Every Monday we will tell you what you need to know heading into a new week of NBA action.
1. The Heat Check: Brooklyn, Philly, Denver rolling to close out 2022
In last week’s Heat Check, we looked at a trio of Eastern Conference teams riding win streaks of six games or more: the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. Fast forward one week and the Nets’ streak is the only one still alive as they enter Week 11 having won eight games in a row.
Just a month ago, the Nets were 9-11 and tied for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Since then, Brooklyn has gone 12-1 and enters Week 11 in fourth place in the conference, just a half-game back of Cleveland — who they face on Monday – for third place behind Milwaukee and Boston.
Over Brooklyn’s past 13 games, Kevin Durant (31.2) and Kyrie Irving (26.5) have combined for nearly 58 points per game to lead the Nets’ league-best offense during this stretch (119.5 points per 100 possessions). Brooklyn has coupled that offensive firepower with a top-10 defense (allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions).
Prior to this 13-game run, which began on Nov. 27, the Nets ranked 13th in offense (112.6 rating) and 20th in defense (112.6 rating). While the offense has improved more dramatically, it is the leap on both ends of the court that has elevated Brooklyn back to the top tier of the East standings.
This week: The Nets have a three-game road trip beginning Monday at Cleveland (NBA TV), continuing Wednesday at Atlanta (NBA League Pass), and wrapping up Saturday at Charlotte (NBA League Pass).
The Sixers capped off a busy four-game week on Sunday with a win over the Knicks in New York on Christmas Day. The win helped Philadelphia match Brooklyn for the longest active win streak in the NBA at eight consecutive victories, dating back to Dec. 9.
Leading the way for the Sixers has been Joel Embiid, who is averaging 35.6 points per game during the streak, which has lifted his season average to a league-high 33.1 ppg entering Week 11. Can last year’s scoring champion become just the second player to successfully defend the scoring title this decade?
Of course, the other player to accomplish that feat is now Embiid’s teammate. James Harden won three straight scoring titles with Houston from 2018-20. During this win streak, Harden has been a complementary scorer at 21.6 ppg, but the lead playmaker for the Sixers with 12.8 assists per game. The Sixers are a team-best plus-103 in Harden’s 317 minutes on the court during the streak.
With Tyrese Maxey still sidelined with a foot injury, the Sixers have gotten strong contributions from up and down the roster, including 15.7 ppg on 46.6% shooting from 3-point range (27-of-58) from De’Anthony Melton during the streak.
This week: The Sixers close out a four-game road trip this week with visits to Washington on Tuesday (NBA League Pass), New Orleans on Friday (NBA League Pass), and Oklahoma City on Saturday (NBA League Pass).
The game of the day on Christmas was the final one on the schedule as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Phoenix Suns 128-125 in overtime to extend their win streak to four in a row and climb to the top of the Western Conference standings.
Nikola Jokic posted another massive triple-double with 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists – it is the most points ever scored in a Christmas Day triple-double – while Aaron Gordon put on a dunking clinic worthy of his jersey number (50), including a dunk of the year candidate over Landry Shamet late in overtime.
Prior to the start of the season, I examined the possibility of Jokic becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to win three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
While the odds seemed stacked against him – no player has accomplished the feat in nearly four decades – the combination of Jokic’s outstanding play, ridiculous numbers and the Nuggets leading the West has made him a top candidate for the honor once again. Here are the numbers: 25.4 points per game (16th in NBA), 11.0 rpg (6th), 9.4 apg (3rd), 1.5 spg (14th), 23 double-doubles (1st) and 7 triple-doubles (1st).
As much praise as Jokic deserves, it’s been more than a one-man show in the Mile High City. During this streak, the Nuggets have gotten 21 points per game from Aaron Gordon and another 19 from Jamal Murray, who continues to knock the final bits of rust off his game following an ACL tear that kept him out 18 months.
