NBA

NBA Heat Check: Zion roars and Fox on form, but what next for Markkanen?

By Sports Desk March 29, 2021

The deadline is closed. Trade season is over in the NBA, with the buyout market now the focus for contending teams as they look to add to their rosters.

Meanwhile, amid the constant rumours and rumblings off the court, the 2020-21 season has continued at a pace, with the playoff battle heating up.

The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have all been helped over the past week by the form of key players, as they aim to make sure they squeeze into a postseason spot in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

But whose production has dipped during the games staged between March 22 and 28? Time to take a look at the numbers, provided by Stats Perform, to find out...


RUNNING HOT…

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis set season highs for minutes played (37) and shots attempted (28) against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 31 points, though the Dallas Mavericks still slipped to defeat at home. The Latvian had also recorded 29 points in his team's previous outing, while he averaged 13.50 rebounds (up from 8.58 entering the week) across the two games.

While he did not feature on Saturday - the Mavs opted to rest him against the New Orleans Pelicans, rather than put him out on the court in the second game of a back-to-back run – Porzingis has undoubtedly become a bigger factor at both ends of the court for Dallas since the resumption of the regular season after the All-Star break.

Zion Williamson

Like Shaquille O'Neal, but with skills comparable to a point guard. That was Mavs coach Rick Carlisle's assessment after he had watched Williamson dominate down the stretch against his Dallas team. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft either scored or assisted on the final 14 points for the Pelicans, who sensibly turned the offense over to their All-Star with the result on the line.

Williamson had posted a career-high 39 points while going 16-for-19 from the field in a defeat to the Denver Nuggets beforehand, too. It was his fifth game this season with at least 15 field goals attempted and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley also had five in the 1988-89 campaign.

De'Aaron Fox

Fox is on an impressive scoring run, managing 147 points in his past four outings for the Sacramento Kings, an average of 36.75 per game. The guard had 44 – a new career best, no less – in a big win over the Golden State Warriors, helping streaking Sacramento close the gap to their opponents in the West standings.

There was also a demonstration of his passing skills – albeit perhaps more usually seen on a football field than the basketball court – when Fox aired the ball out to set up Harrison Barnes' dramatic game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "QB1," Fox tweeted about the assist... is it too late for him to enter the NFL Draft?


GOING COLD…

Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls did trade a big man before the deadline – but it was not Markkanen who they moved. Despite the rumours the Finn could be involved in a deal, instead it was Wendell Carter who was part of the package that led to center Nikola Vucevic arriving in Chicago.

So what next for Markkanen? He had averaged 18.19 points per game heading into the previous week, but his production dipped to 11.67. His issues with outside shooting did not help, making just two of his 13 three-point attempts as the Bulls suffered three straight defeats. Even with those recent struggles, though, he is making a career-high 38.2 per cent from deep in 2020-21.

Damian Lillard

Lillard scored 22 points in each of his three outings over the past week, while the six-time All-Star sat out Portland's road win over the Orlando Magic due to a knee issue. His dip in points is, in part, down to some struggles from long range. Lillard has averaged just 2.33 three-pointers made during the recent stretch, down from his 4.29 successful attempts from beyond the arc beforehand.

Still, there has been a slight rise in terms of his assists, including 11 against the Toronto Raptors upon his return to action on Sunday. The Trail Blazers won, too, improving to 7-3 through their past 10 outings.

Bradley Beal

Make no mistake, Beal is having an outstanding season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 31.3 points despite a downturn in his long-range production (33.8 per cent, compared to 37.7 per cent for his career).

Yet the 27-year-old has cooled off a touch. He managed a combined total of 48 points in successive games against the New York Knicks this past week, while his outing against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday was cut short at 17 points and six assists due to a hip injury. It meant his average for the week still sat at a respectable 21.67, though comfortably below his usual lofty standards.

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    Jurgen Klopp's side are having to do without two of their star attackers, with Salah and Mane on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt and Senegal respectively.

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    Liverpool have been without the trio since just after a draw with Chelsea on January 2, and though they subsequently beat Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup, the absence of Mane and the Premier League's leading scorer Salah was particularly felt in a 0-0 draw with 10-man Arsenal at Anfield in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on January 13.

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    The Reds bounced back with a routine 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, with Liverpool having 27 shots (13 on target) and controlling 68 per cent of the possession.

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    Asked ahead of the second leg against Arsenal how pleased he was with Liverpool's reaction to being without such key players, Lijnders told a news conference: "We did it before. One of the most memorable games [the 4-0 Champions League win over Barcelona in 2019] was without a few of them [Salah and Roberto Firmino].

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    "I spoke with him and he feels okay, it's not that bad," Lijnders explained. "He's hoping that he will make the weekend. Tomorrow will be way too soon. We will assess that day by day."

    While Liverpool beat Brentford, Arsenal were not in action on Sunday, with the Premier League having granted the Gunners' request to postpone the north London derby clash with Tottenham due to a COVID-19 case within the squad, though injuries and players away at AFCON were also cited as a reason.

    "We had our own experience with this, it's really difficult to judge from the outside," said Lijnders, who had to take charge of the Chelsea clash this month when Klopp was self-isolating due to COVID-19.

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    Asked if Dortmund had been unsettled by Haaland's comments, Watzke added: "Erling was obviously a bit bothered by it, but we can't influence that. We told him that too."

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    Osaka tore through Brengle's defence in the opening set, wrapping it up in 20 minutes while dropping just three points on serve.

    Brengle was credited with just one winner in her chaotic first-round match with Dayana Yastremska, who retired trailing 6-1 0-6 0-5. It was not until the second game of the second set that Brengle matched that tally, but it was worth the wait: a brutal inside-out backhand across court, celebrated with gusto, as she began to make inroads on the Osaka serve.

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    DATA SLAM: Osaka into overdrive

    Brengle quadrupled her winner count from her first-round match, but the world number 54 was simply outgunned by Osaka when it came to rallies.

    The Japanese star fired in 37 winners to 32 unforced errors, turning on the power just when it seemed like the contest was balancing out.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Brengle – 4/14
    Osaka – 37/32

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Brengle – 0/1
    Osaka – 8/1

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Brengle – 1/10
    Osaka – 5/7

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