What’s trending this week in the NBA:
Pelicans win, lose and deal
The New Orleans Pelicans badly want to return to the playoffs this season and keep Anthony Davis happy, even though the franchise star is two summers away from being able to opt out and become a free agent.
A trade with the Bulls to bring sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic last week made it even clearer.
Just as New Orleans went for it last season by acquiring DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento at the trade deadline, the Pelicans again made a move to capitalize on Davis’ prime. This February deal will help replace Cousins after his season-ending Achilles tendon tear.
New Orleans took advantage of Chicago’s tanking plans, which were being foiled by Mirotic. Since he returned from head injuries caused by teammate Bobby Portis’ punch (one had to go in Chicago), the Bulls went from a 3-20 team without Mirotic to a 15-14 team with him.
The Bulls’ prize in the deal is New Orleans’ 2018 first-round draft pick, which is on pace to be a mid-round selection.
That is a small price to pay for a 26-year-old ideal stretch power forward who would rank in the NBA’s top 20 scorers per 48 minutes (32 points) among players who play at least 24 minutes a game. Mirotic has averaged 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6% from three-point range in 25.3 minutes a game.
He can create floor space for Jrue Holiday’s pick-and-roll plays with Davis, who grudgingly will move to center.
New Orleans general manager Dell Demps rarely gets praise, but this deal addressed Cousins’ absence and got rid of seldom-used center Omer Asik and the albatross that is his contract. Mirotic’s $12.5-million salary for 2018 is slightly more than what Asik is making, but the payout comes in the form of an actual contributor.
The deal addresses New Orleans’ immediate concerns but creates a long-term payroll logjam if the Pelicans sign Cousins this summer. New Orleans would be a luxury tax team with Cousins but Mirotic does provide some coverage and leverage for those negotiations with a player whose recovery level will be a mystery.
Mirotic will love Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry’s green light and Gentry will love that New Orleans still looks like a playoff team after the Clippers traded Blake Griffin and Utah rediscovered its winning ways.
There’s life outside of Wall
With a disappointing season already in its third quarter, a John Wall absence would seem like doom for Washington.
Instead, the Wizards won their first four games in Wall’s absence while he had surgery on his left knee. Washington has failed to become an Eastern Conference contender and Wall has been among the reasons with 41.7% shooting from the field.
A four-game sample should not be exaggerated because Washington has to survive until mid-March without Wall and has a tough February that begins with six of eight on the road.
But the Wizards just picked up home wins against quality teams Oklahoma City and Toronto, in which they spread the offensive wealth by averaging 28.5 assists a game without their star point guard.
Dwight Howard played the 2012-13 season for the Lakers when they won 45 games, two more than the Hawks won last season in his only year in Atlanta.
The Hawks gave him a tribute video upon his return Wednesday night.
Atlanta traded Howard to Charlotte in the offseason following a playoff run that ended with him unhappy about fourth-quarter benchings.
The 30-second video, titled “Thanks Dwight,” drew mixed reactions from Hawks fans.
Red Panda gets an assist
Legendary NBA halftime act Red Panda can handle catching a stack of bowls that she flips onto her head with one foot while riding a unicycle with the other foot, but her latest challenge is unfair.
Rong Niu had her 7-foot, $25,000 unicycle stolen from baggage claim at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday, KTVU-TV reports.
“She’s heartbroken,” her agent, Pat Figley, told KTVU. “It’s like her baby was kidnapped. She’s had that unicycle for 30 years.”
She is using a backup but the Warriors announced they will buy her a new custom unicycle. “The Red Panda is legendary and absolutely loved and adored by everyone,” they said in a statement.