Week 19 NBA Storylines

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, we are not far from the postseason. Most teams have around 20 games left, and the Warriors and Spurs have already clinched a playoff berth. There’s a lot going on in the NBA right now, so let’s take a look at the top stories from this past week.

Impact of Durant’s Injury

In Kevin Durant’s first return to his hometown since signing with the Golden State Warriors, he suffered a scary-looking injury just two minutes into the game.

After an MRI, it was revealed that Durant suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise. The Warriors announced he would be re-evaluated in four weeks.

While Durant could very well miss the remainder of the regular season, the initial fear was that Durant’s injury would be much worse. This news was actually a bit of a relief for Warriors fans.

For now, the Warriors decided to pick up Matt Barnes, who last played for the Warriors in the 2007-2008 season. Barnes will start in Durant’s absence and should add to the team’s depth at the small forward spot when KD returns.

Originally, Golden State planned to sign Jose Calderon. However, they had no choice but to add some insurance at the small forward position after Durant went down.

In a smart PR move, the Warriors kept the promise they made to Calderon, by signing the veteran point guard and waiving him shortly after — this way Calderon makes the money he would have made had he played with Golden State for the remainder of the season. Shortly after, Calderon agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Hawks.

In Durant’s absence the Warriors lost back to back games to Washington and Chicago — a rare occurrence for this Golden State team. In those two games, Curry made just four of his 20 attempts from 3-point range. They did pick up a win against the Knicks on Sunday though, avoiding what would have been the team’s first time losing three games in a row since November of 2013.

While they did struggle a bit in their first few games without KD, their level of talent should allow them to hold on to the number one spot in the West. Even with San Antonio just 2.5 games back.

But without Durant, depth could be an issue for Golden State, which is why they will need him back in full force for the playoffs. The question now is whether or not Golden State would be able to take down Houston, San Antonio, or Cleveland without KD? That’s something the Warriors would rather not find out.

Westbrook’s Week and His MVP Case

Russell Westbrook put up some incredible numbers this week, scoring 40 or more points in four straight games. In the last 40 years, this rare accomplishment has only been done by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson.

In that four game stretch, OKC dropped the final two games to Portland and Phoenix. After a blow out loss to the Mavericks on Sunday night, the Thunder have now lost three games in a row — all to teams with records far below the .500 mark.

This is the potential issue with Westbrook’s MVP case. He’s putting up incredibly impressive numbers, and he is likely to finish the season averaging a triple-double. But as the seventh seed in the West, and a likely first round exit, is Russ really the MVP?

OKC’s record to finish the year could be the determining factor of his MVP case. Harden and Leonard are Westbrook’s two biggest competitors for the award, and both of those teams are on pace to have far better records than OKC.

It’s going to be a close race, but we’ll see if one of them can separate themselves from the pack in the next month or so.

Pelicans Still Adjusting to Addition of Cousins

After acquiring DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans lost their first three games after the All-Star break to Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. Naturally, the premature questions began to arise whether Cousins and Davis could play together.

Before their win over the Lakers last night, the only game the Pelicans had won since the All-Star Break was against Detroit — a game Cousins missed as a result of a suspension for his 18th technical.

Let’s not overreact just yet though. It is very early in the “Fire and Ice” experiment and it’s going to take a while for these two to get some chemistry together. Not to mention, the two big men don’t have much help on the roster outside of Jrue Holiday.

As of today, the Pelicans are a 3.5 games out of the 8th seed, and it seems like they probably won’t be in the playoffs this season — and that’s okay. As the season goes on, we should see flashes of what this pair can look like together. That’s all Pelicans fans should be looking for.

Next season is when we can really begin to judge these two. The front office will have a summer to surround them with shooters and other complementary players. Meanwhile, Cousins and Davis will have an entire offseason and training camp to work together. So before you pass judgement on these two, pump the brakes a little bit and give them some time to play together.

Early Impact of Other Trade Deadline Moves

The Washington Wizards desperately needed to add some depth to their bench at the deadline and that’s exactly what they did with the addition of Bojan Bogdanovic. So far, he’s quietly been one of the most impressive additions any team has made. In his first few games in DC, he has provided exactly what the Wizards were looking for and much more. In his first game with the Wizards, he poured in 27 points against the Raptors, making six of his seven attempts from 3-point range.

Just a few days later, he scored 27 points again, making eight of his 10 attempts from 3-point range. Obviously, it’s unlikely he’ll continue to score at such a high rate. But if Bogdanovic can continue to shoot well from outside and provide a scoring spark off the bench, the Wizards will be a team to look out for in the East.

Another team who needed to add to their bench at the deadline was the Houston Rockets, and their addition of Lou Williams has paid off so far. In his first game with the team, Williams was on fire, scoring 27 pts, while making seven 3-pointers in a win over the Pelicans. Williams went on to score 17 points and 28 points in their next two games. I think it’s safe to say he hasn’t needed much time to adjust. Outside of scoring, the Rockets don’t need much else from Williams. He has the ability to make plays off the dribble, which he showed in their game against Minnesota where he dished out four assists. Mostly, the Rockets need Williams to provide a scoring punch on the night’s when Harden isn’t getting buckets. The former Sixth Man of the Year should have no problem doing just that.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were another team who needed help at the deadline, and they got exactly that with Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. Gibson gives OKC some much needed toughness and playoff experience. But most importantly, he’s reliable on defense — something you can’t say about Enes Kanter. On the other hand, McDermott gives the Thunder some much needed 3-point shooting. In OKC’s game against Utah, McDermott showed exactly why they added him at the deadline. The former Creighton stand-out drained four of his six 3-point attempts, scoring 16 points. McDermott will give Westbrook a player to kick the ball out to, while also providing Russ with more room to operate.

The Mavericks were able to steal Nerlens Noel from Philly for a bargain at the deadline, and he has looked quite good in his first few games. In Noel’s first start, the big man recorded the first 15-point, 15-rebound game of his career, and tied his career high with 17 rebounds. Moving forward, Noel should be a defensive force for the Mavericks, and we might start to see a player we were never able to appreciate in Philly. Naturally, the Tyson Chandler comparisons will be there and you can see why with plays like this:

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