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NBA Star Power Index: Trae Young issues another MSG masterpiece; LeBron James keeps the Lakers on his back

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Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season. 

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Young has scored at least 45 points in three of his last five games. His latest masterpiece was a 45-point outing at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, which all but ended the Knicks’ already-slim play-in hopes. Young is such a proper New York villain. This was his first game back in the Garden since he tormented the Knicks in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and he picked up right where he left off. 

Young has now scored at least 45 points four times this season, which is tied with Stephen Curry for the most in the league. This is also the 25th time Young has gone for at least 40 points in his career. Per the NBA, only five other players in history have every had that many 40-point games before the age of 24: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. 

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Not bad company. 

LeBron put up a 38-12-10 triple double in the Lakers’ win over Cleveland on Monday. He’s gone for at least 36 in his last three games and is averaging 37 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.3 assists on 57-percent shooting. He’s taken 26, 29 and 29 shots in those games. He is carrying a load, and it has him leading the league in scoring at 30 points per game on the dot. 

Unfortunately, it’s not resulting in much for the Lakers, who have lost seven of their last 11 and are all but resigned to the second play-in game. Everyone, in the back of their mind, is waiting on the slim hope of Anthony Davis returning and the Lakers going on some kind of postseason run given the way James is playing. This includes me, against all logic, but I’m certainly not holding my breath. 

Zion went viral on Tuesday night and questions abound. The circulating clip, which can be seen below, showed Williamson throwing down a vicious off-the-backboard, between-the-legs dunk that would not appear to be the theatrics of an injured man. 

Zion was supposed to be recovered from his fractured foot in time for the start of the season, which obviously didn’t happen, and the Pelicans haven’t exactly been consistent or clear with their updates on his status since then. We know that Zion suffered a setback in his rehab in December (at least that’s when the Pelicans announced it) — when an MRI revealed “regression in the bone healing of his fifth metatarsal.”

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It’s pretty safe to say that Zion isn’t going to play this season, and speculation has built that it’s not just the injury keeping him out. Does Zion actually want to play for the Pelicans? He’s eligible for a max rookie extension this summer, but the guy has only played 85 games in his three-year career. HIs rookie season and now this season are basically a wash. We have one 61-game sample of Williamson, in all reality, and it was a splendid sample. He’s one of the best players in the league when healthy. 

But is he healthy? That dunk looks like he’s pretty close. Can he stay healthy? That’s a different question. The Pelicans and Zion have a lot to figure out this summer, and of course, even if New Orleans offers the extension and Zion signs it, Ben Simmons has changed the equation. He signed a max rookie extension too, and then he demanded a trade before it even kicked in. And he got what he wanted. He’s on the Nets now. 

Zion is going to get his max extension. You can bet on that. 

But nobody knows who’s going to end up paying the bulk of it. 

Tatum has scored 30 or more in his last three games and the Celtics have won 11 of 13 since the All-Star break. Tatum’s shooting numbers still don’t look great when factoring in his rough first few months, but since Feb. 1 he’s averaging over 29 points on better than 48-percent shooting including 39 percent from 3. 

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Over that span, the Celtics are outscoring opponents by an average of 14.5 points per game during Tatum’s minutes. Not one of the top 50 scorers since Feb. 1 comes close to that plus-minus impact. 

With nine games to play, SportsLine projections have Boston, the current No. 4 seed, jumping both Philadelphia and Milwaukee and landing in the No. 2 seed. This is interesting, because the No. 2 seed might well mean a first-round matchup with the Nets, who may be at full strength. 

That’s not looking likely with the New York vaccine mandate barring Kyrie Irving from playing home game looking pretty firm for the time being and who knows if if when Ben Simmons will play, but does Boston really want to chance that or will it be playing for the No. 3 or 4 seed? There will be some matchup manipulating over these last few weeks, you can be sure. 


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