Ray's Hoops Journal

Friday Morning Point Guard

I missed last night’s Lakers-Warriors game, but I still have some thoughts.

Golden State Warriors 127, Los Angeles Lakers 100

Between the Celtics’ Game 2 blowout of the 76ers and this game, it seems that whenever I don’t watch a conference semifinal game it runs away from itself. But good on the Warriors for tying the series up before heading down to Los Angeles.

I have the same side-eye for Anthony Davis that I did for James Harden after his Game 2. It takes more than one game to win a series, so disappearing the game after a big game isn’t helpful to his team’s advancement cause.

Conversely, shoutout to Rui Hachimura. His 21 points off the bench really wowed people on Twitter. It’s good he’s in a more beneficial place than muddling along in Washington, D.C. He’s one of those frontcourt players that I saw operate off the dribble once in college and started having high hopes for him. Specifically, it was at the Maui Invitational. Fun times. So it’s good to see his contributions recognized, even in a losing effort.

Meanwhile, the Warriors adding another chapter to their upcoming memoir “We’re Not Dead Yet! Stop Throwing Dirt on Us! Seriously, We’ve Told You, Like, 10 Times Already”. Klay went 8-of-freaking-11(!!) from three-point range. Steph dropped a cool 20 points. Draymond was an assist away from a triple-double. Strong stuff from the Old Three.

I definitely did a double-take when it was announced that JaMychal Green was starting in place of Kevon Looney. Especially given Looney’s contributions in the first round and the fact that they only lost Game 1 by five points.

But it seemed to work out well in the end. JMG finished with a +5 plus-minus in his 12-and-a-half minutes while Looney had a +11 plus-minus and grabbed eight rebounds in the 12 minutes he played off the bench.

Props to Kerr for seeing an issue and making an adjustment, even if it seemed unorthodox. As he definitely knows, the small changes are the things that could separate a title team and one that makes an early exit.

Lastly, I’m surprised Jordan Poole had such a middling game (Six points, 3-of-6 shooting, 0-of-2 from three) when Zendaya was in the crowd. It seems that the presence of beautiful women — which seemingly helped him ascend in last year’s postseason — is no match for the slump he’s facing through the first nine games of these playoffs.

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Canary Islands & Dimming Stars

I missed the one NBA playoff game last night, but I still have basketball thoughts from Wednesday.

Gran Canaria 71, Turk Telekom Ankara 67

Congratulations to Gran Canaria on winning the EuroCup and earning a spot in the EuroLeague. I caught the latter three-fourths of the game. Gran Canaria was up 22 when I tuned in.

However, Turk Telekom clawed back from the deficit, which was apparently customary for them this season, and got the game to within one or two points. I’m glad the game became more entertaining instead of Gran Canaria just blowing Turk Telekom’s doors off.

The fourth quarter was a grinder, as no one could buy a bucket. The partial for the period ended up 12-10, Turk Telekom, with GranCa doing just enough to hold off the visitors and get the win.

With the W, Gran Canaria is the fourth Spanish team guaranteed entry into the 2023-24 EuroLeague, a spot held this season by Valencia. These two will swap spots next year, most likely. It will be interesting to see if Valencia makes a run of their own at the cup next year.

Boston Celtics 121, Philadelphia 76ers 87

I sat this game out, but I definitely want to speak on the result. Joel Embiid was cleared for this game, and instead of bolstering a Philly gameplan that out-worked a listless Celtics team in Game 1, he and James Harden come out and play putridly, conceding control of the series.

Embiid is still nursing his injury, so I want to give him credit for that, but it comes down to either needing to sit down and heal so that your team can play at their best, or giving much more than 4-of-9.

Harden on the other hand was disappointing. How does one go from 45 points to 2-of-14 shooting? James has carried himself all year as if he is a new guy that doesn’t fold in the post-season. It’s cool to say that in the summer, or to bemoan the criticism you get for your play-style after a big night. But you gotta win four games in a series, the excellence has to be consistent. Otherwise, yeah, this just the same old unserious James Harden.

