The NBA has thrived on drama. Since the days of Bird v. Magic, rivalries between players have fueled the allure of the game. Even in an era where we’ve seen way more hugs and smiles after games than any fan of a losing team wants to see, there still remain some beefs that keep things interesting.
But rarely do we see it among the elite players. Until now.
It started somewhat innocently, when Giannis Antetokounmpo made a joke on TNT when asked why he selected Kemba Walker over James Harden in the all-star team selection.
“I want someone who will pass the ball,” Giannis said with a laugh.
First things first, mission accomplished for the NBA in this format, which was introduced two years ago and then televised last year. This is exactly what you want: the intrigue of star players choosing — or passing on — other star players.
Harden, who was selected by LeBron James, didn’t seem to enjoy himself at the game in Chicago. He played 17:31 and finished with 11 points. He was 3 for 9 from the field, every shot was a three.
But it’s worth noting he had 6 assists, which tied LeBron and Chris Paul for team high.
And recently, Harden was interviewed by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and he made it clear he didn’t appreciate Giannis’ comment.
“I don’t see what the joke is,” Harden said after he pointed out that he averages more assists per game (7.3) than Walker (5.0).
Harden then went after Giannis.
“I wish I was seven feet and I could run and just dunk,” he said. “That takes no skill at all.”
“I have to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill,” he continued. “I’ll take that every day.”
Giannis, who won MVP last year after Harden won it in 2018, is a leading candidate to win it again with averages of 29.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He shoots 55.3% from the field, but just 31.7% from three.
Harden is right, Giannis makes a lot of dunks. He has 158 so far on the season going into the weekend. That’s the second-most in the NBA behind only Rudy Gobert. And, for the record, just 27.2% of Giannis’ field goals are dunks. The rest of his league-leading 580 made field goals are actually shots he has to make with skill.
Meanwhile, Harden leads the NBA with 254 made threes. That represents 45.4% of his made shots. Harden, at 35.2 points per game, is also on his way to a third straight NBA scoring title. He averages 7.3 assists, which is a lot for someone who doesn’t pass.
Giannis had the opportunity to respond to Harden before his Bucks team smoked the Thunder on Friday night on ESPN. But he opted to take the high road.
“I never try to take stabs at somebody,” he said. “If that’s what he believes, that’s what he believes.”
The Bucks star did make sure to add, “My game is not just power, for sure.”
The Bucks and Rockets met on opening night in Houston, back in October, with the Bucks taking a 117-111 win. Giannis had a triple-double, with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, while Harden had 19 points on 2 of 13 shooting, but, it’s worth noting, did have 14 assists.
The two teams, and their sniping stars, will meet one more time this regular season on March 25 in Milwaukee.
With the Bucks (51-8) already clinching a playoff spot and seemingly running away with the best record in the league and a shot at being just the third team to reach the 70-win plateau, the question to ask is there any team in the East that can stop them from reaching the NBA Finals?
The Raptors had a 15-game winning streak recently and are still a very good team sitting second in the East, but without Kawhi Leonard are they still a true title contender? They are deep and they get after it defensively, but in a seven-game series, you take the Bucks every time.
They’re already 0-2 against Milwaukee this season and even with Drake bringing the championship belts and trying to get into Giannis’ head, the Bucks beat the Raptors by 11 last Tuesday night.
The Sixers came a few bounces from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last year and on Christmas Day looked like they had the secret sauce to upending Giannis and the Bucks. But Philly has had so many internal issues this season and now the injuries to Ben Simmons (back) and Joel Embiid (shoulder) have left questions about the future of this team as it was built by GM Elton Brand.
One major issue is the decision to sign Al Horford to a hefty $109 million contract despite his age (33). The idea was that Horford adds another defensive dimension that can help stop Giannis, which was proven on Christmas Day. But throughout the rest of the season, Horford’s presence has been an awkward fit.
What’s left is the Boston Celtics, who have somewhat quietly returned to being that well-coached, well-rounded team that competes every night and turns relative unknown names into quality rotation players.
The Celtics are one of three teams in the NBA who are top 5 in Offensive (113.5) and Defensive Rating (106.5). The other two are the Lakers and, yes, the Bucks.
And then there’s Jayson Tatum, who has emerged as a star. Tatum, in his third season, is averaging a career-best 23.3 points per game this season and in February is playing the best ball of his career. Not only did he appear in his first all-star game, he’s also posted six 30-point performances in the month and three straight going into Saturday’s game against the Rockets.
He is on the verge of finishing February as the fifth Celtics player to average 30 points per game in a month of at least 10 games. He joins a list that includes Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, John Havlicek and Isaiah Thomas.
The Celtics so far have split two games with the Bucks and play at Milwaukee on March 12 in a nationally-televised game on TNT. Their final meeting is April 5 in Boston.
According to reports, CAA power agent Leon Rose will be named the Knicks team president next week. One of his biggest clients, Carmelo Anthony, threw his support behind the move in an interview with Newsday.
“It’s an exciting time for the New York Knicks,” he said.
Rose represented Melo throughout a career that saw him earn $290 million, which is the seventh-highest career earnings total in NBA history.
Naturally, the next question is to ask if Melo would seek a return to New York to finish his career where he starred from 2011-2017 and still calls home.
“It’s hard to say because I don’t know what that situation is going to be,” Melo told Newsday. “The easiest thing to say is, ‘His agent is there, he’s coming back.’ Until I sit down and see the whole plan, I don’t know.”
Melo was out of the league for an entire calendar year after he played just 10 games with the Rockets last season. He was signed by the injury-plagued Trail Blazers earlier this season and quickly proved he can still score the basketball. In 44 games, he is averaging 15.5 points per game in 32.7 minutes per game.
He will be 36 years old this summer when he will be a free agent.