The NBA is getting closer to All-Star break. Fan votes are pouring in. The midseason intermission is fast approaching, and so is the Feb. 6 trade deadline. We're nearly halfway through the campaign and while there are some questions that have been answered by teams and players around the league, fans and onlookers are still waiting patiently to see how the second half of the season is going to take shape.
With that said, let's take a look at who -- or what -- experienced a winning week and a losing week as we strap in for another fun-filled seven days of NBA action.
Winner: Lonzo Ball
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft is finding his groove.
Lonzo Ball strung together three straight games of scoring 20-plus points for the first time in his career last week, helping the New Orleans Pelicans to wins over Houston and Sacramento.
While Ball and the Pelicans couldn't secure a victory against the Lakers and New Orleans' former franchise player Anthony Davis, the point guard managed to score 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field in the 123-113 road loss.
What's been most impressive for Ball over his recent hot stretch is his newfound shooting stroke. A career 32.6 percent shooter from 3-point range, Ball connected on 41.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc during this three-game stretch.
A known floor general and positive defender, Ball's ability to open up his team's half-court offense by extending his range can not only greatly impact his team's success but it also brings a new wave of personal development to his game as well. The Pelicans already rank seventh in the NBA in 3-point percentage. If Ball can keep up his streak from deep, it adds another layer to the team's offensive scheme and another reliable shot maker when the likes of JJ Redick, E'Twaun Moore and Brandon Ingram are all accounted for by the opposing defense.
The change of scenery has clearly started to benefit Ball after what could be considered a rocky start to his career in Los Angeles. With his improved shooting over the course of the last week, and last month as well (37.1 percent from 3 on 5.9 attempts per game in December), Ball can make New Orleans' trade haul for Davis look even more impressive.
Loser: Cleveland Cavaliers/Kevin Love
It's no secret that Kevin Love's time in Cleveland is coming to an end. Multiple outlets reported earlier this season that the Cavaliers were ready to start listening to trade offers for the forward, and that Love himself was ready to move on from the rebuilding team.
Even with a trade seemingly on the horizon, Love let his frustration with the team's losing waysthis last week with a play that's best left describing itself.
Love, in a clear verbal dispute with Cavs head coach John Beilein during a play, walks up to call for the ball from Collin Sexton only to fire a laser pass at Cedi Osman's feet as the shot clock was winding down. It was not only an ugly look for the overall team chemistry, but also for Love's current feeling toward his situation in Cleveland.
At this point, given Love's total lack of effort and obvious frustration, putting him on the court isn't a positive step forward for a franchise that is trying to reshape itself and grow its young players. It might be best to send the veteran home while the team looks for a suitable trade partner as the deadline approaches.
While Love represents one of the last pillars of the Cavaliers' 2016 NBA championship team, it's clear he's run his course in Cleveland. The biggest issue behind moving on from the 31-year-old stretch four is his four-year, $120 million contract extension that went into effect in 2019-20. With a $28.9 million salary this season, Cleveland might find it difficult to match with a team willing to take on such a financial burden for a player whose best basketball might be behind him.
Now, that's not to say Love doesn't have anything left to contribute to a contending team, and it's clear a change of scenery will benefit him. But on the wrong side of 30, making and average of $30 million per season for the foreseeable future, a deal returning a haul of picks or useful players likely won't be in the cards for Cleveland.
Regardless, it's clear that a move needs to be made. After the actions displayed by Love this week on the court, and the report that he had a verbal altercation with GM Koby Altman, the Cavaliers need to find a suitor for their player as quickly as possible and fully enter their rebuild transition to start a new culture with a less volatile locker room.
Winner: Utah Jazz
Don't look now, but the Utah Jazz are climbing up the standings.
After starting the season 12-10, the Jazz have gone on an 11-2 run -- including five straight wins -- to propel themselves into the 5-seed in the Western Conference.
By taking care of business last week against three lesser teams -- Pistons, Bulls, and Magic -- the Jazz put themselves in a position to continue finding a groove that makes them a legitimate contender out West despite the absence of injured Mike Conley.
The league's best 3-point-shooting team added another scorer in Jordan Clarkson to go along with 20-point scorers Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, not to mention sharpshooter Joe Ingles, and it appears to be paying immediate dividends.
