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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Mar 3-9

The Pelicans, Suns, Mavericks, Kings, Lakers, and Warriors are all fighting for a playoff spot

Posted on March 10, 2024


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

The race for playoff seeding is now in full swing and while we know the 10 Western teams who will likely play in the play-in tournament and the playoffs, we still have no idea about the seeding.

The Pelicans, Suns, Mavericks, Kings, Lakers, and Warriors are all fighting in an entertaining battle for a guaranteed playoff spot, and it will surely come down to the wire.

As always, here is my update on the status of NBA Western Conference teams, as well as a look at the previous week’s best team and MVP.


Kings From Beyond the Arc

D’Angelo Russell

This year has been full of ups and downs for D’Angelo Russell, just like every other year of his career.

Right now, things are looking perfect for the former second-overall pick, but he went through a lot to get here.

Russell had a flat-out terrible showing against the Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference Finals, averaging just 6.3 points on 32.3% shooting while also playing some terrible defense which played a big role in the Lakers getting swept.

This was one of the closest sweeps in NBA history, as the Lakers only lost one game by more than six points.

So, it’s not a stretch to say that the Lakers would have won if Russell—who had a BPM of -47 during the series—played like his usual self.

Things wouldn’t get much better for Russell after that, as he had a terrible 15-game stretch from the start of December to mid-January, averaging 11 points a game on 41.8% shooting, which caused Darvin Ham to bench him.

But everything changed when he returned to the starting lineup on January 13.

D’Angelo Russell scored 44 pts vs the Bucks | Jae C. Hong/AP

Playing in 25 games since then, Russell has averaged 22.8 points and 6.4 assists a night while shooting 47.9% from the field, 45.8% from three, and 85.7% from the charity stripe.

Russell has also been a key contributor to the Lakers’ success, with the squad going 16-9 with Russell on the floor during this stretch. Russell’s last game against the Milwaukee Bucks perfectly summed up his current hot streak.

Not even the most optimistic Lakers fan expected LA to beat Milwaukee without LeBron, but DLo was undeterred. Russell drained all four of his three-pointers in the first half, as he entered the second half with 16 points.

After adding seven more points in the third, Russell went on one of the most ridiculous fourth-quarter runs we’ve seen in years, scoring 21 of the Lakers’ total 27 points in the period and hitting the game-winning shot.

He went 9-12 from three in that game, continuing his elite shooting from deep (47.5% 3PT percentage in his last seven games).

With the Lakers currently three games behind the sixth-seeded Suns, Russell will have to keep making it rain from deep in his last 17 games if the Lakers want to avoid the play-in tournament.

Trey Murphy III

Speaking of the play-in tournament, the Pelicans are holding on to their fifth seed for dear life and they certainly hope that they won’t have to participate in the tournament for a third consecutive year.

Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram didn’t take the leap everyone expected them to take this year, so a large part of their success this season is because of their young core and depth.

And Trey Murphy III’s return to form has helped them tremendously.

Trey Murphy goes up for a shot vs the 76ers | NBA.com

Murphy struggled a bit to play like his sophomore self after coming back from a meniscus tear which he suffered in the offseason.

But the Virginia product has been lights out from deep as of late, and even though his role hasn’t expanded beyond being a shooter, his shots are falling at a historic rate.

In his last five games, Murphy has averaged 21.8 points a night while shooting 54.7% from the floor and 26/52 from deep.


Same Old Story

Luka Doncic

Stop me when you’ve heard this before: Luka Doncic puts up amazing stats and his team loses.

Luka’s stats this season have been otherworldly, simply incredible. Since coming out of the All-Star break, Doncic has averaged a 37-point triple-double while shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from three.

The only other time in recent memory when a player had this much sheer statistical production was when James Harden averaged 41 points a night during a 36-game stretch in 2018-19.

But here’s the problem: Doncic has just won three of his games during this eight-game stretch despite finally having some competent players around him.

Doncic vs the Pistons | Carlos Osario/AP

Now, players like Charles Barkley and the media are claiming that Doncic should play off the ball more, and while I agree, this isn’t Luka’s fault, it’s Jason Kidd’s fault.

Yes, Luka was the primary option when Rick Carlisle was coaching him, but Carlisle also ran some other sets, compared to Kidd who just puts the ball in Luka’s hands.

Luka has averaged 39 minutes a night over his last 20 games and has been the focal point of the offense. Of course, he’s going to get tired and hurt.

Doncic has already suffered so many minor injuries in Kidd’s tenure with the team and his prime could get cut short if it goes on like this.


Almost a Perfect Week

Malaki Branham

Second-year Spurs guard Malaki Branham was going through a terrible sophomore slump, but things finally started looking up when he came out of the All-Star break.

Branham scored 17, 14, and 12 points in three consecutive games and was looking to continue his momentum for the next week.

Branham scored 18 points in a win over the Pacers in the first game of the week, before following it up with a season-high 20-point effort against the Rockets.

Branham vs the Kings | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

All Branham had to do was to ball out against the Kings to have the perfect week, and he was certainly on his way to doing just that.

He had already surpassed his season-high from the previous game, and with 57 seconds left in the game, he sank his two foul shots to give the Spurs a five-point lead.

But then, he missed the game-clinching shot and threw a terrible pass, and just like that, the Spurs had lost.

Spurs fans are hoping that this mishap won’t mess with Branham’s confidence and that he can continue his recent purple patch of form.


Best Team of the Previous Week

The Oklahoma City Thunder (44-19, 3-1)

The Thunder are back to being the first seed in the West.

And now that Karl-Anthony Towns has torn his meniscus, they will likely remain the first seed unless the Nuggets or Clippers have a late-season surge.

They kicked the week off by beating their old superstar Kevin Durant and his Phoenix Suns, in a game where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams combined to score 57 points.

After a loss to the Lakers (who they’re 1-3 against in the season series), they beat the Trail Blazers with Shai and Williams combining for 68 points and Chet Holmgren also adding 21 points.

Finally, SGA dropped 37 on the Miami Heat to cap off a good week. Now they just have to hope they won’t face the Lakers in the first round.


MVP of the Previous Week

Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)

The Rockets are almost certainly eliminated from playoff contention, but the Turkish sensation Alperen Sengun keeps improving his game, and he led them to a shocking 3-1 record this week.

Sengun

He started the week by scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a shocking win over the Suns, before going off to face Victor Wembanyama’s Spurs.

Yes, Wemby blocked Sengun five times, but he still dropped a career-high 45 points to go along with 16 rebounds and outplayed the Frenchman to win the game.

He then recorded a ridiculous 23-point, 14-assist, and 19-rebound triple-double in his lone loss of the week against the Clippers before capping the week off with a solid 19-point performance in a win against the Trail Blazers.




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