NBA

NBA Heat Check: Mitchell calls the tune for Jazz, Paul powers Suns in the West

By Sports Desk June 14, 2021

The Phoenix Suns are waiting.

A series sweep over the Denver Nuggets means Monty Williams' team are through to the Western Conference Finals, where they will meet either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East, meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are serving up a prime example of how a seven-game series can ebb and flow throughout. At 2-2 and with injuries taking a toll, it is tough to predict who will progress.

With the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks also locked in a battle in the East, it is time to take a look at those players who have seized the chance to shine across the past week in the NBA playoffs, as well as those struggling in the shade.

RUNNING HOT...

Chris Paul

Paul set an unusual record as the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday. In contributing 37 points, the 36-year-old became the oldest guard in NBA history to outscore his age in a playoff game.

It capped a memorable week for the 11-time All-Star, who averaged 25.5 points per game in the series. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, Phoenix are the only team to knock out both the previous year's conference finalists in the first two rounds, having also accounted for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan Mitchell

Through three games against the Clippers, Mitchell has been an offensive juggernaut for the Jazz. He has scored a combined total of 112 points to average out for the week at 37.33 per outing.

His output has been aided by getting hot from long range, the guard landing 5.67 three-point attempts per game. Yes, that is correct: Per. Game. An ankle issue could slow him down in the remainder of the series, having already missed the end of the regular season and Utah's first game in the playoffs.

Bruce Brown

With James Harden out due to a hamstring injury, Brown has taken on a greater offensive role for the ailing Nets. In three games across the past week, the 24-year-old has taken 22 shots – he had tallied 31 in the previous six playoff outings – and made his first three-pointer in the playoffs as Brooklyn won Game 2.

His production could be set to further increase if Kyrie Irving joins Harden on the sidelines, the point guard having twisted his right ankle as his team lost Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday.

GOING COLD...

Joe Harris

Having been pivotal at the start of the Nets-Bucks series, Harris has cooled off since the teams travelled to Milwaukee. His opening two outings saw him manage 19 and 13 points, but since then just 11 combined in back-to-back defeats.

Harris landed only one of his 11 field goal attempts in Game 3 before fouling out, while Sunday’s Game 4 performance was only marginally better. Perhaps a return to Brooklyn for Game 5 will help him find his scoring touch again.

Bobby Portis

Just like Harris on the opposing roster, Portis is in a slump. The 29-year-old has averaged just 2.0 points per game across the past week, a major drop from his regular-season average of 11.42. He is also contributing less in terms of rebounding too, dipping down to 3.0 per outing.

Fellow big Brook Lopez is another role player to see the points dry up (6.33ppg), leaving Milwaukee to lean heavily on All-Star duo Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as they bid to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Morris Sr and Patrick Beverley

For the second successive series, the Clippers are having to dig themselves out of an early hole. An emphatic Game 3 victory over the Jazz halved the deficit, thanks mainly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George managing a combined total of 65 points.

The role players will need to help out too if they are to set up a clash with the Suns. Morris Sr has averaged 7.67 points across the past week, not aided by landing just one of his 16 attempts from deep. Team-mate Beverley is also struggling from long range while managing just 10 points in total in his past three games.

Related items

  • Haaland not fit to play full part against Bayern in Klassiker clash Haaland not fit to play full part against Bayern in Klassiker clash

    Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose has confirmed Erling Haaland is not fit enough to play a full part in this weekend's key Klassiker clash with Bayern Munich.

    Haaland scored just seven minutes into his comeback from a six-week injury lay-off in last Saturday's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg.

    That was the Norway striker's 50th Bundesliga goal, reaching the landmark in just 50 matches and becoming the youngest ever player to do so at 21 years and four months.

    However, with just those 17 minutes of football to his name since sustaining a hip injury on October 19, Haaland will not be considered to play the whole game against Bayern.

    "Erling himself knows his situation," Rose said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "He has had a good week of training behind him. 

    "But we all know that we have to be careful a little longer. He will certainly not be ready for 90 minutes, so we will have to see how long he can go."

     

    Haaland has averaged 1.12 goals per 90 minutes played in Germany's top flight, scoring 40 with his left foot, six with his right and four headers.

    Since making his Dortmund bow in January last year, only Robert Lewandowski (70 goals in 56 games) has scored more Bundesliga goals than the ex-Salzburg man.

    Indeed, no player in Europe's top five leagues has scored more goals in all competitions this season than Bayern striker Lewandowski's 25.

    Despite his continued brilliance in front of goal, Lewandowski finished second to record-extending seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

    Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann is backing Lewandowski to be extra fired up against Dortmund on Saturday.

    "I've already said that he's in great shape and it's not impossible that he could win this thing again," Nagelsmann said at his pre-match news conference. 

    "He can't change the past. He's working every day on the present and the future gets created with his work in the present. I think it could be possible that he wins it someday.

    "And I'm sure that, when you look at his current numbers without mathematical talent like me, it looks good for this season.  

    "Therefore, I believe that he can do it and that those who vote will vote for him next year and say that he deserves the Ballon d'Or.

