Off The Bench
Hi! I am Leroy Triggs III from Raceland, LA. I previously covered high school football in South Louisiana for Varsity Sports Now and the Houma Courier. I also interned at the CBS affiliate WABF-TV in Baton Rouge, LA. I enjoy going to the gym, doing anything involving sports, playing games, and spending time with friends. I am now the lead sports contributor for NWN and author of “Off The Bench”.
The first half of the NBA season has been both exciting and surprising. We expected a healthier Joel Embiid to play better but he has been showing that a big man can possibly be the MVP of a perimeter-oriented NBA. Embiid is having a year with highs in points, steals, free-throw percentage, and field goal percentages from the field and the three-point line. The evolution in his game has him looking as dominant as Shaquille O’Neal during the Los Angeles Lakers three-peat years.
A team that is close on the Sixers trail is the Brooklyn Nets. This team has started to figure themselves out offensive and defensively. James Harden has become the point guard allowing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to be aggressive scorers. Durant has bounced back greatly from his injury; however, his game was not predicated on athleticism. He still is posting up and hitting the fadeaway as graceful as ever and shooting as smooth as butter. Showing glimpse of top form is DeAndre Jordan, he is starting to look like the defensive anchor he was for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2016. The Nets have won their last 10 of 11 games and are only a half game behind the 76ers for the top spot in the East.
The surprise teams in the East have been the New York Knicks and the Charlotte Hornets. Both teams were expected to be lottery teams this season, but both have played their way into the playoff picture. Julius Randle becomes the first New York Knick since Kristaps Porzingis in 2017-18 to be selected to the All-Star game. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has successfully implanted a culture and has made himself a coach of the year candidate by revitalizing Knicks basketball. The Hornets as a franchise have been under a lot of scrutiny since NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2014. Led by the stellar guard play, Terry Rozier, and rookie of the year candidate LaMelo Ball the team has become competitive and Ball’s playmaking ability has allowed Rozier to be a scoring guard. Ball is averaging 15.8 PPG, six rebounds, 6.3 AST, and he leads the team in steals averaging 1.6 per game. Offseason acquisition Gordon Hayward has filled the team’s biggest need for a reliable wing scorer. Hayward leads the team in scoring with 21.5 PPG.
We have not forgotten about the reigning back-to-back MVP. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks made roster moves to make the team better this season, but it feels hollow. This year Jrue Holiday has looked like a slight upgrade over Eric Bledsoe, but it does not feel like Kris Middleton has taken the next step into being a superstar player. The team is starting to come into flow as they have won six of their last seven games heading into the All-Star break.
The Boston Celtics have found themselves in fourth in the East, with only three games separating them from the 11th place Atlanta Hawks. Leading the pack of second tier teams they go into the break on a four-game winning streak and all-star Jason Tatum has been playing like a bonafede superstar to keep the Celtics as one of the elite teams in the East.
A team that has unachieved thus are the Atlanta Hawks. They fired head coach Llyod Pierce after 2 ½ years and assistant coach Nate McMillian. McMillian was the head coach of the Indian Pacers from 2016-2020. Firing Pierce just looks like the cop out for what has been a disappointing season, along with rumors that he did not coexist well with the young stars in the franchise. Pierce told the Atlanta Journal Constitution ‘My job is not to be best friends with these guys.’
The team has been plagued by injuries with off-season addition Bogdan Bogdanovic missed 25 games, another key player has missed significant time as well. First year Hawk Rajon Rondo has missed 20 games, Kris Dunn has not played a game this season, De’Andre Hunter has been out since February from right knee surgery, and Cam Reddish has been out since February 23rd with an Achilles injury.
Other veterans on struggling teams may be joining the move to one of the top teams. The Detroit Pistons and Blake Griffin agreed to a buyout. A reunion with Clipper teammate DeAndre Jordan could be what Griffin and the Brooklyn Nets need to make themselves NBA Finals favorite. Another former all-star on the move could be Andre Drummond. He has not been bought out of his contract in Cleveland yet but with that franchise headed to a rebuild Drummond could join a favorite like the Nets who need rebounding and defense.
My best fits for the impending free agent big men. Griffin’s best fit would be Boston Celtics because he can be the front court scorer, they need to elevate their team in the postseason. Andre Drummond could be the missing ingredient to the Nets championship puzzle. Drummond should be the target for the Nets because he fills their needs, and he does not need the ball to score. His rebounding and defense is what he could bring to their second unit, or with the starters because he is also a more reliable free throw shooter than DeAndre Jordan.
Many people thought that there was nothing else Tom Brady would be able to do to expand his legacy, however, we now see how they were wrong. Brady is on his way to his tenth Super Bowl and is making even more history by being part of the first team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Brady’s Bucs have come up big in moments throughout the playoffs in their last two wins. The defense stepped up against the Saints when Antione Winfield Jr. forced a fumble that ultimately allowed Tampa to go up by 10 late in the third quarter. The offense did the same in the NFC Championship game when Brady threw a touchdown pass to Scotty Miller at the end of the first half that pushed their lead to 10.
From that moment on, the Buccaneers had control of the game and the body language of the Packers players expressed that the game was almost out of reach. They showed some fight, but Tampa Bay never let up and their defense stepped up again. They made sure Rodgers was uncomfortable the entire game and played a factor in the choice to kick a field goal on a late-game drive. Rodgers was pressured all through the game and sacked five times. LaFleur’s decision to kick the field goal should be viewed as a decision to protect Rodgers because his offensive line could not do that the entire game.
Green Bay uncharacteristically had two turnovers, which resulted in 14 points for the Buccaneers. LaFleur believed in his defense and took his chances, “We, in essence, had four timeouts with the two-minute warning, and we took our chances” LaFleur said in the press conference after the game. Rodgers made it clear that he wanted to go for it, he said in the press conference “I thought we were going to have four chances to get in but that’s not my decision.”
Many were wondering if Rodgers would want out of Green Bay, though he quickly shut down that notion by stating “I don’t think there’s any reason why I won’t be back.” The Packers GM, Mark Murphy, also said on the 5th Quarter radio in Green Bay; “There’s no way in heck,” when he was asked about bringing Rodgers back as the team’s starting quarterback.
On the other side, the Chiefs showed they are in a class of their own. Patrick Mahomes was great as we expected, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill each had 100-yard receiving games in-wake-of the 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs tend to make history with every victory and the AFC Championship game was not any different. Kelce set the record for most receptions in a championship game (13). Kelce and Hill’s performances made them the first teammates to have 100 receiving yard games in the postseason. Of course, Mahomes resume continues to be stellar even though it is short. Mahomes became the first quarterback to go to two Super Bowls in his first three seasons as the starter.
Usually, you try to figure out what the other team could have done to win, but when the game is against the Chiefs, there is not much you can look into. The Bills had a glorious run and showed how much having a No.1 receiver means to a young quarterback. Stephon Diggs did not have his usual 100-yard day and Kansas City’s defense forced Josh Allen to beat them as a thrower and a runner. It did not work out for them in this game but we will surely see the Buffalo Bills rival the Chiefs for years to come.