NBA

Kyrie Irving stroking from deep and other players on the rise in our three up, three down

Jay Asser 27/02/2018
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Kyrie Irving has shot 51.7 per cent on 3-pointers in the past three games.

We’re now a few games removed from All-Star weekend and more than a few players have stepped it up and looked fresh coming out of the break.

No one has been better than Anthony Davis, as the New Orleans Pelicans star has put up historic numbers throughout the month and in the past seven games especially.

Here, we take a look at three other players who’ve been hot, as well as three who’ve struggled.

THREE UP

Kyrie Irving

The Celtics guard has come out of the All-Star break sizzling to lead Boston to three straight wins. In his last 12 quarters, Irving has averaged 24.6 points, 6.3 assists and 6.6 rebounds while shooting a blistering 53.1 per cent from the field and 51.7 per cent from long range.

Nikola Jokic

Jokic has made flirting with a triple-double a regularity over Denver’s past four games. The Nuggets’ only losses this month have come at the hands of Western Conference-leading Houston, as Jokic’s all-around offensive skillset has spurred them to a climb up the standings.

Julius Randle

Randle, whose name was floated around during the trade deadline, is showing a more complete game since the All-Star break. In the Lakers’ three wins, the power forward has recorded a double-double in each, while averaging 6.0 assists. At 23, he’s still getting better.

THREE DOWN

Blake Griffin

Immediately after Griffin was traded to Detroit, the Pistons appeared to be reinvigorated. Over the last three games though, they’ve failed to crack 100 points and have fallen each time. Griffin has looked pedestrian with averages of 16.3 points, 3.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 38.7 per cent shooting.

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Isaiah Thomas

A chance of scenery was needed for Thomas, but it’s not like he’s close to returning to his All-Star level from a season ago. After dropping 22 points in his debut with the Lakers, Thomas have averaged just 11.4 points, 4.0 assists and shot 34.6 per cent, even as LA have had success.

George Hill

So much for Cleveland being magically fixed with their moves at the trade deadline. The Cavaliers dropped two of their first three since the All-Star break, with Hill providing little offence in the defeats by averaging 4.0 points, 2.0 assists, 17.6 per cent from the field and 0-of-6 on 3-pointers.

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NBA

Anthony Davis' ridiculous run has lifted the New Orleans Pelicans and put him in the MVP race

Jay Asser 27/02/2018
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Anthony Davis now has three 50-point games in his career.

There are hot streaks and then there’s what Anthony Davis is on right now.

Describing the New Orleans Pelicans star’s recent run as a ‘tear’ doesn’t do justice to the ridiculous numbers Davis has been putting up this month.

Specifically over the past seven games, the All-Star big man has averaged 37.6 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.7 blocks and a shooting percentage of 51.9.

His most dominant effort came in Monday’s 125-116 win over the Phoenix Suns, in which he recorded a staggering 53 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks.

With the performance, Davis became just the second player in history with 50 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a game since blocks became a stat in 1973, joining Bob McAdoo who accomplished the feat in 1974.

It also gave him his fifth 40-point, 10-rebound game in February – the most over a calendar month in the past 35 seasons – while notching the third 50-point outburst of his career to make him the 11th player in history to reach the half-century mark three times before the age of 25.

“It’s amazing, but at the end of the day I just try to go out there and win. Do whatever I can do,” Davis said on having his name mentioned among the game’s greats.

“Of course being in a category with those guys, it’s an honor for me. I don’t go out there and try to get those points in any category. I just try to do what I can to help the team win.”

And win is what the Pelicans have been doing as a result of Davis putting the team on his back. New Orleans have reeled off seven straight and won eight of 11 this month to vault them up the Western Conference standings.

After DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear on January 26, it looked like the Pelicans would be in a fight just to reach the playoffs. But after dropping five of their next six, New Orleans have righted themselves as Davis has surged and now sit fifth in the West, only two games in the win column behind Minnesota for third.

