NBA

NBA Heat Check: Beal on a tear, Ball rolling but Harden misfiring for Rockets

By Sports Desk January 11, 2021

These are uncertain times for the NBA as it continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 protocols have left rosters lighter in number and, with contract tracing having a major impact, it is far from surprising to see games being postponed.

The absences have offered some players greater opportunities to impress in the embryonic stages of a shortened season that will require adaptability from all involved.

After an eventful week, Stats Perform assesses those performers who have stood out - for good and bad reasons - in games from January 4-10.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Bradley Beal 

It has been a tough start for the Wizards, who are stuck in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Beal, however, has excelled amid the defeats. He is averaging 35 points per game for the season but has been particularly spectacular in recent outings, including dropping 60 against the Philadelphia 76ers. While it set a new career best for points - and tied a franchise record too - Beal made clear he is not interested in personal milestones: "I just want to win. Sometimes you might be able to score 40, 50, 60, whatever the case may be, but I just want to win".

Tyrese Maxey 

The 21st pick in the 2020 draft had scored a combined tally of 52 points through his first nine NBA appearances. Then, amid injuries, positive COVID tests and coronavirus-enforced isolations, Maxey was thrust into a leading role as one of just seven players available against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. His response to the situation was to score 39 points in just under 44 minutes of action, having taken 33 shots but no free throw attempts. In doing so, he became the first 76ers rookie with at least 35 points in a game since franchise legend Allen Iverson in 1997. 

Jimmy Butler 

Butler has begun to heat up after a cold start to the new campaign for Miami. The five-time All-Star had been hampered by injury issues but has looked back to somewhere near his best of late, managing 18, 26 and 26 points in his past three games. Surprisingly, though, Butler is still yet to manage a successful three-point attempt, missing on his seven shots from deep so far. It is a different story from the free-throw line, though, going 28 of 29 from the charity stripe.

LaMelo Ball 

The rise and rise of the youngest Ball brother continues. The point guard became the youngest player in NBA history to score a triple-double as Charlotte Hornets beat the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. At 19 years and 140 days old, Ball had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He had narrowly missed out on achieving the feat in his team's previous outing, against a New Orleans Pelicans team that included older sibling Lonzo. His rebounding average has gone from 4.33 a game to 9.25 across the past week. 

GOING COLD...

James Harden  

The NBA's scoring champion for the previous three seasons, Harden is still averaging 26 points per game despite continued doubts over his long-term future in Houston. However, it has not been a particularly productive week for the guard, who has not reached double digits in terms of field goals made in four straight outings. There were 15-point displays against both the Pacers and the Magic, then 20 points in a defeat to the Lakers. Across that stretch, Harden was six for 22 from three-point range. Astonishingly, he did not attempt a solitary free throw against Orlando. 

Trae Young 

To say Young has gone cold from deep recently is an understatement. The Atlanta Hawk landed five of six attempts in the season-opener against the Bulls, but since then has managed just nine successful long-range shots, including going a combined one for 14 in his most recent three appearances. Understandably, then, his average for points per game has dipped from 28.17 on January 3 to 17.67 for the past week.

Russell Westbrook 

A quadriceps injury will keep Westbrook sidelined for at least a week. His early form with the Wizards has been steady, including reaching double digits for points in all of his seven games for the franchise. Where there has been a dip for the former NBA MVP is in rebounding. He was up at 11.20 per game for the season by January 3, but he has averaged 6.00 for the past week following reduced contributions in defeats to the 76ers and the Celtics.

Blake Griffin  

Griffin hit with eight of 16 three-point shots for Detroit against the Cavaliers on December 26, but his output from long range since suggests that number could prove to be a post-Christmas outlier when compared to the rest of the season. In the past week, the 31-year-old has landed two from deep out of 18 tries for the struggling Pistons. His overall field goal percentage is down on his career mark too (37.6 per cent from 49.7 per cent), explaining why he is averaging 13.9 points per game. 

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    Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka squandered two match points as she suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

    Osaka eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds but fell to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest.

    Anisimova, who won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and is now 8-0 for the season, will face top seed Ash Barty in the last 16.

