Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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In less than one week from today, the 2021-22 NBA regular season will draw to a close.

Do you know what that means? Two special editions of “Diehlman at Halftime” are coming.

Next week, I’ll revisit my power rankings from October to see how accurate or inaccurate I was. On Monday, April 18, you’ll see my complete playoff bracket, from the play-in tournament to the NBA Finals.

In the words of Russell Crowe’s character Maximus Meridius from “Gladiator,” “Are you not entertained?”

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight, Lowlight, Random Stat

Highlight

It was a solemn day for Bourbon Street when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees retired after the 2020 NFL season. However, the New Orleans Pelicans are attempting to brighten the city’s mood this year.

Despite the Pelicans starting 1-12, including a nine-game losing streak, they’ve completely turned the ship around.

New Orleans is 34-44, which is good for ninth in the West. This means that, currently, they would host the tenth seed in a play-in game.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s possible New Orleans sneaks into the postseason. What’s made this possible, though? The acquisition of C.J. McCollum is looking better by the day.

Since arriving in the Big Easy, McCollum is averaging 25.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on 50% shooting.

Did I forget to mention that superstar Zion Williamson hasn’t played a single minute this season? He’s still dealing with a foot issue.

I can’t imagine how strong this squad could be when Williamson returns. But, for now, McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and the company are in good shape.

Lowlight

Continuing our tour of the NBA, look to your left as we go from the birthplace of jazz to its modern scene: the Utah Jazz.

Dominating as the top seed of the West last season, Utah has been sliding recently. In this week alone, they choked a 25-point lead to the L.A. Clippers and a 21-point lead to the Golden State Warriors.

Although they’re 4-6 in their last ten games, the Jazz are holding on to the sixth seed at 46-32. An ugly end-of-the-season schedule could force them into the play-in tournament.

So, what’s going on?

Star guard Donovan Mitchell is doing his thing. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is still manning the paint. However, one place to look is Utah’s defensive rating.

Last year, it was third-best in the league. Now, it’s at no 12. The offensive rating this year, though, is a league-leading 116.3 points per game.

Regardless of those numbers, the Jazz has much to prove come playoff time. During the Mitchell era, they haven’t gone past the second round. Even worse, they haven’t gotten to the Conference Finals in 15 years.

When I’ve seen Utah games nationally televised on ESPN, it’s clear that they have a loyal, passionate fanbase. Can Mitchell and Gobert bring their fans the ultimate prize of an NBA championship? Even the legendary Jazz duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone couldn’t do that.

Random Stat

Robert Covington has never been a first or second scoring option on any team he’s played for: Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, and now the Clippers.

That changed on Friday, though, when he dismantled the Bucks on the road. Technically, over half of Milwaukee’s usual starters were out. But, I’ll still give credit where it’s due.

Covington scored a career-high 43 points, with a career-high 11 triples, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.

The 31-year-old “three-and-D” swingman’s performance was truly breathtaking. Additionally, according to the Clippers, Covington is the first player in NBA history to have that unique stat.

As L.A. is a guaranteed play-in tournament team at this point, having someone like Covington always helps.

When Covington was a member of the 76ers, I remember getting frustrated with him sometimes about inconsistent shooting nights. It seemed like, during the games I watched, he’d do well when the 76ers got blown out and terrible when they needed him the most.

But perhaps “RoCo” needed to blossom on another team. You plant your roots in one place and finish the job somewhere else. Although I doubt Covington will be averaging 30 points per game now, this was one heck of a night for him.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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