I was wondering if Daryl Morey had finally fortified the roster enough to account for the inconsistencies from Embiid and Harden. Wednesday night shows that if the answer is still “yes”, it’s not an unequivocal one.

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The NBA We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

Tuesday night’s NBA slate featured two matchups we’ll likely use to browbeat the younger generation that this era is better than theirs

Last night was an evening that surely brought oldheads and future oldheads together. Game one was another chapter in the vaunted New York Knicks-Miami Heat rivalry. The second game was another clash between LeBron and Steph, just two rounds earlier than we’re used to. Both games delivered on intensity and excitement. Just a banner night for The Association.

Miami Heat 111, New York Knicks 105

The things that hit me foremost in Heat-Knicks was the atmosphere and the intrigue of how Miami was going to pull through without Jimmy Butler. Firstly, MSG during a playoff is a hard atmosphere to beat. When New York is truly engaged with the Knicks, it takes a game to another level. So that has been great to see over the first two games. Luckily, we’ll be able to enjoy it at least one more time in this series.

Secondly, it was interesting to see how Miami would pull through without Jimmy Butler. Butler, than big story behind the team’s First Round upset over the Bucks, rolled his ankle in Game 1 and was held out of this game as a precaution.

Credit to Miami, they almost figured it out! The role players stepped up in a major way. Caleb Martin finished the game we 22 points, Gabe Vincent had 21, and Max Strus had 17. They held a 93-87 lead with 7:06 left in the fourth quarter. However, the home team reeled off a 24-12 run to close the game, and we leave New York with a tied series.

I admit that we were 7:06 away from me questioning everything I thought about the Miami Heat. If they were truly able to beat New York on the road without Jimmy Butler, I’d definitely sit forward in my chair and start wondering if this was a Team of Destiny. But the current result has set those fears to the side for me. For now.

Los Angeles Lakers 117, Golden State Warriors 112

The first game of this much-anticipated series lived up to the hype. It also came down to an expected result for me. While that was a damn impressive Game 7, the Warriors’ flaws can’t be ignored. Stamina and rotational reliability had me side-eyeing the Dubs all season way more than their bizarrely-bad road record.

Golden State’s veteran guile got them past the youthful Kings, but now they’re bringing their problems to a Lakers team that has basically been a well-rounded contender since the trade deadline. I feel like that’s going to ultimately spell trouble for the Warriors in this round.

Their shot-making is going to need to be on point to keep them in this series. It will surely win them at least two games. Heck, it almost won them this game. At the end of the day, though, I think Tuesday’s game is a microcosm of how this series will ultimately unfold.

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Reminding People Why You Are Here

A few stray thoughts on last night’s NBA Playoff basketball

Philadelphia 76ers 119, Boston Celtics 115

This was a bizarre game. It’s a game that made me wonder “are the Celtics aware they just went to the Finals last year”? Despite their conference championship experience, they played scared down the stretch of this game. Mind-boggling turnovers, passing up important shots, defensive breakdown.

It was a weird air to the Celtics in this game. They shot 71.8 percent in the first half, yet were only ahead 66-63 at intermission. This just didn’t feel like a C’s team that had been there before.

That said, the 76ers really earned this victory. James Harden came through with his 45 points with Embiid ruled out. Once you get past the first round, Harden’s consistency as a leading guy has historically been shaky. However, there wasn’t any doubt about it on Monday night.

Additionally, I feel like the 76ers roster has been fortified with plenty of “go-getter” energy. P.J. Tucker, Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, and Tobias Harris are all players that bring determination and perseverance every game.

On top of that, Paul Reed grinded out his starting opportunity in place of Embiid. While he struggled early, he grew as the game went on and managed to hit some crucial free throws down the stretch. Under Doc Rivers, it’s surprising to see games like this from the 76ers brand, but major props to them for getting a big road win in Game 1.

Denver Nuggets 97, Phoenix Suns 87

You don’t expect a 90’s-throwback-grinder-game in the Western Conference, let alone at altitude, where Nuggets teams have historically looked to outrun their opponents. And yet, that’s what we got. Both team’s struggled from three all game, but the Nuggets made just the right plays down the stretch to pull off the W.

