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NBA Notebook: The Nets are finding ways to win without James Harden

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

June 9th, 2021

The NBA’s conference semifinals are easily the best continuous stretch of competitive sport all year. With eight teams in action, there is at least one game every night, and it's always must-see TV.

As the nightly drama ensues, let’s zoom out and take a look at the top stories from around the league in the latest edition of our NBA Notebook.

The Nets are rolling without Harden

No story can be written about the NBA this year without mentioning the favorites to win the crown, the Brooklyn Nets. Despite losing James Harden for an undetermined amount of time due to a hamstring injury, they have come out rolling in these playoffs.

In Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets coasted to a 115-107 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. In Game 2, they doubled down on their dominance with a 125-86 win. The offensive firepower comes as no surprise, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant being two of the best scorers in the NBA. What has been a surprise is Brooklyn's ability to slow down a capable Bucks offense, holding Milwaukee to just 20% shooting from deep in Game 1 and 29% shooting from deep in Game 2.

If the Nets can continue to play at this level, there is likely nobody stopping them. Add Harden back into the mix, and they are even scarier. The Bucks might win a game or even two at home, but this series looks to be over already.

Chris Paul has found the fountain of Youth in Phoenix

Chris Paul has battled shoulder injuries and all of the general ailments that come with advanced age in a high-intensity sport, but he appears to have also found the fountain of youth in 2021 with the Phoenix Suns’ young roster.

The Suns entered the postseason as the No. 2-seed, and despite being underdogs to the Lakers in the first round, are now up 1-0 against the Denver Nuggets. A big part of the Suns' Game 1 win was Paul taking over during a critical stretch in the second half that took a Nuggets lead and turned the game into a Suns blowout. Paul had 21 points and 11 assists, and spaced the floor for the talented Suns in a way that made them look unstoppable.

Paul has been a perennial All-Star, being recognized 11 times in his career. But he has never won a title, and this looks like his best chance yet. The Suns have all of the pieces needed to compete, and Paul is the perfect player to be leading the charge.

Can anyone stop Joel Embiid?

Just a few games ago, Joel Embiid tore his meniscus and his status for the remainder of the postseason was in doubt. After electing to heal naturally, Embiid has returned against the Atlanta Hawks and looked incredible.

Embiid set a career playoff points record with 39 points in Game 1, and followed that up with 40 points in Game 2. He became the first Sixers player since Allen Iverson to score 40 points in a playoff game, and did so without looking like he was in any apparent pain.

Whether Embiid’s return is enough to defeat the Hawks and then disrupt the Nets’ runaway train remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the NBA playoffs are better with Embiid back on the court playing at this level. If he stays healthy through this series with the Hawks and continues to look as effective as he has through two games, the Sixers will be an intriguing betting option.

NBA Championship 2020/2021

Mon, August 30 2021, 11:57 PM

Brooklyn Nets

+110

Utah Jazz

+300

Philadelphia 76ers

+700

Los Angeles Clippers

+800

Phoenix Suns

+800

Milwaukee Bucks

+1600

Atlanta Hawks

+5000

Denver Nuggets

+5000

Nikola Jokic is your 2021 NBA MVP

Nikola Jokic has won the MVP award, becoming the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to earn that recognition. Jokic claimed 91 of the 101 first place votes and arguably should have gotten more.

He played all 72 games for the Nuggets and was fundamentally important to their success, averaging a double-double and very nearly a triple-double over the entire season. It's a well-deserved trophy for a player that will probably still be schooling guys at the YMCA 30 years from now.

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