Memphis and Houston surging out West
Memphis (17-8) and Houston (17-7) begin this week as the NBA’s hottest teams. Both own six-game winning streaks.
Memphis has taken over the league lead in defensive rating. Its stinginess was on display in Saturday’s 110-89 victory over Golden State – a rare lopsided win for the Grizzlies, who have thrived in close games. New coach David Fizdale’s team is 12-0 this season in games with a three-point margin in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
A healthy Marc Gasol has been fantastic (25.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.3 apg during the winning streak), and Zach Randolph is flourishing in his new role as sixth man, helping Memphis overcome the absences of Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons.
The Grizzlies are also benefiting from the play of several NBA Development League alums such as current starters JaMychal Green and Andrew Harrison, as well as reserves Troy Daniels (16.5 ppg in December) and Jarell Martin. Daniels particularly has been a huge surprise, proving to the league that he is a consistent outside shooting threat.
Memphis’ next two games are against the defending champion Cavaliers – at Cleveland on Tuesday and home on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Houston also counts a victory over the league-leading Warriors as part of its six-game winning streak. Like Memphis, Houston has adjusted quickly to a new coach.
Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets rank second in the NBA in points per game behind James Harden, who leads the league in assists and is tied for fourth in scoring. With Harden orchestrating a spread attack, Houston paces the league in three-pointers made and has hit at least 10 threes in an NBA-record 23 straight games.
Four Houston players are among the NBA’s top 12 in threes made: Eric Gordon, Harden, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson.
In addition, the emerging Clint Capela is excelling in the paint, and Houston has clicked since the return of Patrick Beverley, who has been a part of 11 wins and just two losses.
Marc Gasol and LeBron James named NBA Players of the Week
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 11.
Gasol led the Grizzlies to a 4-0 week behind averages of 27.3 points (fourth in the West), 10.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 blocks. He began the week by recording his second career triple-double, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 110-108 double-overtime victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Gasol registered 26 points and a season-high 12 rebounds in a 96-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 6, and he scored a season-high 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds in an 88-86 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 8.
James led the Cavaliers to a 4-0 week, pacing the NBA in scoring with 32.5 points (on 58.5 percent shooting) while averaging 8.0 assists (second in the East), 7.8 rebounds and 2.25 steals (tied for fourth in the East). On Dec. 9, he scored 27 points and passed Elvin Hayes for ninth place on the all-time scoring list in a 114-84 victory over the Miami Heat.
The next day, James scored a season-high 44 points to go with 10 assists, nine rebounds and three steals in a 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets. During the game, he became the first player in NBA history to amass 27,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists in a career.
Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and Washington’s John Wall.
Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports: “[W]ith more than a quarter of the season behind us and the storylines extending far and wide, the list of unexpected developments is much longer than anyone saw coming. And the season has been all the more special for it.”
Barbara Barker, Newsday: “[T]hree Knicks – [Willy] Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Kristaps Porzingis -- grew up with mothers who were big-time basketball players. … For Hernangomez, Kuzminskas and Porzingis, having a mom who understands and plays the game meant basketball was integrated into almost every facet of family life from an early age.”
Pistons Head Coach Stan Van Gundy on center Andre Drummond: “His energy was great. He was dominant; he was all over the boards. And you can see, as we start to get more penetration, he gets better opportunities on the offensive boards. The real positive thing is that’s three games in a row – three games in four days – where he’s played really well and that’s what we’re looking for from him is that consistent energy.”
D-League to test larger officiating crews
The NBA Development League will experiment with four and five-person officiating crews for nine games this season, it was announced today. The nine-game trial, which is being conducted by NBA and NBA D-League Referee Operations, will begin on Dec. 26 when the Westchester Knicks face the Long Island Nets at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The initiative will allow the NBA to gather live-game data on the larger officiating crews, continuing its use of the NBA D-league for research and development.
“We are committed to finding ways to better serve our game and provide the highest levels of training for our officials,” said Bob Delaney, NBA Vice President, Referee Operations and Director of Officials. “We are confident in how our three-person system works and are constantly thinking of ways to improve our game. The four- and five-referee initiative is a prime example of that focus and will help the NBA with research and development. The NBA D-League provides the perfect opportunity to conduct this test.”
The four-person experiments will be run in two configurations. The first will feature two officials in the lead position and two split between the slot and the trail. The second is highlighted by two officials in the slot position with the additional two as a trail and a lead, respectively.
