NBA

NBA Heat Check: George steps up with Kawhi absent, tough return for Davis

By Sports Desk April 26, 2021

There is light at the end of the NBA tunnel. A difficult regular season played out amid the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic is drawing towards a conclusion.

However, there is still plenty to play for in the closing weeks. For some teams it is about jostling for position as a play-off seed, while others are just frantically trying to make it into the postseason.

For those who have found the pace too tough, there comes the chance to give players opportunities to prove their worth. A strong finish can make all the difference to your career prospects.

Following a busy week that has seen some big names return to action, Stats Perform highlights those who have starred – as well as a few who have struggled – between April 19-25.


RUNNING HOT...

Paul George 

With team-mate Kawhi Leonard sidelined due to a foot injury, George has picked up the slack. The seven-time All-Star sat out a win for the Los Angeles Clippers over the Memphis Grizzlies, but scored 33 points against both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets last week.

He also recorded double-digit rebound totals in those outings, helping the Clippers remain firmly in the hunt to finish as the top seeds in the Western Conference. For the season, George is averaging career highs in points per game (24.0), rebounds (6.5) and assists (5.4). He is also shooting 89.1 per cent from the free-throw line.

OG Anunoby

A see-saw season for the Toronto Raptors still may yet wind up with a postseason appearance, though the 2019 champions have some work to do if they are to get inside the top 10 in the East.

Anunoby looks to be set for a strong finish to his campaign, having scored 52 points in his previous two outings following a short spell out of action - the London-born forward had averaged 14.78ppg going into the week. His six three-pointers made against the New York Knicks was a career high, though the landmark came in a losing cause.

Oshae Brissett

Brissett has seized the opportunity to impress for the Indiana Pacers while making four consecutive starts. He reached double figures for points in all of them, including posting a career-high 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder to celebrate signing a long-term deal with the franchise.

The second-year prospect out of Syracuse played a total of 135 minutes in his rookie season with the Raptors, but nearly matched that number in a week that saw the Pacers win three out of four. Brissett also contributed when it came to rebounds, averaging 9.25 per outing.

GOING COLD...

Anthony Davis

Davis admitted it felt like the Lakers were "starting from zero" after the second outing on his return from an Achilles issue. Prior to his two-month absence, he was averaging 22.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the season.

However, unsurprisingly considering the amount of time spent off the court, the eight-time All-Star has struggled upon his return (albeit on a minutes restriction). Having shot 2-for-10 from the floor in the first of back-to-back meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, Davis followed up by going 5-for-19 in the second game between the teams.

Gary Trent Jr.

After a ridiculously hot start to life with Toronto following his involvement in a deadline-day trade, Trent Jr. has cooled off in recent outings. That is in part due to a drop in his minutes following the return of some of the regular starters for the Raptors, including back-court duo Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

The former Portland Trail Blazer still had 23 points against Oklahoma, but then dipped to a combined total of nine in limited action against the Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks. The three-point shooting is also a reason for a dip in points, as he made just one of his nine attempts from the beyond the arc during the past week.

Tobias Harris

Harris' drop in production in recent times has had less to do with him going cold and more to do with injury management. A bothersome right knee kept him out of games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, both of which the Philadelphia 76ers lost.

His return in a double-header against the Milwaukee Bucks - one of Philadelphia's major rivals in the East - failed to help his team get back to winning ways. Harris had 18 points in the opening game but then just nine in the second, the first time he had recorded a single-digit outing in a game since February 25.

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  • Heat, Bulls docked picks by NBA over Lowry, Ball deals Heat, Bulls docked picks by NBA over Lowry, Ball deals

    The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls lost draft picks for early free-agent discussions that led to recruiting Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball respectively, the NBA announced on Wednesday.

    Lowry swapped the Toronto Raptors for the Heat, who acquired the NBA champion in a sign-and-trade three-year, $85million deal that sent Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa the other way.

    Ball – a restricted free agent – was traded to the Bulls by the New Orleans Pelicans on a four-year, $80m contract for Garrett Temple and Toms Satoransky.

    The NBA investigated the moves and punished the Heat and Bulls with the loss of second-round drafts picks because of premature discussions.

    Miami and Chicago were found to have violated league rules governing the timing of this season's free-agency discussions.

    "While we disagree, we accept the league's decision," the Heat said in a statement.

    The Bulls added: "We are glad this process has concluded and look forward to the rest of our season."

    In his first season with the Heat (13-8), six-time All-Star Lowry has been averaging 12.5 points, 7.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting at 42.6 per cent and 31.0 from the three-point range.

    Ball has starred for the new-look Bulls (14-8) in 2021-22, averaging 12.5 points, 4.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game – he has been shooting a career-high 42.6 per cent from the floor and a career-best 44.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

  • Gulf between Reds and Blues laid bare to devastating effect as Liverpool pile misery on Benitez and Everton Gulf between Reds and Blues laid bare to devastating effect as Liverpool pile misery on Benitez and Everton

    The Everton fans who had bravely bothered to stick around until full-time of Wednesday's derby-day surrender to Liverpool made their voices heard in no uncertain times.

    "Sack the board" was the chant aimed in the direction of the directors' boxes, with chairman Bill Kenwright and director of football Marcel Brands bearing the brunt of the ire from the disgruntled Toffees faithful.

    Conversely, there were plenty of songs of support for Everton boss Rafa Benitez – the only issue being they were songs of joy from a buoyant Liverpool away end keen to serenade their legendary former manager as his present employers were ruthlessly dismantled 4-1 at Goodison Park.

