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Sports Corner

 By:Rob Bishop

Back again, and after a seven-game absence, Mavericks guard and MVP candidate Luka Doncic returned to the court on Wednesday night. In a win over the Kings, Doncic showed zero rust, going for 33 points on 18 shots while also grabbing a dozen boards and handing out eight dimes. Better yet, Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, who have struggled to share the court at times, complemented one another perfectly in the contest. Doncic will next be in action during a busy All Star weekend for the 20-year old superstar.  

               Toronto’s 15-game winning streak came to an unceremonious end on Wednesday night as the Raptors were defeated by the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets were bolstered by big games from Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, and Joe Harris as Brooklyn continues to be a far more competitive team with Kyrie Irving sidelined. Having appeared in just 20 games this season, Irving remains without a timetable to return from a knee injury. With Irving, the Nets are 8-12; without, 17-16, including back-to-back over playoff-bound teams within the Eastern Conference.

               Though over-shadowed by teammate and fellow rookie Ja Morant, first-year big man Brandon Clarke is having a very encouraging debut season. In a huge win over the Blazers, Clarke led the Grizzlies with a career-best effort, going for 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting. Easily the biggest mystery of this past summer’s draft was Clarke’s mysterious slide all the way to the 21st pick, and he’s rewarding Memphis’s selection with a great year. The Grizzlies enter the All Star break at 28-26 and in control of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The team’s dynamic pair of rookies is a massive reason for it.  

               On the heels of the Grizzlies in the standings are the Portland Trail Blazers. Back-to-back defeats against Memphis and New Orleans heading into the All Star break are far from ideal, but the team’s greater concern surrounds the health of MVP candidate Damian Lillard. Already ruled out for All-Star weekend, Lillard will have over a week to rest before Portland returns to the court on February 21. However, the severity of his injury remains unknown, and any sort of extended absence for Lillard would doom Portland’s hopes of a playoff berth.

               Replacing Lillard in the All-Star game is Suns guard Devin Booker, who was largely viewed as having a legitimate case to be on the initial roster. Largely viewed as simply a volume scorer entering this season, Booker has proven to be just as capable as a spot-up shooter as a shot creator, and his play-making and ball-handling remain underrated aspects of his game. Booker is putting up 26.4 points a game while routinely being the focus of opposing defensive game-plans. Ignore Phoenix’s 22-33 record. Booker has earned his first trip to the All-Star game.

               On that note, pretty much everything said about Booker and be copy-and-pasted in regard to Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who will not be in this weekend’s All-Star game. In Chicago’s final game before the break, LaVine went for 41 points, including hitting eight 3-pointers. Though Trae Young gets more attention, LaVine consistently induces gasps with his incredible range as a shooter. On the plus side, LaVine will be participating in Saturday’s 3-point contest, so at least he will garner some well-deserved attention at the NBA showcase.

               Thursday’s slate of NBA action featured only two contests, and though Zion Williamson setting a new career-high in points (32) in a loss was noteworthy, it was an injury suffered by Clippers forward Paul George in a double-OT loss that was the biggest news of the night. George was forced from the game during the first half, and he did not return after re-injuring his hamstring, an injury that has already sidelined him on two separate occasions this season. The severity of the recurrence isn’t clear as of yet, but the Clippers are likely to be extremely cautious with George going forward. L.A. has its sights set on a championship this season, and having George healthy alongside Kawhi Leonard is a key component for accomplishing the lofty goal.