Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports By Steve DelVecchio | Last updated 9/2/20
Marcus Morris was ejected from Game 6 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks on Sunday for a hard foul on Luka Doncic, and the play also resulted in a fine.
The NBA announced on Wednesday that Morris has been fined $35,000 for “recklessly striking” Doncic. The league also took into consideration that Morris has been disciplined for on-court altercations in the past.
The Dallas Mavericks star was questionable for Game 4 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday after spraining his ankle during Game 3. Doncic was confident he’d play in Game 4, and that was the case as the 21-year-old started the game for Dallas.
Doncic, again, put up an unbelievable performance in the NBA playoffs, scoring 43 points while adding 17 rebounds and 13 assists — all while presumably still dealing with the effects from a sprained ankle.
The numbers were impressive, but his game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Mavericks a 135-133 win over the Clippers was legendary.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James missed his first game on Sunday due to a thoracic muscle strain, but he’s reportedly going to play on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Clippers.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin wrote that James is also dealing with “a nagging groin issue” and that the Lakers are listing him as day to day. Then, he shared that, despite these injuries, “a source close to James told ESPN he expected the star to be in the lineup.”
This should not surprise anyone. James isn’t one of those NBA stars who enjoys the regular “load management” day off here and there. He’s more the kind of guy who doesn’t want to come off the court for a single second.
On top of that, the Lakers have suddenly lost three straight games after opening the season with a 24-3 record. So, you know James is going to show up for this huge prime-time game on Christmas Day.
The 34-year-old superstar is enjoying another fantastic season, averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game.
In today’s social media-driven NBA, MVP candidates don’t just need the numbers, they need an accompanying narrative to take home the MVP award. Just ask James Harden.
Three seasons ago, Harden finished second to Russell Westbrook in the MVP vote despite averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and leading the Rockets to 55 regular-season wins. Westbrook edged Harden because he had the best narrative: Westbrook was the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson and the superstar who stayed in OKC even after Harden and Kevin Durant had left.
The next season, however, Harden beat LeBron James for the award, despite having inferior statistics, because he had the better narrative: It’s about time we recognize Harden’s greatness and reward him because he probably should have won last season.
Last season, Harden finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo because people had crowned Giannis as the best two-way force in the league and the next face of the NBA. As Harden so aptly put it in a GQ interview, “[I had] a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games… and all the talk was about [Giannis]? There’s no way. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen?”
Narratives matter in the MVP race. So, as a primer for this season’s MVP race, here are the top-10 MVP contenders and their accompanying narrative (in italics) entering the season (in alphabetical order):
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Based on the past two seasons, it’s clear Giannis is on a LeBron James-Kevin Durant kind of career trajectory. That being the case, we should expect Antetokounmpo to ascend even higher in this, his seventh season, in the middle of his athletic prime. Giannis’ MVP narrative will be one of dominance, a season where he erases any doubt as to whether he’s the best player in the world. Look for him to improve his game in some obvious way this season -– the most obvious hole in his game is his jump shot (26 percent from three-point land last season) -– but he could also double-down on his already one-of-a-kind post game or become a better playmaker.
Steph Curry, Warriors
Steph has a chance to remind everyone that he’s still the toughest player to game plan for in the league … and maybe ever. He’s back to being the unquestioned best player on his team and the player who won back-to-back MVP awards before taking a step back to make way for Kevin Durant.
After having the second-highest usage percentage in the NBA during his record-setting 2015-16 MVP season, Curry finished the next three Durant seasons at 11th, 10th and 13th. With no Durant and no Klay Thompson for most of this season, Curry’s usage rate should easily jump back into the top-five again. Thus, his stats will almost certainly mirror his stats from that 2015-16 MVP season, when he averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds and made an NBA-record 402 three-pointers. If the Warriors are near the top of the West, and Curry leads the league in scoring and flirts with breaking his own three-point record, he’ll be right in the mix for MVP.
Like Shaquille O’Neal before him, AD is hitting his prime and poised for a Hall of Fame leap as the two-way centerpiece and next great big man for the Los Angeles Lakers .
If he plays anything like he did during the second half of the 2017-18 season, when he averaged 31 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.1 steals over the last 27 games of the season, he’ll probably be a frontrunner for his first MVP award. And if he is playing like that, you can bet your bottom dollar that LeBron and Klutch Sports start campaigning for AD to take home the MVP award. In fact, you don’t even have to read between the lines from the Lakers’ media day to see that James is already doing that.
