The NBA losses and gains over the last weekFriday, April 09, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
A recent nine-game victory run by the Utah Jazz ensured they remained as leaders in the Western Conference and atop the National Basketball Association (NBA) standings while the Philadelphia 76ers have lost ground in the Eastern Conference and have the Brooklyn Nets poised to leapfrog into the number one position any day now.
The only problem is, with Kevin Durant sidelined since February 13 due to a right hamstring strain and James Harden appearing to have hamstring issues of his own, the Nets may see their run to number one curtailed (at least temporarily).
Durant has played 19 games this season but only seven games alongside both Harden and Kyrie Irving. He has averaged 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the games played but has yet to develop the required chemistry with his new teammates. Harden had missed two games and played just four minutes before he retired hurt from Monday night's 114-112 win over the New York Knicks. It will be ten days (at least) until he returns, and the Nets will sorely miss his mst valuable player (MVP)-level contribution of 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.9 assists.
Thankfully, for the Nets, Durant is near ready to return, they have a fairly soft schedule over the next two weeks, and they have recently added Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to their roster. The race to the Eastern top spot is truly on and the Nets are favourites to get there but the 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks should make this a close, three-horse race.
The other major news arising from the league this week was the victory by the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. In their ninth game without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers skillfully disposed of the Toronto Raptors 110-101 on Tuesday, two days after an embarrassing 104-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Lakers made 18 three-pointers, including seven of their first eight attempts and built a 34-point lead in the first 20 minutes, while the Raptors shot 5 for 33 from the same range. The Lakers were 4-5 since LeBron went out with a sprained ankle, and 11-12 without Davis (calf strain) but, until Tuesday, the Lakers had lost 11 straight to the Raptors dating back to November 30, 2014 - where Kobe Bryant had a triple-double and Nick Young had 20 points.
However, to put the game in context, Kyle Lowry (right foot infection) and Fred VanVleet (left hip flexor) were sidelined for the Raptors so there was limited resistance. Seven different Lakers scored at least 10 points and as a team, they shot 49.4 per cent from the field and 45 per cent from three-point territory. By half-time, the score was 68-42 and the Lakers had a 29-13 rebounding advantage which proved too much for the Raptors to overcome.
Just four days prior, the Raptors secured a 130-77 victory over the Golden State Warriors (the biggest victory margin in the NBA this season), but they had no answer for the Lakers on Tuesday. They currently sit just outside play-off contention at number 11 in the East while the Lakers have lost ground in the West and are now perched at number 5 in that conference with only a three-game cushion on number seven.
The slate of games this weekend looks very appealing, but note the marquee matchups below:
This evening, the New Orleans Pelicans will host the Philadelphia 76ers with the injury bug playing a major factor for the home team. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram returned from missing three games due to hand injuries, while Lonzo Ball recently missed seven games, but Isiah Thomas has been signed on a short-term contract and could play a major factor in deciding the outcome. On the other side of the court, the 76ers have Joel Embiid back in the line-up, just in time to fight for the Eastern Conference number one seed.
On Saturday, the Brooklyn Nets welcome the Los Angeles Lakers into New York with Durant reportedly ready to go. The Nets will be without Harden, but they have spent the past few weeks closing in on the number one spot and a let-up is not in the cards. The Lakers were 21-6 in mid-February before injuries took a toll, but they had a massive win over the Raptors earlier this week and the reigning champions enter the weekend on an optimistic note.
Early Sunday afternoon, the Denver Nuggets invite the Boston Celtics into their high-altitude arena. Following the Aaron Gordon trade, the Nuggets have won six straight games and have beaten genuine play-off contenders in the Atlanta Hawks, 76ers and Clippers. The Celtics presently occupy the number eight slot in the East but could easily be at fourth or fifth at the end of the regular season. Expect this to be the feature event of the weekend.
Brooklyn Nets 3.45
Los Angeles Lakers 4.20
Los Angeles Clippers 6.00
Milwaukee Bucks 8.00
Utah Jazz 9.20
Philadelphia 76ers 12.00
Denver Nuggets 16.00
Phoenix Suns 24.00
Miami Heat 27.00
Dallas Mavericks 40.00
*Only Top 10 odds shown (see website for full list)
*Odds are subject to change.
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