NBA Wrap Up: The playoff chase, Russ, Ben Simmons, and more

Devin Booker and Stephen Curry (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Devin Booker and Stephen Curry (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

Catching up with everything around the NBA as the playoffs inch closer and closer. 

What’s going on in the NBA is a lot, to say the least, as we head toward the end of this historic regular season and into the playoffs.

The 2022 All-Star Game has happened; Ben Simmons was traded to the Nets and is still on the bench (more on that later); Kyrie Irving is now cleared to play home games when he once wasn’t; the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks are once again on top of the NBA in the Eastern and Western Conferences; last, but not least, the Lakers aren’t on top of the NBA (again) as their season continues to downward spiral even through King-esque performances of LeBron James and there are a ton of injuries, including one to the NBA’s brightest spot, Ja Morant.

NBA All-Star Weekend serves as a break between a busy season for most players and fans, and this year was no different, especially having the backdrop of the NBA being in its 75th season. At this year’s event, 75 players were announced as a part of the “Greatest 75 Players of All-time list, which were selected by a committee of current and former players, general managers, WNBA players, and sportswriters and analysts.

Amongst those on the list, which broke the waves on social media since it was announced at the start of the season, are Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and others. The 75 greatest players in NBA history took to a platform in front of a crowd at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

There was a moment that everyone soaked in when the No. 1 greatest player M.J. challenged his longtime foe Magic to a one-on-one. The moment was a hopeful moment and wishful thinking to basketball fans all around the world. When Michael Jordan was announced, he and LeBron shared a tearful embrace. It was a special evening.

That all happened Sunday night when the brightest stars in the league took the floor in competition during the star-studded event where Team LeBron came out victorious 163-160 over Team Durant. Steph Curry led Team LeBron in scoring with 50 points and LeBron himself, Cleveland’s own, made a return home.

Both superstars are Akron, Ohio natives born in the same hospital, but three years apart. Curry is 34 and James is 37, but age is nothing but a number as the two stars shined under the bright lights as All-Stars. Both have seen glory days under the bright lights; once during their long rivalry for the championship as Curry led the Warriors to three titles and for LeBron, he brought Cleveland their only championship in 2016 and he’s also won the All-Star game all five times since being Team Captain under Team LeBron.

The two stars were on the same team in February, and that proved to be a rare, worthy moment. Prior to the All-Star Game was the Saturday night extravaganza featuring a skills competition that included the trio of brothers Giannis, Thanasis, and Alex Antetokounmpo known as “The Antetokounmbros,” a 3-point contest won by a big man in Karl-Anthony Towns, and a rookie-themed slam dunk contest consisting of the winner and last year’s competitor Obi Toppin, runner-up Juan Toscano-Anderson, the Orlando Magic’s Cole Anthony, and the high-flying rookie Jalen Green.

The action-packed Saturday night wasn’t the most exciting contest in recent years to many critics’ dismay, but it happened headlined by the young stars and at the arena in Cleveland.

That was All-Star Weekend, and plenty has happened since then. The NBA is in the beginning stages of April, and that means the regular season is heading toward the end and things may be less exciting or more exciting for others depending on the situation. We know that the glory LeBron experienced during All-Star Weekend didn’t last long, as the Los Angeles Lakers will likely not make the postseason this season.

If the playoffs started today, the Lakers wouldn’t even be in the play-in tournament. It’s hard to imagine how LeBron must feel after returning from an injury and putting up scoring efforts unimaginable to the human brain only to have his Lakers as a whole team continue to fluster even in his presence and under the spotlight. There are some big names with him under the spotlight.

Although they’ve struggled all season with him, Anthony Davis couldn’t be in a better position to succeed as the Lakers rely on his youth and ability, but his own failures and proneness to injury this season have hurt more than helped. There’s been talk about Russell Westbrook all season.

More recently, Westbrook’s heated run-ins with fans and hecklers have sparked some controversy and that has been a distraction from basketball. Westbrook, unlike Davis, has been there through all of the turmoil and that’s, perhaps, why his name has risen above the dust more than the others. Westbrook has played all but one game this season, and although under scrutiny, he’s played as good as anyone could possibly play under these conditions.

The nickname “Westbrick” has seemingly gotten to the Lakers star in recent times, and that’s an understatement, however, all of the Lakers stars have seen scrutiny before they’ve seen the light of day. Davis is called “street clothes” on a regular basis by NBA legend and analyst Charles Barkley and is often criticized for his lackluster in-game performance. “AD” and “Russ” seem to be the ticket for the Lakers if they are to go anywhere along with LeBron.

As for the others, NBA vet Carmelo Anthony has played regularly this season but hasn’t made much of a difference in the lineup of veterans and youngsters.

LeBron’s idea of the Lakers with his veteran peers and up-and-coming stars hasn’t quite gone his way as it has been noted all season long. The Lakers’ struggles continue, and while that’s happening, the Warriors are down the street in San Francisco basking in success and cementing new legacies every day. Curry and the Warriors are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference unlike the Lakers, and more importantly, unlike their position in the Play-In Tournament last season.

Curry has broken more records this season with the record of the league’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made. The Warriors have proven, and not much to our surprise, to be the team of the West Coast and Steph Curry is, perhaps, ahead of LeBron as the greatest player in the NBA. That should vex LeBron and the Lakers, but what can his team do about it up against Curry?

Meanwhile, the East is heating up more than going cold. That’s mainly due to all of the chaos in the Brooklyn Nets camp. Ben Simmons made headlines when he was traded to the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers (for James Harden) prior to the All-Star Game. Simmons has been making the media rounds all year long because of his controversial relationship with the 76ers organization, but perhaps, he’s made the biggest headline of his life with the move to Brooklyn.

