Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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We’re at the point where decisions are made on a “now or never” basis. Should your team tank to get better draft positioning or make one last effort at a quick playoff run? Should your team keep the stars on load management to be ready for the playoffs, or should they go all-in right now to get the highest seed that they can? It depends on who it is, but one decision affects all 30 squads: the play-in games.

The NBA had a play-in game last year when they switched to the Disney “bubble.” Its purpose was to give teams a fair chance, since games were cancelled. Now, it has turned into a tournament. The first through sixth seeds remain as they are, but it’s a little different for the seventh through tenth seeds.

In each conference, the seventh seed would host the eighth, while the ninth would host the tenth. Whoever wins the seventh versus eighth seed matchup is automatically given the seventh seed. The loser hosts the winner of the ninth versus tenth seed game. (The loser of that game gets eliminated.) Whoever wins the game between the seventh versus eighth loser and ninth versus tenth winner gets the eighth and final seed. Whew. That’s a tongue twister…and I hate it.

Although this made sense because of the pandemic, it doesn’t make sense now that we’re getting back to normal. What happened to playing harder during the regular season for the seed you want in the postseason? Laziness doesn’t get you anywhere in the NBA or any other sports league.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

1 Highlight, 1 Lowlight, 1 Random Stat

Highlight: Have you ever been to a Staples store and either purchased or used the “That was easy” button? Ironically, the Staples Center in Los Angeles doesn’t seem to operate that way. The Clippers have it rough being in the shadow of the Lakers’ 17 rings.

However, ever since they acquired Paul George and Kawhi Leonard before last season, things are trending upward for them. George and Leonard are two of the most feared defenders in the league. DeMarcus Cousins also signed with the Clippers not too long ago. (To be honest, Cousins should be in the “Random Stat” this week: he has now played for all four California NBA teams!)

L.A. is knocking on Phoenix’s door for the second seed in the West. It would take some work to jump ahead of first-place Utah, but there’s still time left. Although they should be considered serious contenders, many are skeptical of their previous playoff “success.”

Ever since the Clippers were formed in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, they have never made it past the second round! After last year’s embarrassing choke, though, I think George, Leonard and their teammates want vengeance with a side of Lakers’ tears. 

Lowlight: In 1776, we declared independence from Great Britain. Our ancestors fought hard in the American Revolution, and thus we have our freedom. Here’s the thing, though: King George III ruled over Americans for decades before he gave up. For some reason, the Sacramento Kings are the ones getting ruled over.

At this rate, they should either be renamed to the Peasants or the Court Jesters.

Sacramento has lost seven of its last ten games with a 25-36 record. They can forget about making the playoffs this year…actually, they have forgotten to make the playoffs for about 15 years! The good news is that the Kings have solid players in the form of De’Aaron Fox and rookie Tyrese Haliburton.

Fox is averaging a blistering 25.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, while Haliburton is putting up 12.8 points, 5.2 assists and shooting 40.6 percent from beyond the arc! The bad news is that they’ve made head-scratching moves while being in a tough Western Conference.

In 2017, they traded DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans for next to nothing. In 2018, they drafted Marvin Bagley III over Luka Dončić. If they sign veterans to the roster, I could see a future for them.

Right now, absolutely not.

Random Stat: P.E.R, or player efficiency rating, is a statistic that could go either way. Sometimes, it’s expected to be very high because your name is Wilt Chamberlain. On the other hand, you could be seriously shocked when you notice your name is at the top of the league.

Robert Williams of the Boston Celtics somehow has the sixth best P.E.R. in the NBA this year. His rating is 26.45; the record for a single season was Giannis Antetokounmpo last year, when he posted a 31.86.

For a guy who only plays 19 minutes a night, Williams is showing how he can contribute. With an average of 1.8 blocks, I wouldn’t try going to the rim looking for an easy layup. He also shoots 72% on field goals, so that stifling defense can turn into quick offense. Williams may not be Bill Russell 2.0, but a young, quality big man is always an asset in today’s guard-driven league.

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