Each weekend, we will highlight the trends, rumors and stories going around the NBA that we may miss during the busy week.
Milwaukee Playoff hunting
The Milwaukee Bucks are holding on to the eighth seed in the East but may be feeling the pressure to hold on and make the Playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Larry Sanders was surprisingly the team's breakout star, recording a triple double earlier in the year and leading the league in blocks at 3.2 per game. But his bruised lower back may keep him out for a while and backs can be tricky injuries to fix. Fortunately, Sanders appears set to return after that nasty fall.
Samuel Dalembert was strong in his stead, scoring a career-high 35 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a game at Denver on Tuesday. Dalembert followed that up with a solid 10-point, 11-rebound performance at Utah. For the veteran center, those are gaudy statistics for him in back-to-back games.
It has Milwaukee thinking though about the long term of this season and the future.
Many thought the Bucks would either go all in to make a Playoff spot or find a way to trade Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings to clear up cap space to resign one and bring in a big free agent or start a complete rebuild. The team's success this year has thrown all of it up in the air.
Dalembert's emergence the last few games gives them another asset to play with as they try to make their move up the Eastern Conference standings.
Of course, how far up the standings could Milwaukee get? With this team, it is tough to say. No one is ready to call this team anything close to a title contender. So maybe the Bucks make a move to solidify that playoff positioning. Or maybe, the Bucks think about the future and move a larger contract for short-term cap relief.
Or maybe they can do both if they get in on discussions for J.J. Redick, something Marc Stein of ESPN.com suggests they might.
Lillard goes first
Somehow, someway, Damian Lillard was taken first in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, the league's annual showcase of first- and second-year players for All-Star Weekend next week. Shaquille O'Neal had the first pick in the draft and bypassed Kyrie Irving to take Damian Lillard.
He ended up with Irving anyway as the third pick.
Lillard is the front runner to win the league's Rookie of the Year Award, averaging 18.4 points per game and 6.5 assists per game for the Trail Blazers. He is playing 38.5 minutes per game through the first 50 games of his young career. The four-year standout at Weber State has hit the NBA and made an instant impact.
Certainly an All-Star Game atmosphere will help him introduce his talents to a much wider audience.
How about this club though?
If Lillard continues his strong play, he will join a list of 11 players that averaged at least 18 points per game and 5 assists per game in their rookie year. That list includes Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Kyrie Irving was the last player to achieve this feat.
That is some elite company, perhaps putting too much pressure on the young player.
The second pick in that BBVA Rising Stars Draft? That would be Anthony Davis, whom Charles Barkley took as his foundational player for the exhibition game next Friday night.
The No. 1 pick in the draft has had an up and down year for sure. Everyone seemed to know that Davis would have some struggles on the offensive end. At Kentucky, he was a defensive ace and an occassional offensive option. He obviously still had growth to go.
But Davis is slowly getting better and showing plenty of signs of life.
He is averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor. In his last 10 games, Davis is posting 11.9 points per game, scoring in single digits only three times in those 10 games, and 5.8 rebounds per game. Yes, those are below his season averages.
What is important to note though is that Davis is becoming more consistent as he reaches this critical doldrum of the season. And his team is playing much better, stringing together some wins as they struggle through Frebruary.
Davis' defense is still far ahead of his offense and New Orleans is letting his offense come slowly at the moment.