Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

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Welcome to December, everyone! As the holidays descend on our lives, the craziness increases. This applies to the NBA also.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, Celtics’ center Al Horford agreed to a two-year, $20 million extension. The 36-year-old was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and played most of his career with the team. He played with Boston from 2016-2019 before two brief stints with the 76ers and Thunder, and then returned to Beantown in 2021. Although Horford’s stats nowadays aren’t flashy due to his age, he’s still a great veteran and a locker-room leader.

Speaking of a former team of Al Horford’s, there might be something brewing in Atlanta involving superstar Trae Young. According to reports, Young chose to sit out on Friday in the Hawks’ win over Denver “due to an exchange with [Head Coach] Nate McMillan during shootaround.”

The report added that McMillan doesn’t agree with Young’s approach to his shoulder rehab and told him to “play off the bench or don’t show up at all.” Woah. We discussed last week how Atlanta has been doing well so far this season. What a shame it would be if coach and player bickering led the team to get a lower playoff seed than they desire.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight

Cue the marching bands in New Orleans, because the Pelicans are actually doing things!

The Pelicans are 15-8 and second in the Western Conference. Zion Williamson, C.J. McCollum, Brandon Ingram and company are looking to get back to the postseason after being knocked out of the first round by Phoenix last year in six games.

This is the time for New Orleans to strike. Utah has tumbled in recent weeks, and the reigning-champion Warriors are still hovering around .500. After missing last season due to injury, Zion Williamson has helped propel the Pelicans with his 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.

McCollum, who was acquired from the Trailblazers at last season’s trade deadline, is a solid veteran who can give you 20 points a night. What about Brandon Ingram? Although he’s just 25 years old, he can turn into a machine at the flip of a switch.

Head coach Willie Green has a nice array of weapons at his disposal. Obviously, youth and playoff inexperience was one problem holding them back last season. But, that can be fixed. The Big Easy might be throwing two huge parties in 2023 — Mardi Gras, and a celebration for the Pelicans being a legit contender!

Lowlight

For the last bunch of years the Chicago Bulls have been running in circles, with this season being no different.

They are 9-14 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. It’s the second full season of the Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević era, but it hasn’t produced much fruit.

As mentioned before, DeRozan is solid as long as he’s not shooting too many threes. LaVine is an elite scorer, and Vučević can be a double-double threat. However, the injury history of Lonzo Ball, who’s hasn’t played a game this season, is concerning. Bulls’ head coach Billy Donovan said that Ball isn’t even close to returning!

While the West is in fact stacked, the East is no pushover. Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland should be toward the top of the conference for many years to come. You know what’s funny, though? Ironically, the Bulls are 2-1 against the Celtics and 1-0 against the Bucks this year. Interesting.

Michael Jordan is probably shaking his head at the lack of success the Bulls have had since his departure. Hopefully they’ll get back on track.

Random Stat

Anfernee Simons is a name you probably don’t hear much of. For those of you on the east coast, there’s probably good reason for that.

Simons is a guard for the Portland Trailblazers, who are obviously on the west coast. He’s starting to show his potential for Portland, and his four-year contract extension he signed back in July proves the team has faith in him. From Nov. 21 through Dec. 3 — which was when Damian Lillard sat out due to injury — Simons averaged 29.4 points and 5.4 assists per game.

On Saturday in Utah, Simons dropped 45 points and cashed in on seven triples! This guy is only 23 years old, by the way. He went right from high school to the NBA in 2018 via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

With the Blazers flirting with a .500 record, Simons’ contributions cannot be underestimated. Head coach Chauncey Billups would be smart to keep drawing plays for the young guard.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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