The NBA season is near the midway point for the majority of its teams and there’s no better time to take a look at what’s unfolded than the present. Things have gone swimmingly if you’re a fan of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers or the seemingly ageless Spurs. On the flip side, if you had hopes that the 76ers were going to turn the corner, the Timberwolves young talent was going to come together or the Pelicans were going to take that next step, well, you’ve been disappointed to say the least.
What’s unfolded that has caught the eye of NBA fans across the league in the past week or so? What has moved the needle and had talking heads in sports talk radio and the media blowing up the airwaves in the past few days? We’ll take a look at some of the biggest storylines that have unfolded recently on and off the hardwood.
San Antonio Keeps On Rolling At Home: The San Antonio Spurs have been white hot this season and that includes on their own floor. At the AT&T Center, the Spurs have been unbeatable: they’ve reeled off 33 straight home victories, including a 24-0 start at home this season. It wasn’t easy: the Spurs were down 12 after one quarter to the Cavaliers Thursday night before rallying to a 99-95 win. San Antonio extended that string with an emphatic 112-83 pasting of the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night. That marked the Spurs’ 11th win by at least 25 points this season to set a franchise record. The bad news for their opponents is there are still 40 games to go in the regular season.
As for the last time the Spurs fell on their own floor? You have to go back to March 12, 2015 for that particular event. The foil in that contest was none other than the Cavaliers, who got a career-high 57 points from Kyrie Irving in a 128-125 overtime triumph. Ten months later, no one else has been able to walk off the court in San Antonio as the visitor with a victory. San Antonio is on an 11 game win streak: they became the first team in NBA history with at least a 10 game win streak in six consecutive seasons.
Golden State Won’t Go Away: San Antonio has been scorching as their 36-6 record clearly attests. The bad news for the Spurs is that they aren’t even the best team in their own conference. Golden State has continued to terrorize the league as they have opened the year 37-4. Combined with the Spurs, it’s the first time in NBA history that two teams from the same conference racked up at least 35 wins in their first 41 games of the season.
Golden State has lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 113.9 points per game, which is more than five points per game more than anyone else in the league. The Warriors score 20.1 more points per game than the 76ers, who put up a league worst 93.8 points per game. Golden State is 2nd in the league in field goal percentage as they shoot 48.4 percent from the floor. The Warriors are by far the top three point shooting team as they hit 42.4 percent from beyond the arc. No other team shoots better than San Antonio’s 38 percent from long range. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson lighting it up from outside and Draymond Green playing point forward like Magic Johnson, it’s tough to stop the Warriors.
The Butler Answers the Door for the Bulls: Chicago has had their issues at times this season as they keep trying to shuttle pieces in and out of the lineup. The Bulls are 5.5 games behind the Cavaliers in the Central Division but still boasts the third best record in the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose continues to struggle despite claiming that he’s the healthiest he’s been in the last few years. Joakim Noah suffered a dislocated shoulder Friday that will require surgery and he may well miss the rest of the season. Pau Gasol has been banged up as well.
Factor in that the Bulls faced the lowly 76ers Thursday night, a team that has just five wins all season long. Chicago was flat and found itself down 12 after one quarter and 16 points at the half. They managed to claw back and get a hard-fought 115-111 overtime win and most of that can be chalked up to the performance of Jimmy Butler. Butler hit 15 of 30 from the floor and 21 of 25 at the charity stripe to put up a career-high 53 points and become the first Bulls player to score 50 since Jamal Crawford hit the mark back in 2004. Butler added 10 boards, six assists and three steals. The only other player that has put up 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game for the Bulls in the last 30 years? You might have heard of him…some guy named Michael Jordan.
The Showdown: While the major stories we’ve talked about have taken place in the past few days, this one is one that’s upcoming. It’s a rematch of the NBA Finals Monday night as the Warriors make the cross country trip to face the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers in a nationally televised game on TNT. We talked about Golden State’s scorching start and their blistering offensive production this season already. Cleveland has gone 28-10 and is atop the Eastern Conference standings as they hope to make a statement in this one.
Mind you, this will be a much different Cavaliers rotation than the one that limped out there during the six game loss in the NBA Finals. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are both back, giving LeBron James capable offensive support and production. James doesn’t have to try and carry the team on his back every single possession. You’re not going to have to rely on the streaky shooting of J.R. Smith or the gutty defense of Matthew Dellavedova. The Cavaliers won’t have to try and go with Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in a mismatch against the small ball Warriors lineup. Expect a highly entertaining tilt between two teams with some of the best players the league has to offer.
End of the Line For Kobe Bryant: It’s been well known that this was the final season for Kobe Bryant, who has had an illustrious career. It’s safe to say that his production, especially recently, has fallen off a cliff. Bryant missed the first three games of 2016, then came back with 28 points in a loss to Sacramento and 19 in a loss to the Thunder. Since that point in time, which was just over a week ago, Bryant has been absolutely terrible. He didn’t play in an 86-74 loss to Utah on January 10 and his last four games have produced nothing like the stat lines fans are used to seeing.
In the last four games, Bryant has combined to score a total of 25 points. He’s shot 11 of 37 from the field and has hit only 1 of 13 from beyond the arc. Bryant has not scored more than eight points in any of those four games while playing a total of 82 minutes. You have to admire that the Black Mamba is giving it his all but it’s clear that he’s not 100 percent nor is he doing much to help the team, which, as of Sunday, is the worst in the Western Conference. It’s a disappointing conclusion to what has been a terrific NBA career.
It’s Martin Luther King Day which means there’s 10 games total and 4 are being shown live on BT Sport from 6pm. Click to view today’s NBA predictions!