Newswire Notebook: Caris LeVert Goes Off and More

Each week here at SLAM we’re going to empty out the notebook and give you some facts and figures about each NBA team. These are meant to give you a one-stop shop for what’s been happening around the league and highlight a few things you may have missed!

Last Week’s Notebooks: East || West

  • Atlanta Hawks – With Dewayne Dedmon out and Clint Capela yet to make his Hawks’ debut, Atlanta has gone to some minutes with their “core five” as a lineup. In 181 minutes over 20 games, the Hawks are +25 with Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish on the floor together. That might not sound like a lot, but considering Atlanta is -8.1 points per game on the season it’s meaningful. Those five are the Hawks building blocks, so it’s good to see them able to share the floor together.
  • Boston Celtics – Boston was expected to struggle with interior defense after losing Al Horford in the offseason. Instead, the Celtics rank fifth in the NBA in blocks per 100 possessions. Some of that is long wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown blocking jumpers, but most of it comes at the rim. Boston actually ranks ahead of much bigger Philadelphia in blocks/100, which is one of the surprises of the season.
  • Brooklyn Nets – Kyrie Irving underwent successful surgery on his right shoulder impingement. As expected, Irving will join Kevin Durant on the sidelines for the rest of this season. The Nets are hanging in there without Irving though, as Caris LeVert exploded for 51 points in an upset win over the Celtics in Boston. LeVert scored 37 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He went for 26 in the fourth and then scored all 11 of the Nets points in overtime.
  • Charlotte Hornets – With the focus on youth, the Hornets are giving almost all their minutes to players who are 26 years old and under. That’s given increased opportunities to rookies Cody and Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels. Those three combined with PJ. Washington and Mile Bridges give Charlotte a really interesting group of forwards. None of the five can really play up and defend the five, and only Cody Martin has shown the ability to play down and defend the two. That makes it a challenge for James Borrego and Mitch Kupchak to figure out how they call fit, but that’s what rebuilding seasons are for.
  • Chicago Bulls – Last week we wrote about how banged up the Bulls were. Well, they’re finally getting healthy! Zach LaVine went down with a quad injury, but it’s not expected to be a long-term thing. Otto Porter Jr. returned to the lineup for the first time since early-November. Lauri Markkanen got back after missing over a month. And Wendell Carter Jr. is back as well. That’s important as Chicago can use the last month of the season to see exactly who fits together and how. Look for Coby White to possibly take over as the starting point guard, as it’s getting harder for Jim Boylen to keep White on the bench. White has averaged 28 points per game on 51/49/95 shooting splits over his last six games.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers – Cleveland is a mess with injuries. Andre Drummond (calf), Darius Garland (groin), Tristan Thompson (knee) and Dante Exum (ankle) are all out. Drummond, Garland and Thompson aren’t expected to be down long-term, but the Cavs also lost Kevin Porter Jr. to a head injury against Boston on Wednesday night. This point in the year should be about evaluation and development and injuries are robbing Cleveland of that.
  • Detroit Pistons – How much are the Pistons hurting for guard depth? Jordan McRae was claimed off waivers on Wednesday afternoon and then played 25 minutes on Wednesday night. McRae did what he does and scored 15 points, but that says a lot about where things are at for the Pistons. Also, keep an eye on Christian Wood. He scored 29 points on Wednesday, bringing his average to 20.1 points per game since the start of February.
  • Indiana Pacers – The Pacers lost Jeremy Lamb last week and now Victor Oladipo is back on the shelf with right knee soreness. Indiana knew that they’d have to deal with that as Oladipo works his way back from last season’s knee injury. What the Pacers weren’t expecting is for Malcolm Brogdon to continue to get nicked up. Brogdon left Wednesday’s loss against his former team in Milwaukee with a sore left hip. Injuries to their top three guards have Indiana relying heavily on Aaron and Justin Holiday and T.J. McConnell in the backcourt.
  • Miami Heat – The Heat got back home after a tough road trip and ripped off a four-game win streak. That improved their record to 27-4 in Miami. More importantly, the Heat now have a three-game lead over both the Pacers and 76ers in the race for homecourt advantage. And Miami is quietly only 2.5 games behind Boston for the third seed.
  • Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks actually lost a game in the last week! They were handled fairly easily by the Heat in Miami. But it doesn’t really matter. Milwaukee is 12-2 in their last 14 games. And if you’re looking for a weakness on the road, it doesn’t really exist. The Bucks and Lakers are tied at an NBA-best 25-6 away from home. By any measure, Milwaukee is dominant.
  • New York Knicks – RJ Barrett played one of the best games of his career this week as the Knicks upset the Rockets in New York. Barrett scored 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Overall, Barrett has scored 14 or more points in seven of his last eight games and is averaging 16.8 points per game during that stretch. It’s incremental, but signs of improvement are there for the Knicks young wing.
  • Orlando Magic – Just when things were looking up for Orlando, they dropped three straight games to fall back behind Brooklyn in the standings. The Magic still have a healthy 4.5 game lead over the Wizards for the eighth spot in the East, but could be on a collision course with the Bucks in the first round. That’d be bad news for Orlando, as they are 0-3 against Milwaukee and have lost by an average of 19.6 points per game in those three losses.
  • Philadelphia 76ers – Shake Milton stepped up on Sunday with a career game. He scored 39 points, which topped his previous career-high of 27. And Milton sent an NBA record with 14 consecutive made three-pointers over a two-game stretch. Philadelphia’s roster is expensive and will only get more expensive down the line. Milton on a minimum contract through 2022-23 is huge for helping to keep a mounting tax bill down.
  • Toronto Raptors – One man in, one man out for the Raptors. Toronto got Norman Powell back, but lost Serge Ibaka. Without Ibaka and Marc Gasol, the Raps have gone small with Pascal Siakam and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson starting at the five. They’ve also given increased minutes to Chris Boucher. He responded with 19 points and 15 rebounds in Tuesday’s win at Phoenix. That play has helped keep Toronto just ahead of Boston in the race for the second seed in the East. And despite it all, Toronto can clinch a playoff spot with a win on Thursday at the Golden State Warriors.
  • Washington Wizards – The Wizards are clinging to life in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They’ve dropped 4.5 games behind Orlando and a full five games behind Brooklyn. Injuries continue to be a challenge for Washington, as Thomas Bryant can’t play back-to-backs due to foot soreness and Ish Smith went down with hamstring soreness. Once Washington falls out of the race fully, look for the team to actively sit some of their veterans and focus on the younger players the rest of the way.