NBA Star Power Index: Kyrie Irving, CJ McCollum shine in play-in; Luka Doncic’s injury doesn’t give a fuck

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of players getting the most buzz in the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it just means you’re capturing the attention of the NBA world. Nor is it a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will air weekly throughout the regular season and playoffs.

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Doncic’s injury is delicate. The Mavs call it a tight calf, which is vague. Strain it sounds harmless, but a stump is a tear; it’s only a matter of degrees, or notes, as you may recall, you heard about Kevin Durant’s calf strain in 2019 with the Warriors. It was called a “light” strain at first, and was eventually deemed a grade 1 strain, possibly even a grade 2 strain. Durant missed more than a month before returning in game five of the finals, when, of course, he tore his Achilles’ tendon.

That’s the thing with calf injuries. They can quite easily become Achilles injuries if you come back too soon. It’s all connected, and if the calf isn’t fully healed (depending on where the calf injury is), you risk a much more serious injury, either to the calf or to the Achilles tendon. Dr. Alan Beyer, orthopedic surgeon and executive medical director of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Newport Beach, Calif., warned me about this with Durant’s initial calf injury.

“Understand, a strain and a tear are the same thing,” Dr. Beyer told CBS Sports after Durant’s initial calf strain in 2019. “So Durant has a tear in that calf. The grading simply indicates how many fibers were affected. a slight grade 1 or 2 strain or tear, whatever you call it, that’s one thing, but if he came back on a partially healed calf and ended up tearing it completely on landing or taking off wrong, now you talk about never going back to 100%. He would regret this decision for the rest of his career.

Dr. Beyer also told me this before Durant tore his Achilles tendon, which became an almost ominous warning in hindsight.

Now, none of that is to say Doncic is going to tear his calf or blow his Achilles. This is just to point out that a “strain” is not as harmless as it seems. Doncic – whose injury, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, is described as “more than just a mild strain” – could easily be out longer than you think. As it stands, the Mavericks are said to be skeptical when Doncic might be available to play in Dallas’ first-round series against Utah.

Unlike Stephen Curry, who is expected to play in Game 1, Doncic will likely miss Dallas’ playoff opener.

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Irving posted a masterpiece in the Nets’ win over the Cavs on Tuesday. He made his first 12 shots, which would be an NBA playoff record if we called the play-in tournament the playoffs, which technically we’re not. He did not miss the first three quarters. Irving finished with 34 points and 12 assists on 12 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 6 of 3 and 7 of 7 from the free throw line.

Irving and Kevin Durant, who was terrific in his own right, especially defensively, finished the first quarter with 19 points on 10-of-10 shooting. Cleveland actually trailed the Nets by 13 points over the past three quarters, an effort helped by keeping the Nets to eight points in the first nine-plus minutes of the second quarter, which Durant started on the bench. Brooklyn will need to figure out the non-KD-Kyrie combo minutes, but there won’t be many. Steve Nash is going to play these two guys at least 40 minutes a game going forward. He does not have a choice.

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Beverley was hounded in Minnesota’s win over the Clippers (the team that traded Beverley last summer to save luxury tax money) on Tuesday. I wrote about it here, and I’ll say it again: Don’t let Beverley’s antics fool you that the only place he has in the league is as an instigator. This man is a great basketball player. A real winner. A high level defender. Beverley teams have made the playoffs in eight of its nine seasons in the league, and the only year that didn’t happen (2017-18 Clippers), Beverley played just 11 games.

It’s no coincidence that Beverley showed up at Minnesota and suddenly Wolves are in the playoffs for only the third time since 2004. He’s arguably been more instrumental than anyone in this organization in terms of identity change. Beverley expects to win, and did the man play like that on Tuesday. He finished with seven points and 11 rebounds, but as usual his impact was not box-score based.

Against his former team, who he said disrespected him and treated him like a defrock, Beverley was ready to retire from the jump. It’s a few seconds into the game.