A lot of national fans are getting the opportunity to see what the hubbub has been about Jokic for all these years. He’s a big, crafty pillar that can do everything and always seems to make the best play.

People dismiss his entertainment value because athleticism is at the forefront of his repertoire. But if you actually sit down for like five minutes and watch him, you get hypnotized and become enamored with his highlight passes, clever footwork, and intelligent play.

But in addition to that, having Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. finally be healthy has been a huge X-factor for the Nuggets run so far. Murray went a rough 3-of-15 from the field on the not, but two of those three made buckets came during a run that cemented the game for Denver.

On top of that, Denver’s depth with Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope proved crucial against a Suns team whose role players couldn’t get anything going themselves. With Chris Paul leaving the game due to a pulled groin, this depth could end up playing a major part in determining the result and overarching narrative of this series.

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Young People Learning Valuable Lessons

Two First Round-clinching victories from the old guard reinforced that experience beats talent in the NBA Playoffs.

I was out on the town when Grizzlies-Lakers was happening, but I periodically checked the score on my phone. I found myself gasping each time it updated, as it seemed the Lakers lead continued to grow.

It was surprising to see the Lakers win by that many not from a talent standpoint, but because of the lack of recourse from the Grizzlies. That game was important for them too: a victory on Friday would have set up a crucial Game 7 at a sure-to-be-loud Grind House. Alas, the Grizz got their doors blown off almost instantly.

A team built around the youthful bravado of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Desmond Bane — while also being racked by injuries to their frontcourt — were punched in the month by a team led by the second-greatest NBA player of all-time. The Grizzlies poked the bear, and the bear mauled them.

Sacramento got that Game 7 in front of their home crowd, though. And I was able to sit down and watch this live. Golden 1 Center did start off raucous, a few cowbells ringing throughout the crowd. The Warriors were looking sluggish in the first half, but the young Kings, armed with more athleticism, didn’t put their foot on the gas enough.

Then came the third quarter: Kevon Looney decided to grab every rebound in NBA history and Stephen Curry caught fire, delivering gut-punch threes with a swagger similar to MJ when he would make up a slight in his head and then prove that fake-doubter wrong. Golden 1 Center wasn’t as loud by the end of the third quarter.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry, two titans of the current NBA, were faced with mortality of their legacies this weekend. However, neither were ready to write that epilogue, and their respective performances in these close-out games made certain that no one else would write it, either.

Now these two will have yet another postseason clash. Their fifth all-time, but their first intra-conference face-off. I know for some people in this cynical world, it can be hard to accept greatness happening in real-time. Even if it takes the form of four consecutive Finals matchups. So James and Curry were kind enough to bring it directly to us at least one more time.

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When You Don’t Got It…

My Thoughts on the games I watched yesterday…

EuroCup Semifinals: Prometey Slobozhanske vs. Turk Telekom Ankara

I was pulling for Prometey simply because I liked the idea of a Ukrainian team earning a berth into the EuroLeague while the Russian teams are still barred due to that whole invasion thing. A win over Turk Telekom and in the final on May 3 would have made that possibility a reality.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Turk Telekom was just too much on both ends of the floor. They had a steady defensive game that stagnated a lot of Prometey’s offense. Their offense, however, was otherwordly. Tony Taylor also showed off his lethal mid-range pull-up game. Meanwhile, Jerian Grant and Axel Bouteille were knocking down three-pointers with Prometey defenders draped all over them. Basically, the shotmakers came through for Turk Telekom, but came up short for Prometey, and sometimes that’s all it takes in high stakes games.

Prometey’s run apparently exceeded expectations, so I truly wonder what’s next for this squad. I mean that not only in terms of the roster, but also where they will play and even if they’ll return to the EuroCup next season. A lot of questions in the air, but I applaud them for the campaign.

NBA Playoffs First Round: No. 8 Miami Heat vs. No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks, Game 5

Wow. I truly wonder what’s going through the minds of the Milwaukee Bucks players. This team, whose core and coach already won a title in 2021, seemed lost and frazzled for most of this series when the Miami Heat applied pressure. I understand that the Heat are always a tough out, but my goodness. It’s like the seeds were reversed.