As the team's leading scorer, Mitchell poured in 24 points per game over the last week. While that sits about a point below his season's average, the team's improved spacing and scoring threat has allowed the third-year guard to hit a groove from beyond the arc, connecting on 43.8 percent of his shots from deep.
Playing alongside another 20-point scorer in Bogdanovic for the first time in his career, Mitchell finally isn't expected to carry the scoring load 100 percent of the time. Conversely, that's helped big man Rudy Gobert just as much, as he now doesn't have to worry about consistent contributions on the offensive end and can focus more intently on his Defensive Player of the Year-caliber play.
In a crowded top half of the Western Conference, the Jazz have their work cut out for them should they want to take down the likes of the teams in Los Angeles. But their consistency as of late and improved efficiency from their top scorers is a trend in the right direction.
Loser: All-Star fan voting
The initial results from the All-Star voting process were released last week, and with it came in an indictment on the current format for players getting All-Star nods.
Fan voting accounts for 50 percent of the vote in determining the 10 starters for the midseason exhibition game, andhad snub and popularity contest written all over it.
In the West, Steph Curry appeared fourth on the ballot for guards -- ahead of Russell Westbrook, D'Angelo Russell and Donovan Mitchell -- despite playing just four games this season. For guards in the East, Kyrie Irving came in second on the early returns. Brooklyn's star point guard hasn't played since Nov. 14.
For frontcourt players, the East experienced one of the Tacko Fall appeared sixth on the ballot, directly in front of Heat breakout big man Bam Adebayo. While Fall is certainly a popular player with fans because of his ridiculous size, he's played just 11 minutes total in the NBA this season.when
And while Carmelo Anthony should certainly be considered with a legacy vote in the West, especially after his return to the league, having him come in ahead of Brandon Ingram in the initial vote after just 20 games of so-so play seems like a massive oversight.
The counter argument to the flawed voting process is that this game represents an exhibition for the fans. So, of course, it should include players that the fans want to see. But when that starts to directly interfere with snubbing players that are enjoying breakout seasons worth acknowledging in favor of players who just happen to have a cult following, it becomes a larger issue.
An All-Star nod is a significant note of accomplishment for players. Getting to partake in All-Star Weekend is a notable and special experience, especially for first-timers. There's an aura about it, almost like you've been allowed into this exclusive fraternity. It's a nod to the player that their elevated play has been noticed this season.
Taking that away from someone deserving, or at least putting them in an early hole because of how much fan voting weighs on the entire process, is grossly unfair.
Of course, there is still time for the voting lists to round into proper shape, but the early returns aren't positive and because of that the process in itself and the All-Star Game as a whole lost big this week.
Winner: LaMarcus Aldridge
The midrange magician is turning into a deep ball sharpshooter.
That's right, LaMarcus Aldridge is firing -- and connecting -- from 3-point land at clips we've never seen before from the 14-year veteran.
Consider this: Last season, Aldridge made just 10 of his 42 attempts from downtown. This past week alone Aldridge was 9 of 14 from deep. And it was his second straight week of nine made 3-pointers!
In 32 games played this season, Aldridge is 32 of 71 (45.1 percent) from beyond the arc. His career high for most made 3-pointers in a season came back in 2014-15 when he hit 37 in a 71-game All-Star campaign for the Portland Trail Blazers. Since then, his highest mark is the 27 made 3s he connected on two seasons ago in 75 games.
Simply put, Aldridge doesn't take 3-pointers, let alone make them.
Last season, the big man led the entire NBA in 2-point attempts with 1,277. He's built an impressive career off living in the midrange and the restricted area. It's his bread and butter.
The San Antonio Spurs' scheme isn't to launch 3-pointers in the first place; they currently rank dead-last in the league in attempts, and 29th in makes. Losing the likes of Davis Bertans, who is enjoying a career season from beyond the arc in Washington, certainly hurt the Spurs' ability to let it fly from deep.
But with Aldridge having the green light to shoot from deep, the 14-20 Spurs are a half-game up on the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. While they might not be considered a threat to win the NBA championship, you can bet Gregg Popovich wants to keep his 22-season playoff streak alive.
If Aldridge becoming a consistent threat from beyond the arc is the best way to do that, you can bank on the 6-foot-11 big guy to keep chucking. And at the rate he's going this season, and this past week in particular, that seems like a recipe for success.