Top takeaways from the last week in the NBA

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Highlights The Dallas Mavericks have established themselves as a dark horse team with their recent acquisitions, addressing major concerns and dominating a top-five opponent.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ current standing in the standings doesn’t accurately reflect their performance, as they have underperformed and rely heavily on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
D’Angelo Russell is heating up for the Lakers, and his improved performance may be crucial for the team’s playoff hopes, allowing LeBron James and Anthony Davis to rest.
Each week in the NBA, there is a medley of awe-inspiring moments, red-hot teams, and disappointing ones, as well, and the last seven days were no different.
Now, the NBA trade deadline is officially over and the All-Star Break draws nearer. With the halfway point of the season just ahead, it’s the perfect time to revisit the last week of action. Here are six takeaways from last week’s NBA games.
Mavericks establishing themselves as a legitimate dark horse
Defeated Thunder by 35 points in their first game after the trade deadline
The Dallas Mavericks made two key acquisitions during the NBA trade deadline; they acquired Daniel Gafford from the Washington Wizards and dealt Grant Williams for PJ Washington from the Charlotte Hornets. These additions addressed three key major concerns for the team: rebounding, interior defense, and frontcourt-scoring flexibility.
The Mavericks are not a good rebounding team, ranking 25th in the league with only 41.5 rebounds per game. They’re also 27th in rebounding chances. Only one player on their frontcourt averages more than four rebounds per game. The addition of Gafford gave them a top-30 overall rebounder and a top-12 offensive rebounder.
For a team that loves to shoot threes, ranking second in attempts, the addition of a legitimate rebounding threat results in an increase in second-chance opportunities. Gafford had four offensive rebounds in his first game as a Maverick, including one where he was able to beat all five Thunder players for the board, drawing a foul in the process.
Gafford also provides another big body to the team and a capable rim protector. The Mavericks’ current starting center Dereck Lively II, while impressive thus far, has dealt with injuries. Gafford’s acquisition provides much-needed depth in the center department.
The addition of Washington also provides a front-court scoring threat. While he’s not going to be attempting as many shots as Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving, and Tim Hardaway Jr, he’s going to be a reliable fourth option. He’s a great roll-man, can create a shot off of one to two dribbles, and has a solid post game.
Although they had only played one game with their new lineup, the Mavericks were able to dominate a top-five team in the league by over thirty points. This team could emerge as a legitimate dark horse as they continue to mesh and build more chemistry.
Bucks’ placement in the standings doesn’t tell the whole story
Title contenders severely underperforming
The Milwaukee Bucks still remain unimpressive, losing to the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Minnesota Timberwolves this past week. Although they have a 34-19 record, it’s important to note that they’ve had the third-easiest schedule so far.
Even in a lot of their wins, they’re not that dominant, only winning by an average of 3.6 points. Compare that to another Eastern Conference powerhouse, the Boston Celtics, who have been winning by an average of 9.5 points despite having the second-toughest schedule so far.
The acquisition of star guard Damian Lillard hasn’t paid off the way the Bucks thought it would. Ideally, he would’ve been an elite scoring option that would’ve taken the pressure off of franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo. Instead, Lillard has been largely inconsistent, and the Bucks are still over-relying on Antetokounmpo to carry their games.
Damian Lillard – 2022–23 vs. 2023–24 Stats (Pre-All-Star Break) Year 2022-23 2023-24 PPG 31.4 25.0 FG% 46.7 42.7 3PT% 37.2 34.5 TS% 64.8 59.9
With a recent coaching change as well as injuries to starting guard-forward Khris Middleton, it’s hard to tell if the Bucks will be able to get it together in time for a deep playoff run. The road to the Eastern Conference Finals is tough. The Celtics are a team most people expect to make it there, but the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks have also been red-hot. The Indiana Pacers this season also hold a 3-1 head-to-head record against the Bucks as well.
D’Angelo Russell is heating up
24.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting in his last 15 games
D’Angelo Russell has been playing pretty well recently. He put up 28 points in a victory against the Charlotte Hornets last Monday and 30 in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans last Friday. He’s been averaging 24.4 points over his last 15 games and has scored 15 or more in all but two of those games.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Los Angeles Lakers have also looked like a better team during that stretch, going 9-6 in that same timeframe, with quality wins over the New York Knicks,Golden State Warriors, and Dallas Mavericks.
Last season, the Lakers had a 16-7 run following the All-Star break, which was fueled by outstanding performances from their role players, particularly Russell. This season, the Lakers have struggled heavily without that same level of play from their role players. Now that Russell is starting to look like his best self again, he may be the one to keep the Lakers’ playoff hopes alive.
Russell is a “confidence player.” If he’s feeling himself, the Lakers have a legitimate scoring threat that can take pressure off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In the play above, he hits a heat check three to put the Lakers up 13.
