Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Harrison Barnes
I spent a lot of time last week watching tennis. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters were the stories of the Australian Open, so the media discussion around the tournament revolved around the grand (and more importantly, marketable) ideas of greatness and GOAT-ness — things that unfortunately no longer have much to do with Harrison Barnes.
The Twitterverse isn’t kind to anybody, but it’s been especially cruel to Barnes since last year’s NBA Finals. The former Tar Heel wilted over the last three games of the postseason, shooting a horrific 5–32 from the field as the Warriors descended, over the course of a week, from GOAT-ness to meme-ness. The ridicule surrounding Barnes only intensified when his struggles were bizarrely rewarded with a four-year $94-million-max deal in Dallas. The internet, as it conveniently does, had forgotten that the season in its entirety had been pretty good for Barnes, who averaged almost 12 points a game on 46.6 percent shooting as Golden State’s fourth scoring option.
In Dallas, Barnes has continued to be pretty good, scoring upward of 20 points a game while shooting 47 percent from the field as the team’s primary option.
The Mavs are bad. They’re only three games out of the cellar in the West, but their efforts recently have been valiant. They’ve won seven of their last 10 games, and on Sunday night, they topped the Spurs in San Antonio, 105–101, behind solid performances from Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Seth Curry.
On Monday at home against Cleveland, Barnes had another workmanlike game, scoring 24 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and playing aggressively against LeBron James, who scored just three points in the game’s last 18 minutes. The game itself was like Barnes — solid and competitive, if unexciting. The Mavs pulled away in the third quarter and held their nerve on the way to a 104–97 victory. Don’t be fooled by the last two games, the Mavs are not for real. These games shouldn’t change your mind about Dallas, but two wins against teams in the NBA’s exclusive first tier merits some discussion. Even those who aren’t great deserve to have their night every once in a while. But, hey. Don’t take my word for it.
Runner-up: DeMarcus Cousins
On most nights, scoring 46 points on 16 shots would easily be enough to make a player our king. But numbers must have context. And this, unfortunately, is most of the necessary context for tonight:
The first quarter of the Kings’ matchup with the Embiid-less 76ers went as planned. Cousins accounted for 18 of Sacramento’s 35 first-quarter points, which he earned from every part of the court: the post, the midrange, the line, and even from three. He would finish the game a healthy 4–6 from behind the arc and 20–22 from the charity stripe. Cousins notched a double-double during the third quarter, but the Kings squandered their lead soon after. Sacramento would continue to struggle in the fourth, and Philly would win 122–119.
To be fair, the Sixers played well. They received solid performances from their starters — including 23 points and 10 boards from Robert Covington and 15 points from Jahlil Okafor — and saw seven players score in double figures. One of those players was Dario Saric, who has been hot recently and scored 17 points on 8–11 shooting. He also had a hand in much of the Sixers’ playmaking:
In the game’s final period, Cousins again looked unstoppable. He scored 16 points and pulled the Kings within one with little more than a minute to go, before getting hit with a questionable sixth foul while trying to disrupt a fast break. Sacramento dug in, and Arron Afflalo had a wide-open shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime, but his 3 clanged off the rim. What a sad way for Boogie to be deprived of our top prize.