Joel Embiid, 76ers
Embiid’s narrative began shortly after Kawhi Leonard’s fourth bounce fell through the basket in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The world saw Embiid crying as he left the court, exhausted from a grueling seven-game series. If Embiid plays his way into the MVP conversation, it will mean he spent the offseason getting into the best shape of his life, vowing that he’d never lose another playoff series due to fatigue. He’ll have realized that few people on this Earth have been blessed with his size and athletic prowess, and he decided it’d be a travesty if he didn’t maximize those God-given gifts. It’s time to do what Shaq and Wilt and all the other historic NBA centers did before him: dominate.
With Jimmy Butler taking his talents to South Beach, Embiid will have ample opportunities to show off his newfound conditioning as the closer for the Sixers.
James Harden, Rockets
The Beard knows first-hand how a narrative can swing an MVP vote. He believes he got robbed of the award last season. He has a point. And that means that Harden’s narrative this season will be one of revenge against the voters who wronged him out of capping off a historic season with no MVP trophy. Revenge against the people who think he isn’t the best player in the league. Revenge against the people who don’t think he can lead the Rockets to a title.
An MVP season for Harden might not include the same massive scoring as last season (36.1 points per game) now that his high-usage buddy Russell Westbrook is in H-Town. But if his isolations and pick-and-rolls remain two of the most highly efficient plays in basketball and his assist numbers go back to what they were in previous seasons (10.0 per game from 2016-17 to 2017-18), Harden will have another crack at MVP.
LeBron James, Lakers
This is the most obvious narrative: LeBron’s “Forgot About Dre” season. LeBron is coming off of a miserable first season with the Lakers in which he suffered his first major injury and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. However, missing the playoffs means that he finally got an extended rest after eight straight trips to the NBA Finals.
He’s also undoubtedly been listening to the media mock his team the past 12 months and declare that he’s no longer the Best Player on the Planet. It’s all set up perfectly for LeBron to come out and have a G.O.A.T. kind of season to remind the basketball world that he’s still the King.
An MVP season for LeBron won’t be his typical 27-7-7 season –- voters are too bored of that. Instead, look for him to average double-digit assists now that the Lakers have Davis, but a dearth at point guard.
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
The Joker’s narrative is mostly tied to his team’s success. If the Nuggets, who should have some of the best chemistry in the league, are the best team in the Western Conference and flirt with winning 60 games, Jokic will get plenty of MVP votes and his narrative will sound something like this: Jokic is doing it all alone as the lone superstar in a conference loaded with superstar tandems. He flashed his true potential as a franchise centerpiece in last season’s playoffs, averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists. That performance has carried over into the 2019-20 season as he has Denver at the top of the league earlier than anyone would have imagined.
Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
After last season’s playoff run and subsequent free-agency power flex, Kawhi is the Alpha Dog of the NBA, and he isn’t ready to relinquish that title just yet. In fact, as a little more of Kawhi’s personality has come to the forefront, it has become apparent that he relishes destroying opponents the same way MJ and Kobe did, albeit in a less expressive way.
With Paul George out at the beginning of the season, the Clippers will need Playoff-Kawhi (30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on 49-38-88 shooting splits) to keep them near the top of the Western Conference until George returns, which should force Kawhi to get rolling a lot earlier than last season’s load-managed season.
Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
Lillard’s MVP narrative is similar to Jokic’s in that it’ll be tied to the Blazers’ record this season. Most analysts seem to think that the Blazers will finish closer to .500 than the 53 wins the team had a season ago. Thus, if Lillard leads Portland to another top-three finish in the West, and with his typical Curry-lite numbers (25.8 points, 6.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds with 44-37-91 shooting splits last season), and none of the other candidates on this list are having other-worldly seasons, Lillard could start to garner some late season MVP buzz.
He’s the best leader in the league, the superstar who chose to stay when most would have demanded a trade –- he’s as important to his team as any player in the NBA. Isn’t that everything you can ask for from an MVP candidate?
This is not about LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Rather, it’s focused on the players who are playing well enough to receive serious consideration but aren’t quite locks to play in the All Star Game. For simplicity’s sake, any player who is an obvious All Star (Joel Embiid) or has been selected to the All-Star team two of the last three seasons (Kemba Walker, LaMarcus Aldridge) was not considered. Further, context matters. If certain players are not playing up to expectations (Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons) or having weird seasons (Jimmy Butler), they weren’t included either.
With that introduction, here’s the list of NBA players who are deserving of All-Star consideration.