It’s important to note that James and Davis were also on the bench for this possession. If Russell can maintain this level of play, the Lakers might actually be able to rest James and Davis together without any major repercussions, giving them fresher legs for a potential playoff run.
Thunder may have been too passive at the deadline
27th in rebounding despite being 14th in rebound chances
As great as the Oklahoma City Thunder have been, they aren’t without their flaws. But that’s okay, it’s their young core’s first season together, and they’re not expected to be perfect. However, unlike most teams in the league, the Thunder have the draft capital to make any move they want and could have potentially made a trade to fix their glaring issues: rebounding and size.
Despite ranking 14th in rebounding chances, the Thunder are only 27th in total rebounds (2186). They lack the size and physicality to grab easy boards. Look at the play below, Daniel Gafford is able to out-rebound and score over five Thunder players. The worst part is that he wasn’t even in a rebounding position; he had to sprint from the three-point line to make that offensive rebound.
Also, the fact that this game resulted in a 35-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks hurts even more. The Mavericks were an example of a team this season that made drastic changes at the trade deadline to put themselves in a more competitive spot. The Thunder, on the other hand, chose to stay fairly put. This isn’t to say that the Thunder “lost” the trade deadline or ruined their postseason chances, but they really could’ve done more.
They did make a small trade for Gordon Hayward, who seems like a good addition on paper. He adds veteran depth and is someone who can seamlessly fit into their system, but he’s not really going to address their issue with size and rebounding.
Understandably, Sam Presti wants to give this Thunder team a chance to tackle the postseason before making any major changes, and that’s fine. But it might come back to haunt them given how competitive the Western Conference playoff race is getting.
Sabonis is holding the Kings Together
2024 Stats: 19.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 8.3 APG
This year’s Sacramento Kings are not the same team as the year prior. In 2023, they netted the highest offensive rating in NBA history. Their offense was fast and dynamic, and that was a result of star guard De’Aaron Fox and center Domantas Sabonis’s offensive contributions. This year, they’re only 14th in offensive rating, and they find themselves in the seventh seed, four spots below where they finished in 2023.
So what happened? Well, Sabonis’s co-star has been largely inconsistent. While Fox has had his fair share of dominant 30- or 40-point games, he’s had equally worse slumps. He’s averaging 15.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting in his last four games.
The reason why the Kings haven’t been worse is because Sabonis has been able to pick up the slack.
Domantas Sabonis – Stats 2023 vs 2024 (Pre-All-Star) Season 2022-23 2023-24 PPG 18.8 19.9 RPG 12.3 13.2 APG 6.9 8.3 FG% 61.1 62.3
He’s been more efficient than ever, averaging a career-high 64 percent effective field goal percentage. He’s only attempting 12.8 shots a game this season, but the only reason why he hasn’t attempted more is that he’s drawing so much defensive attention. Every time he gets the ball in the paint, teams throw double or triple teams at him. He’s taken advantage of this attention with his great passing, averaging a career-high 8.3 assists per game.
He’s been a great connective tissue for the King’s offense, drawing multiple defenders and finding easy buckets for his teammates. On this play, he was able to draw the weakside defender on the drive, resulting in an easy layup for a cutting KevinHuerter. This was just one of his 14 assists that game.
He also put up a 17/17/10 stat line in a win against the defending champions last Friday and 30 points in a losing effort against the Detroit Pistons the game prior. It’s unsure how long Sabonis can keep this level of play, but in the meantime, he’s the player holding the Kings together until Fox returns to form.
Fox has been struggling with his shot
15.3 points on 39.4 shooting in his last four games
While Sabonis has been keeping the Kings together, Fox has had it a bit more rough of late. As previously mentioned, he’s struggled to find his shot in the last week, averaging only 39.4 percent from the field on 16.5 attempts. He’s also hit only one of seven of his free throws in his last four games.
De’Aaron Fox – Last Four Games Date 2/5 2/7 2/9 2/11 PTS 19 12 15 15 FG% 40.0 35.7 46.7 35.3 3PT% 33.0 40.0 50.0 25.0 TOV 3 2 3 3
In this past week, Fox has only driven the ball 10.5 times, down 4.4 from his season average. Instead, he’s settling for more threes, but the problem is he’s not that great of a three-point shooter. Since his shooting has been inconsistent and he’s not finding the same driving opportunities, Fox has been shooting his team out of games.
In this possession, he attempts a closely guarded step-back three with around 14 seconds left on the shot clock in an eight-point game. He was also only two for eight from three for the entire game.
If Fox remains in a slump, it could be a disaster for the Kings’ playoff chances. They’re currently seventh in the West, only half a game above the Mavericks, who are on a four-game win streak. They’re three games above the ninth-seed Los Angeles Lakers, who are 6-4 in their last ten, and only four games above the tenth-seed Golden State Warriors, who are 7-3 in their last ten.

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