Giannis had a monster 38 points and 20 rebounds, but still left key points on the table with his 13 missed free throws. The same man that dropped 50 in a Finals close-out game looked lost at the charity stripe.

Then there’s Mike Budenholzer. He had to mentally be in Cancun late in this game. The team seemed schematically lost for large stretches of this game, and he failed to call timeouts in key situations to stabilize his reeling team. I try to avoid hyperbole, but a failure like this is certainly grounds for a firing.

I found it funny that Grayson Allen was the man with the ball when the clock ran out on Milwaukee’s season. I’m not particularly thrilled with his rough on-court style of play, so it felt delicious that he was the last one holding the bag. I feel bad for the rest of the team, though.

The Miami Heat played well, and Jimmy Butler played absolutely out of his mind. However, Milwaukee’s defeat was a mental failure on multiple fronts. It’s so bad it makes me wonder if more news is going to spool out in the coming days. What is truly going on in Milwaukee?


No More Weekends

The returns have diminished with the NBA All-Star Weekend product

All-Star Weekend 2023 was alright. The Celebrity Game was cool. Had a lot of fun, silly moments. DK Metcalf played great out there, and The Miz’s half-court game-winner that wasn’t was a fun, memorable moment.

The Rising Stars Challenge was meh. Josh Giddey made history as the first, and to date only, in-game interview I didn’t hate. Jose Alvarado made it interesting in the final round and I loved seeing the passion from the teams during the mic’d up segments throughout the tourney.

All-Star Saturday Night was also fine. The Skills Challenge confused me and I instantly tuned out. The 3-Point Shootout was plenty entertaining. I was happy for Damian Lillard, felt bad for Kevin Huerter.

The Dunk Contest was definitely my favorite part. I was excited for Mac McClung, and he fully lived up to the hype. I get he’s a two-way contract player, but he is a professional dunker. Not new to this, true to this.

But on top of that, the rest of the contestants did mostly well. Trey Murphy was a formidable opponent, though he may have conceded on the second dunk in the final round. Jericho Sims did one arm-in-the-rim dunk too many, and his Duncan-like stoicism when doing them didn’t help his case, either. Y’gotta sell the dunk! K.J. Martin probably should’ve put a little more practice into his dunks.

It also helped that most of the dunks were completed on the first try. Getting dunks of the first try makes them pop more. Even if a contestant has an epic dunk, the excitement is taken out of it if it takes until the seventh attempt for it to go down.

I found it interesting that people decried the dunk contest just because a G-Leaguer won it. I initially took offense to this, as it felt like a shot at Mac, who I’ve enjoyed as a dunker since his college days. But I actually get it a few days removed from the moment. This is supposed to be the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. So it sure would be nice if more NBA players felt inclined to participate.

Then came Sunday. The G League All-Star Game came and went, with the final minutes of the game turning into an impromptu dunk contest. I feel kind of iffy about that, but it was kind of funny to see in real-time. The All-Star Draft was solid, mostly because LeBron and Giannis are engaging personalities. They should have done the starters first then the reserves. Reversing that order to save feelings was pointless, because ultimately we still saw who was picked last: Lauri Markkanen for the starters and Jaren Jackson Jr. for the reserves.

Post Malone’s pre-game performance was fun to me, but social media hates Post Malone so they all hated it. I was jealous of Jewel’s outfit during the American anthem and I hope she starts selling it so I can cop one. I never heard of Jully Black, but she looked absolutely stunning during the Canadian anthem. At halftime, the Afrobeat trio of Burna Boy, Tems, and Rema was every bit of awesome as I thought it would be.

The game itself…was meh. Some fun moments along the way, but a lot of it came and went, too. Tatum breaking the scoring record with 55 points was cool, and that 1-v-1 duel with Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown was pretty fun. LeBron dunking off the backboard in the first quarter was great, too.

Dame’s half-court shot three was great, a shame he couldn’t get anymore to fall after that. Donovan Mitchell also initially gunning for the MVP brought a little intrigue in the fourth as well, but it ended being Tatum all the way. Other than that, the All-Star Game just…was.

