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Reviewing NBA’s wild weekend: Lillard goes off, Kyrie and Luka flop, Young on coach No. 3

NBA wild weekend

One 71-point performance in a single season is historic enough. But two in the same season?
And by two players (Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard) who aren’t even considered top five players in the MVP or MVP candidates?

Yes, the talent level in the NBA is not only at an all-time high, but it’s also setting the table for a player to eventually match or break Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, a feat thought impossible a mere five years ago.

Lillard dropped 71 points Sunday night on the hapless Houston Rockets, the league’s worst team,
with the second-worst Defensive Net Rating. That it happened against the Rockets’ bum defense
doesn’t make the moment any less memorable. Lillard did this in 39 minutes of regulation, on
22-of-38 shooting from the field, and 13-of-22 shooting from 3, while chipping in six assists and six rebounds.

Related: NBA games today – Get Watch times and odds for tonight’s games

And how does the NBA respond to this historic happening? The same way they reacted to Mitchell’s 71-point masterpiece last month — by drug-testing them both. Oddly, they chose not to
drug test Luka Dončić after his 60-point triple-double in late December.

So let us get this right, the league decides to drug test both Lillard and Mitchell, both African Americans, for the first time in their career after they score historic career highs, but not the white Dončić when he drops 60 plus double-digit rebounds and assists. Got it.

New York Knicks find their glue guy

new york knicks
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Elsewhere in the NBA, the Knicks are on a five-game win streak after laying a 22-point smackdown on the New Orleans Pelicans. Ever since acquiring Josh Hart, the Knicks have found their glue guy, a high-IQ veteran capable of ensuring leads aren’t blown and runs are maintained, two metrics the Knicks struggled with within 2022.

The Knicks are being powered by Julius Randle, who currently sits in sixth place on NBA.com’s MVP ranking while averaging 25 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. His sidekick, Jalen Brunson is having an All-NBA year himself, averaging career highs across the board, 23.7 points and 6.2 assists, pairing with Randle for a top 10 pick-and-roll duo in the league. They sit a half game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 5 seed, and how far they go in the playoffs will be determined by RJ Barrett (19.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG), their fourth-year player who will be their postseason X-factor.

Luka Doncic-Kyrie Irving pairing a bust for Dallas Mavericks

dallas mavericks
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Brunson, it would have made a whole lot more sense had the Dallas Mavericks just
offered him an extension at one of the three intervals they had last season. Instead they lost
Brunson to the Knicks and got rid of their glue guy in Dorian Finney-Smith and second-best
player Spencer Dinwiddie for the enigmatic Kyrie Irving, who could pull a Brunson and leave this
summer for nothing as an unrestricted free agent.

The Mavs are 1-4 with Irving and Dončić sharing the court, a gruesome start laying bare the ineptitude of Mavs GM Nico Harrison. Their most recent loss came Sunday to the 13th-place Los Angeles Lakers after the Mavs blew a 27-point lead at home. The Mavs are dropping games fast and seem headed for the Play-In tournament, bad news for a team who owes this year’s draft pick to the Knicks.

Atlanta Hawks hire Trae Young’s third coach

atlanta hawks
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of dysfunction, the Atlanta Hawks are cycling through their third coach in the Trae
Young-era, as they hired former Hawks assistant and Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder as
their head coach. Whether it will have an impact on bringing out the best from Young and
backcourt mate Dejounte Murray will be totally in the hands of Young, who, like Dončić, needs
to grow up fast. Both superstars have shown a serious immaturity streak since being drafted
and traded together in 2018.

Young desperately needs to shed the label of “coach killer” and acquiesce to whatever plans Snyder has in store on how to best utilize his immense skill set either on- or off-ball.

Memphis Grizzlies stifle Denver Nuggets, another Sam Presti gem, Jayson Tatum’s ‘called game’

sam presti
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The top two teams in the Western Conference squared off on Saturday as well, with the Memphis Grizzlies laying the clamps on the Denver Nuggets, 112-94, holding every Nuggets player, including two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokić under 15 points.

Also, Isaiah Joe is proving to be another second-round gem found by Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti. He is averaging a blistering 45 percent shooting from three this season and was the Thunder’s leading scorer in their last two games.

And finally, in Boston, Jayson Taytum shook off a rough shooting night to sink the game-winner against Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia 76ers with a second left to win the game. Afterward, Tatum claimed he “called game.”

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo

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