This week's NBA News and Notes takes a look at one Eastern Conference team that has turned its season around, while also highlighting another week of incredible performances by the Thunder's Russell Westbrook. For these stories and other NBA news, read below:
Wizards climb up the standings
The Wizards opened the season 2-8 under new coach Scott Brooks, but they have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams over the last six weeks.
Washington is 13-8 since November 17, including eight victories in their last 11 games and a current seven-game winning streak at home. The Wizards (15-16) have closed within one game of .500 for the first time since losing their season opener.
The team’s turnaround has featured outstanding play from John Wall, who is averaging a career-high 23.7 points, ranks third in the NBA in assists (9.9 apg) and leads the league in steals (2.24 spg). The three-time All-Star finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in Wednesday’s 111-105 win over the Pacers, becoming the first player in Wizards franchise history to reach all of those statistical minimums in a game.
With Wall and Bradley Beal (21.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) leading the way, the Wizards are rolling on offense. Washington has shot 47.9 percent from the field in its last 21 games – the highest mark in the East and the third-best figure in the NBA during that stretch.
Fourth-year forward Otto Porter has figured prominently in the team’s improved marksmanship. The 23-year-old is shooting 58.9 percent from the field in December, including 49.2 percent from three-point range. Porter is averaging 24.0 points on 70.3 percent shooting from the field over his last three games.
Center Marcin Gortat has joined Porter in supplying steady production in the frontcourt. The 32-year-old from Poland is averaging 11.2 points and ranks in the NBA’s top eight in rebounding (career-high 11.7 rpg) and field goal percentage (career-high 57.1).
David Aldridge, NBA.com: “For most of its history, all the way back to the league’s first dominant superstar, George Mikan, the NBA has always had transcendent offensive players. … But it is hard to recall a year where so many players and teams have been so prolific at the same time.”
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center: “I like [76ers center Joel Embiid] a lot. I think he has a great chance to be the best big in this league – after I retire.”
Christopher Dempsey, Denver Post: “Game after game [Denver’s Nikola Jokic] brings the most unique set of total skills of any center in the NBA. He scores in the post. He scores on the perimeter. He rebounds. He leads the fast break. He puts pretty much every pass on time and on target.”
Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook earn Player of the Week honors
The Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 19 through Sunday, Dec. 25.
Thomas led the Eastern Conference in scoring (33.3 ppg) and ranked sixth in assists (7.3 apg) as the Celtics went 3-1, with all three wins coming on the road. He scored a career-high 44 points, including 36 in the second half, in a 112-109 overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 20.
Thomas shot 48.8 percent from the field and 90.7 percent (39-for-43) from the free throw line for the week. He matched his season high with 10 assists in a 117-112 loss to the Thunder on Dec. 23.
Westbrook led the Thunder to a 3-1 week, averaging a league-high 41.0 points, 10.0 assists and 9.8 rebounds. He became only the third player in history to log three straight games with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, joining Elgin Baylor, who did it twice, and Wilt Chamberlain.
Westbrook notched his league-leading 14th triple-double of the season with 45 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Oklahoma City’s win over the Celtics. It was his sixth career triple-double with at least 40 points, placing him third all-time behind Oscar Robertson (22) and Chamberlain (seven).
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: With 29 points against Golden State on Wednesday, DeRozan (10,290) passed Chris Bosh (10,275) to become Toronto’s all-time leading scorer.
Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks: In his last four games, the rookie guard has made 18-of-23 shots from the field (78.3 percent) and averaged 10.5 points and 5.8 assists in 27.0 minutes.
New Orleans Pelicans: Winners of three in a row and four of five, the Pelicans are 13-13 since an 0-8 start.
Nicolas Batum, Hornets: He has scored at least 20 points in four straight games, averaging 21.8 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during this stretch. Charlotte has won four of five.
Alex Abrines, Thunder: The rookie guard from Spain has scored in double figures in three of his last four games, making 13-of-26 from three-point range (50.0 percent) in the four appearances.
Brook Lopez, Nets: The 7-foot center and nine-year veteran ranks 37th in the NBA in three-pointers made with 56. He entered the season with three triples made for his career – a total he exceeded against Chicago on Wednesday when he hit five in a 33-point night.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs: Aldridge has totaled 60 points and converted 25-of-32 from the field (78.1 percent) in his last two games, both wins for San Antonio (26-6), which has matched its 32-game record from last season.
Tobias Harris, Pistons: After starting his first 31 games, Harris has come off the bench in Detroit’s last three games, averaging 23.3 points on 55.8 shooting.
Daniel Hamilton, Oklahoma City Blue: Hamilton (20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) capped a triple-double on Wednesday by getting a steal and making a last-second, game-winning layup in a 109-108 victory over the Reno Bighorns. The former UConn swingman was the 56th pick in NBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm, with his rights acquired by the Thunder from the Nuggets.
Joel Bolomboy, Salt Lake City Stars: The 2016 second-round pick (52nd overall) out of Weber State had 23 points and 23 rebounds in his most recent NBA D-League game, raising his season averages to 19.2 points and 15.8 rebounds in five appearances. Bolomboy, a 6-9 forward from Ukraine, has also played in nine games with the Jazz.
Manny Harris, Texas Legends: The NBA D-League scoring leader registered 47 points in Wednesday’s 130-125 win against the Austin Spurs, his second 40-point performance of the season. Harris scored 49 points in his season opener on Nov. 12.
Warriors-Cavs rematch delivers strong ratings
The Christmas Day NBA Finals rematch on ABC, in which the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors 109-108 after a thrilling fourth quarter comeback, delivered a strong 5.9 overnight rating, matching the highest-rated Christmas NBA game in 12 years on ABC in the early window (2:30 p.m. ET). The New York Knicks-Los Angeles Lakers matchup in 2012 also generated a 5.9 overnight rating.
According to Nielsen, the broadcast peaked with a 6.8 at 5 p.m. The game drew its four best quarter hours between 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Additionally, the broadcast was up 44 percent compared to the same window last year when the Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game drew a 4.1.
The Cavaliers-Warriors showdown was the most-streamed NBA Christmas game ever. It generated 14.8 million total minutes, 359,000 unique viewers and an average minute audience of 87,000.
Pacers' George and McMillan fined
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and head coach Nate McMillan have been fined $15,000 and $10,000, respectively, for public criticism of officiating, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.
George and McMillan made their comments after the Pacers’ 90-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 26 at the United Center.
Vander Blue is D-League Performer of the Week
Vander Blue of the Los Angeles D-Fenders was named NBA Development League Performer of the Week for games played Monday, Dec. 19, through Sunday, Dec. 25.
Blue (6-4, Marquette) led Los Angeles to a 3-0 week, averaging a league-best 29.0 points on 52.2 percent shooting to go with 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals. On Dec. 19, he made a franchise-record 17 free throws on his way to 32 points in a 114-106 victory over the Long Island Nets. On Dec. 22, he tallied season highs with 33 points and 12 rebounds in a 99-92 win over the Greensboro Swarm, his first double-double of the season.
Blue is averaging 23.3 points on 47.4 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals on the season. He has scored at least 30 points in three of his last four games.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services