5 NBA storylines: Warriors go winless in Texas, Raptors catch a break

LeBron James put up 51 points as the Lakers beat the Heat 113-97.

After a busy weekend in the NBA and with an exciting week of action ahead, here’s a look at five storylines worth monitoring around the Association:

Warriors go winless

Last week the Golden State Warriors — the standard of excellence in the NBA for the last half-decade — were mired in controversy after star forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green feuded toward the end of a game they’d eventually lose in overtime.

After Durant shared his displeasure over Green not passing him the ball with a chance to win the game at the buzzer, Green reportedly called him out over Durant’s impending free agency looming over the team this season as an unwelcome distraction. It resulted in Green being suspended for a game in a supposed effort to cool things down before the team embarked on a three-game road trip in Texas.

The Warriors went on to drop all three games, blown out by the Houston Rockets by 21 points, losing a close game to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, followed by another double-digit loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night. Green didn’t play the last two games, and head coach Steve Kerr cited a toe sprain and said that he’s giving his defensive stalwart and do-it-all big man some “time off.”

The losing streak brings their record to 12-6 and dropped them out of first place in the West — a spot now occupied by the surging Portland Trail Blazers.

The team is without Steph Curry, who will be re-evaluated later this week and is being “cautious” in recovering from a groin strain. His absence amid Golden State’s struggles only underlines his importance to the club’s dominance over the past few years and the Dubs are missing him in a big way.

At the centre of the Warriors’ troubles over that span is some uncharacteristically poor shooting from their remaining active stars.

Durant is shooting just 32 per cent from deep over the season, and is just 1-for-17 over Golden State’s past four games as teams can narrow in on him defensively without the threat of multiple lights-out scorers on the floor.

To make matters worse for the Warriors, Klay Thompson is also shooting just 32 per cent from deep this season and wrapped up the winless Texas trip going a lowly 5-for-27 on his three-point attempts. Thompson, for one, isn’t worried:

Kerr is welcoming the adversity. “We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. This is the toughest stretch we’ve been in,” he said after Sunday’s loss. “This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream.”

It doesn’t get any more real than this for the suddenly beatable Warriors who, until Curry comes back at least, are giving the rest of the league more hope than there’s been in years.

LeBron locked in

Things are starting to click in Los Angeles, as LeBron James has been on a mini-tear for the Lakers lately.

An utterly embarrassing home loss to the Toronto Raptors two weeks ago seems to have sent a jolt into James and the team, who are 5-1 since that game. James is averaging 32 points while shooting over 52 per cent from three (23-for-42) in that span.

Last Wednesday he erupted for a season-high 44 points in a win versus the aforementioned Trail Blazers, and it turns out it was just a warmup for what he had in store on Sunday night, dropping 51 points (6-of-8 from deep) in his return to the familiar American Airlines Arena in Miami in a win against the Heat.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, the Clippers are playing great and coming off a week in which they beat the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Milwaukee Bucks, but won’t be able to escape LeBron’s shadow so long as he keeps pouring in performances like this.

Raptors catching schedule breaks

The Toronto Raptors have impressed so far this season, and despite a three-game losing streak last week, continue to have the NBA’s best record at 13-4. They’ve also had the NBA’s easiest schedule this season, and their current slate of games couldn’t come at a better time.

After a trio of losses to three teams with winning records — the Anthony Davis-led New Orleans Pelicans, a particularly motivated Detroit Pistons club in Dwane Casey’s return to Toronto, and Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics — the Raptors were gifted an opportunity to rebound against the lowly 4-13 Chicago Bulls.

They snapped the losing skid with a one-sided 122-83 victory, and will have a good opportunity to rip off another winning streak thanks to their schedule this week.

On Tuesday the Raptors are in Orlando against the 9-8 Magic, who are playing well — thanks in small part to a good stretch of ball from Terrence Ross — but still present a very winnable matchup. The following night they are in Atlanta to face Trae Young, Vince Carter, and the 3-13 Hawks. On Friday the Raptors return home to face the dumpster fire otherwise known as the 5-11 Washington Wizards.

Even if Kyle Lowry, who twisted his ankle on Saturday, is sidelined during part or all of the stretch, the Raptors should be able to put their brief losing streak firmly in the rearview mirror this week.

Butler beating buzzers

So how has Jimmy Butler adjusted to his new home in Philadelphia? Pretty well, I’d say:

Butler nailed the buzzer-beating three-pointer on Saturday to give the Sixers their second win in the three games he’s played, surviving a 60-point outing from Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, and bringing hope to Butler’s ability to fit in alongside Philly’s existing stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

The 76ers still need more shooting until they’re taken seriously as a bona fide contender, but there’s no doubting that Butler’s arrival has instantly vaulted their ceiling this season.

Doncic demands your attention

 

Flying troublingly below the radar this season has been the outstanding play of Doncic.

With Euroleague regular season and Finals MVPs to his name before he ever stepped on an NBA court, expectations were already high for Doncic, who has proceeded to exceed them in a hurry.

His latest brilliance came against the aforementioned Warriors on Saturday night, where the 19-year-old sensation scored 24 points and grabbed nine boards while making several clutch plays down the stretch.

With that game, Doncic has now scored 292 points through his first 15 games, surpassing Kevin Durant for the most points by a teenager in that span in NBA history.

Needless to say, Doncic demands your attention and should be in the conversation at the top of the class among the NBA’s next generation of superstars.

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