NBA

NBA Heat Check: Kyrie, Westbrook and Curry light it up as Kawhi continues to struggle

By Sports Desk May 10, 2021

The NBA is nearing the end of its regular season.

Soon the fight for playoff positioning will give way to the drama of the play-in round and the subsequent seven-game series that will decide the destination of the title.

In other words, it is time for the league's elite to find their best.

While several of those stars are hitting form at exactly the right time, there are others enduring worrying declines ahead of the postseason.

Here we examine the performances of those excelling going into the playoffs, and those who need to turn it around in this week's edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT

Kyrie Irving - Brooklyn Nets

Irving went into last week having failed to score 30 points in three straight appearances, but he was back to his best over the past seven days.

Having previously averaged 26.7 points for the season, Irving put up 38 points per game across three outings last week, with a 45-point display against the Dallas Mavericks sandwiched by a 38-point effort in defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 31-point showing versus the Denver Nuggets.

Only the game with the Nuggets ended in victory, but the Nets will be encouraged by Irving's form with the playoffs approaching. He was excellent from beyond the arc, hitting 5.67 threes per game having entered the week averaging 2.63.

Irving converted 17 of his 32 three-point attempts last week, a percentage of 53.1 that ranks 10th among players to have attempted at least 20 last week.

Russell Westbrook - Washington Wizards

Westbrook made history on Saturday as he tied Oscar Robertson's record for triple-doubles with the 181st of his career against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

The way in which his athleticism has translated to success on the boards has been key to Westbrook's successful pursuit of Hall of Famer Robertson.

And his rebounding was nothing short of incredible over the past seven days. Having entered the week averaging 11.16 rebounds, Westbrook racked up 17.25 per game across his last three games, culminating with 19 in his record-equalling display in an overtime win over Indiana.

He'll hope for more success on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to take him past Robertson.

Stephen Curry - Golden State Warriors

The best shooter in the game had another stunning week from beyond the arc as he continues to fuel the Warriors' push towards the playoffs.

Curry's 5.2 made threes per game was already the gold standard in the NBA this season but he was even more devastating from deep in four games last week.

Indeed, Curry averaged 8.25 threes per game, with that jump fuelled largely by him hitting 11 on Saturday as he scored 49 points in 29 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As long as he continues his excellent form, the Warriors should have a great chance of coming through the play-in round and making it to the postseason.

GOING COLD...

Andre Drummond - Los Angeles Lakers

It was a rough week for Lakers big Drummond, who endured the largest drop-off in the NBA in both points and rebounds per game.

Drummond entered last week putting up 15.89 points per game but saw his average over four games dip to 5.75.

He failed to score double-digit points in any of those outings and was similarly ineffective on the boards.

His rebounds per game dipped from 12.37 to 6.25, Drummond having started the week by failing to record a single rebound in a game for only the third time in his career in a win over the Nuggets.

Luka Doncic - Dallas Mavericks

It is pleasing for the Mavs that they can win without Doncic delivering his best every night, as they did not get it last week.

Doncic was far from terrible, as he topped 20 points in three of his four outings, but he saw his points per game average drop from 28.64 entering the week to 21.50 in those appearances.

The Mavs won each of those contests, with Doncic contributing double-doubles in two, though he had an underwhelming 15-point game to end the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So, while he may be 'going cold' relative to his usual standard in scoring, Doncic is finding ways to help Dallas build momentum ahead of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard - Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard has been bothered by injury issues in recent weeks, with his best form eluding the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

For the season, Leonard was averaging 25.51 points per game going into the last week, but could only manage to put up 19 over the course of three games in the past seven days.

And that average was inflated by a 29-point effort in the Clippers' loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Prior to that return to something like normal service, Leonard had failed to score 20 points in each of his last four games.

Even his effort against the Knicks came on an inefficient shooting performance where he went nine for 26, indicating Leonard is some way off the standard he will need for the Clippers to contend in the playoffs.