It wasn’t the last time Beverley and Marcus Morris would come into contact. Less than a minute into the second half, Beverley nearly drew Morris into his second technical foul, which would have seen him sent off. After review, it was correctly determined that Beverley…go figure…was the instigator.

From my post-game story:

Don’t even try to pretend Morris started making that contact with Beverley. Players do this all the time to keep track of their man, to know where he is, as they watch the ball jump. Beverley cuts off Morris’ arm like it’s a block of cement in a Kung fu video. Beverley knew he was baiting Morris into his second tech, and when he first thought he had it right, he started hopping around the field waving goodbye like the naughty showman he always was. Seriously, if the guy wasn’t so good at this basketball thing, he’d have a wrestling hooker job in a second. Vince McMahon would support a Brinks truck.

The thing that gets lost in all this antics, however, is that Beverley is a very good player. Defending is a skill, and despite the emphasis on long, versatile, off-the-ball defenders wandering the passing lanes, an old-school, fit-in-your-shirt defender remains the opposition without a scorer or handler. of ball. want to see. Beverley is low and quick laterally. He has fast and aggressive hands. And he anticipates how a big passer sees plays developing sooner than expected.

Watch the entire crucial fourth quarter possession below. Beverley starts on Paul George, which tells you what a good defender he is that Chris Finch would stick him on the opposing superstar who cooked in the second half in a two-point game with less than five minutes left. When Morris opens for a 3, Beverley rushes in to harass him a bit. Then Morris hands it over to Reggie Jackson, who goes into a pick-and-roll, which Beverley changes to keep Jackson straight. The shot clock has now ticked under five seconds. Beverley knows Jackson needs to act fast, and he also knows that Jackson likes to hook his dribble to the side before pulling himself into a jumper or crossing. He anticipates it. Sees it. And in that split second, he knocks. The coward. It essentially single-handedly kills all possession.

Beverley picked Jackson again with less than 30 seconds left to officially seal the match:

All of this preceded a championship-worthy celebration — which, to be fair, is about what a playoff berth looks like in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves will face the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, with Game 1 scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

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McCollum led the Pelicans past the Spurs in the Western playoff 9-10 on Wednesday, posting 32 points, seven assists and six rebounds on 12 of 23 shooting, including 3 of 5 of 3. He outscored the Spurs overall starting first-half lineup, 27-25.

With all the rumors that the Blazers couldn’t win with McCollum and Damian Lillard paired up in the backcourt, you may have allowed yourself to forget that McCollum is a tub. Has always been. Will always be. In a one-on-one situation, there might not be 10 players in the world I’d rather create a shot than McCollum in a playoff scenario.

Blazers fans know that. McCollum was a hugely popular player in Portland, and now the Rip City faithful need to put down roots against McCollum — because if the Pelicans make the playoffs, the protected first-round pick Portland picked up from New Orleans in McCollum’s trade will not. to transmit. That pick only goes to the Blazers if it’s between No. 5 and No. 14. If New Orleans makes the playoffs, they can’t pick higher than No. 15 in the next draft, which would then transform the choice of the Blazers. are due to a Milwaukee 2025 first round, which is not nearly the same value.

Portland wants, needs, New Orleans in the lottery. That way the Blazers would have their own lottery pick and most likely a second New Orleans lottery pick (unless they beat the ping pong ball odds and jump the line in the top four , which is unlikely). That would give the Blazers two very good assets to potentially hit the trade market as they attempt to rebuild a contender on the fly. if McCollum, of all people, ends up costing the Blazers pick because he plays in a few playoff games (he’s already halfway there), it’s going to be an extremely bitter pill for the Blazers and their fans to swallow.

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Curry has been out since March 16 with a sprained ligament in his left foot, and his status for Golden State’s playoff opener against the Nuggets on Saturday is “undetermined,” according to the team.

It goes without saying how badly the Warriors need Curry not just back on the court, but as close to 100% as possible if they’re going to have a real title run. Based on Curry’s progress reports, I’d be surprised if he didn’t play on Saturday. But even if he doesn’t, he will almost certainly be back on the court relatively early in this series.

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