Thompson leads Cavaliers, Durant puts Warriors back on track

Abhishek Mukund

About one quarter of the NBA season is completed, and many teams are dealing with new identities. All-Star Jimmy Butler has hit two game-winners to carry the Philadelphia 76ers into the East’s top three while the Boston Celtics continue to lose against mediocre teams. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets are struggling without Chris Paul, and the Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the West despite lacking LeBron James or any All-NBA talent. Let’s take a look at how some former Longhorns are making a positive impact on their teams:

Tristan Thompson

Maybe former Longhorn Tristan Thompson was onto something when he proclaimed that the road to the NBA Finals still goes through Cleveland. The Cavaliers doubled their win total in the past week with statement wins over the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, while narrowly falling to the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Thompson has played a pivotal role through the last four games, averaging 16 points and nearly 15 rebounds on 54.6 percent shooting from the field. However, the most impressive part of his game has been his offensive rebounds numbers. Thompson is averaging a whopping 7.7 offensive rebounds per game over the last four contests.

The Cavaliers are entering the toughest part of their schedule with games against the Celtics, Thunder, Raptors and Warriors all within the next week. Those teams all have average-to-subpar big men, so expect strong games from Thompson regardless of the outcome. Thompson’s next opportunity comes Wednesday night versus the Thunder.

Kevin Durant

Despite the noise about the bickering between All-Stars Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, the Warriors still lead the West with 15 wins.

Stephen Curry and Green have missed the last couple of games due to injuries, so the Warriors All-Star production has been reduced to just Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

The Warriors are riding a three-game winning streak, with a dominant win against the Portland Trail Blazers and close wins against the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic. Durant played a crucial role in those games, averaging an incredible 41 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a shade over two blocks per game while shooting 52.5 percent.

Durant hasn’t shot the ball great from three during their current win streak, managing to hit only 35 percent from his shots beyond the arc. Instead, Durant is driving to the basket, getting to the free throw line, pulling up from midrange and assisting his teammates whenever the defense overcommits to him.

Although the Warriors play at Toronto on Wednesday night, they have two easier games against the Hawks and Cavaliers within the week. Even though they’re missing two All-Stars, the Warriors should hold a top spot in the West for the foreseeable future if Durant sustains his current MVP level of play.