    Two-time Australian Open winner Osaka had won 24 of her past 25 matches in Melbourne and made a fast start against Anisimova by breaking her opponent in the first game.

    She held serve to ease ahead on Margaret Court Arena, but Anisimova battled back well in the second set.

    The world number 60 broke Osaka in the fourth game with a sublime disguised backhand drop and served out the set in a relatively straightforward manner.

    Anisimova continued to dig in and saved two match points in the 10th game to help pave the way for a decisive first-to-10 tie-break.

    Osaka had no response to her opponent's accurate hitting as she fell 3-0 behind and, while she did bring it back to 3-2 and 5-4, Anisimova took five of the next six points to advance in a big upset.

  • Australian Open: Barty brushes past Giorgi to reach last 16 Australian Open: Barty brushes past Giorgi to reach last 16

    Ash Barty continued her rampant run at the Australian Open, brushing aside Camila Giorgi in straight sets on Friday.

    The world number one has dominated during the opening week in Melbourne and quickly eased past Giorgi, the Italian 30th seed, 6-2 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

    Barty has dropped just eight games in the first three rounds at her home grand slam, where she is eyeing her third major title.

    The Australian is on track to face Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster fourth-round clash, although the Japanese star was involved in a tight contest with Amanda Anisimova.

    Giorgi made a nervous start and back-to-back double faults handed Barty a break of serve in the second game.

    Barty rolled into a 4-1 lead before digging herself out of a 15-40 hole to hold for 5-2.

    Speaking after her second-round win, Barty was wary of Giorgi's ability to hit players off the court, but 16 unforced errors were costly for the Italian in the first set.

    Giorgi tidied up the errors to begin the second set, but a double fault handed Barty two more break-point chances in the sixth game.

    The reigning Wimbledon champion took the second of those when Giorgi pulled a backhand well wide.

    That break proved to be enough for Barty, who closed out a fourth win in as many meetings with Giorgi.

    DATA SLAM: Barty keeps up top-seed record

    Top seeds have enjoyed good records at the Australian Open.

    In the Open Era, the top seed has only once failed to make the last 16 at the Australian Open and that came in 1979 (Virginia Ruzici). Barty ensured she did not join the Romanian.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Barty – 11/13
    Giorgi – 8/24

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Barty – 4/2
    Giorgi – 0/5

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Barty – 3/5
    Giorgi – 0/4

  • Fiorentina open to selling in-demand Vlahovic Fiorentina open to selling in-demand Vlahovic

    Fiorentina are open to selling Dusan Vlahovic in January but the Viola's director Joe Barone denied they have reached an agreement with Arsenal.

    Mikel Arteta's Gunners are among a plethora of Europe's elite who are chasing the in-form striker in the mid-season transfer window, with Premier League champions Manchester City also linked.

    Vlahovic has scored 17 times in 21 Serie A appearances, netting once every 109.5 minutes on average and comfortably outperforming his expected goals tally of 12.2, and his stock continues to rise.

    The 21-year-old ended 2021 on a high as well, matching Cristiano Ronaldo's 21st-century record for most goals in the Italian top flight in a calendar year (33), set in 2020.

    In fact, only Gunnar Nordahl in 1950 (36) has ever scored more times in a calendar year than Ronaldo and Vlahovic.

    But Barone revealed Vlahovic's time in Tuscany will likely come to an end soon with the Serbia international unwilling to sign a new contract, with his current deal expiring at the end of the next season.

    "Some English clubs have made contact, but there is no agreement yet. We are open [to selling]," Barone told Italian outlet La Nazione on Friday.

    Barone previously asked Vlahovic to publicly state whether he wants to leave the club or not, while suggesting no bids had been made for the forward in the last week.

    But the Fiorentina chief claimed he is still yet to hear from Vlahovic's entourage as the Viola reportedly hold out for €75million for their prized asset.

    "I haven't heard anything from them, I had asked Vlahovic's agent to be clear, but I haven't heard anything, no contacts at all," he added.

    Fiorentina sit sixth in Serie A on 35 points ahead of their next clash with Cagliari on Sunday.

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