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Shaun Powell

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Did you hear? Other things have been going on in the NBA since LeBron's return to Cleveland.
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Mavs, Westbrook, K-Love carry the day, post-LeBron Week


Posted Dec 7 2010 9:47AM

LeBron Week is over, suffocating and consuming as it was. Get the feeling you missed something?

Well, sure. The NBA season didn't take a timeout, despite the perception, just so LeBron James could make his return to Cleveland in relative exclusivity. Drama and movement and events took place elsewhere, only without all the chants and signs and boos that overtook The Q for one interesting night last week.

The Blazers and Lakers crashed, the Celtics and Spurs soared, Carlos Boozer finally checked in for the Bulls and the Hornets might be on the verge of checking out of New Orleans.

And there was more. Here are some well-kept "secrets" in the NBA, post-LeBron Week:

• Wesley Matthews is hurting his Sixth Man of the Year candidacy. After signing a 5-year, $34 million contract that was too rich for Utah's blood, Matthews has looked like ... a bargain for Portland? He began the season as a sub and averaged 12 points and three rebounds off the bench. Then Nate McMillan, captain of a sinking team, put him into the starting lineup Nov. 28 to replace Nic Batum and Matthews raised his scoring average to 20 points. It was a risky move, potentially damaging to Batum's confidence. But with Brandon Roy obviously bothered by a bum knee, both Batum and Matthews might move to the starting swing positions eventually. One thing's for sure: Matthews is capable of putting up numbers no matter how he's used.

• The Thunder's MVP candidate is ... Russell Westbrook? OK, nobody's saying Westbrook is the most important player in basketball, or even on his own team. But he's making a serious bid to join the elite at his position. With Kevin Durant on the mend, Westbrook came alive against the Nets in an OT thriller, with 38 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and massive plays in the clutch. All told, Westbrook is averaging nearly nine assists, and only three fewer points and one rebound less than Durant. That's quite the 1-2 punch in Oklahoma City. If they find another punch, that would be the KO they need.

• Al Horford, second-best center in the East? That's not such a bad distinction in a conference with Dwight Howard. And not a bad compliment considering many believe he's playing out of position. Horford isn't polished but he's rarely outworked. Joe Johnson is the Hawks' main guy, but give it another year or two, and take another look. With Johnson possibly missing generous time with a bum elbow, Horford becomes even more important. He's Atlanta's unquestioned leader and has averaged 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists since Thanksgiving. "I don't know how much they're paying this guy," said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, "but he's worth it."

• There is D in Dallas, you know. The Mavericks are giving up only 92 points a game, third-lowest in the league, and not bad for a team that's old and somewhat short on speed. The big plus, obviously, has been Tyson Chandler, short on offense, but big on the boards and help D. On their nine-game win streak the Mavs have beaten the Hawks, Spurs, Thunder, Heat and Jazz, all among the elite. All were held under 100 except the Thunder. The Mavs believe they should be considered a title contender. Maybe if they keep this up through the spring.

• The next best Fields in New York, after Strawberry, is Landry. The Knicks went looking for stability and star power at the swing position in free agency last summer. Who knew they'd find the potential of both in the second round of the Draft instead? Fields isn't exactly a rags-to-riches tale; he led the Pac-10 in scoring last season, after all. But as the 39th pick, he's putting up numbers comparable to Evan Turner, the second pick. Fields is shooting 53 percent and averaging 7.4 rebounds in 30 minutes a night, impressive from the guard spot. Will the Knicks send him to Denver in a package for Carmelo Anthony? They'd be dumb to do so. Just keep Fields and wait until next summer to sign Carmelo.

• George Karl's second "lease" on life is grand. Karl is approaching 1,000 victories and a contract extension. What could be better for a coach on the mend from cancer? The Nuggets missed him on the bench last spring in the playoffs, and were the hottest team in basketball during LeBron Week. Consider how tough Karl's job is: Not only are the Nuggets battling the Jazz for the early division lead, but Karl must connect with Carmelo, his leading scorer whose head might be elsewhere right now. Good job by Karl to keep the Carmelo distractions at a minimum and directing the focus in Denver where it should be.

• Did K-Love really average a 20-20 last week? Well, actually 21 and a shade under 19. But that's becoming somewhat routine for Kevin Love in what's shaping up to be an All-Star-type season for the league's best rebounder. He managed 28 and 19 in the dismantling of the Cavs and 25 and 18 against a solid Spurs front line. And another thing: How can someone who's pulling down 15 rebounds a night also shoot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range? Love is an unconventional player in every which way.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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