NBA

NBA Heat Check: Tatum keeps Celtics in chase but MVP race is settled

By Sports Desk May 03, 2021

There are just two weeks of the NBA regular season remaining and the race for the playoffs is really hotting up.

The top teams in the East are jostling for the first seed, while the Washington Wizards' form has taken them into a play-in place.

The West is even more open, with the top seven in flux and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers falling into the play-in game as things stand.

Lakers superstar LeBron James even suggested the individual responsible for this format "needs to be fired".

There is still time for James and Co, but players with momentum – identified by our NBA Heat Check, powered by Stats Perform data – will be key.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

The Boston Celtics are down in seventh in the East, meaning they are set to go through the play-in, but their 1.0-game deficit to the teams above them would undoubtedly be greater if not for Tatum.

Although the team went 2-2 last week, one of their wins – against the San Antonio Spurs – was particularly memorable.

Tatum put up 60 points in the overtime win, where the Celtics trailed by 32 at one stage. That performance matched Larry Bird's single-game Boston scoring record and ensured he averaged 42.7 over the three games he featured in, up from his prior seasonal mark of 25.7 for the biggest increase of the week.

Aaron Nesmith

Tatum also had some help from the bench as rookie Nesmith found his feet at this level. Last year's first-round pick averaged 3.4 points per game through April 25 and continued this unimpressive form with two points as Tatum sat out against the Orlando Magic. Then he hit form.

Displays of 15, 16 and 16 points meant an average of 8.9 for the week, including 85.7 per cent shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers, making all four attempts from beyond the arc.

It was a timely improvement as fellow wing Evan Fournier, dealing with long-term COVID-19 effects, scored just 10.5 points per game, down from 17.5 for the league's eighth-largest decline last week.

Michael Porter Jr

Nikola Jokic will win the NBA MVP award, but injuries to Jamal Murray and Will Barton appeared to have hit his hopes of team success with the Denver Nuggets until they won four straight last week.

Porter is the Nuggets' third-best scorer but looked better than that as he led the team in points in two of those victories.

Enjoying his first year as a regular starter, Porter had boosted his average to 18.2 points per game with a career-high 39 in the final game of the previous week yet raised those standards even further with 26.8 over four outings.
 

GOING COLD...

Joel Embiid

Jokic's impending individual recognition is in part due to the failure of his MVP rivals to stay fit. Joel Embiid was the frontrunner until he missed 10 games in a row.

The Philadelphia 76ers center might still have returned in time to wrestle back the top honour, but limited minutes last week – even in four Sixers wins – look to have put paid to those hopes.

Only appearing for more than 25 minutes when he contributed 34 points against the Spurs, Embiid averaged 22.5ppg, a significant decrease on his prior 30.0 for 2020-21.

James in LA, another early contender, certainly will not trouble Jokic after he returned for two games, scored 35 points in total and then went down again.

Malcolm Brogdon

The 76ers can afford to give Embiid a light schedule as they focus on an NBA title, but the Indiana Pacers would be happy simply making the playoffs from ninth in the East.

Their hopes were hit by a tough week for Brogdon, who played only 12 minutes in their second game against the Brooklyn Nets before succumbing to a hamstring issue that kept him out of a trip to Oklahoma City.

Brogdon, previously scoring 21.6 points for the year, could only partially be excused by injury, though, having shot five-of-14 against Portland then none-of-five in a brief Brooklyn outing.

Rudy Gobert

The Utah Jazz are wobbling at the top of the West, where they have been joined on 46-18 by the Phoenix Suns following a 2-2 week that included a defeat to their rivals for the first seed.

Phoenix and Deandre Ayton continue to prove tricky opponents for presumed Defensive Player of the Year Gobert, who could not carry the load in Donovan Mitchell's absence.

With 10 rebounds against the Suns – relatively poor by his dominant standards – Gobert averaged 10.3 for the week, down from 13.6, and Utah have now lost four straight against their co-leaders. That is a worry heading into the postseason.

Related items

  • Wimbledon: Djokovic hoping for Nadal clash as he seeks revenge for Roland Garros defeat Wimbledon: Djokovic hoping for Nadal clash as he seeks revenge for Roland Garros defeat

    Novak Djokovic would be delighted by the prospect of facing Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final, as he targets revenge for his French Open loss to the Spaniard.

    Nadal remains on course for a calendar Grand Slam after following up January's Australian Open victory with his 14th French Open title earlier this month, having overcome Djokovic in a quarter-final classic on the clay in Paris.

    The Spaniard's Roland Garros triumph moved him two clear of Djokovic's tally of 20 grand slam titles, while his last-eight win over the Serbian was his 29th in the pair's head-to-head rivalry (Djokovic has 30 wins).

    With 59 career meetings, the duo have met one another more often than any other men's pairing in the Open Era, and they could be set for a final showdown at Wimbledon after landing on opposite sides of the draw.