1 of 15
Bradley Beal is probably too good to even be on this list, but I’m including him because he has made only one All-Star team so far in his career. His stat line (25 points, five rebounds and five assists) would suggest that he’s a virtual lock to make the All-Star team from the Eastern Conference. His play since John Wall got injured would also indicate that he’s a shoo-in for an All-NBA team, as he is averaging over 29 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. He’s elevated his game from borderline All-Star to clear-cut All-Star in his seventh NBA season.
Jrue Holiday is an elite player. Yeah, I said it. The stats are quite good — 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game — but watching him live is a treat. He’s a rugged defender who will man up on anyone, from Damian Lillard to James Harden to Kevin Durant, on defense. On offense he’s as smooth as any guard in the league at finishing at the rim — left hand, right hand; it doesn’t matter. He deserves to be recognized as one of the top guards in the NBA.
3 of 15
Luka Doncic is set to be the first rookie to make the All-Star Game since Blake Griffin did it in 2011. Doncic will likely get voted in by the fans, but he’s played so well this season that he has a compelling case either way. His numbers are awesome — 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game — and his highlights are even better. Expect this to be the first of many All-Star Game selections for the Croatian prodigy.
Although he has a thumb injury and will likely miss the All-Star Game, Clint Capela still deserves All-Star consideration and recognition for the season he’s had. With his teammate James Harden on a historic tear lately, Capela’s marked improvement has barely been a story despite his averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game. The advanced statistics are also quite favorable for the fifth-year big man from Switzerland, as he ranks in the top 20 in a number of categories, including player efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating and offensive win shares. He’s an All-Star-caliber player no matter how you slice it.
Believe it or not, Blake Griffin hasn’t been an All-Star since 2015. Despite averaging a career-high 26 points per game to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, Griffin somehow isn’t a lock to be an All-Star this year, but he absolutely should be. He used to rely on his athleticism to impact games, but now he’s one of the best big man playmakers in the league and a more than adequate shooter (48/36/76 shooting splits). He may not be as aesthetically pleasing to watch as he once was, but give credit where credit is due.
Tobias Harris/Danilo Gallinari
The two best players on the Clippers, Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, are having great seasons and deserve All-Star consideration. If one of them earns a spot, it will probably be Harris, who actually won Western Conference Player of the Month in November and is averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on insanely efficient shooting splits (50/44/89). Gallinari is also shooting the crap out of the ball this year with shooting splits (45/45/91). Even if he doesn’t make the All Star team, Gallinari is playing the best basketball of his career right now.
With no real NBA point guards on their roster, the Suns have decided to put the ball in Devin Booker’s hands this season in a James Harden-esque lead guard role. The increased usage has paid dividends so far: Booker is averaging an impressive 25 points and seven assists per game. Are his offensive stats enough to justify an All-Star selection? Possibly, but he has his team’s putrid record and the sheer number of great guards in the Western Conference working against him.
JJ Redick is having a Benjamin Button-like finish to his career, posting career-highs in scoring each of the past two seasons. Despite being 34-years-old, Redick is averaging almost 19 points per game and is arguably the second-most important player on the 76ers besides Joel Embiid because of his ability to space the court. Why not reward Redick with his first-ever All-Star team selection of his career? If he makes the team, he’ll be the oldest first-time All-Star in NBA history.
Steven Adams, who is still only 25 years old, has steadily improved every season of his career. At this point, he’s an All-Star-caliber center for the Thunder. In addition to anchoring the fourth-best defense in the NBA, Adams is averaging a career high in points (15.4 per game) and rebounds (10.1 per game). He’s the perfect selfless teammate and bodyguard for an intense franchise player like Russell Westbrook. Even if he doesn’t make the All-Star team, he’s playing as well as anyone could in his role with the Thunder.
Along with Kawhi Leonard’s return to superstardom, Pascal Siakam’s leap has the Raptors playing better than any team in the NBA halfway through the season. Siakam spent his first two years as a defensive specialist off the bench for Toronto, but this season he broke out and became a contender for the Most Improved Player Award. His stats are nice — 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game — and his defense is excellent. He also jumps off the screen a bit by making winning plays all over the court.
The Clippers climb into the top-10, and the Bucks bounce all the way up to the top spot in this week’s updated NBA Power Rankings.
1. Milwaukee Bucks Record: 11-4
The Bucks are balling. They boast the league’s most effective and efficient offense. Milwaukee leads the NBA in Offensive Rating, averaging 115.3 points per 100 possessions. They also are near the top in Defensive Rating, allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks are the only team in the league to rank in the top-five in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. Unsurprisingly, Milwaukee leads the NBA in Net Rating by a wide margin, outscoring their opponents by 10.7 points per contest.