    The exodus of home fans began from 20 minutes, by which time Reds captain Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah had put Liverpool 2-0 in front – the latter and Joel Matip having already passed up golden opportunities.

    Those who stayed were offered brief hope of a recovery when Demarai Gray halved the deficit before the break, but Salah and the brilliant Diogo Jota offered a brutal reminder of the chasm that exists between Merseyside's heavyweights.

    Cliche lovers never fail to remind us that the form book goes out the window in derby matches. But that fabled window was slammed shut for an Everton side now winless in eight top-flight matches, with six of those ending in defeat.

    What is so maddening for the Blue half of the city is the predictability of it all. Everton's present predicament is the result of muddied thinking, a raft of managerial changes, and a baffling approach in the transfer market that has resulted in a disjointed and dispirited squad.

    Benitez has to take his share of the blame, of course. Attempting a 4-4-2 against Liverpool's attacking juggernaut, allowing Salah and the rest of the Reds' devasting cast the freedom of Goodison Park, is a decision that ranks among the very worst of his illustrious career.

    But the Spaniard's hands have been tied to an extent. Limited funds in the transfer market, the loss of star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to injury, and colossally dense thinking in the boardroom have all played a part in the Toffees' increasingly sticky situation.

    Benitez's appointment was met with widespread despair given his association to the Reds, which included leading Liverpool to that famous Champions League comeback in Istanbul in 2005.

    What will rankle even more for a despairing fanbase is the fact Everton's worryingly rapid fall is coinciding with a time where everything at Liverpool from boardroom to dugout is so frighteningly in sync.

    Picking a title winner from Chelsea, Manchester City or Liverpool right now is a tricky task, and for the neutral long may this thrilling race continue.

    But make no mistake about it, Jurgen Klopp and his marauding troops look bang up for the battle of regaining a trophy wrested back in style by Pep Guardiola's City last term.

    In Salah they have a player who many would agree is the best in the world on current form and he has now been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last 12 Premier League appearances (11 goals, seven assists) – the third player to achieve that feat after Stan Collymore (12) and Jamie Vardy (15).

    The Egyptian's sensational form is in keeping with Liverpool's relentless assaults on their opponents. In this game, the Reds broke the all-time record for consecutive games of scoring two or more goals (18), and the 25 away goals they have scored in their first seven on the road has only been bettered twice (Sunderland, 27 in 1892-93, Manchester United, 26 in 1907-08).

    Moreover, the 43 goals in 14 games they have scored is not only their most at this stage of a league season since 1895-96 (48 goals), it is 10 more than anyone else has managed so far (Chelsea - 33). It is also the first time Liverpool have scored four at Goodison since the famous 4-4 in 1991, Kenny Dalglish's last game of his first spell in charge, and the first time in the league since Ian Rush scored four in a 5-0 win in November 1982.

    It was just over 13 months ago that Liverpool departed Goodison Park with a 2-2 draw and the loss of influential centre-back Virgil van Dijk to a serious knee injury after being clattered by Jordan Pickford.

    It began a raft of injuries, particularly in defence, that ultimately derailed their title defence. But Van Dijk and his team-mates were all smiles on a night when the gulf between the Reds and the Blues, both on and off the pitch, was laid bare in such a devastating manner in front of the watching world.

  • Klopp praises Liverpool's best Goodison Park performance after Merseyside derby rout Klopp praises Liverpool's best Goodison Park performance after Merseyside derby rout

    Jurgen Klopp labelled Liverpool's 4-1 win at city rivals Everton as their best performance at Goodison Park in recent years after the Reds earned Merseyside bragging rights.

    Jordan Henderson opened the scoring before assisting Mohamed Salah's opener as he became the first Liverpool captain since 2005 to lay on an assist and get on the scoresheet in a Premier League game at Everton's ground.

    Salah, who has been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last 12 top-flight fixtures, then added a second as he became the first Red to register a brace away in the Merseyside derby since September 2008.

    Diogo Jota struck in the second half to cap off another productive outing, with Demarai Gray's first-half strike that initially halved the deficit proving irrelevant in a fruitless performance by Rafael Benitez's Everton on Wednesday.

    Klopp, who lost his last Premier League game 2-0 against Everton, praised Liverpool's display as he revelled in the away performance.

    "It was a really good game from my team, a really mature performance, grown-up performance, much better than in years before, especially at Goodison," Klopp told Amazon Prime Video post-match.

    "We were much too open when we gave away the goal but it can happen when you are superior. We should have been one or two-nil up before we scored the first goal.

    "We scored the goals at 2-0 and maybe then we were not that ruthless, we gave them so life back. I am not seeking for perfection, if it would be easy I know everyone could do it. The boys did well."

    The former Borussia Dortmund head coach also indicated Salah, who has now scored 13 times in the league this season to top the charts, was frustrated at not recording a hat-trick in a dominant display.

    "He [Salah] was angry after the game!," he added. "He wanted to score the third one. I don't take these things for granted. 

    "His second goal, you have to force these kinds of mistakes. Mo put Coleman under pressure to win that ball and from then on it is a good chance he will score.

    "We have momentum but it was by far the best performance since I've been at Liverpool at Goodison. Before the game people told me that in derbies form or shape doesn't count, I see it totally different."

    Liverpool are third in the Premier League standings, two points behind leaders Chelsea after 14 matches.

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