This week: The Nuggets open the week with a back-to-back in Sacramento on Tuesday (NBA League Pass) and Wednesday (NBA TV) before returning home to host Miami on Friday (NBA League Pass) and Boston on Sunday (NBA League Pass).
2. NBA Trivia: End of the year edition
As we approach the end of 2022, it is time for everyone to break out their Best of the Year lists – the best movies, books, TV shows, albums, songs, sneakers and more. Here at The Five, we’ve compiled our own best of 2022 based on the numbers.
Question: Which player has scored the most points in the 2022 calendar year?
Note: this includes the back half of the 2021-22 regular season (Jan-Apr), the 2022 Play-In Tournament (Apr), the 2022 playoffs (Apr-June), the opening months of the 2022-23 regular season (Oct-Christmas Day), but excludes preseason games.
Answer: There were 10 players that amassed at least 2,000 total points in 2022, including three players that appeared in the 2022 NBA Finals. Leading the way is Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who edges out Dallas’ Luka Doncic by just four points.
|RANK||PLAYER||TEAM||TOTAL POINTS 2022 CALENDAR YEAR|
3. National TV Spotlight: Four must-see games on NBA TV
All nationally televised games this week will be on NBA TV. Here are four that you need to check out.
Monday: Brooklyn at Cleveland, 7 p.m. ET
The Nets enter this week on an eight-game win streak – tied for the longest win streak of the Brooklyn era, as the Nets ran off eight in a row back in February 2021. A win over the Cavaliers on Monday would not only push Brooklyn’s win streak to nine, the Nets would also leapfrog the Cavs in the Eastern Conference standings and climb to third place.
Tuesday: New York at Dallas, 8:30 p.m. ET
After spending his first four seasons in Dallas – and being a key member of the Mavericks’ run to the Western Conference finals last season – Jalen Brunson signed with New York as a free agent this past summer. The Knicks are set to make their annual trip to Dallas, marking Brunson’s first return game against his former team. However, that may be in jeopardy as Brunson exited Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a right hip injury. The Knicks have not provided any details on the injury or an update on Brunson’s status for Tuesday’s game. Stay tuned.
Thursday: LA Clippers at Boston, 7:30 p.m. ET
After opening the season 21-5, the Celtics hit a rough patch in the middle of December as they lost five of six games, including a 113-93 loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Dec. 12. Boston has bounced back by picking up wins against Minnesota on Friday and Milwaukee on Christmas Day. Can the Celtics avenge their most lopsided loss of the season when the Clippers visit TD Garden on Thursday?
Friday: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. ET
LeBron James gets to celebrate his 38th birthday in the ATL as the Lakers take on the Hawks in the fourth game of a five-game road trip that began on Sunday with a Christmas Day loss to Dallas. While the Lakers have struggled since losing Anthony Davis to a foot injury – they enter Week 11 having lost four straight – LeBron has scored at least 30 points in seven consecutive games, which is tied for the second-longest such streak in his career. The Lakers open their trip with games in Orlando and Miami. If LeBron can hit 30 in each of those games, he’ll look to tie the longest 30-plus scoring streak of his career Friday against the Hawks.
4. NBA League Pass games to watch and Wemby Watch on the NBA App
Friday: Philadelphia at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Sixers enter this week on an eight-game win streak and will look to keep the W’s coming when they face the Wizards in D.C. on Tuesday, prior to this Friday matchup with the Pelicans in New Orleans. This will be only the second time that Zion Williamson has faced Joel Embiid and the Sixers. In their first meeting – back on Apr. 9, 2021 – Zion posted 37 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 101-94 win.
Saturday: New Orleans at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET
What better way to close out 2022 than with a matchup between two of the brightest young stars the league has to offer: Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Before the fireworks display welcomes in 2023 at midnight, be sure to check out some NBA fireworks on NBA League Pass beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Sunday: Boston at Denver, 8 p.m. ET
Start the New Year off right with a matchup of conference leaders – Boston leads the East at 24-10 and Denver leads the West at 21-11 entering Week 11. This marks the final meeting of the regular season between these teams – the Celtics defeated the Nuggets 131-112 behind 34 points from Jayson Tatum on Nov. 11 in Boston.