2. Toronto Raptors Record: 13-4
Despite losing three of their four games last week, the Raptors have already notched 13 wins this season. No other team in the Eastern Conference has more than 11. Kyle Lowry exited Saturday’s blowout victory over the Bulls in the third quarter and did not return to the contest. However, coach Nick Nurse downplayed the severity of the injury when speaking with reporters after the game.
3. Golden State Warriors Record: 12-6
The Warriors have lost five of their last seven games, which is the team’s worst seven-game stretch under Steve Kerr, and are now 12-6 on the season. In 2016-17, Golden State didn’t lose their sixth game until January 6th. In 2015-16, the year before Kevin Durant arrived, when they won an NBA-record 73 games, they didn’t lose their sixth game of the season until March 6th! Nonetheless, Steve Kerr said that the team would be “very cautious” bringing Stephen Curry back from his groin injury. Draymond Green is also ailing. He missed this past weekend’s game due to a nagging toe injury.
4. Portland Trail Blazers Record: 11-5
The Blazers .688 winning percentage is tops in the Western Conference. Portland is the middle of an arduous six-game road trip; after playing the Knicks on Tuesday, the travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks Wednesday night and then face the Warriors in Golden State on Friday.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder Record: 10-5
Prior Saturday night, Russell Westbrook had missed each of the Thunder’s previous five games due to an ankle sprain. However, Westbrook was able to take part in practice on Friday, including part of the contact portions, and went through shootaround on Saturday. Then, Westbrook’s wife gave birth to twins over the weekend, and Russ left to be with his family. Coach Billy Donovan said that they didn’t know if Westbrook would’ve been physically able to play on Saturday if he was there and they never got to the point where they tried to test him to find out. Russ is listed as out for Monday’s game vs. Sacramento. Nonetheless, the streaking Thunder has won 10 of their last 11 games. That 10-1 record is the best in the league over that stretch.
6. Philadelphia 76ers Record: 11-7
Jimmy Butler has only been a Sixer for a week, but he’s already made quite an impression. Butler was incredibly clutch late in overtime on Saturday to carry Philly past the Hornets in Charlotte. With less than 15 seconds remaining in the game, Butler blocked Kemba Walker’s final field goal attempt and saved it inbounds to a teammate. Then, Jimmy Buckets came down the other end of the floor and drilled a game-winning dagger 3-pointer with less than a second left on the clock. Welcome to Philadelphia.
7. Los Angeles Clippers Record: 10-5
The Clippers are rolling right now. They have won six of their last seven, with three of their most recent victories coming against the Bucks, Warriors and Spurs. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are all averaging over 19 points per game. The only other teams in the league with a trio over players averaging over 19 ppg are the Warriors and Pelicans.
8. Boston Celtics Record: 9-7
The Celtics notched an important victory on Friday, when they knocked off the Raptors in overtime, behind 43 points courtesy of Kyrie Irving. However, they scored just 86 points in a home loss to the Jazz on Saturday. Boston’s offensive struggles this season have been puzzling. They are currently averaging fewer than 104 points per 100 possessions and rank 27th in the league in Offensive Efficiency, ahead of only the lowly Suns, Bulls and Hawks.
9. Indiana Pacers Record: 10-6
Victor Oladipo (right knee) was a game-time decision on Saturday night but did end up starting. However, just four minutes into the game, he tumbled into the front row after a foul and reaggravated his right knee injury. He has been ruled out of Monday’s game vs. the Jazz, but, fortunately, it doesn’t sound like it will be a long term issue. “A little sore, but I’m good,” Oladipo told reporters Monday morning.
10. Houston Rockets Record: 8-7
The Rockets are back over .500 after stringing together a four-game winning streak, which included victories over the Pacers, Nuggets and the Warriors in Golden State. During this four-game surge, James Harden is averaging 30.8 points, 7.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 triples and 2.3 steals.
The highly anticipated NBA debut of Lonzo Ball is in the books, and it was … well … at least it’s over. The Lakers were blown out by the Clippers, 108-92, in the season-opener for both teams Thursday night.
Ball had a rough start to his NBA career, finishing with three points, nine rebounds four assists, a steal and a block in his first game. Here are some takeaways from his performance.
It can only go up from here
Lonzo probably came into this game with the most unrealistic expectations of any rookie in NBA history. This isn’t LeBron James, a 6-foot-8 powerhouse who looked like he was 30 when he was 18. Ball isn’t the type of player who can go out and physically dominate a game with his athleticism, so it’s going to take a while for him to find his place in the league.
