week special was the quality of their opponents, as they beat both the Spurs and Pistons. After a slide dropped them out of the postseason picture, Philadelphia has fought their way back to .500 and they remain in the mix for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Others receiving consideration: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors
The Celtics went 3-0 last week to close out the pre-London portion of their schedule on a six-game win streak. Boston’s defense was on full display, as they shut down the Cavaliers and Timberwolves at home, before going on the road and to win a close one over the Nets. The Celtics will travel to London to meet the aforementioned Sixers in a matchup of teams on a roll.
The Warriors keep winning at their typical rate with a 3-0 week as part of their current four game run of victories. What made this week interesting was they won all three games on the road. They picked up wins at Dallas, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers, the final two without Kevin Durant.
Toronto is keeping the pressure on Boston and Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference. The Raptors started the week with an overtime win over the visiting Bucks. They then went on the road to handle the Bulls and those same Bucks with relative ease. Toronto is currently tied with Boston in the loss column, and can make up ground on the Celtics over the next week, as Boston only plays once over the next nine days.
Player of the Week: DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan went off last week as he averaged 35.7 points per game on 55.7 shooting. He also dished out six assists per game. Most impressive was that he made 3.7 three-pointers per game while hitting 55 percent from behind the arc. He started the week with a 52 point explosion in the Raptors overtime win over the Bucks, he then scored 35 against the Bulls and closed with 20 points over the Bucks in a blowout win.
DeRozan has embraced the three-pointer more this year, as he is taking 3.2 triples a game, which is over double his career average. He’s hitting a career-best 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts too. And he’s doing this while still getting to the free throw line for eight attempts a night. By diversifying his game, he’s made himself an extremely tough cover and helped Toronto open up their offense in ways they haven’t been able to before.
Others receiving consideration: Stephen Curry, C.J. McCollum
Stephen Curry’s return from his latest ankle injury has been a smashing success. He scored 35.3 points per game this past week, while making a ridiculous six three-pointers per game. He also grabbed 6.7 rebounds and handed out 5.3 assists per night for the week. He capped his big week with 45 points in just 29 minutes in a blowout victory over the Clippers.
With Damian Lillard in and out of the lineup, the Trail Blazers have had to rely on C.J. McCollum more than ever and he’s delivered. He scored 24 points per game while leading Portland to a 3-1 week. He also snagged 5 rebounds per game and dished out 6.3 assists. McCollum is keeping Portland afloat in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race.
Line of the Week: DeMar DeRozan vs Milwaukee Bucks
DeRozan scored 52 points on 17-of-29 shooting in an overtime win over the visiting Bucks. He also hit 5-of-9 from downtown and was a perfect 13-of-13 at the free throw line. Despite the high-scoring output, he also put up eight assists, as Toronto ran everything through him to close out the victory.
Others receiving consideration: Stephen Curry at Los Angeles Clippers
When Curry gets it going, there is no better show in basketball. He scored a season-high 45 points and sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Warriors blowout win. He hit 11-of-21 overall, 8-of-16 from behind the arc and 15-of-16 at the charity stripe. The only shame was the game wasn’t closer, otherwise Curry would have easily broken the 50 point barrier and maybe even threatened 60 plus.
Win of the Week: Celtics win over Cleveland
Everything the Celtics do is measured against the question “But can they beat the Cavs?” They started to answer part of that inquiry with a resounding 102-88 victory this week. Boston shut down one of the league’s best offenses, as Cleveland hit just under 35 percent of their shots. Things will look different the next time these two meet, as Isaiah Thomas will likely be back in the lineup for the Cavaliers. But that will be another chance for the Celtics to prove they belong in the conversation, before really answering the questions in the playoffs.
Others receiving consideration: Philadelphia 76ers win over the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors win at Milwaukee Bucks
Even if the Spurs were resting some guys on the second night of a back-to-back, anytime Philadelphia can get one of the NBA’s top teams it is a good win. Brett Brown was able to beat his mentor and Ben Simmons hit 10-of-15 free throws, overcoming some hack-a-Simmons portions of the game.
The Raptors blew out the Bucks in Milwaukee, only a few nights after beating them in overtime in Toronto. It isn’t easy to beat the same team twice in the same week, and especially not on the road for the second win. The Raptors have played at a very high level this season, and wins like this are a big part of why.
News of the Week: Kawhi Leonard was diagnosed with a partial tear in his left shoulder. It is the latest in a string of setbacks for Leonard this season, as he’s dealt with quadriceps tendinopathy all year. He’ll miss at least the next couple of games, and considering the Spurs caution with injured players, it could be even longer.
San Antonio is better at playing through injuries than most teams, because of their overall depth and Gregg Popovich’s ability to manipulate his roster. But being without their best player for any amount of time might be enough to keep the Spurs behind the Warriors and Rockets atop the Western Conference standings.
Transactions of Note: NBA contracts became fully guaranteed on Sunday, as players who were partially guaranteed had to be waived in order for their teams to recoup any savings. Most of these players have outperformed their non-guaranteed contracts and became fully guaranteed with scant notice. But the Milwaukee Bucks engaged in a series of transactions that may seem minor, but could ultimately pay off long term.
The Bucks first waived DeAndre Liggins, which is noteworthy because Liggins has been a rotation player for most of the season. The release of Liggins is the second move that has raised eyebrows around the Milwaukee locker room, as the Bucks waived Gary Payton II in similar fashion earlier this season.
With the open roster spot, the Bucks converted two-way player Joel Bolomboy to a standard NBA contract. Bolomboy played for Utah last year and had shown promise for Milwaukee, so this seemed like a typical promotion for a young player. But there was more to come than initially met the eye.
With an open two-way spot, the Bucks signed Xavier Munford to fill the vacancy. Munford has some previous NBA experience and was one of the best players in the NBAGL this season. Milwaukee was able to snatch him up on a two-way deal prior to the deadline for signing players to two-way contracts next week. This keeps another team from getting Munford and allows the Bucks to work in a potential depth player at the point guard position.
Things didn’t stop there though. Milwaukee, in the same day as they converted him, then waived Bolomboy and signed Sean Kilpatrick from his two-way deal to a standard NBA contract for the rest of the season. This begs the question: why convert Bolomboy at all in the first place? That is where things get interesting. Had Milwaukee simply waived Bolomboy from his two-way deal, he was a good candidate to be claimed by another team. He has several fans around the NBA and teams would have jumped at the chance to add him. By converting him to a standard NBA deal first, there is far less chance he’ll be claimed on waivers. Doing so would subject that team to having to fully guarantee Bolomboy’s NBA salary of just over $1.3 million, as the deadline has passed for fully guaranteeing contracts. Bolomboy will now likely clear waivers and re-join the Bucks NBAGL squad on a NBAGL contract.
So, to sum it up, Milwaukee waived a rotation player in Liggins, but replaced him with Kilpatrick, who is probably just as good as Liggins. They gave Bolomboy a “bonus” of just over $22,000 for being a good sport with the roster maneuvering. They signed one of the best players in the NBAGL in Munford, likely for the rest of the season. And they opened up a second two-way spot in the process. The Bucks have been among the league’s most active teams in moving players in and out of their two-way spots, which is a byproduct of trying to mine some cheap talent, while also avoiding paying the luxury tax in the process. Whether this pays off long term remains to be seen, but Milwaukee is set up for what could be a very active trade deadline next month.