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    The hosts began poorly as they found themselves 31-4 after the first ball of the 11th over, with none of the top four batsmen scoring double figures.

    They continued to struggle up to 110-8 after less than 30 overs, before a partnership of 70 from Brad Evans (33 not out) and Richard Ngarava (34) put some respect on the eventual total of 189 all out, captain Regis Chakabva top scoring with 35.

    It did not seem like 190 would be enough to repel India, and sure enough the tourists made light work of it as openers Shikhar Dhawan (81 not out) and Shubman Gill (86 not out) chased it down themselves off just 30.4 overs.

    Zimbabwe have lost their last 13 men's ODIs against India, which was already their longest losing streak against them in the format, having last beaten them in June 2010.

    India have now won their last five away men's ODI matches. The last time they won as many consecutive matches on the road was a stretch of five in June 2019.

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  • LeBron agrees extension: How James became the NBA's highest-paid player LeBron agrees extension: How James became the NBA's highest-paid player

    Whenever people talk about the NBA, one name is rarely far away from any conversation.

    LeBron James is once again the talk of basketball after reports emerged on Wednesday he had agreed a two-year extension with the Los Angeles Lakers worth an eye-watering $97.1million.

    The 37-year-old had been entering the final year of a contract worth $44.5m. His new deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 season according to ESPN, citing Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.

    James' deal takes him to $532m in guaranteed career earnings, which would mean he is the highest-paid player in the history of the league, ahead of Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.

    Apart from having four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs, what has James done to earn such a lucrative deal?

    Stats Perform has taken a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves just why he is still the hottest property in the NBA.

    Breakout in Cleveland

    As the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, it was hardly surprising that James impressed from the start with the Cavaliers, averaging 20.9 points per game (PPG) in his debut season from 79 games.

    It was the 2005-06 season where he really exploded, though, averaging 31.4 PPG in the regular season, which remains his highest ever for a campaign, before recording 30.8 PPG in the playoffs, where the Cavs were eliminated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals by the Detroit Pistons.

    James took Cleveland to the postseason for five straight seasons, agonisingly losing the 2007 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, before taking the mantel again in 2009 as he put up 35.3 PPG in 14 playoff outings before Conference final heartbreak against the Orlando Magic.

    He had become a superstar in his home state of Ohio, though it seemed like championship glory was always going to elude him in Cleveland and so in 2010, it was time for a decision.

    LeBron brings the Heat

    The television event titled 'The Decision' did not go down universally well, it is fair to say, as James dramatically revealed he was leaving the Cavs for the Miami Heat.

    However, it turned out to be the catalyst for him to reach the next step as he was undoubtedly surrounded by more talent in Miami, and before long, much-deserved silverware.

    Linking up superbly night after night with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James reached the Finals every year in Florida, winning his first championship in 2012, before following it up in 2013 with another.

    His numbers were ever so slightly lower at the Heat than they had been in Cleveland, though that clearly owed to having more help from the likes of Wade and Bosh.

    James' first title win 2012 saw him average 30.3 PPG during the postseason, and led the way as he got some revenge on the Spurs in 2013, excelling in Game 7 to win his second championship.

    The Cavalier returns home

    In 2014, James came back to Cleveland with the desire to take his team to the promised land with him this time, and he did just that.

    Just as he had in Miami, James went to the Finals every year of his second spell with the Cavaliers, and every year they played against the dominant Golden State Warriors.

    After losing 4-2 in 2015, they returned to get revenge in 2016 as James starred on their way to an almost Hollywood-ending win against the Warriors, securing their first NBA championship.

    They were unable to repeat the trick as the Warriors beat them in both the 2017 and 2018 Finals, but reaching four Finals in a row was still more than Cavs fans could have realistically expected.

    Unfortunately for them, James was getting itchy feet again.

    L.A. dreams not always what they are cracked up to be

    James himself had a solid enough start to life in Los Angeles, posting 27.4 PPG for the Lakers in 2018-19, though injury issues sustained by him and several of his new team-mates led to a wobbly season, and therefore, no postseason for the first time for James since 2005.

