Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

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Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

Spring is here, and you know what that means — the playoffs are on the horizon!

The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are the first two teams to clinch a playoff spot. Of course, the Bucks and Celtics are among the favorites to win it all. We should see more clinching scenarios very soon.

For the third week in a row, there’s another round of updates regarding Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that Morant will be serving an eight-game suspension without pay “for conduct detrimental to the league.”

This comes after Morant flashed a gun on his Instagram Live for a brief moment while at a club. The suspension covers games he’s missed, so he should be back soon.

Finally, Michael Jordan appears to be selling his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets. The group looking to buy it from him would be the minority owners of the Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks. Jordan has had a stake in the Hornets organization since June of 2006.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

Highlight

Can the Philadelphia 76ers be trusted this year? As a fan of theirs, it’s a question that I ask every spring.

Currently, the 76ers are 48-23. They are third in the East and are on an eight-game winning streak. Following a slow start to the season, they’re narrowly below Boston in the standings.

Philadelphia has a plethora of talent to boast. Joel Embiid, who just turned 29 on Thursday, March 16, is now the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP. He’s averaging a league-best 33.5 points per game, and he’ll also give you 10.2 rebounds, four assists, and nearly two blocks per game. Stopping Embiid is one thing, but stopping James Harden and Tyrese Maxey on top of that is a different challenge.

At 33 years old Harden is still able to produce 22 points and leads the league with 10.8 assists per game while Maxey is just in his third year and dropping 20 points a night. Despite this, there’s just something that doesn’t click when the playoffs arrive.

Embiid has never been to the Conference Finals in his Philadelphia tenure, and we all know Head Coach Doc Rivers has had some questionable playoff failures outside of the 2008 Championship with the Celtics. I hope they can prove me wrong, though. Watching the Eagles lose to the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57 was painful enough.

Lowlight

It seems like just a few weeks ago that the Utah Jazz surprised everyone with their early season competitiveness. And then they fell back to Earth.

The Jazz have seen many changes in the last year or so. Will Hardy is in his first season as a head coach. Franchise cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were traded in the offseason. Veteran Mike Conley was sent to Minnesota at the trade deadline. The list goes on. It’s clear that Utah wants to start fresh and rebuild for the future. How long will it take them to become true playoff threats? That remains to be seen.

You can’t say they’re in complete tanking mode, though. Being two games under .500 and in a position to make the postseason isn’t a bad thing. Lauri Markkanen has gone from a second or third option to giving you 25 points a night. He averaged 18.7 points per game in his second year in 2018, which is his previous career-high average.

Since free agency isn’t one of Utah’s friends, they’ll have to build through the draft and trades. Maybe they’ll keep finding gold like Markkanen.

Random Stat

Even though the Grizzlies are dealing with the Ja Morant situation, they still have been in the news for other wrong reasons.

The Warriors and Grizzlies have beef, but it’s a weird kind of beef. Memphis and the NBA media view this as a rivalry due to Twitter feuds, podcast rants and postgame comments between the players. However, Golden State players don’t really consider it a rivalry.

In the Grizzlies’ home win versus Golden State on Saturday, March 18, Klay Thompson of the Warriors held up four fingers to the Memphis players to represent the four championships Thompson has won with the Warriors, including the one from 2022. Golden State defeated Memphis in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals en route to that most recent ring.

It’s kind of hilarious and pathetic regarding this tension. Dillon Brooks of Memphis is the one who’s been perpetuating this beef, but why do the media keep giving him a platform to trash talk? Brooks isn’t on a superstar level like Steph Curry and Thompson, or even his teammate Morant. Brooks is not a bum, but he’s not a superstar.

“I don’t care about Dillon Brooks,” Thompson said on Saturday. “When he retires, I don’t think anyone will ever talk about [him] ever again. I promise you. It’s sweet right now, but wait 10 years.”

Ouch.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.

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