My All-Star weekend co-MVPs were Giannis Antetokounmpo and Janelle Monae. Giannis was a fully present participant in the festivities all weekend long. Celebrity Game coach on Friday, fully enthusiastic spectator on Saturday (his wrist injury kept him from competing in the Skills Challenge with his brothers; Jrue Holiday filled in for him), All-Star Team GM and scorer of the first points of the All-Star Game on Sunday.

He was enthusiastic the whole way, and I applaud him for that. While being surrounded by players who were “too cool” for it all (Jokic, Doncic, Anthony Edwards during his pregame interview), Giannis embraced the moment: I’m here and I’m going to enjoy myself as much as possible.

Janelle Monae gets my co-MVP nod because she’s foine and brought great energy to both of the things she did over the weekend: the Celebrity Game on Friday and her part during the LeBron presentation on Sunday.

So after coming away from the experience feeling mildly positive, imagine my lack of shock when I saw that the Internet absolutely hated the game and the weekend at large. One of the All-Star coaches and even one of the players within the game complained about the lack of competition. It was rated the least-watched weekend in ages.

Stepping back a bit, though, I get it. The coaches hate it, the players hate the game and don’t want to participate in any of the Saturday night festivities. Hell, Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards outright said recently they would not participate in the dunk contest at all.

So if the best players in the world are bored with the game that’s supposed to honor them, but they also don’t want to do any of the sideshows the day before, then what are we really doing here?

Additionally, fans seem to loathe the All-Star game from the start of the voting process all the way until the final buzzer of the actual game. And every contest except the 3-point shootout seems to be broken in the eyes of the fandom. And even with the 3-point shootout, everyone takes exception to which contestants make it and which don’t. So if you don’t actually like anything that’s happening this weekend, then, again, what are we really doing here?

Apathy was phrase that pays this past weekend. Players didn’t care, fans didn’t care. No one actually cares about the All-Star festivities anymore. Even though I enjoyed them just fine, maybe it is time to just scrap it all. No more All-Star weekends in general. Just give players the week off.


The Trade Deadline Special

My thoughts on a wild 2023 NBA trade deadline

Liking the Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers front office came out of this trade deadline looking way more competent than I ever expected them to. They shipped out two guards in Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley that should be venerated for what they’ve contributed during their respective NBA careers, but just weren’t meshing well with what the team needs to compete in the Western Conference.

In D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers acquire a competent point guard that can also score off-the-ball, meaning he’ll be useful even when LeBron is on the floor. With Malik Beasley, they get a sharpshooter that can help bolster the perimeter shooting of a team that’s 25th in three-point attempts per game and 26th in three-point percentage.

In the frontcourt, Jarred Vanderbilt and Mo Bamba may have different body types and shot profiles, but the story on them is still they same. They’re both sorely needed youthful, rotation-caliber players that can fill-in minutes for Anthony Davis or take the pressure off of him defensively.

Coupled with the earlier addition of Rui Hachimura, the Lakers seem to have the roster to put them back on track to securing a spot in the Play-In rounds.

Role Player Island

The KD & Kyrie Era is over in Brooklyn. Good riddance. All of the drama, none of the winning. Funny enough, now that the dust has settled on all the trades, the make-up of this team feels similar to the 2019 Nets, the squad from the season before KD & Kyrie arrived. Just a bunch of hard-working glue guys on a roster together. A real “why don’t they make the whole plane out of the black box?” sort of team.

Much like the 2019 team, the basketball won’t be as flashy but it should be much more exciting and fulfilling overall. They will at least close out this season competing on a nightly basis. It’s honestly impressive that Sean Marks was able to pivot back to a team like this when it looked like it would be impossible to shake the team’s superstar albatrosses.

Fortunately, Marks was able to. I feel like the KD & Kyrie Era is a case study about chasing superstars and the limits of player empowerment. Hopefully the Nets’ next chapter has a more solid foundation.

Bearish on the Bulls

The trade deadline passed and the Chicago Bulls did nothing. Again. Then those Bulls, at mostly full strength (no Lonzo Ball, no Javonte Green), went out and lost on national television to a “Oops, All Role Players” Nets team that was without Nic Claxton, Seth Curry, and the newly-arrived Mikal Bridges. An embarrassing Thursday all-around for the franchise.

