We are almost 30 games into the 2018-19 NBA regular season and the true contenders have started to seperate themselves from the pack.
The Raptors, Bucks and Sixers have been locked into a three-way race as the likely candidates for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Celtics and Pacers gaining on them.
Out West, the entire conference is jumbled together with improved contenders popping up left and right, but the Warriors juggernaut appears to be back on track. Strong MVP candidates have shaped the league this season and chief among them is former unanimous MVP Steph Curry. He has only played in 16 of their 27 games but has been absolutely astonishing when he has played.
The Warriors are a great team without Curry and a transcendent one with him. He is averaging 29 PPG, 5 APG and 5 RPG while shooting a career-best 51 percent from the field. Curry turned in a 42-point masterpiece in their recent win over the Cavaliers, and 20 points and 8 assists in a big win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.
The Bucks followed up that loss to the World Champion Warriors with a 5-point win over the Raptors. In the win, Milwaukee’s MVP candidate--Giannis Antetokounmpo--racked up 19 points, 19 rebounds and 6 assists and helped hold Kawhi Leonard to 8-18 shooting.
Even with the loss, Toronto is still in the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the play of Leonard is the driving force behind their league-leading 21 wins. And the other teams closing in on their record that haven’t been mentioned all have legitimate MVP hopefuls, sans the Clippers and Pacers, who have relied on an offense-by committee.
LeBron James—for once in his career—will actually be a dark-horse for MVP should the Lakers continue to sit in the lower half of the playoff race, fighting for seeds No.5 through No. 8. But his season can’t be ignored. James is leading the Lakers in points (28), assists (6), rebounds (7), and steals (1) per game. While Tyson Chandler and Javale McGee have been the key to the Lakers great defense, James has almost single-handedly elevated the Lakers offense to 15th in the league in offensive efficiency.
The Lakers will be a dangerous playoff team should they qualify, and it would be another reminder of the transformative power that James can have on a franchise.
We have big NBA games this week--more so in the West--that will suss out the MVP race a bit more. The Trail Blazers go up against the Grizzlies in Memphis, the Jazz take on the Magic in Mexico City, Nuggets play the Thunder in Denver and there is also a Lakers-Rockets rematch that features two squads that got into a very heated battle the last time they faced off.
The No. 8 seed is 8 games back of 1st place in the East, and a mere 3.5 games back of 1st place in the West, signifying just how tightly contested the 2018-19 season has been. See how the parity-filled league hierarchy shakes out in our latest Power Rankings, right here.
In a story published by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, it was stated that Bulls players reached out to the National Basketball Players Association on Sunday to protest what they felt were “extreme tactics” from new head coach Jim Boylen.
Boylen has made his coaching style widely-known and shows no plans to change his hard-nosed ways, though Goodwill’s story says that sources told Yahoo Sports that Boylen felt that substituting out all five players at once was extreme in the moment. He initially pulled out all five players after going down 17-0 against the Celtics, and did it again after a 5-3 run by Boston in the second half that definitely seemed like an odd time to pull all five starters.
A telling excerpt from Goodwill’s piece was:
Players felt like they were being treated like high school athletes and those feelings of disrespect escalated when Boylen told the media the players needed to get in better shape, sources said.
Some of the disconnect seems to be stemming from what is being set forth as reasonable expectations. In Goodwill's piece it is stated that Boylen referenced his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs when speaking to the team, and it seems that some of the players are tired of hearing about his connections to the storied franchise:
A player responded, sources said, telling Boylen in essence that they aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.
This year is about the development of the Bulls young talent as they likely prepare for another lottery pick. And now any meaningful development is in jeopardy, with so much drama now surrounding the team.
The main issue with firing Fred Hoiberg was always the awkward timing, and things appear to be getting much worse as it is clear there is some disconnect between Boylen and this roster.
A point that Boylen has tried to emphasize multiple times is that the players need to trust him. But with a reported (and unorthodox) directly-after-the-game film session, multiple 2+ hour practices and the aforementioned 5-man substitution in the blowout loss to Boston, it is clear that it will be hard for the players to fully trust him until they are on the same page as far as what both sides—Boylen and the players—expect from each other.