NBA Star Power Index: Playoff Paul George turns critics into clowns; LeBron James unloads scheduling slander

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. It’s worth noting that this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. 

The days of Paul George being an easy postseason punching bag are over. Not that the constant mocking was ever warranted in the first place. George has laid a few high-profile eggs in his career, but he’s had a lot of monster moments, too. Wednesday night was another one of them. 

With the Clippers tied 2-2 with the Jazz and Kawhi Leonard out, George led the Clippers to a 119-111 Game 5 win in Utah with 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists on 12 of 22 shooting. He was spectacular, as he has been for pretty much this entire postseason. 

George joins Kevin Durant as the only players this postseason to post a a 35-15-5 game. He’s also the only player in Clippers history to record those numbers in a playoff game. So the potshots were fun while they lasted, but George, who has scored at least 20 points in each of the Clippers 12 playoff games thus far, is getting the last laugh. 

LeBron James’ Lakers are no longer playing, but he still made news on Wednesday with an “I told you so” rant. James was vocal in his criticism of the expedited schedule this season as the NBA sought to get back on (financial) track after the 2020 COVID hit, and in light of all the injuries we’re seeing across the postseason, James, who dealt with a prolonged injury himself this season, let his frustrations be known with the following Twitter thread. 

There’s no doubt there have been a lot of high-profile injuries this season, but the data is less conclusive in terms of the actual injury rate this season as compared to others. There’s really no way to prove the quick turnaround contributed to injuries, but it’s an educated guess that it has played at least some role in some part of it. 

The league is a business, and the players had a say in this, and surely I don’t see a bunch of guys lining up to take less money. The show going on is how these players make the money they do. You can understand the frustrations, and personally, I think the league needs to take a long look at its schedule and playoff format independent of the COVID interruption. 

The season is too long at 82 games. The playoffs are also too long at four rounds of seven-game series. Shorten the regular season, which would make the games more meaningful and hopefully pump up the rating that have long been declining. If it were up to me, I would reduce the playoffs to six teams per conference, with the top two teams getting byes. 

That puts an even greater importance on regular-season games. Making the top-six cut cuts the margin for error considerably, and that first-round bye would be worth chasing hard. Load management becomes a thing of the past, but it also wouldn’t be as necessary, because the players would be fresher for the playoffs and hopefully, as a result, less likely to suffer injuries. 

After dropping a career-high 18 assists in Atlanta’s Game 4 win over the Sixers, Trae Young came back with a career playoff-high 39 points as the Hawks erased a 26-point deficit to beat Philly in Game 5 on Wednesday. 

Lou Williams, who was also huge with 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting (he was an incredible plus-31 in a three-point game), had this to say about his new teammate after being traded from the Clippers at the March deadline (via Sarah K. Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

“He’s a monster. This dude is a monster. It’ll be one of those things where I look back when he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s an established superstar in this league and I can say I was part of that process and I worked with this gentleman. Seeing Trae up close and the things he’s able to accomplish and the things he’s able to go out on the floor and do night in and night out at such a young age with the poise that he has, with the swag that he has, the confidence that he has in his abilities, I’m proud to be a part of it. He listens to me and I try to help him as much as I can with little tidbits here and there, but just to see him night in and night out, I’m extremely happy for him, I’m proud of him and I’m happy to call him my teammate.”  

Durant gave us one of the all-time postseason performances with a 49-piece, while throwing in 17 rebounds and 10 assists in addition to playing all 48 minutes, in Brooklyn’s Game 5 win over the Bucks on Tuesday. He did his real damage when the Nets were back against the wall, and there was nothing the Bucks could do about it. 

Halfway through the third quarter, Milwaukee led by 16 points (76-60). Over the next 18 minutes, Brooklyn outscored the Bucks 54-32. Durant had 31 of those 54. Almost every shot he took was contested. He was also Brooklyn’s best defender. There’s no word on why the Bucks decided to run their offense at Durant more than they did James Harden, who was essentially playing on one leg, but hey, when your enemy is making a mistake, don’t interrupt him. 

From our Sam Quinn, who believes Tuesday’s performance cemented Durant’s status as the best player in the world. 

Durant became the first player in NBA history to score 45 points, pull in 15 rebounds and dish out 10 assists in a playoff game. He did so on 69.6 percent shooting, the third-highest mark ever in a 40-point playoff triple double, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It was the ultimate melding of what has made Durant great for his entire career and what led most to believe James was even better, near-flawless scoring paired with excellence in every other facet of the game while his teammates floundered beside him. Durant carried his team to an inexplicable victory, and he did so by doing just about everything a player can do on a basketball court. 

Hard to say it better than that. 

Ben Simmons took one shot in the second half of Philly’s Game 5 loss to Atlanta. One. This is after he said, following his similarly scared second-half showing in Philly’s Game 4 meltdown that he “definitely should have been more aggressive and attacked more.” Over the last two fourth quarters, Simmons hasn’t taken one shot in almost 17 minutes of game time. 

Perhaps the reason Simmons doesn’t want to attack more is he’s worried about getting fouled and having to go to the line. The guy is shooting 33 percent from the stripe in the playoffs (22 for 67). 

Do the math, and that’s 45 shanks for Simmons so far. That’s more than the Hawks (35), Suns (29) and Nets (22) have missed as a team. On Wednesday, Simmons went 4 for 14 from the line, making him the first player this season — regular or post — to miss 10 free throws in a game. There was a time when Simmons was losing postseason fourth-quarter minutes because the great T.J. McConnell was a bigger threat to do, well, anything on the offensive end. Now he’s getting benched in the fourth quarter so the other team doesn’t intentionally foul him. That’s called a liability. Not a franchise player. 

The Sixers now trail the Hawks 3-2. Game 6 is on Friday. 

Did Chris Paul do something in a former basketball life to deserve such bad luck? After a career filled with untimely playoff injuries, including a few weeks ago when he soldiered through Phoenix’s first-round win over the Lakers with a shoulder contusion that had him effectively playing with one arm, Paul is now in COVID protocol ahead of the Western Conference finals. 

It is not clear whether Paul has actually contracted COVID are simply come into contact with someone who has it. The next update on his status will be on Saturday, per the Suns. In the meantime, consider this:

If the Suns are without Paul for even one game of the conference finals, it will obviously be a huge blow. If he’s out for an extended time, well, let’s try not to think that way. First and foremost, let’s hope Paul is healthy and, if he does have COVID, that his recovery goes well. If he doesn’t, Suns fans are crossing their fingers this all gets cleared by the start of the conference finals. 

In addition to Paul’s COVID news drop, word broke on a hellacious Wednesday NBA morning that Leonard is out indefinitely for the Clippers, who fear their superstar has suffered an ACL injury, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Before an official diagnosis can be made, the swelling in Leonard’s knee has to go down. We’ll hope for the best, but it doesn’t sound good. 


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