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NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James Etc begins free-throw parade

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Welcome back to the NBA Star Power Index, a weekly ranking of the players who are generating the most attention in the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t always a good thing; it merely signifies you’ve caught the attention of the NBA world. This isn’t a rating, either. The names of the players are listed in no particular order. During the regular season, this piece will appear every week.

NBA Star Power Index

James LeBorn

The Lakers are on the verge of collapsing. They’re the West’s No. 9 seed at 27-34, three games behind the No. 8 Clippers and just two games away from being eliminated from the play-in round entirely, after falling to the Mavericks on Tuesday, their third straight loss since the All-Star break and sixth in their last seven games (it might be a a race with Portland to see who can lose more the rest of the season, except the Blazers are trying to lose). Anthony Davis may be out for the remainder of the regular season.

Still, LeBron James isn’t about to give up.

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After the loss to Dallas, James noted, “We still have games to play.” “I have a chance till you stomp me out, cut off my head, and bury me 12 feet deep. So there’s my assurance.”

Against every rational thread of reasoning, I’m siding with LeBron. I can’t rule out any team on which he plays until the math says it’s impossible. Unless San Antonio has a super hot streak, the Lakers are likely to make the play-in game, and if Davis can return, they have a shot.

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What do you mean, an opportunity to do what? I’m not certain. The Los Angeles Lakers are a bad squad. The majority of the time, they’re a complete disaster. They’re probably a first-round appetiser at best. But there’s still a small part of my imagination — although a dwindling one — that can imagine something more. It’s LeBron James. He’s won our irrational trust. And he’s well-deserving of it.

James Harden is a basketball player from the United States.

Harden has been incredible in his first two games with the Sixers, averaging 28 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds on 58 percent shooting, making him the first player in NBA history to score at least 25 points and ten assists in each of his first two games. He’s 8 for 14 in three games. He’s flipped it five times in all. He’s been to the free-throw line 19 times and has made 18 of them.

We need to discuss about the free-throw total. When Harden and Embiid, or any two stars for that matter, team up, all the talk is about how well they complement one another in live action. Make Embiid’s spaces more difficult. They’re made for picking and rolling/popping. But, as we’ve discussed in the aftermath of the deal, these players are going to lead a parade to the free-throw line.

 

Harden and Embiid have combined to go 52 for 59 from the line in two games. A total of 59 free throws! This is a true pick-your-poison pair that leaves defenders continually vulnerable and with little alternatives for escape other than fouling. Furthermore, each of them is a master drawer of contact. Philly’s postseason games may last four hours, but if they keep getting to the line like this, it will be difficult to beat them.

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Joel Embiid is a forward for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Do you believe Embiid enjoys Harden’s presence? Since his arrival, he’s averaged 35.5 points per game while taking only 18 shots per game. Some of that is due to the incredible number of free throws he’s taken (20 per game), but his workload is certainly going to be reduced as Harden provides so much leverage that Embiid doesn’t have to put in as much effort to get the shot.

This is a fantastic partnership. The chemistry has already been established. The Sixers won 46 points in the 53 minutes that Harden and Embiid shared the court. They have excellent pick-and-roll timing, and Harden has hit Embiid for transition dunks on a few of occasions.

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I was worried about Harden’s willingness to hand the ball over to Embiid in the post and actually move off the ball, but Harden has already left his mark on this offence. He’s in command. Sure, Embiid should commit to moving more, but with Harden in charge, he’ll be fine scoring 30-plus points per game. Embiid dubbed the two-man game between him and Harden “unstoppable” after Philly’s win over the Knicks on Sunday, and he might be right.

Ja Morant

Right now, Morant is the most exciting player in the league, and it’s not even close. Morant now has five of the Grizzlies’ best seven single-game scoring totals, three of which came in the last two weeks.

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One of the 44-point games occurred against Portland in Memphis’ final game before the All-Star break, the 46 came on Saturday, and the 52 came against the Spurs on Tuesday, clearly a career-high for Morant and the best scoring night in team history. Morant made 22 of 30 shots in that game, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range, and perhaps the Dunk and Shot of the Year in a two-minute stretch to end the first half.

He grabbed an outlet pass just past half court, calmly angled toward the hoop, and then chose to try and end poor Jakob Poeltl’s life with an absolute hammer of a dunk with one foot outside the paint.

Seriously, look at where Morant took off from and try to comprehend how tough it should’ve been for a person to clear this mess.

That has a case for Dunk of the Year, and to think, it was just a warm-up for one of the season’s most absurd highlights. Morant soared into the air to grab a full-court pass from Steven Adams, twisting and tumbling out of bounds all in one motion, then fired in an 18-footer from the baseline to beat the first-half clock just a few minutes later.

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I’m not sure what to say about that. It takes an exceptional combination of athleticism and power to even get that shot to the rim, let alone make it. Even as herky-jerky as he might be, Morant makes this stuff look effortless. My gosh, I mean. This man is an incredible basketball player and athleticism.

Loka Doncic

Doncic has been back to MVP form for a while, and the Mavericks, who are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with Denver, have won 21 of their previous 28 games. Doncic averaged 34.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in February, shooting more than 41% from three-point range.

Doncic got his March off to a strong start on Tuesday, going 25-8-5 in a win over the Lakers. Even when he’s 9 for 21 and 0 for 5 from three, he’s still getting where he wants to go and dictating every possession. He hit a slew of tough shots down the stretch, three of which he started with his switch-hunting LeBron James — two buckets for Doncic and a lob-layup for Dwight Powell.

When you hear the term “switch hunt” in today’s NBA, it implies that a weak defender is being targeted. Luka, for example, will request a screen from the most vulnerable defender’s man, transfer the ball, and then cook the sitting duck.

However, Doncic isolating LeBron was most likely done to eliminate James as a help defender in this situation. It was intended as a compliment. Or at the very least, a rebuke to the Lakers’ other defenders. Malik Monk, Russell Westbrook, Stanley Johnson, and Talon Horton-Tucker do not pose the same threat to Doncic’s creative endeavours.

If LeBron, who is a smart, anticipatory defender, lingers off the ball, he is more likely to jump passing lanes or double Doncic late, affecting his shot. Luka knows the help is less of a factor now that LeBron is guarding Doncic head-on, and he can at least play one-on-one. Luka enjoys his isolated opportunities to generate leverage for his own shot or for a teammate, even against a better individual defender. And he was absolutely correct.

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Michell Monovan

The Jazz are back on track, having won eight of their previous nine games, and Mitchell has been on fire since the beginning of February. Mitchell is averaging 29.5 points and shooting 56 percent of his 3-pointers coming out of the All-Star break, with two wins over two excellent opponents in Dallas and Phoenix (13 for 23).

This appears to be rather good.

Utah is in strong shape to earn a top-four seed in the postseason, with a three-game lead over the No. 5 Mavericks and only two games behind No. 3 Memphis. The Jazz will be a factor if they can stay healthy, especially with Mitchell as a proven playoff great.

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