NBA

NBA Heat Check: The Greek Freak on fire as Steph suffers three-point slump

By Sports Desk March 01, 2021

The past week in the NBA saw the Brooklyn Nets do something they hadn't previously done since February 9... lose a game.

Brooklyn's defeat to the Dallas Mavericks gave a boost to their rivals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, headed by the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Milwaukee Bucks, another of those competitors, enjoyed a superb week with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly coming to the fore.

Meanwhile, out west, Devin Booker strung together a series of performances that justified his place in the All-Star game.

By contrast, two players significantly more familiar with that contest suffered dips in form.

Here we take a look at some of the best and worst performers across the past week, aided by Stats Perform data.

 

RUNNING HOT...

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks are firmly back in contention for the top seed in the East after stretching their winning run to five games, with three of those victories coming in the past week.

Antetokounmpo was predictably pivotal to their success, tallying over 30 points in each matchup to extend his streak to four games in that regard.

He finished the week with back-to-back double-doubles against the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 36 points in the latter game.

His points per game average jumped from 28.37 to 37, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sending a message that they are still very much a contender for the title.

Devin Booker

The All-Star snub who was later added as a replacement showed why he deserves his place in the showcase this past week.

Booker averaged 33 points across the Phoenix Suns' three games, an impressive improvement on his previous season-long average of 24.28.

He capped it in stunning fashion, dropping 43 in the win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw him go 15 for 26 from the field.

At 22-11, the Suns will loom as a dangerous playoff team should he continue that kind of form.

James Harden

Brooklyn may have finally seen their eight-game winning streak come to an end, but it was a positive week for Harden individually.

Absent the other two members of the Nets' big three, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Harden could not prevent them from falling to defeat to the Mavericks.

However, he was more prolific from beyond the arc this past week, averaging 4.67 made threes having entered the week putting up 3.08 per game.

Harden is converting threes at the highest rate of his career. He is shooting 39.7 per cent from beyond the arc and 41.8 per cent since his trade to Brooklyn from the Houston Rockets.

But he is attempting only 8.2 a game, the fewest since the 2015-16 season (8.0). If he continues to shoot more from deep and maintains his consistency in converting those attempts, a loaded Nets team will have yet another dimension.

GOING COLD...

Paul George

An up-and-down week for the Clippers started brilliantly for George, who racked up 30 points in a win over the Washington Wizards, going six of seven from three-point range.

But he tailed off thereafter, following up two 13-point efforts against the Memphis Grizzlies with a mediocre 16-point display in the loss to the Bucks.

His points per game average fell from 24.36 entering the week to 18 over the past seven days, and the Clippers will need a lot more from him if they are to earn a top-two seed in the West.

Terry Rozier

The man known as 'Scary Terry' did little to terrify opponents over the past week.

Rozier entered the week averaging a career-high 21.15 points per game but that dipped to 13.5 over the four games the Charlotte Hornets contested in the last seven days.

He put up 24 points in a loss to the Golden State Warriors but could not manage more than 12 in his other three outings.

Still averaging 20.2 a game for the season, the Hornets will want Rozier to deliver the kind of performance he did against Golden State consistently as they seek a first playoff berth since 2015-16.

Stephen Curry

Among the players to suffer the biggest decline in three-point shooting this past week was the man most consider the greatest shooter of all time.

Curry had been converting 5.03 three-pointers a game for the season but hit on an average of 3.25 a game as the Warriors won three of four last week.

He still enjoyed a 37-point outing against the New York Knicks, scoring seven triples in that triumph, but was one for 11 from deep versus the Indiana Pacers and two for seven in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, with Curry experiencing a season in which he is averaging his highest points per game tally (29.5) since his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16 (30.1), the smart money says he will soon return to form from beyond the arc.

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    The Ivory Coast international, who joined in January from West Ham, had difficulty in coming about goals during an 18-month Premier League stint.

    His Champions League form has been stellar, though, and the penalty he converted against Sporting was his 10th goal of this season's group stage.

    It made him the quickest player to reach double figures in a Champions League career, doing so in just six games. Norwegian star Haaland previously held that record, having got there in seven appearances.

    Haller also became the first player to score in each of his opening six games in the competition.

    Cristiano Ronaldo was already a Champions League veteran when he scored in all six of Real Madrid's 2017-18 group games. That made Ronaldo the first player to have netted in all of his team's matches at that stage of the competition in a single season.

    Haller has now become the second man to achieve that feat, with the 27-year-old's eighth-minute spot-kick coming after he was fouled by Daniel Braganca.

    It gave Ajax a 1-0 lead, but they were soon pegged back to 1-1 as Nuno Santos replied in the 22nd minute for Sporting. Antony restored Ajax's lead before half-time.

    Ajax were already assured of winning Group C coming into the final game of the opening stage, with Sporting assured of finishing as runners-up.

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    Barca go to Munich second in Group E with seven points, just two more than a Benfica side that will expect to beat Dynamo Kiev.

    If Benfica are victorious, only a win will take Barca through to the last 16, and that will not be a simple task – Bayern have won all five of their Champions League games this term and boast an excellent record at home.

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    Bayern are already on the longest run of successive victories by any team against Barcelona in the history of the Champions League/European Cup (three wins), a sequence that included the 8-2 in August 2020 and a comprehensive 3-0 success earlier this season.

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    "We will try," he told reporters. "He who tries and rows to the end does not fail, and I do not believe in the word failure.

    "We depend on ourselves and it will be difficult, but at the moment we have the idea of going there to win the game, dominate and create chances. If tomorrow it [Barca are knocked out] happens, we will talk about it.

    "I see them train and I think we are ready to compete. It's not the best scenario [the lack of spectators allowed] but we are very much looking forward to it.

    "I hope the latest defeat doesn't affect us. We depend on ourselves and we will try with our weapons.

    "After the game we will see. I don't see it as such a miracle. It is a game and we can beat any opponent."

    Xavi was hired amid a huge rebuild job at Barca, with the club still reeling from Lionel Messi's departure, which was forced by a crippling financial situation.

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    "We work so that Barca is not inferior to any team in Europe. We have a lot of work ahead of us," he continued.

    "You have to be patient because this [process] is not overnight – lately, Bayern have been better than Barca, but football always offers you a chance for revenge."

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