    "It is important to accept this disappointment but also to take energy and motivation for other big performances. And I'm confident that he has this drive."

     

    Against no team has Lewandowski scored more goals in all competitions than against former side Dortmund (24, level with his record against Wolfsburg).

    Dortmund have lost their past six competitive matches against Bayern, but they enter this contest with six wins in their previous seven leagues games and are just a point behind Bayern.

    Asked how his side go about beating reigning champions and current pacesetters Bayern at Signal Iduna Park, Rose said: "We need to play well in every department.

    "I believe that Bayern have a clear structure with the ball and develop a goal risk from it with a lot of force. It is difficult to grasp. 

    "It will be important to eliminate the offensive quality around Lewandowski and the wingers and to keep Munich out of the penalty area as much as possible."

  • Ramos again ruled out as Pochettino vows to make changes against Lens Ramos again ruled out as Pochettino vows to make changes against Lens

    Sergio Ramos has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Lens as the defender's injury-plagued start to life in the French capital goes on. 

    The 35-year-old has endured a frustrating time of things since arriving at the Parc des Princes from Real Madrid, whom he had represented for the previous 16 seasons.

    Ramos made his long-awaited debut in last weekend's 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne, but he was not included in the squad for the midweek stalemate against Nice.

    Spain international Ramos will again be absent on Saturday when PSG travel to Lens as Mauricio Pochettino's side attempt to get back to winning ways in Ligue 1.

    "Ramos' workload has been adapted for muscle fatigue following his return to play. He will resume training with the squad on Sunday," read an update on PSG's official website.

    Madrid legend Ramos has played just six matches at club level this calendar year, totalling 485 minutes on the field, while his last appearance for Spain came in March.

    The 15 LaLiga games Ramos started last season was the fewest he managed for the club and a big drop from the 35 games started in the season before.

     

    As well as being without Ramos against Lens, Ander Herrera, Julian Draxler and Neymar are also absent for PSG, with the latter ruled out for the remainder of the year.

    Pochettino confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that he intends to make changes following his side's 0-0 draw with Nice.

    That was the third time PSG have failed to score in their last 11 games, with Lionel Messi again firing a blank to leave his tally at one goal in eight Ligue 1 appearances.

    Indeed, Messi has the highest differential (2.95) between his goals scored (1) and his expected goals (xG) (3.95) in Ligue 1 this term.

    However, Pochettino is confident his compatriot will soon find his scoring touch in front of goal.

    "It's a question of efficiency," Pochettino said. "Leo is someone who has always scored goals. It's also a matter of time and he's going to score a lot of goals here."

    With the January transfer window now less than a month away, Pochettino is not yet thinking about bringing in any new recruits to bolster his star-studded squad.

    "I'm not waiting for signatures at the winter break. I didn't talk about that after the Nice match. This is not the time to talk about this at all," he added.

    "When the time comes, we will talk to the club to see if there are any needs in the team, but we are far from that."

  • Conte 'very pleased' with Kane despite lean scoring spell Conte 'very pleased' with Kane despite lean scoring spell

    New Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte reassured he is "very pleased" with Harry Kane despite the striker's lean spell of scoring form.

    Spurs cruised to a 2-0 win over Brentford in the first ever top-flight meeting between the sides on Thursday, though Kane could not get on the scoresheet and has just one Premier League goal to his name so far this season.

    The England international did, however, record a game-high three key passes in a creative performance that was typified by his usual preference to drop deep and look to link-up play.

    As Conte prepares to host Norwich City, who the Italian has never faced before in the league, he once again gave his backing for goal-shy Kane.

    "First of all, I'm sure Harry is happy if we win and he doesn't score," Conte said of Kane, who has scored five goals in three top-flight matches against the Canaries.

    "Tottenham is the first thought for us and Harry. As I said yesterday, Harry played a very good game, he was in the situation that we scored and he had a good chance to score.

    "It is important to have chances to score and we're improving a lot in this aspect. I'm sure Harry is going to score many goals.

    "I'm sure he’s going to have a good performance in the same way he had against Brentford against every team we play.

    "I'm very pleased with the way that he's playing. I know the striker wants to score but we want to give him many chances to score. I think we're on the right path to do this type of situation." Conte has won both of his opening home games in the league – only Ryan Mason and Harry Redknapp have started with three wins in the club's Premier League history.

    Despite only being in charge for a short period, Conte has partly resolved some of Spurs' issues and one of his next tasks will be to sort a new contract with skipper Hugo Lloris, whose deal runs out at the end of the season.

    "Yeah but I've just arrived," he responded when asked about negotiations with Lloris. "Only one month. At this moment, for sure, we have many situations to solve.

    "Hugo is the captain of this team, captain of France and we're talking about a top goalkeeper. He's very focused now. He knows very well now we're trying to do our best.

    "Me as a coach, Hugo as goalkeeper and every player has to perform at a high level, but for sure we'll have time to speak about him and I consider him an important player for his experience.

    "He's a good goalkeeper first of all and has showed great commitment to the club over a number of years."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.