I lost interest in watching the Bulls following their November 18th loss to the Orlando Magic. In that game, Zach LaVine went an atrocious 1-of-14 from the field with five rebounds, two assists, and nothing else. This prompted Billy Donovan to bench the unhelpful LaVine down the stretch of the close game.

Following the game, LaVine conceded he had a bad game, but still felt that Donovan should “play a guy like him down the stretch“. Ever since then, any time I think about Zach LaVine, the fire in my heart goes out and my mind temporarily goes to a cold, dark place.

To have such an entitled, self-awareness-lacking presence on your favorite team’s roster with such a high usage rate. I guess this is how Nets (Irving) and Lakers (Westbrook) fans were feeling before the trade deadline.

For two hours, I thought my own team would also purge itself of a bad egg. Not only were the rumors rumbling that he would go far away, but that in exchange the Bulls would get back a franchise legend and the reigning slam dunk champion.

Alas, 2:00 PM central passed and the deal was not done. No deal was done. Zach LaVine is still here. The team embarrassed themselves on national TV again. The 26-29 Bulls remain in purgatory.


Oh, and the Phoenix Suns are pretty big title contenders with addition of Kevin Durant. Obvi.


A Cold Month in Indianapolis

The Indiana Pacers have had a rough four weeks. What has gone wrong in Indiana’s capital?

On January 8th, 2023, the Indiana Pacers capped off the first half of their season with a 116-111 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. This win gave the Pacers a 23-18 record through 41 games, putting them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. It was the team’s best 41-game start since 2019-20 (26-15) and a surprise surge from a young team that Vegas expected to win just 24 or 25 games.

Unfortunately, the Pacers have had a less endearing start to the second half of their schedule. Indiana has gone on a 2-12 slump since their win over Charlotte.

Indiana has suffered a drop in both offensive and defensive rating during this slump. The Pacers dropped from 18th in defensive rating pre-slump to 23rd since then. More notably, however, they plummeted from 14th in offensive rating to last in the league during the slump.

Offensively, the Pacers struggled from all zones and in terms of playmaking during this slump. Their 2-point percentage dropped from 21st to 29th and their free throw percentage fell from 7th to 12th. but the more glaring wounds were in their three-point percentage (9th to 26th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (11th to 29th).

You don’t have to look far to uncover the mystery behind Indiana’s descent from sixth in the East on January 8th to 10th in the conference by the morning of February 7th. The team lost star point guard Tyrese Haliburton due to compounding injuries and he has slightly struggled during his recent re-acclimation to the lineup.

Haliburton is having a career year in just his third season in the NBA. In 43 games played this season, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 10.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. He currently leads the league in assists per game, and his scoring and assist averages are career highs. Unsurprisingly, these numbers earned Haliburton an All-Star reserve nod. It’s clear that the Pacers have their Point Guard of Tomorrow.

However, Haliburton’s banner year took a slight pause on January 11th. Late in the third quarter of Indiana’s game at the New York Knicks, Haliburton hit the deck after Isaiah Hartenstein blocked his layup. One of Hartenstein’s feet subsequently landed on Haliburton’s leg while corralling the rebound.

As a result, Haliburton left the game and didn’t return, and the Pacers went on to lose the game. The diagnosis turned out to be a sprained left elbow and a left knee bone contusion, sidelining him for 10 games. Indiana would go 1-9 sans Hali.

A talent like him went a long way towards drawing in defenses and finding scoring opportunities for other players. That’s why the team not only saw a drop in their offense, but specifically saw the biggest drops in their three-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Haliburton returned for their February 2nd matchup versus the Los Angeles Lakers, but the team has still gone 1-2 since being reinstated. While it’s fantastic that he’s back, it should be noted he’s coming back from two injuries, so it’s fair to assume he’s not completely right-as-rain despite being fit to play.

