Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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As colleges are approaching the end of the spring semester, we have to remind ourselves once more that the semester isn’t over yet. It’s close, but not totally over. Turning off our brains for a few months shouldn’t be starting until final exams are done.

The same can be said for the NBA. Teams can’t hit the cruise button now and expect to hold on to the good record/seed they possess. Although the Utah Jazz have shocked many fans this year and are the only team so far to hit 40 wins, they still have much to prove to the haters and doubters.

In the east, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are at each other’s throats for first place. The 76ers host them this Wednesday to snap any tiebreakers and give someone a better chance at homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The loser of that game might regret it down the line, just like the Lakers regret signing Marc Gasol.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

1 Highlight, 1 Lowlight, 1 Random Stat

Highlight: Over the past few years, the Denver Nuggets have transformed themselves from the Denver “15-piece McNuggets” to an actual contender. A huge reason they’re doing well is because of Nikola Jokić.

The 6’11” Serbian native is only 26 years old but is already a top two center in the NBA (it’s between Joel Embiid and him, but there are so many arguments over who’s better). “The Joker,” as he’s often called, averages 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game! Wilt Chamberlain averaged the most assists in a season by a center, with 8.6 in 1967-68. The vision Jokić has is uncanny for someone his size.

Additionally, Denver is winning because of their acquisition of Aaron Gordon. The former Magic forward has been successful so far in the Mile High City. The Nuggets are 7-2 with Gordon, the two losses being their most recent matches.

Here’s the catch, though: Jamal Murray is out for the year with a torn ACL. Denver lost in five games to the eventual champions, the L.A. Lakers, in last year’s Western Conference Finals. It’ll be interesting to see if the Nuggets can hit gold this year anyway.

Lowlight: I honestly don’t know where to put the Oklahoma City Thunder this week. Should they be in the highlight section, or should I write it here? Well, too late now!

OKC is in an peculiar spot. They are the 13th western seed, have a 20-34 record and are on a seven-game losing streak. They are right ahead of the lowly duo that is the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, whose respective catchphrases are, “we traded James Harden for Kelly Olynyk” and “at least the Vikings have Justin Jefferson.”

However, Thunder fans shouldn’t be losing sleep over their team. Thanks to the highway robbery magic of general manager Sam Presti, they have 34 draft picks until 2027. 17 are first rounders, and 17 are second rounders! A boatload of first-round picks came from the Paul George trade to the L.A. Clippers before the 2019-20 season.

Will OKC use these picks on young talent through the draft, or will they ship some picks to other teams for proven veterans? The future holds the answer, and I believe Presti is more than excited to see what it has in store for his team.

Random Stat: A player similar to Russell Westbrook is a player we’ll never see again. A former top-five draft selection, Westbrook is inching closer and closer to surpassing the NBA record for most triple doubles in a career. He has 169; the record holder, Oscar Robertson, had 181.

Prior to Westbrook entering the league, Robertson was the only person to average a triple double over the course of a season. Westbrook did it for three straight seasons from 2016-2019.

Now, in his first year with the Washington Wizards, he’s averaging a triple double once more. It’s not really a big deal, except for the fact that he already has the most triple doubles in Wizards history!

While critics have said many times that Westbrook “pads his stats,” the numbers he puts up sometimes leave you speechless. On March 29, against the Pacers, he dropped a casual stat line of 35 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists! Westbrook should break Robertson’s record by early next year… unless he does it this year.

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