Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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The 2020-21 NBA season has been underway for about a month, and fans have already had an array of storylines.

Lower tier teams from previous years are finally getting better in their respective conferences. For example, the New York Knicks are 9-13 on the season because of the dominance of Julius Randle, who is averaging 22.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and a solid six assists per game.

However, there are squads being affected by players contracting coronavirus (or because of health and safety protocols). Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum missed five games in mid-January due to a positive test.

After the Los Angeles Lakers’ title run, which completed the 2019-20 season in the Walt Disney World “bubble” environment, the league has gone back to utilizing their arenas.

Nine out of the 30 teams have a limited number of fans in attendance. The Orlando Magic currently has the largest crowds, allowing 4,000 fans at home games.

Overall, this season is unlike others in recent memory. There will only be 72 games (instead of the usual 82), and we’ve seen teams playing the same opponents in two game sets in the same city to reduce traveling. Hopefully, we can return to our favorite arenas in full capacity sooner rather than later.

1 Highlight, 1 Lowlight, 1 Random Stat

Highlight: After the Eagles’ extremely disappointing 4-11-1 season, good things are happening in Philadelphia right now. The 76ers hold the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Joel Embiid is looking like an MVP front-runner, averaging 28.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He also leads the league in free throws made and attempted! The last center to win MVP was Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-00 season. Other teams have had no answers to counter Embiid’s strength and quick thinking. Opponents are double- and triple-teaming him… to pretty much no avail.

So far, one of the only arguments critics use against Embiid is that “he flops too much.” Let’s put it this way: at least he doesn’t flop the way Gary Trent Jr. of Portland did against the Thunder a week ago. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Lowlight: Um… does anyone want to tell the Washington Wizards that the goal is to win games, not to lose them?

Although some had this team as a playoff dark horse, they’re the worst team in the league with a miserable 4-12 record. Washington acquired point guard Russell Westbrook from Houston in exchange for former 2010 number one overall pick John Wall. They’re 2-9 with Westbrook playing.

On top of all of that, fans from all over the league want to see Bradley Beal traded to a contender because of what he’s put up with. Just in January, he dropped 47 points against New Orleans, 41 against Boston and a career-high (and a Wizards franchise-tying) 60 against Philadelphia. All losses!

Beal is averaging a league-leading 35 points per game, along with 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He’s 27 years old, but he can only do so much. The team has to figure something out.

Random Stat: Joe Ingles passed Utah Jazz legend John Stockton for the most 3s made in franchise history (the previous record was 845). You know you’re doing something right when you pass any record by Stockton, who is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals.

Jazz musicians Miles Davis and John Coltrane would be proud that the Utah Jazz are the talk of the NBA.

They’re a scorching 15-5, and they’ve won their last 11 of 12 games. On Friday, they pounded Dallas by 19 points without star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. Things are looking great for them so far, and getting Mitchell back should certainly help their case as a top 3-5 team this season.

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