Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed here are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season.
The Mavericks have won two of their last three with Luka Doncic sidelined. They beat the Knicks last Thursday, when Kyrie Irving had 44 points. They beat the Pelicans on Monday, when Irving had 42. In between, he posted 33 in a loss to New Orleans. A week ago Irving, who is averaging 37.5 points over his last five games, put up 35 in a win over top-seeded Minnesota. He’s averaging 31.8 for the month of January.
Dude remains absolutely nasty with the ball in his hands and as a catch-and-shoot sniper. He’s shooting better than 47% from 3 in January with 48/42/89 splits for the season.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has also been superb over the last two weeks and especially over the last three games in Doncic’s absence. Irving and Hardaway combined for 83 points on MLK day.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kyrie Irving combined for 83 PTS to lead the Mavericks to the win over the Pelicans 🤯
Irving: 42 PTS, 7 REB, 3 3PM
Hardaway Jr: 41 PTS, 9 3PM, 1 STL
📊 42 PTS by Kyrie sets a new mark for most points by a Dallas Maverick on #MLKDay! pic.twitter.com/LOtk8i0UCj
Damian Lillard hit the 2,500th 3-pointer of his career in epic fashion on Sunday — with a 35-foot buzzer-beater to stun the Kings in overtime.
DAMIAN LILLARD FOR THE WIN AT THE BUZZER! pic.twitter.com/VKTFal8Dxo
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 15, 2024
Lillard didn’t have a great night. He missed two 3s in the final minute of OT, and he finished the game just 9 for 23 from the field. Didn’t matter. When the clock strikes Dame Time, everyone, including Bucks leading man Giannis Antetokounmpo, knows the deal. Antetokounmpo called it the best buzzer beater he’s seen during his 11 years in Milwaukee.
Giannis: “I’ve been with the team 11 years, probably the best buzzer beater shot ever made and he’s been on the team 40 games.. guys he caught it from the other side of the court, dribbled down full speed, in and out dribble, side step from the logo and knock it down off… pic.twitter.com/hkCotNYKBs
— ³⁴ (@GiannisWorld) January 15, 2024
For more about the unlikely sequence of events that led to Lillard’s game-winner, read our Jack Maloney’s piece from Milwaukee.
Joel Embiid went head-to-head with Nikola Jokic on Tuesday and put on a 41-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound clinic as the Sixers knocked off Denver. Still, after the game, Embiid openly declared Jokic to be the best player in the world.
“I just told him he’s the best player in the league.” 👀
Joel Embiid tells @ALaForce what he told Nikola Jokić after their hard-fought battle tonight! pic.twitter.com/mcDsfyUzCA
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 17, 2024
Here’s what our Sam Quinn wrote about Embiid’s performance:
It would be one of the best performances of the season in a normal year, but it was downright pedestrian by the standard Embiid has set this season. It was Embiid’s eighth 40-point game of the season, and it was the first time since Nov. 17 that he failed to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound mark. Of course, he made up for that with his 10 assists, because even when he is slightly deficient in a single area this season, Embiid has found ways to compensate elsewhere. He is having the best season of his career
I agree with Sam. Embiid is having the best season of his career, which is obviously saying something for a guy with an MVP and two runner-ups on his belt over the past three years. His assists are at an all-time high in Nick Nurse’s system, which uses him as the hub for an unending weave of dribble-handoffs and pick-and-rolls, and his scoring is off the charts at better than 35 points per game.
Embiid has to be the MVP at this point, but his grip is tenuous. Remember, players are ineligible for most regular-season awards, including MVP, once they dip below 65 games played. That means you can’t miss more than 17 total games. Embiid has already missed 10 with almost three months left on the schedule.
Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic with another great battle tonight 👏
Embiid: 41 PTS, 7 REB, 10 AST
Jokic: 25 PTS, 19 REB pic.twitter.com/R8vmhw2zJr
You’re going to be hearing Pascal Siakam’s name a lot in the coming days as he’s likely to be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline. On Tuesday, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that the Raptors and Pacers are in active trade talks around Siakam.
The proposed deal would involve Bruce Brown, Indiana’s most expensive player (until Tyrese Haliburton’s max rookie extension that will net him in the neighborhood of $260M over five years kicks in) at $22 million this season, and three first-round picks.
After serving what turned out to be a 12-game suspension (16-game absence), Draymond Green returned to the court for the reeling Warriors on Monday. It didn’t matter. Golden State, an eight-point favorite on the road, lost to a Grizzlies team missing four of its five starters and two of its three best players.
Green posted seven points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in 24 minutes off the bench. If you’re reaching for false hope, the Warriors did win Green’s minutes. By one point.
The Warriors died from the familiar sword of turnovers, fouls and defense, or lack there. Green, as noted in Colin Ward-Henninger’s breakdown, addressed the latter issue in typically blunt form.
“You just gotta have pride in yourself as a man that I’m not gonna let my guy score,” Green said after the game. “Our closeouts [were] too soft. Our rotations were too slow. So there’s just no pride. Until every guy takes pride in themselves, and wants to stop the guy in front of him, we’ll suck.”
Kevin Durant, though always his efficient self, hasn’t been scoring huge of late. He was averaging just 23 points in his four January games entering play on Tuesday, when he had just 15 points through the first 43 minutes against the Kings.
Then Durant scored 12 points over the final five minutes as the Suns, who have been a surprisingly dismal fourth-quarter team this season, rallied from a 22-point deficit over the game’s final 8:33 to stun Sacramento.
Noted by Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, teams facing deficits of 22 points or more in the fourth quarter were 0-1,244 since Aug. 23, 2020, and Phoenix is just the second team over the past 25 years to overcome a deficit of at least 20 points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
For more on the wild comeback and the lineup change that sparked it, read our Sam Quinn’s piece.