Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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Did you honestly think just because the All-Star Break is over that the NBA has run out of excitement for the season?

No, no, no. The NBA grind goes 24/7/365.

The regular season standings are just beginning to take shape. Every team has played roughly 65 games out of 82. The home stretch is always exciting.

The Eastern Conference is close, but the West, not so much.

Also, New York has removed its vaccine mandate. What does this mean for New York-based teams? Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving still can’t return full-time. However, the debut of the Irving, Kevin Durant, and Ben Simmons trio will be coming soon to a court near you.

Additionally, Philadelphia hosts Brooklyn on Thursday, March 10. Simmons won’t play, so we’ll have to wait patiently. However, could this be a playoff prelude?

Please note that since we have essentially discussed every NBA team at least once in some detail, I will revisit as many as possible before the playoffs begin.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight, Lowlight, Random Stat

Highlight

St. Patrick’s Day is less than two weeks away, so why shouldn’t we talk about the Boston Celtics?

Despite early-season struggles under their new head coach, Ime Udoka, Boston has done a complete 180 since. They are now fifth in the East with a 39-27 record and only two games behind Philadelphia for second place.

The Celtics have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, which is weird because wouldn’t it make sense for one of the conference leaders to have that stat, like Miami or Phoenix?

And of course, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are Boston’s forwards that can’t be overlooked.

Brown injured his ankle on Tuesday, March 1, so Tatum had to do more work until his teammate returned. Against the dangerous Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, which also landed on his 24th birthday, Tatum dropped 37 points on 14-25 shooting.

Then, when Brown came back on Sunday, Tatum had 54 points against the Brooklyn Nets!

Boston also has Marcus Smart playing strong defense, as well as Al Horford and Derrick White causing problems on both ends of the floor. It isn’t a hot take to say that this Celtics squad has enough power to get to the Conference Semifinals this year.

Lowlight

To no one’s surprise, the Houston Rockets are in the NBA’s basement. What is a surprise, though, is how they just snapped a 12-game losing streak at this point in the year!

The Rockets officially have the second-worst record in the league. This level of futility probably would make Houston legend Hakeem Olajuwon cry.

Under Head Coach Stephen Silas, the Rockets have gone 33-103. To be fair, Silas was thrown into a crappy situation when he arrived. But, the fact that this team was a championship contender only a few seasons ago says a lot.

Jalen Green and Christian Wood are two pieces of the puzzle that Houston is attempting to assemble. While Green is starting off his rookie year with 15.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per night, Wood is a consistent double-double threat, averaging 17.9 points and 10.2 rebounds.

With the regular season coming to a conclusion next month, Rockets fans are hoping another lottery pick will work out.

And is Silas the answer for the head coach position? Some teams are willing to give more time to coaches than others. However, if the Rockets keep acquiring good players, and the team still can’t ascend the Western Conference standings, it might be time to cut their losses.

Random Stat

On Friday, March 4, the Phoenix Suns took down the visiting New York Knicks 115-114. Knowing the context behind that score would probably help.

Phoenix didn’t have Chris Paul due to injury, nor did they have Devin Booker, who is in health and safety protocol.

Enter Cam Johnson, the Suns’ third-year forward out of the University of North Carolina.

New York had a decent lead in the second half, but things changed when Julius Randle got ejected– and later fined $50,000 – because he pushed Johnson and a referee. Randle had some words for Johnson afterward.

In total, Johnson scored a career-high 38 points off the bench! He made 9-12 three-pointers, including the three-point buzzer-beater when they were down by two.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, Johnson is the second player in NBA history to make nine triples and hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in the same game during the regular season and playoffs. Portland’s Damian Lillard had the other instance in Game 5 of the 2019 First Round against Oklahoma City.

This just proves the mentality of “next man up.” All players need to be ready when certain circumstances arise.

After Randle’s confrontation, Johnson took this personally. If Johnson continues with performances like this, don’t be shocked if a big extension comes his way.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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