Wembanyama Watch continues NBA App
This week offers two opportunities to catch top 2023 NBA Draft prospect Victor Wembanyama in action on the NBA App.
On Monday, Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 squad visit Strasbourg at 2 p.m. ET. That is followed by the LNB All-Star Game on Thursday, with the time still to be announced.
5. Statues, Sneakers and Questions
Christmas Day saw the unveiling of the Dirk Nowitzki statue – doing his signature one-legged fadeaway, of course — outside the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, and the debut of the Nike Ja 1 “Day One” as the signature sneaker of Memphis star Ja Morant.
Seeing both of those items immediately poses the following question: Who’s got next?
Who will be the next player with a signature shoe?
First, let’s break down the list of players currently with signature models:
- Nike: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Paul George, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving (his final model as that partnership has ended)
- Jordan Brand: Luka Doncic, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook and Zion Williamson
- Adidas: James Harden, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Rose and Trae Young
- Under Armour: Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid
- New Balance: Kawhi Leonard
- Puma: LaMelo Ball
- Anta: Klay Thompson and Gordon Hayward
- Li-Ning: Jimmy Butler and CJ McCollum
- 361°: Aaron Gordon
There are plenty of candidates to be next in line for a signature model. Jordan Brand has already announced that a Jayson Tatum line is coming, so look at some of the other top candidates to follow him.
Devin Booker: One of the top young scorers in the game today, Booker is one of just six players to ever score 70 points in an NBA game. Plus, the Suns have been a perennial playoff team, giving more exposure to the player, the sneaker and the brand.
Anthony Edwards: Similar to Morant, the Ant-Man is a viral highlight play waiting to happen on any given night. The third-year guard already has quite a mixtape of poster dunks that he can submit for his signature sneaker resume.
Nikola Jokic: We have to go back all the way to 2007 with Dirk to find an NBA MVP that did not have a signature sneaker. Since then: Kobe, LeBron, Derrick Rose, Durant, Curry, Westbrook, Harden and Giannis all have their own shoe lines. Jokic may not deliver spectacular above-the-rim plays every night, but will his all-around game deliver a signature sneaker?
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: He’s the third-leading scorer in the NBA this season at 31.6 points per game as he is in the middle of a breakout season in his fifth year in the NBA while still being just 24 years old. Three players with signature deals – Durant, Harden and Westbrook – all began their careers in OKC, which is where the SGA 1 could possibly debut.
Who will be the next player to get a statue?
This one is tough to call because teams honor their legends in different ways, not all teams go the statue route. That being said, there are a few names that immediately come to mind as being worthy of a statue to commemorate their contributions to their teams.
But what about current players? Which active players are on their way to statue immortalization?
Stephen Curry (Golden State): This could end up being the entire big three of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but Curry is an absolute lock. And similar to how Dirk’s statue had to be his signature fadeaway, Curry’s has to be his 3-point shooting stroke that has put him in the record books and changed the way the game is played.
LeBron James (Cleveland): Yes, LeBron has left Cleveland twice, but he did deliver a championship to the city that drafted him back in 2003. LeBron – who is from nearby Akron, Ohio – led the Cavaliers to five Finals appearances in his 11 seasons in Cleveland.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee): Giannis led the Bucks to their first championship in 50 years – and did so by scoring 50 points in the title-clinching game. He has two MVPs, a DPOY, a Finals MVP, and at just 28 years old, he has plenty of time to add more accolades and deliver more wins to add to his legacy.
Luka Doncic (Dallas): Could Luka one day join Dirk outside the American Airlines Center in Dallas? The Mavericks added Luka in Dirk’s final season, allowing a proverbial passing of the torch from an outgoing legend to a possible legend in the making. While Luka Magic has dazzled the fans in Dallas, a championship run like Dirk had in 2011 may be needed to join him in statue form.