In the five-person tests, the existing three-person system will rotate typically with the two additional officials taking lead stationary positions on each end of the court. The testing comes on the heels of similar experimental four-person crews tested during the 2016 Utah Jazz Summer League.
The full slate of games in the trial will take place at Barclays Center and will feature the Long Island Nets and nine different NBA D-League Eastern Conference opponents between Dec. 26 and March 19. The first five scheduled experimental games will be officiated by four referees, while the remaining four contests will feature five-person crews.
The initiative is the latest test conducted for the NBA by the NBA D-League, which has experimented with rules changes, technological advancements and equipment research.
Among the experimental rules being utilized in the NBA D-League this season are the Coach’s Challenge, the Reset Timeout and a three-minute overtime period.
Chris Paul, Clippers: On Saturday against the Pelicans, the nine-time All-Star became the first player to finish with 20 points, 20 assists and no turnovers in a game since turnovers were first recorded for individual players in 1977-78. Paul (7,914) has closed within 74 assists of passing Rod Strickland (7,987) for 10th place on the NBA’s all-time list.
Kyle Lowry, Raptors: In his last seven games, Lowry is averaging 25.3 points and 7.6 assists (sixth in the NBA) while shooting 59.6 percent from the field and 62.7 percent from three-point range.
Tim Frazier, Pelicans: The 6-1 guard registered a triple-double off the bench in Sunday’s 120-119 overtime victory over the Suns, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to go with five steals. Frazier, the 2014-15 NBA Development League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, is averaging 10.9 points and 7.6 assists for the season.
Eric Bledsoe, Suns: He has already set a single-season career high with four games of at least 30 points, reaching that total in each of his last two games.
Philadelphia 76ers: With victories at New Orleans on Thursday and at Detroit on Sunday, the Sixers have won consecutive road games for the first time since Dec. 21-23, 2014.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Wizards: The second-year forward had career highs of 19 points and three steals and added nine rebounds in Saturday’s win over Milwaukee. He has scored in double figures in four of his last seven games.
Andre Drummond, Pistons: He had back-to-back games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds last week, raising his career total to 12, which is tied with Memphis’ Zach Randolph for the third most among active players. Houston’s Dwight Howard has 46 such games and Cleveland’s Kevin Love is second with 16.
LeBron James, Cavaliers: After passing Elvin Hayes last week for ninth place on the NBA’s career scoring list, James (27,359) needs 51 points to unseat Moses Malone (27,409) for eighth. Also last week, James became the first player in NBA history with at least 27,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks: Anthony (23,035) has become the 29th player to score 23,000 career points. He needs 115 points to pass Elgin Baylor (23,149) for 28th place on the NBA’s all-time list.
John Legend to perform at NBA All-Star Game
The NBA announced today that 10-time Grammy Award-winning recording artist John Legend will headline the 66th NBA All-Star Game halftime show on Sunday, February 19 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
Legend, a singer, songwriter and producer, first catapulted to stardom with his platinum-selling album “Get Lifted” in 2004. Following critically acclaimed hits including “Ordinary People,” “Green Light,” “Glory” and “All of Me,” Legend garnered global recognition with 10 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
On Dec. 2, Legend released his highly anticipated fifth studio album, “Darkness and Light,” including his new hit single, “Love Me Now,” which has drawn over 35 million streams on Spotify and 37 million combined video views. Other standout tracks on the album include Legend’s exciting collaborations with Chance the Rapper on “Penthouse Floor,” Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on title track “Darkness and Light,” and Miguel on “Overload.”
He will perform a compilation of his newest and greatest hits during halftime of the NBA All-Star Game.
Keith Benson named D-League Performer of the Week
Keith Benson of the Sioux Falls Skyforce today was named NBA Development League Performer of the Week for games played Monday, Dec. 5, through Sunday, Dec. 11.
Benson (6-11, Oakland) led Sioux Falls to a 3-1 week, averaging 18.5 points on 57.4 percent shooting to go with 13.3 rebounds (third in the league) and a league-best 4.3 blocks. He registered a point-rebound double-double in each of his four games. On Dec. 5, he tallied a season-high 25 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a 124-116 victory over the Long Island Nets. On Dec. 9, he scored 19 points to go with 13 rebounds and a season-high six blocks in a 101-81 loss to the Raptors 905.
Benson is averaging 17.8 points, 11.0 rebounds (second in the league) and a league-best 3.5 blocks this season.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services