“Right now, everybody’s playing their part. Everybody’s doing it together,” Davis said. “And then we’re doing it without one of our main guys, so it makes it more special, especially when everybody thought we were going to go down in the standings. We’re actually moving up.”

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By going supernova, Davis has raised the collective success of the Pelicans, but he’s also put his foot in the door for the MVP discussion.

New Orleans’ mediocrity for the first half of the season, coupled with the load being shared between Davis and Cousins, meant that the 24-year-old wasn’t being mentioned for the award. But even though his February numbers are unsustainable, Davis has at least injected his name into the conversation.

The clear frontrunner for MVP at the moment is Houston Rockets star James Harden, who has the stats worthy of the honour – averages of 31.4 points, 8.9 assists and 5.2 rebounds – and the title of best player on the best team (record-wise).

It’s unlikely Harden will be caught, even if Houston are overtaken by Golden State by year’s end, but Davis’ February run has been a reminder of his standing among the top players in today’s game.

While Giannis Antetokounmpo’s torrid rise this season has earned him praise as the next superstar to sit on the throne after LeBron James and Kevin Durant finish their primes, Davis has been equally impressive to pose a challenge to that claim.

Right now, it seems like there’s nothing Davis can’t do.

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NBA

Zaza Pachulia's reputation as a dirty player grows after incident with Russell Westbrook

Jay Asser 25/02/2018
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Russell Westbrook attempts a floater before getting tangled with Zaza Pachulia.

The case for Zaza Pachulia being a dirty player continues to mount, his latest incident involving Russell Westbrook again thrusting him into headlines for the wrong reasons.

Westbrook accused Pachulia of intentionally trying to injure him after the big man landed on his leg in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ 112-80 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

The play saw Westbrook drive to the basket and put up a runner over Nick Young, which caromed off the rim. As Westbrook and Young both leaped for the rebound, with Pachulia standing behind the action, their legs got tangled to force the pair to hit the floor. Pachulia then fell into Westbrook’s knees before leaping up and rejoining the offence.

Westbrook didn’t mince words when asked about the situation after the game.

“What did it look like?” Westbrook said. “Anybody touch him? …Don’t ask me dumb questions, man. Obviously, it was intentional. So don’t ask me if it was intentional. Nobody touched him, he fell on my leg, tried to hurt me. But hey, that’s how it goes.”

When told of the accusation by ESPN, Pachulia responded: “No comment. That’s childish. Come on. I’m not responding to that.”

It’s impossible to know for sure if there was intent behind Pachulia’s fall, but the play certainly looked dirty.

Pachulia appears to just be standing by the Westbrook and Young pile before falling over on his own volition. There were no other bodies in the vicinity and any contact between Pachulia, Young and Westbrook seems minimal.

However, it’s difficult to see from the baseline camera but the broadcast angle shows Young’s right foot hooking Pachulia’s left leg, which could have thrown off the centre’s balance and sent him tumbling. It gives Pachulia a little bit of plausible deniability, but doesn’t explain why he falls so directly into Westbrook’s knees instead of trying to avoid contact.

It’s fair to think Pachulia wasn’t planning to dive at Westbrook, but saw an opportunity to make him feel it as he was going down.

His reputation does him no favours and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered up an analogy after Pachulia slid under Kawhi Leonard on a jump shot in last year’s Western Conference Finals, injuring his ankle and taking him out for the rest of the playoffs.

“Who gives a damn what his intent was?” Popovich said after Game 1. “Have you ever heard of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing somebody, but may have not intended to do that. All I care is what I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the history there exasperates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”

Pachulia’s fall on Saturday also caught the attention of Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, who offered up his opinion on Instagram by commenting: “The league has to take a look at this, man. This s*** is ridiculous.”

Whether or not Pachulia is intentionally trying to hurt players, the perception around the league appears to be that he is.

This isn’t an isolated incident or something we haven’t seen before, so it’s getting harder to ignore how much of a danger Pachulia poses on the court.

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