That being said, the debut was rough. Three points on 1-of-6 shooting just isn’t going to cut it if this team is going to be successful — he needs to be at least somewhat of a scoring threat. The low assist number was as much a product of his teammates not making shots as his lack of vision. He also didn’t really get a chance to showcase his talent in transition, where he tends to thrive.
Lonzo’s first points
Considering how poorly he shot from deep in the summer league and in preseason, it was a bit surprising to see Lonzo connect from 3-point range for his first (and only) NBA points with just under five minutes left in the second quarter.
Serbian guard Milos Teodosic, one of the most flamboyant and creative playmakers in Europe, has agreed to a two-year, $12.3 million deal with the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Thursday.
The deal includes a player option for the second year, league sources said.
Teodosic, 30, was willing to pay an expensive contract buyout with CSKA Russia to finally make the move to the NBA this season. Teodosic, who is 6-foot-5, has history with new Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, playing previously in Greece with him.
They’re expected to often share time on the floor together for Los Angeles, which lost Chris Paul in a trade with the Houston Rockets.
Teodosic is a three-time EuroLeague first-team selection and a 2010 EuroLeague MVP.
He drew high praise while leading Serbia to a near-upset of Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the final of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“As good a player, as good a guard, as there is in Europe,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Teodosic.
With Moscow in 2016-17, Teodosic averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 assists while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from 3-point range. He led the team to the Euroleague Final Four in May, as several NBA teams — including Atlanta, Brooklyn, Sacramento, Toronto and Utah — were on hand to watch.
Euro star point guard Milo Teodosic has agreed to a two-year, $12.3M deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.
The Atlanta Hawks knew they were going to lose Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets in free agency, but at least now they’ll get something for him.
According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Clippers, Nuggets and Hawks have agreed on a trade involving Danilo Gallinari, Millsap and Jamal Crawford as the main components. From Vivlamore:
The Hawks have agreed on a three-way trade with the Nuggets and the Clippers, with a pair of sign and trades, that will return Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, a protected first-round pick and cash, according to a person familiar with the situation. The deal was worked on into the early morning hours Tuesday and agreed upon later in the day. The deal can not be announced until after the NBA moratorium period ends Thursday.
The Clippers would receive Danilo Gallinari in a sign and trade from the Nuggets in the other major part of the proposed deal. The Nuggets recently agreed to a three-year, $90 million deal with Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap on Sunday and would acquire the four-time all-star power forward in sign-and-trade. The Nuggets would recieve a second-round pick from the Hawks, a 2019 pick acquired from the Wizards.
The big piece of the trade for the Hawks is the first-round draft pick, the top-three protected selection in 2018 that the Clippers received from the Rockets.
The Clippers will then, according to ESPN, sign Gallinari to a three-year contract worth $65 million.
Sources: The Clippers have reached agreement on a three-team deal to acquire free agent Danilo Gallinari on a three-year, $65M contract.
Let’s start production right now on the 30 for 30 about the 2015 conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and the LA Clippers — the series in which the Clips blew a 3-1 lead before blowing 3-1 leads was cool, and barfed away a 19-point cushion in the last 15 minutes of Game 6 at home.
That was the Clippers’ chance, and they were never the same again. The players are still grappling with it. Two years later, they cannot explain what happened to them — how they collapsed in Game 6 under a hail of Josh Smith 3-pointers, and then melted down in Game 7. It damaged their psyche.
They would have been underdogs against the 67-win Warriors in the next round, but Golden State hadn’t achieved complete humiliating ownership of the Clippers yet. The Clips at least should have broken through to the NBA’s final four — uncharted territory for both a pathetic sad-sack franchise, and its superstar point guard. Instead, they sputtered, injuries submarined the next two seasons, and now that point guard — the Point God, Chris Paul, a top-10 overall player — is headed to Houston in a blockbuster deal, busting up an elite core four that had run its course.
The Clippers were right to keep their group together, despite the déjà vu postseason flameouts. Building 55-win teams is hard. Any group that good is a break or two from the NBA Finals. Blow it up early, and there is no guarantee you sniff that lofty territory ever again.
But that crumbling against Houston crystallized some of the issues that always dogged them: A thin, top-heavy team relying on creaky veteran role players (Matt Barnes), the coach’s son, and classic Doc Rivers Boston-era retreads (including an embarrassingly out-of-shape Glen Davis) ran out of gas.
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