Jabari Parker has developed into one of the NBA's best power forwards to help the Milwaukee Bucks ...

Duke in the NBA: Irving slumps, Hood dodges injury scare

Several former Blue Devils like Jabari Parker are leading up-and-coming teams back into the playoff hunt as the NBA season is past its halfway point.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving and his Cavalier teammates made their much-anticipated return to Oracle Arena on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in their second and final regular-season rematch of last year’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, only to get blown out by 35 points. Little went right for the Cavaliers, who were playing their sixth game in a 12-day road trip and had a few key players out or limited, including Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. Irving was not immune to the team’s struggles, managing just 17 points, two rebounds and two assists, falling short of his season averages this season in each of those categories.

With the loss to the Warriors, Irving continued to struggle with a recent shooting slump—in three of his last four games, his field goal percentage has been worse than 32 percent, a far cry from his season average of 46.1 percent. Nevertheless, with a home matchup against a weak Suns team up next for the Cavaliers, Irving should have the chance to work through his scoring slump more before hosting the Spurs Saturday in Cleveland.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

Although it is teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo who is capturing much of the national spotlight on the Bucks these days, Parker has firmly established himself this season as one of the premier power forwards in the NBA, fulfilling the promise he has shown since his rookie season. Through Wednesday’s games, the former one-and-done Duke forward was in the top 10 among power forwards for points, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and assists, and has helped the Bucks become a playoff contender after they finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last year.

This week, Parker and the Bucks hit a bit of a skid, falling to the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets, but have held on to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Parker bounced back from a disappointing showing in Atlanta in which he had just eight points to post 23 in the Bucks’ loss to the 76ers.

Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

Hood was riding a hot streak entering the Jazz’s game in Orlando last week after clutch performances in wins against the Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic. However, late in the fourth quarter against the Magic, he went down with a knee injury after pushing the ball up the court for a transition layup. Although Hood initially appeared to be seriously injured, MRI results revealed the injury was just a bone bruise on his right knee that will cause him to miss one to two weeks. Hood was averaging 14.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for the Jazz, who are currently sitting at fifth in the Western Conference standings.

J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers

With star teammate Chris Paul out 6-8 weeks after tearing a ligament in his thumb, Redick and the rest of the Clippers will have to step up to keep pace with the Spurs, Warriors and Rockets in the tight playoff race in the Western Conference. Since snapping a six-game losing streak, the Clippers have won seven in a row, a stretch in which the veteran guard is averaging 19.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for Los Angeles. Although his 3-point percentage is down from a season ago, Redick is still tied for fifth in the league in that category and leads all shooting guards with a 43.5 percent clip.

Mason Plumlee, Portland Trail Blazers

Plumlee has struggled with a shooting slump in the last week for the Trail Blazers, failing to reach double figures in scoring in his last four games, a stretch in which he has shot just 34.6 percent from the field. But despite this recent slump, Plumlee has established himself in his second year in Portland as the starting center and ranks in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage. His scoring has increased gradually in each of his four years in the NBA, and he has shown remarkable improvement in two years in Portland and is helping the Trail Blazers contend for the last playoff berth in the West.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

In what has been a disappointing season thus far for the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, Ingram has still shown flashes of the player the Lakers hope he will become. In his last ten games, he is averaging 11.1 points per contest, up from his season average of 8.2. As Lakers head coach Luke Walton continues to bring him along slowly, Ingram seems to be making improvements in several areas and has seen his field-goal percentage go up recently, though his scoring largely remains inconsistent. The comparisons to Kevin Durant—another lanky, multi-talented small forward—that surrounded him leading up to the draft may have been hasty, but there is still time for Ingram to continue to develop this season.

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