    Inevitably, he came roaring back the following year and in spite of the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, James and the Lakers returned to win the "bubble championship", the fourth title of his career with a third different team.

    However, the 2020-21 campaign was one to forget as James recorded his lowest PPG for a season (25.0) since his rookie year, before the Lakers were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

    Was it all over for LeBron? Not likely. He responded to that setback by scoring 1,695 points in just 56 games last season at an average of 30.3 PPG, his best regular season return since 2005-06.

    James also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

    Unfortunately for him, his team-mates were unable to match those efforts and the Lakers again failed to even make the playoffs, which could be why they were so desperate to find the funds to tie James' immediate future down.

    His PPG has been higher in the playoffs than the regular season at every team he has played barring the Heat, where it was identical (26.9), proving the extent to which he is a clutch player and why it is imperative that the Lakers reach the postseason next year to make the most of the time they have left with him.

    Injuries permitting, it is also practically certain he will overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer next season (currently 1,325 points behind).

    Now that his new deal is agreed, you can be sure when that landmark arrives, LeBron will be wearing the same Lakers jersey Kareem did so famously.

  • Vuelta a Espana: Roglic aims for historic success as Valverde has his last dance Vuelta a Espana: Roglic aims for historic success as Valverde has his last dance

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    Spanish riders have won 32 of the previous 76 editions, but not since 2014 has a Spaniard triumphed, when Alberto Contador tasted glory.

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    Roglic's shot at history

    Roglic won his first Vuelta title in 2019 and successfully defended in 2020, despite his heartbreaking defeat to Tadej Pogacar at that year's Tour de France.

    He crashed out of Le Tour in 2021 but bounced back in style, winning Olympic gold in Tokyo before clinching a third-straight Vuelta triumph to match the feats of Tony Rominger (1992 to 1994) and Roberto Heras (2003 to 2005).

    Now, Roglic has history in his sights. Only Heras has won the Vuelta on four occasions, but no rider has ever won it over four successive years.

    The 32-year-old Roglic's Tour de France again ended early this year, as he watched team-mate Jonas Vingegaard storm to success and set up a rivalry with Roglic's compatriot Pogacar that should enthral for years to come; but at the Vuelta, Roglic is Jumbo-Visma's main man.

    Roglic has won the Vuelta in all of his three appearances, reaching nine stage wins in this period, more than any other rider (Fabio Jakobsen is the next best, with five to his name). He also claimed the points ranking in both 2019 and 2020, and could equal Erik Zabel (three) as joint-second on the all-time list for that classification, behind Sean Kelly, Valverde and Laurent Jalabert (four each).

    "Of course the record gives me more motivation, it's special," said Roglic in a press conference on Thursday. "We're going to fight for that."

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    Roglic said: "At certain moments I still feel some pain, but it is already much better than before. We'll see. If I get to the start here, it means I'm ready too. But I'll have to wait and see in the coming days and weeks to find out how it really goes."

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    A last dance for Vuelta veterans?

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    If he completes the race, Valverde, who has won 12 individual stages at La Vuelta, will equal Federico Etxabe, Chente Garcia Acosta and Inigo Cuesta as riders who have finished the most times (14).

    "To win a stage would be incredible," Valverde said on Thursday. "I don't believe I will be at the same level as the best during 21 days, but we do have a team-mate who can be among the top three or perhaps even win. What I see for myself is that I will try to win a stage."

    Chris Froome, meanwhile, is a two-time Vuelta champion who is out to prove himself once more.

    The seven-time Grand Tour winner has been struggling with COVID-19 in the build-up this time but is set to make his eighth appearance in the race, having finished on the podium four times, taking the 2011 and 2017 titles.

    The first of those victories was only awarded to Froome in 2019 after original race winner Juan Jose Cobo was disqualified for a doping offence.

    In a stellar career, Froome has become the first British rider to win all three of the biggest races in cycling.

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