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What’s happening around the NBA?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just about three weeks away from the NBA trade deadline, and teams are going to have to decide what they want to do. Expect the rumors to start in earnest over the next week or so, though as always, there will be a lot more talk than action.

One player who has been in the spotlight for the last week is Dennis Smith Jr. He’s been away from the Mavericks for a while, due to a reported “illness,” but there has been much talk about a potential trade. The fit with Rick Carlisle was always a question, and now that the Mavs have Luka Doncic, it’s unclear whether a ball-dominant point guard like Smith is particularly useful to them. On the other hand, it’s a pretty classic “sell low” situation, so we’ll see.

One of the things that frustrated us about Tom Thibodeau was his lack of flexibility when it came to rotations and bench use. James Nunnally, who was on the Wolves roster for the first three months of the season but was cut before his contract was fully guaranteed, latched on with the Rockets on a ten-day contract. Mike D’Antoni immediately made use of him, and he has appeared in the last two Rockets games. Played well in one, not so much in the other, and he might not last past his ten-day, but at least he’s getting a shot. Best of luck to him.

Hot

Utah Jazz: Their schedule eased up and the Jazz have taken advantage with six straight wins. They have done this without either of their top two point guards. Their defense is carrying them, and Donovan Mitchell is playing better than he was early in the season. The Jazz have moved firmly into playoff position after struggling for most of the first half of the season.

Golden State Warriors: They finally decided to turn it on. Seven straight wins, healthy, working DeMarcus Cousins into the lineup. The team that is obviously capable of reaching levels nobody else can, they have found their form after a fairly lackluster start. It’s hard not to imagine they get bored at times, but they remain a devastating force when they are focused.

Milwaukee Bucks: Four in a row, six of seven, 11 of 13. They just keep on doing their thing. Currently with the fewest losses in the league and locked in a battle with the Raptors for the top spot in the East. The Bucks are finally getting some attention here in Wisconsin, and deservedly so. Almost as much as the Packers search for assistant coaches.

Not Hot

Memphis Grizzlies: They were actually 15-9 at one point this season. 4-18 since, it’s been a free fall. They have tumbled to 14th in the West, and presumably are considering what they can do at the deadline. Their remaining veteran stars—Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, will probably be available, though their contracts are going to be tough to move. But it’s obviously time to move on, with great thanks for a wonderful run.

Dallas Mavericks: Losers of three in a row and six of eight, the Mavs are in danger of falling too far behind in the West playoff race as well. It’s been a rough spot in their schedule, but they can’t afford to drop too much further behind.

New York Knicks: Now in full on tanking mode, the Knicks are losing in bunches, and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with some elan (see their 101-100 loss to the Wizards in London.) How much would the league love to see Zion Williamson in New York?

MVP Watch

It seems to be coming down to two players for now:

Giannis Antetekounmpo is doing everything for the Bucks, and doing it brilliantly. The biggest bargain in the league, he signed an under max extension after his third season. Has a chance to post defensive rebound AND assist percentages over 30, while maintaining a usage percentage over 30 and a true shooting percentage of 63 percent. Unheard of. Leading the Bucks to potentially their best season since Lew Alcindor was in Milwaukee.

James Harden: Has completely taken over for the Rockets, who were struggling along under .500 for the first couple of months. Harden hasn’t scored fewer that 30 points since December 11th, and in the 19 games since (14-5 for the Rockets) is averaging 42.5/7.6/8.9. It’s been an incredible run. Can he keep it up? It appears the Rockets need this level of heroics from him, which is tough sledding.

What’s on your NBA mind?