Previously, we looked at the November round-up of the 2016/2017 NBA season and I placed my bets on the top 5 Teams who could be crowned the NBA champions for the year 2017. Now let us have a quick look at some of the highlights of the season from the month of December.
*This contains stats and standings as of 31st of December 2016
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors (The December 25th, Christmas day encounter)
One of the most highly anticipated clashes of the regular season of 2016/2017 was the Christmas day clash between the NBA finalists of the last 2 years – the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Having won the last 3 encounters against the Warriors to win the championship from a 1-3 deficit last season, the Cavs went into the game with the mental edge over their Western Conference rivals. The one factor that was in favour of the 2015 NBA champs from Bay Area, was in the form of the 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant, who is now in Golden State uniform due to Off-season trades. The Warriors starting line-up of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia combined with a strong bench implied they were the favourites on paper to win the clash in spite of the venue being the Cavs home court, the Quicken Loans arena, Ohio.
The game was close in the 1st half with the Warriors gaining a marginal edge on the score-card walking into the locker rooms at the half with a 55-52 lead. The game continued to be close in the 3rd quarter but the Warriors were up by 7 at the end of the 3rd (80 -87). With 9:35 remaining on the clock, the Warriors were up 94-80 but just when we felt like the Dubs had put away the Cavs, we were shown shades of the 2016 NBA finals as the Eastern Conference power house rallied their troops and led by their Hero from the Finals, Kyrie Irving, mounted a strong come-back. The Warriors had a ton of turn-overs in this quarter and the red hot Kyrie led the Cavs to gain the lead with 1:43 on the clock (105-103). But the Warriors responded with 5 straight points of their own to regain the lead with 1:14 on the clock (105-108).The Warriors forced a turnover on the defensive end but a horrible pass by Igoudala to Durant was intercepted by Kyrie who scooped a lay-up (107-108). If the pass had been on the money, Durant would have had an open lane and would have sealed the deal for the Dubs, but it was not to be. On the offensive end of the floor, the Warriors committed a 24-second shot violation due to suffocating defense from the Cavs. With one shot clock in hand, Kyrie drove the ball up, went straight at Klay and then shot a cold-blooded turn-around jumper with 3.4 seconds on the clock, sealing the deal for the Cavs who took their 4th straight game against the Dubs. What a game!
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Clippers plagued with injuries, slip in rankings
The Clippers were so hot at the start of the season that they were the 1st seed in the Western conference. However, they are now on a 5-Game losing streak and have been pushed to the 7th place in a highly-competitive Western conference with 22 wins and 14 losses.
Blake Griffin has gone through arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, JJ Reddick was suffering from back spasms and the starting point-guard Chris Paul, who is pretty much the heart and soul of the team, has missed a few games with a hamstring injury.
On top of the injuries, the Clippers have also been playing poor defence over the last few games. Although Deandre Jordan is doing a great job in the paint, he would need more support from the perimeter players to stop opposition guards and forwards from infiltrating into the area more often. Ball movement has also become considerably sluggish with the absence of Chris Paul, who is regarded by many as the best true point guard in the league (Referring to the traditional pass-first mentality of point guards). I have placed my money on the Clippers to be a top-5 Contender to win the NBA title 2017 and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will get their act together in the following months to come!
A Red Hot James Harden
The Rockets are in 3rd place in the Western conference and they only have 1 All-Star in their team – James Harden. Although he has a good team to help him win matches for the Houston Rockets, the team’s offense relies heavily on Harden – ‘The Beard’. Harden is averaging 28.5 points, 12 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game so far in the season! And to finish the month of December off, in a clash against the New York Knicks on the 31st of December he put up 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in 1 game!
James Harden is a top contender to be the MVP of the season, and given the fact that his team has a better win percentage than the other candidate Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder, he has a higher chance of winning the Award provided that his form continues. Given the way he is playing right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him slowing down any time soon.
2nd and 3rd seeds right at the heels of the Conference leaders
Although last year’s NBA finalists the Cleveland Cavaliers (25-7) and Golden State Warriors (29-5) are sitting at the top of their respective conferences, they do not have a clear lead ahead of the 2nd and 3rd seeds despite the regular season nearing the half-way point.
The Golden State Warriors are the ones facing the most competition in what is an extremely tight conference with the San Antonio Spurs trailing just 1.5 games behind them with 27 wins and 6 losses and the Houston Rockets only 3.5 games behind them with 26 wins and 9 losses! Over at the Eastern conference, the Canadian based Toronto Raptors are just 3 games behind the Cavs with 22 wins and 10 losses and Boston Celtics are 6 games behind with a record of 20 wins and 14 losses. If the Conference leaders take things easy, we could very well expect new leaders in the conference standings. With 50 games or more remaining for each team in the regular season, this is highly probable.
Westbrook’s ‘triple-double’ stats
One of the most argued topics in Basketball circles during this season is whether James Harden or Russell Westbrook is eligible to walk away with the MVP award for this regular season. While it is way too early to know for sure, Russell Westbrook has been close to unstoppable this season right from the Get-go. Perhaps Kevin Durant leaving OKC really lit a fire in his rear-end, but Westbrook is having a jaw-dropping season. He is averaging 30.9 points per game, 10.5 assists per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. In other words, the man is averaging ‘Triple-Double’ stats this season! To top that, he also has 1.7 steals per game! That is an even more impressive stat line than James Harden’s. (Although some argue that Harden is still ahead in the MVP race because his team is performing better than Westbrook’s).
Westbrook is a 2-way monster, and is currently on an absolute roll. Westbrook has been one of the most durable players in the league, having only gone down with injury once in his 9 seasons in the NBA. But the question I have is – Is it wise for the All-Star to push each and every night at the intensity at which he plays? Could fatigue set in as the season goes on? Many argue that Westbrook might be required to play at the high level he plays every night to keep the Thunder in the hunt for a playoff spot as they currently sit in 5th spot with 21 wins and 13 losses in a tight Western conference!
Until we meet next on the Swishing the Nets column on ThePapare.com, this is Abbad signing off – Keep balling!
Eastern conference standings of the 2016/2017 NBA season as of the 31st of December 2016.