NBA

NBA Heat Check: Morant dazzles, Kawhi comes up big but Harrell stuck on the bench

By Sports Desk May 31, 2021

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Related items

  • Budenholzer hails 'aggressive' Giannis: That's when Bucks are at our best Budenholzer hails 'aggressive' Giannis: That's when Bucks are at our best

    Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer says Giannis Antetokounmpo had the "extra gear" required to get the reigning champions over the line in Monday's 119-109 win over the Indiana Pacers.

    Antetokounmpo came close to his first triple-double of the new season, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

    Budenholzer said the two-time NBA MVP was in "attack mode" as the Bucks improved to a 3-1 record.

    "I think it was a really aggressive Giannis tonight but at the same time he's still making great passes, great reads, great decisions," Budenholzer told reporters after the game.

    "When he's attacking and scoring and finding three-point shooters, that's when we're at our best. He had that extra gear tonight and we needed it."

    He added: "Tonight he was special getting into the paint and creating some foul situations for them."

    The Bucks were without guard Jrue Holiday (ankle) and center Brook Lopez (back) along with Bobby Portis, employing a shorter starting line-up.

    Antetokounmpo admitted he was still getting used to handling Lopez's absence on court.

    "At the end of the day, sometimes I feel like not having Brook out there is hard for me," he told reporters. "Should I go screen, should I get out of the way, should I go for the dunk? It makes me second guess sometimes."

    Antetokounmpo was also full of praise for 23-year-old Bucks forward Jordan Nwora (nine points, four rebounds and three assists) who he said was "playing great" this season.

  • DeRozan and Bulls 'want to win now' after following in Michael Jordan's footsteps with 4-0 start DeRozan and Bulls 'want to win now' after following in Michael Jordan's footsteps with 4-0 start

    DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

    The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

    Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

    It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

    The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

    "Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

    "Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

    "That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

    DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

    "We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

    The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

    "I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

  • Giannis flirts with triple-double to fuel Bucks, Bulls off to best start since 1996-97 Giannis flirts with triple-double to fuel Bucks, Bulls off to best start since 1996-97

    Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

    Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

    Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

    Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

    While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

     

    Bulls maintain perfect start

    The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

    Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

    Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

    Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

     

    Harden's radar still off

    The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

    Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.