A look at what’s trending this week in the NBA:
The Western Conference’s eight-team race for the final six playoff positions of the Warriors/Rockets Invitational does not leave much margin for error or injury.
New Orleans had both and appeared to have popped its postseason bubble. The Pelicans lost All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles’ tendon injury before the All-Star break and then lost five of the six ensuing games.
But Anthony Davis’ reach has come from beyond the grave of postseason hope, lifting the Pelicans to seven consecutive wins and a stunning turnabout to re-engage conversation about New Orleans’ chances of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Losing Cousins was a major blow. Adding Nikola Mirotic in a trade with the Chicago Bulls was a Band-Aid. Elite play from Davis has been the cure.
Davis has averaged 39.3 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.7 blocked shots during the seven-game winning streak that New Orleans takes into Sunday’s game at Dallas. Only Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone averaged at least 35 points and 15 rebounds over a seven-game stretch in the NBA.
It has not been all Davis. Point guard Jrue Holiday is now the co-star, averaging 25.3 points and 7.6 assists while shooting 54% from the field during the winning streak and guard E’Twaun Moore is having a career season as one of the NBA’s top three-point shooters (42.2%). Moore is averaging career bests of 12.4 points a game and 50.5% shooting from the field.
The Pelicans are returning to small ball with Davis at center, using Mirotic’s presence at power forward to create spacing and giving Davis more touches in positions where he can drive and take advantage of less agile centers.
Putting SMH in Smith
Cleveland’s J.R. Smith no longer unties shoelaces — an in-game action that cost him a $50,000 fine once — but he still becomes undone.
The Cavaliers suspended Smith for a game, costing him about $95,000, because of “detrimental conduct.” ESPN.com reported that Smith threw a bowl of soup at Cleveland assistant coach Damon Jones after Thursday’s team shootaround.
Smith has played in the NBA for 14 seasons that have been dotted by suspensions. He earned a 10-game league suspension in 2006 for his part during an in-game brawl. Denver suspended him in 2007 for a nightclub incident. The league suspended him in the 2003 playoffs for elbowing Jason Terry. He started the following season with a five-game suspension for an anti-drug program violation.
Smith was averaging 8.3 points, his lowest scoring average in 12 years, and had gone four for 22 from the field in his last three appearances.
Mavericks address workplace issues
The Dallas Mavericks made another move to address the workplace issues that arose from a Sports Illustrated investigation in which several current and former employees exposed a culture of misogyny and predatory behavior.
The Mavericks named retired AT&T executive Cynthia Marshall as their interim chief executive officer. In a distinguished 36-year career for AT&T, Marshall last served as vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer.
Asked about her reaction to the SI story at a Monday news conference, Marshall said, “I was disgusted.”
Marshall, who said she and her mother were victims of domestic violence, told the media that she was wearing sweats of another basketball team when she missed Dallas owner Mark Cuban’s call after the SI story was published Feb. 20.
“He said he was Mark Cuban,” she said of his voicemail. “And I said, ‘OK, who’s that?’ I didn’t know. I just did not know him. My kids know him. They know ‘Shark Tank.’ When I told them I had talked to him, they said, ‘Mom, you missed Mark Cuban’s call?’ ”
— With a triple-double Tuesday against Brooklyn, Cleveland’s LeBron James became the first NBA player ever to accumulate 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists in a career. A game later on Thursday, he passed Michael Jordan with his 927th career 20-point game to rank fourth on the all-time list. Karl Malone is first with 1,134 consecutive 20-point games. James averaged a triple-double for February (27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.5 assists).
— The NBA had its highest scoring month in February (108.4 team scoring average) since April 1990 (109.1), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
— Houston made its 900th three-pointer of the season in the 58th game. Only six teams has previously made 900 three-pointers in an entire season.
— Cleveland has lost six games this season in which it never led. That happened seven times in the previous three seasons combined.
— Post-up play is not dead in Philadelphia, where 76ers center Joel Embiid gets a league-high 14.9 post-up touches per game.
Boston at Minnesota, Thursday at 5 p.m. PST. TV: TNT.
When the broadcast schedule was set last summer, this game was a warm-up act for a Golden State-San Antonio showdown. Now, this deserves its own marquee with Boston surging back from a slump (6-9 entering the All-Star break) and Minnesota holding off six teams in a battle for home-court advantage when it enters its first postseason since 2004. The Timberwolves probably will have to survive all of March without Jimmy Butler, who had knee surgery Sunday. A five-day rest entering this game will help them. They are a vastly different team defensively without Butler, who also was the team’s leading scorer and the personality that gave the team more grit.