Second Edition: Second Week Update
The Ball Family
On Tuesday, November 7, three UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting. They were in China for a game on November 10th against Georgia Tech. Among the three players was LiAngelo Ball, brother of NBA player Lonzo Ball, and son of Lavar Ball. After being detained by Chinese authorities, the student-athletes were put under house arrest at their hotel. When President Trump was visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, he asked him to resolve the situation, and the student-athletes arrived back in America on November 14. Chinese authorities have dropped charges against the three, but they will be disciplined by UCLA and will likely be kicked off the basketball team. Following the resolution, President Trump tweeted about the students, “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” This tweet drew much ire from Trump’s critics, who argued that he cared more about getting appreciation from the players than about actually defusing the diplomatic situation. Lavar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, when asked about Trump’s help to his son, responded “Who?… Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.” Trump tweeted back at Ball, saying “Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!” The President took much criticism for this tweet as well, because it neglected to mention the responses of the actual people involved, and the two student-athletes other than Ball.
Meanwhile, on the basketball court, Lonzo Ball, LiAngelo’s brother, has continued to struggle. Despite being the youngest player in NBA history to score a triple-double with his 15-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist performance against the Bucks last Monday, he has performed very poorly. In his other three games this week, he averaged 5 points, bringing his season average to 8.8. Moreover, he has shot 30.8% from the field, an atrocious number that would rank among the worst in NBA history should he continue to take shots at the rate he does now. The Lakers also struggled last week, losing three out of the four games they played, only beating Phoenix, who they lost to later in the week.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers players Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid stepped up last week, especially in their win against the Lakers. Embiid averaged 33 points for the week on 57% shooting, including a 46-point explosion against the Lakers. His season averages shot up to 22.8 points and 10.9 rebounds after his great week. Meanwhile, rookie Ben Simmons performed strongly as well, coming a rebound short of a triple-double against the Lakers, and two rebounds short of one against the Warriors. He is averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists on the season. He seems to be a lock for Rookie of the Year at this point in the season.
Together, Embiid and Simmons look to be a promising young core for the 76ers. Philadelphia signed Robert Covington to a 4-year, $62 million deal this week, which seems to be below market value for a player of his caliber, but it does provide financial security to a player who has not had anything near it throughout his career. Philadelphia will have salary cap space for a maximum contract this summer, and should first overall pick Markelle Fultz return from his shoulder problems, the 76ers will be scary in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Third Edition: Third Week Update
Celtics’ Streak Ends
After dropping their first two games of the season, the Celtics went on a sixteen game win streak, going over a month without dropping a game. This came to a close on Wednesday after Boston lost 104-98 to the Miami Heat. In the game, the Celtics trailed by as many as sixteen points during the game, before coming back to cut the lead to just a single point, 91-90, with about four minutes left. At that point, Miami’s Dion Waiters hit back to back step back three-pointers, and Miami hung on the rest of the way. Goran Dragic led the Heat with 27 points, while Kyrie Irving scored 23 for the Celtics.
Over the course of the Celtics’ streak, they came back from double-digit deficits five times, the most recent coming on Monday against the Mavericks, an overtime win in which Kyrie Irving scored 47 points. The streak finished tied for the 22nd longest in NBA history, and tied for 4th longest in Celtics’ history. The Celtics finished out their week with two victories, the first a blowout win over Orlando, 118-103. The second came over the Indiana Pacers, 108-98. In that game, the Celtics were missing Jaylen Brown, who attended the funeral of his best friend, who committed suicide last week. The Pacers were without Victor Oladipo, who has a bruised knee.
Cleveland Starts to Win
After a 5-7 start to their season, the Cavaliers seemed to be a collection of misfits that the best player in the world, Lebron James, wouldn’t even be able to carry to a top seed. However, now that the Celtics have lost, the Cavs hold the longest winning streak in the NBA, at seven games. Last week, they dominated the Pistons, 116-88, defeated the Nets, 119-109, and edged the Hornets, 100-99. Once again, Lebron James’s team seems to be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
Much of the Cavs’ success has come despite injuries to several key players. Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired in the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston, continues to sit with a hip injury, and will do so for the foreseeable future. He has begun to participate in full-contact drills with the team, but still has no plans to return soon. Tristan Thompson, a key member of the 2016 championship team, has missed the last few weeks with a calf injury that will keep him sidelined through the end of November. Even when he had played, though, he struggled, only averaging 4.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game.
Derrick Rose has also been a question mark throughout the season. He has missed the last several weeks with a sprained ankle, and many questioned whether the team was better with him off the court, especially after their recent success without him. On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Derrick Rose “is away from the team and evaluating his future in the sport.” Rose, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, may have reached his breaking point with this last one. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says he still expects Rose to rejoin the team, but that Rose can take as much time as he needs to figure out his situation. Rose would be leaving more than $70 million in endorsements over the next 8 years were he to retire, as he signed a 13-year deal with Adidas in 2012.
Of the players on the court for the Cavs, Lebron James is keeping up his astronomical numbers, giving himself an early shot at the league’s most valuable player award. He is averaging 28.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists in 37.7 minutes per game. Despite his performance, many have criticism of his season so far, particularly coach Tyronn Lue’s management of James. James leads the league in minutes played so far this season, even though he is 32 years old, and will turn 33 during the season. James has played an equivalent of two extra seasons’ worth of games in his seven consecutive NBA Finals appearances, adding even more to his odometer. Many are wondering whether James can continue his pace over so many minutes, especially because many of them are in relatively meaningless regular season games.
Over the course of the week, several key injuries took place. Patrick Beverley will miss the rest of the season after having knee surgery, while D’Angelo Russell is out indefinitely after knee surgery of his own. John Wall is out at least 2 weeks with a knee injury, and Paul Millsap is out for 3 months with a wrist injury. Rudy Gobert will miss 4-6 weeks with a bruised knee. The association moves on another week, this one headed by two teams possibly headed for a collision course in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston and Cleveland.
By Will Henson, Staff Writer