Hello, do you have a moment to talk about the best player in basketball right now, James Harden?
I have begun the campaign for Harden as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, and I am not ashamed. The Beard is fresh off a Player of the Month Award, and it just so happens to be his first full month with Brooklyn. Harden took the Nets by the scruff and led them to a 9-4 record in February while averaging 25.6 points on 49.1% shooting. And all this without Kevin Durant on the floor.
We can quibble about his time in Houston at the beginning of the year, when he averaged 24.8 points and 10.4 assists with three performances of 30 points. But there is no denying his growing resume for MVP as he thrives in Brooklyn.
Enough about that, though. Let’s discuss some juicy storylines in the NBA. The Clippers fell flat on their faces in a big spot over the weekend, and a feel-good story out there seems destined for an ugly end.
Clippers’ Crunch-Time Woes
With 37 seconds left and the Clippers down 101-100, Paul George had the ball at the top of the key with the Bucks’ Khris Middleton defending him. Marcus Morris came from the right wing to screen Middleton, which gave George enough space to fire a 3-point shot that hit the front iron. On the ensuing possession, the Bucks ran a Giannis Antetokounmpo screen for Jrue Holiday, which led to Holiday running free in the lane. After the Greek Freak found Holiday, the Clippers were forced to rotate, leading to the ball swinging around the arc until it found its way back to Giannis. He had a longer runway than the one at the end of “Fast & Furious 6,” and it led to a thunderous dunk that helped solidify a massive 105-100 win for Milwaukee.
Those final minutes were a microcosm of what plagues Los Angeles this season — poor execution at the end of tight games. According to NBA.com, the Clippers are 30th in clutch-time net rating, getting outscored by 25.9 points every 100 possessions. Their problem is a defense that allows 1.326 points per possession in clutch time. That is absolutely brutal. That defensive rating is 4.7 points worse than the Atlanta Hawks, who rank 29th. Their offense is better, but not by much. The Clippers average 1.067 points per possession on offense in clutch minutes, the 17th-best offense in that category, and bettors saw the issues Sunday. The Los Angeles offense bogs down at times, and in those moments an offensive possession ultimately results in an isolation of George or Kawhi Leonard, who will throw up a jump shot after trying to create space.
I have been adamant that the Clippers need to add a true north-south point guard with legitimate passing prowess before the deadline or in the buyout market, and the end of Sunday’s game showed us why. This team still is capable of being one of the best in the NBA, but it has flaws. Those defensive woes, I believe, will regress to the mean, and we saw some of that Sunday when they held down the Bucks to a 109.4 offensive rating and 31.6% from deep. However, we have not seen the complete effort from Los Angeles, and until we do, skepticism of their ability to win a title is warranted.
Is Regression Coming For Knicks?
For the first time in a long while, some good energy is emanating from the arena in New York above Penn Station. The Knickerbockers had a fantastic February, in which they went 9-5 SU/10-3-1 ATS and finished second in defense (106.7) and fourth in net rating ( 4.8). New York needs just five more wins to clinch the Over on its season win total! However, something dark is looming over the Knicks that could derail their wonderful season.
As of Tuesday, the Knicks’ defense ranks 27th in frequency of wide-open shots allowed (25.2%), but opponents are shooting just 37.4% on those attempts. They are 28th in frequency of wide-open opponent 3-point attempts but first in opponent 3-point shooting on those wide-open looks at 33.1%. Those shots will eventually begin to fall, and once they do the Knicks could fall as well. Then you consider their second-half schedule, in which they’ll face Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Philadelphia among the first six games, and you start to see New York’s path toward regression. The Knicks are a fun story, but keep an eye out for some spots to play against this team once we return from the All-Star break.