    Speaking to Sky Sports, defending Wimbledon champion Djokovic said he would relish such a contest and insisted Nadal, who has not triumphed on the grass in London since 2010, is among the favourites to take home the title.

     

    "If we get to face each other it means we're both in the finals, which I think we both want," Djokovic said.

    "It's a very long way [away], but of course you have to put him as one of the favourites, even though he hasn't played at Wimbledon for the last three years [including the cancelled 2020 edition], I think.

    "But still, he's Nadal, he has achieved what he has achieved throughout his career and also this year, of course, which gives you a lot of confidence in his case.

    "I'm sure there's going to be a lot of great matches ahead for both of us, and if we get to face [each other] in the final… I'd love to face him in the final and get revenge for Paris!"

    Nadal has beaten Djokovic in 11 of the duo's 18 grand slam meetings, although the Serbian holds a 2-1 advantage over their three Wimbledon contests, triumphing in the 2011 final and the 2018 semi-finals.

    Djokovic begins his Wimbledon campaign by facing Kwon Soon-woo on Centre Court on Monday, with Nadal taking on Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo the following day.

  • Stanton homer ends Yankees' historic no-hit streak against Astros Stanton homer ends Yankees' historic no-hit streak against Astros

    This is shaping up to be a season to remember for the New York Yankees, but they made history for all the wrong reasons on Sunday.

    The Yankees, who boast the best record in the major leagues in 2022, had been held to a combined no-hitter by the Houston Astros in Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Yankee Stadium.

    But rather than come out firing in the teams' next meeting the following day, the Yankees threatened to suffer the ignominy of a stunning second consecutive no-no.

    Jose Urquidy frustrated the home team for 6.1 innings before Giancarlo Stanton finally made good contact and homered 436 feet to center field.

    That was the Yankees' first hit since the eighth inning of Friday's 3-1 home loss to the Astros, a streak of 52 consecutive at-bats – the longest run by a batting team without a hit since at least 1974.

    It also tied the record for the most at-bats without a pitching team allowing a hit over the same period.

    The Astros matched the feats of the 2012 Los Angeles Angels against the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays and the 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds.

    Houston own the only two no-hitters against the Yankees this century, with Saturday's hitless game following a 2003 no-no at Yankee Stadium.

  • 'I've never experienced anything like it' – Leach praises Stokes and McCullum for restoring belief 'I've never experienced anything like it' – Leach praises Stokes and McCullum for restoring belief

    Jack Leach has praised captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum for their leadership and says he has "never experience anything" like playing in this England Test side. 

    The Somerset spinner took 5-66 on day four of England's fourth Test against New Zealand to claim his first 10-wicket haul in the format.

    Leach is the first England spinner to take 10 wickets in a Test since Moeen Ali in 2017.

    Not since Derek Underwood against Pakistan at Lord's in 1974 had an England spinner claimed two five-fors in a home Test.

    Stokes and McCullum have put their faith in Leach and been rewarded; he is thriving under the new leadership, with England on course for a clean sweep in their three-match series against the Black Caps.

    "[Under Stokes] it's really attacking, and I am really enjoying bowling attackingly [sic]," Leach told Sky Sports.

    "Stokesy's confidence in his decisions but also in us as players – I have never experienced anything like it.

    "It is very special to be a part of, and that is credit to Stokesy and Baz [McCullum] for setting that up.

    "You realise teams I have played in, the way I have thought, a lot of decisions are made around negativity.

    "A lot of four or five-day games you give up on the win quite early, but now it feels like you are always pushing for that win, so there is never really too bad a situation.

    "My biggest thing is having belief in myself, and that is what Ben and Baz have helped me with."

    Leach's latest impressive showing helped England to bowl out their opponents for 326 in their second innings, leaving the hosts requiring 296 runs for victory in Yorkshire.

    Continuing their attacking approach under Stokes and McCullum, England will enter the final day on 183-2 thanks to strong work by Ollie Pope (81 not out) and Joe Root (55 no).

    Zak Crawley (25) and Alex Lees (nine) fell early on in the chase, but Pope and Root's unbeaten 132-run stand means England now require just 113 runs with eight wickets in hand.

    Should England complete the job on Monday, they will become the first team in Test history to successfully chase a target of at least 250 three times in a single series.

    But Tom Blundell (88 no), who became the highest-scoring visiting wicketkeeper in a Test series in England, vowed that New Zealand will give their all to avoid a whitewash.

    "This team has been known to fight, and we've got to come out there and do that tomorrow," he said. "You put a couple of wickets on there and you just never know.

    "Obviously you've got two guys out there in good form, but if we get one of those, who knows?

    "The wicket is deteriorating. A little bit of variable bounce, obviously with the spin as well. It's quite hard to drive with that older ball. 

    "It looks like it's going to deteriorate even more, and hopefully we can utilise that tomorrow."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.