We’re into the final week of March and it’s getting chippy out there. There just seems to be more pushing, shoving, complaining about referees, etc., and the NBA news cycle often includes notes of suspensions and fines in addition to wins and losses.
Let’s take our weekly look at who’s stepping up in these intense times and who’s struggling to keep up. When you’re done here, be sure to check out the latest NBA picks and the NBA betting preview for whichever game you fancy.
Eastern Conference Who’s Hot
- Giannis Antetokounmpo – He’s at it again and sticking his nose squarely into the basketball odds for MVP, an award he’s taken home twice before. Since a three-game layoff due to a wrist injury, he’s played in five straight and has been downright dominant, averaging 32.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Giannis is hitting 63% of his shots in the stretch, including one 9-for-9 effort.
- Jimmy Butler – Because the Heat took a while to get going and he missed a handful of games due to a knee issue early on, there isn’t any MVP buzz for Butler. But maybe that’s an oversight. Butler has played in 36 of 37 games and is putting the Heat on his shoulders of late, averaging 28.6 points on 58.4% shooting over his last nine games. He’s in line for the crown in steals (second at 1.9) and nobody has taken or made more free throws in March than this guy.
- Tobias Harris – We had him in the bottom three for the East last week, so let’s recognize this veteran’s solid bounce-back week. In four games starting last Friday, Harris is averaging 19.0 points – more than four over his season average – while shooting 63%. He’s buried 12-of-20 3-pointers in that span.
We’ve built good habits and have 10 games left to build better habits 💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/VgqDqsHr1O
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) March 23, 2023
Western Conference Who’s Hot
- Jamal Murray – Like Harris, we had Murray in a Who’s Not designation very recently due mostly to a slight slump from the arc (it was a bit of a stretch, anyway). Perhaps angered by that assertion, Murray got red-hot from outside. He’s made 12-of-17 triples over the last three games, averaging 22.3 points and 7.3 assists.
- Luke Kennard – In this 3-point happy league, the race for the 3-point percentage crown means a bit more. The fact that this guy is closing in on his second straight title is pretty significant, with every team loaded with sharpshooters. Kennard has scored in double figures off the bench in five straight for Memphis while nailing 17 of his 31 long-range attempts. He entered Friday with a narrow advantage on Al Horford in terms of percentage from the arc.
- Jaren Jackson Jr. – Kennard’s teammate deserves loads of credit for raising his game during Ja Morant’s absence. Jackson, who is all but assured of winning the title for blocks per game, has put up 29.8 points over the last five games. The most recent outing saw him post a 37-point, 10-rebound effort in a win over Houston on Wednesday. Morant returned for that one, and if you’re making any NBA predictions, you could do a lot worse than riding the Grizzlies to the Finals.
Eastern Conference Who’s Not
- James Harden – An Achilles injury is causing him to move in and out of the lineup, struggling at times when he’s in there. Harden had five points in 47 minutes on 2-for-14 shooting of a double-overtime loss to Chicago the other day and then saw his team win by 25 points against the same Bulls team two nights later while he sat on the bench. Getting Harden right is critical for Philadelphia’s NBA title odds.
- Immanuel Quickley – He’s been an integral part of New York’s solid season and has a stake in the Sixth Man of the Year debate, but Quickley has hit a bit of a rough patch. He’s shooting 34.0% over his last four games while making just 6-of-26 3-pointers. He did go for 25 points at Orlando on Thursday night, so perhaps he’ll be roasting again in no time.
- Will Barton – The Toronto Raptors are clinging to a Play-In spot and not getting a lot of help from Barton, who joined the team following a buyout last month. The veteran reserve is shooting 25% in 10 games, including a woeful 4-for-21 from long range.
4 years ago today, James Harden almost completed the best carry job I’ve ever seen.
The #Rockets were down 17 midway through the 4th then James Harden went insane.
He scored 18 points in the final 6 minutes while shooting 5/7 from the field and 4/4 from three to force OT..… pic.twitter.com/klMX636gvG
— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) March 20, 2023
Western Conference Who’s Not
- Malik Beasley – He’s had a few nice games since joining the Lakers, but also several where he’s been a relative non-factor. Austin Reaves’ hot play forced Darvin Ham to make a change, moving Beasley to the bench for Wednesday’s game vs Phoenix. He has just nine points in 46 minutes over his last two games and is shooting 37.9% overall since being traded to Los Angeles.
- Talen Horton-Tucker – The Utah Jazz are giving this guy a run to see if he can be their starting point guard of the future and he’s responded well. However, the last week or so has seen defenses put a bit more pressure on him, and the shots aren’t falling as often. Since a 37-point effort at Charlotte on March 11, Horton-Tucker is averaging 12.3 points on 35.3% shooting.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker – This was one of those sneaky under-the-radar acquisitions at the trade deadline that was paying big dividends for the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, alexander-Walker has hit a rocky patch, making just 29.7% of his shots (4-for-19 from the arc) over the last six games.