Around the Association: The Death Star is Nearing Full Strength, Ja's Hot Streak, Kyrie's Back, Best Jams, More

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Around the Association: The Death Star is Nearing Full Strength, Ja’s Hot Streak, Kyrie’s Back, Best Jams, More

Chicago Bulls

Between the holidays and having a bout with COVID last week, It’s been a little while since I dug into the rest of the happenings around the NBA. Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving make their returns this week, Ja Morant is on a wicked tear right now. Oh, and dunks, we’re going to be watching the best dunks of December!

The Death Star is at Full Strength

As a Bulls fan, I don’t fear many teams in a seven-game series, except for the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry averages 27 points per game, and the Warriors (29-7) are fourth in the NBA in offensive rating (112.0) and tops in the NBA in defensive rating (102.2). Oh, and they’re getting Klay Thompson back this week, putting the NBA’s equivalent of the Death Star back at near full strength.

The Bulls have a shot at winning the East this season, and I’m not even kidding. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they’re not 100 percent right now. Will they be heading into the playoffs? Who knows. I know that I don’t fear any team in the East in seven. I sure as heck fear this Dubs squad in seven. Steph Curry is out here playing like it’s 2016, and the Warriors look as dominant as they ever have.

It’s Golden State’s world, and the rest of the NBA is just living in it right now. I don’t think there’s a team in the league that could beat the Warriors in seven this year.

Ja Morant

It’s tough to argue that anyone has had a better week than DeMar DeRozan, but Ja Morant made quite the case. On Monday night, Morant dropped 36 points, eight assists, and six rebounds on an efficient 14-of-22 shooting as Memphis topped the Nets 118-104 in Brooklyn.

The Grizzlies have now won five straight, and Ja Morant has been unreal during the winning streak, averaging 35 points per game on a wildly efficient 57.6 percent shooting from the floor and 73.7 percent from range on three-and-a-half triples per game. On Monday, Morant was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for his sizzling recent performance.

The third-year guard is up to 25.1 points per game (12th in the NBA), and he’s having the best season of his career in almost every measurable. Could a player who averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds on 44.9 percent shooting last season win the Most Improved Player Award?

I think Ja Morant has to be in the conversation with his current pace. Morant is averaging 25.1 points (+6.0), 6.7 assists (-0.7), 5.7 rebounds (+1.7), 1.4 steals (+0.5), and is shooting 49.2 percent from the floor (+4.3%), and 40.4 (+10.1%) percent from three-point range. Those are pretty significant increases for Morant, who admittedly has only played 26 games this season due to injury, but he’s in the conversation at this point.

Kyrie’s Return(ish)

Kyrie is back. Ish. The Brooklyn Nets, whom Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies blasted on Monday night, and trail the Bulls by two games now in the Eastern Conference, will get the best part-time player in the league back.

As Shams points out, Irving is on track to make his return on Wednesday night in Indiana after missing the first 35 games of the season due to his vaccination status. Irving can not play for the Nets in home games because he is not vaccinated. New York has a vaccination mandate for anyone over the age of 12 to enter “certain covered premises” within New York, with the Barclays Center being one of the covered premises. The Nets have 25 road games remaining this season, so Irving, in all likelihood, would play 25 regular-season games for the Nets this season.

Red-Hot Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid scored 31 points in a 76ers victory on Monday night and logged 15 rebounds and 10 assists for his third career triple-double, and the Philly big man has been red-hot as of late, scoring 30-plus points in four consecutive games.

Embiid and the 76ers have won each of those four games in which Embiid has scored 30-plus points and are now 20-16 on the season. Philadelphia is currently in the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, but with the Cavaliers banged up and Miami now without Jimmy Butler again, Philly could be moving into the top-five sooner than later.

And Ones…

•   I’m sure glad that we didn’t see this version of Trae Young when the Bulls played the Atlanta Hawks twice last week.

•   I’m going to be honest here, I never saw the resemblance until it was pointed out here, but Alize Johnson sure does look like Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Like, A LOT like Lamar Jackson. At least he was a good sport about the comparison.

•   Anfernee Simons dropped 43 points and honored his late grandfather, who passed away on Sunday, by dedicating his performance to him. Simons drilled nine three-pointers in the Blazers 136-131 win over the Atlanta Hawks.


•   The Cavs are pretty banged up right now, and now they’ll be without Isaac Okoro for much of January.

•   Who doesn’t like dunks? We all love dunks, so let’s watch at the best of December!

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.