It’s what everyone wanted, including Simmons himself and the Nets. It will be interesting to see what he does in a new environment, and alongside other stars like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Ben Simmons trade hasn’t been all the noise going on in Brooklyn.

Kyrie, who has now been cleared to play in home games, has once again become a staple for the Nets’ success during the latter portion of the season. Despite his return to full-time status, the Nets will have to win their way into the playoffs via the Play-In Tournament.

The Nets and Simmons’s primary foe, the Philadelphia 76ers, remain a staple at the top of the East. Philadelphia is the No. 4 seed only behind the top-seeded Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. Joel Embiid has been the sole reason behind the 76ers’ success. There’s a reason why the 76ers and Nets have a lot of history besides the Simmons debate and the relationship between him and Embiid.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out if these two teams meet in the near future. The Nets lead the regular-season matchup between the two 3-1. With all of the outside chaos in Brooklyn and the absence of Simmons due to a herniated disk in his back, that might not mean much to a dominant Embiid who’s the third-leading scorer in the NBA, is at the top of the MVP conversation, and sits comfortably at the No. 4 seed instead of overzealously taking the top spot like last season, which a controversial mistake by Simmons late in a playoff game cost.

The odds are in the 76ers and Embiid’s favor, and they are an interesting team at the moment with the Nets barely making the 8th seed.

The 76ers aren’t the only ones shaking the East, though, as they sit behind Miami, Milwaukee, and even Boston with their overall successful season. These three East teams are looking to make their mark in even bigger and better ways, especially the Heat as if being the top seed doesn’t say it enough. The defending champs, especially, are looking to continue their dominance throughout the whole league behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they are competing back-and-forth with Miami for the top spot. Antetokounmpo is well on track to win his third MVP, which many fans and analysts believe. Antetokounmpo is the second-leading scorer in the NBA behind “King James,” and that’s still saying a lot for the Greek Freak who wants to lead and make history amongst the greats, such as James, Durant, and Curry.

“The Greek Freak” is well on his way to doing that and he’s gotten closer recently by surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer’s list. That’s no easy feat, not even for the 6’11” Antetokoumpo who can dribble and pull up unlike anything we’ve seen for a man his size. The thing with the East is this: there’s scary competition and then there’s the Milwaukee Bucks who come in like a pack of wolves and hound the competition. The Bucks are once again leading the charge, and that’s nothing new, albeit exciting.

This calls for an important discussion. The Milwaukee Bucks remind me of a pack of wolves (maybe it’s the werewolf facial hair of Kareem during the 1971 finals and the black and white television which looks like fog in the woods) and they make me think of today’s Phoenix Suns. The Suns, like the Bucks, are once again at the top of the league. They clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in a game against the Denver Nuggets where Devin Booker scored 49 points on the anniversary of his 70-point game accomplishment. Booker, Chris Paul, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and the rest of the Suns are like a pack of wolves and they are coming.

They are coming for the Bucks, which they failed to do last year. That should haunt them, but many should believe that this year is different in the mere fact that it’s a new season in the NBA and anything can happen. The Suns have a second chance at Milwaukee, but who knows if the Bucks will repeat and spoil the sun in the Valley? That’s also the exciting part. Who could forget and who wants to forget their epic battle last season, which came down to the wire in Game 6 and an alley-oop pass?

The thrill which the Bucks and Suns have provided the NBA is all that matters and is worth watching for a second time even through the drought struggling teams and injuries have placed on the matter.

The playoff picture is largely made up of the Suns and Bucks, but that’s why the others matter and the less exciting things of the NBA which have made this season. There are a ton of injuries that have overshadowed the success of Phoenix and Milwaukee. One of the brightest spots of the NBA right now has been sidelined for a couple of weeks due to a knee injury. Morant’s absence on the floor hasn’t stopped the grit and grind of his team as he’s been a constant presence on the bench. The Grizzlies nowadays have a winning culture, and it’s largely due to the leadership of Morant as well as the play of the others on the floor.

Morant’s leadership and the role of the others as they take the floor in Grind City every night has brought Memphis to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. This is the Grizzlies’ second trip to the highly-anticipated event with Morant at the helm. This year should prove different results for Memphis and their star point guard as they have a better position and have greatly increased their ballgame both as a team and on a personal level for the 22-year-old Morant.

One thing about the playoff picture this year is that it looks different from the past several years with new teams and players headlining the show. A team that’s noticeably missing from the picture is the LA Clippers, and that’s been due to injuries to their star duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers aren’t bad, but they’ve seen more success in past years as they hold down the No. 8 seed in the West this year.

They will have to play in the Play-In Tournament for a playoff spot, which should come to fruition for them if they can get past the young legs of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns, which is a frightening thing. “PG” just recently returned and his performance was the usual for PG. Thirty-four points against Utah and 22 points against Chicago sounds like a man on a mission as his team hopes to clinch a playoff spot.

There’s still no word on Leonard, although hopes are that he could see a return soon after the playoffs start. If this is true, then the Clippers are back in the saddle. Perhaps, no one’s injury is more important right now than the Warriors’ Curry who has a sprain in his left foot and will miss the remainder of the regular season. The Warriors can keep their hopes up because the baby-faced assassin will more than likely return before the start of the big playoffs and they’ve been through their fair share of adversity with the injuries of the other half of the Warriors, Klay Thompson.

Next. NBA Mock Draft 5.0: A.J. Griffin rises; Knicks acquire Zion Williamson. dark

The end of the year goal for the NBA for all is to keep their eyes on the prize, especially those going to the playoffs. As the old teams fluster and continue to downward spiral, the new and young teams will have to rise to the top of the ladder and continue to make the NBA the exciting, thrilling spectating sport that it is.