Haliburton picked up 26 points and 12 assists in the losing effort versus Los Angeles. In the following two games, he still dished out nine and 11 assists, respectively, but his scoring volume was somewhat muted. He scored just 10 points on 12 shots in a win against Sacramento. Haliburton improved in the most recent game with 15 points on 10 shots, but it was in a losing effort where he picked up four fouls in the process.

The Indiana Pacers were the darling of the league through its first 41 games due to their surprising start led by rising star Tyrese Haliburton. Without him, however, the Pacers lost a lot of ground, thanks in part to not having the playmaking and scoring gravity the All-Star point would normally create. Fortunately, he has returned to kick off the month of February. We’ll see in time if his return can once again make the Indiana Pacers a formidable team in the East.


Virtus Lately

Virtus Segafredo Bologna are a team in the middle. Why is that the case? What do they need to do to push their way into the EuroLeague’s top 8?

After 23 hard-fought rounds, Virtus Segafredo Bologna are 12th in the EuroLeague. Their 11-12 record matches 11th-place Anadolu Efes Istanbul, but they lose out on the tiebreaker due to a Round 10 defeat in Bologna.

However, Virtus’ record is only a game back of a four-way tie between seventh and tenth place. In fact, they’re only five games back of 16-7 table leader Olympiacos Piraeus. Needless to say, this is one of the most competitive EuroLeague seasons to date.

So how did the reigning EuroCup champions become a team in the middle of the EuroLeague table? What do they need to do if they hope to ascend to the Top 8 and make it into the 2023 EuroLeague playoffs?

Virtus have been competitive in the New Year, currently 4-3 in 2023. They’ve won their last two games and three of their last four. Their last three wins have all been by double-digits. Virtus defeated Panathinaikos by 10 points, Crvena Zvezda by 12, and ASVEL on the road by 13.

Earlier in January they lost to current table leader Olympiacos by only two points and defeated current third-place FC Barcelona on the road by eight. That latter game is noteworthy as Virtus’ next match sees them hosting Barcelona on February 9th.

Virtus has been anchored by the defensive end this season. They’re ninth in the EuroLeague in opponent points per game (79.8) and seventh in defensive rating (113.8). Bologna is particularly adept at guarding the perimeter, placing second in the competition in opponent three-point percentage (32.8 percent[!!]). They’re also third in steals per game (7.2), though that zeal also leads them to committing the sixth-most fouls per game in the league (21.4).

The offense, however, is a trickier tale to tell. Virtus is solid in the efficiency department: eighth in 2-point percentage (55.2 percent), ninth in 3-point percentage (35.8 percent), and tenth in free throw percentage (78.0 percent). They also share the ball incredibly well, placing fifth in assists per game (19.0). They’re even sixth in the competition in fouls drawn per game (20.6)! And yet, Bologna sits 13th in the league in points per game (77.9) and offensive rating (111.1).

What is the source of stagnation for a team that has a formidable defense and a flowing offense? Rebounds and Turnovers. Virtus is 12th in total rebounding percentage (44.3 percent) and 16th in opponent total rebounding percentage (46.6 percent). Most glaringly, they are dead last in the competition in turnover percentage (17.7 percent).

Bundled with their aforementioned fouling issue, it seems that Virtus Segafredo Bologna is a team that has the talent to score efficiently and defend staunchly, but do not have the focus nor hustle on either end to do so consistently.

The key in Virtus’ last three victories has been to maintain their efficient scoring while overcoming at least one of their season-long issues. For instance, they managed to out-rebound their opponents in their wins over Panathinaikos (40-28) and ASVEL (32-27). They also prevailed in their turnover battles against ASVEL (13-15) and Crvena Zvezda (11-14). Meanwhile, they outclassed their opponents in field goal percentage in all three victories (46.5 percent to 39.9 percent).

That formula will still apply when they face FC Barcelona next. Virtus also shot better from the field (57.4 percent to 41.1) and won the turnover battle (15-17) in their Round 17 meeting.

Virtus Segafredo Bologna are team in the middle, but still well in the hunt for a playoff berth. For a team that is already talented on both ends of the floor, how much focus and energy they possess will determine their ultimate fate in this rabidly competitive EuroLeague campaign.