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NBA Star Power Index: Where LeBron-Wade ranks among all-time duos; Steph Curry’s range doesn’t extend to the moon

Welcome back to the NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every Wednesday through the end of the regular season. 

All eyes were on the Staples Center Monday night, when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade squared off for, in all likelihood, the last time with Wade set to retire at the end of the season. LeBron, with 29 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds on 4-of-7 shooting from three, was brilliant for the Lakers, who are streaking through a soft stretch of schedule and are up to 17-10 for the year. That’s good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West, and just percentage points behind the third-place Nuggets as of Wednesday morning. 

Wade was also good in the showdown with 15 points, 10 rebound and five assists. He’s no longer in the same place, physically, as LeBron, but he’s clearly not washed up. He could still play and help a lot of teams beyond this season. Good for him. He’s retiring on his terms. 

When we remember LeBron and D-Wade years down the road, we will undoubtedly be calling them one of the best duos in history. For my money, I would put them at No. 5: Jordan-Pippen, Shaq-Kobe, Magic-Kareem, Curry-Durant and LeBron-Wade. Obviously reasonable minds can disagree on those rankings. But beyond splitting hairs between the best duos to ever play, the subplots to the LeBron-Wade pairing will live on as well. Two, in particular. 

First, they will go down as the guys who really, truly started the super-team movement. Yes, Chris Bosh was part of it, too, and I know Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce in Boston came before LeBron took his talents to South Beach. But the Celtics traded for Garnett and Allen. LeBron making The Decision to join Wade, with Bosh to follow, as a free agent changed the game. Stars used to want to beat each other. This was the start of them wanting to join each other. 

But LeBron and Wade’s relationship went even deeper than basketball. They were, and are, life-long friends. This will be another part of their joint legacy. Old-school ballers from the Jordan-Isiah Thomas school of hate your opponent have had a hard time watching these new-age stars get chummy with one another, train with one another, travel together and build real relationships off the court.

But LeBron and Wade have proved that being friends doesn’t interfere with competition. That’s why the way Monday night’s game ended was so fitting, with Wade having the ball and the Heat down three, and LeBron buckling down defensively and refusing to give his friend a good shot. 

Great friends, yes. But also great competitors, and obviously great players. They are proof you can be all three. 

Here’s how Curry fared in his last four games: 38 points, 20 points, 42 points, 30 points. He’s averaging 30.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds. The only other player in the league surpassing each of those statistical bars is James Harden. Difference is, Curry is doing it far more efficiently. Indeed, Curry is still tracking toward a 50-50-90 season — which, given the volume and difficulty of the shots he takes, would be nearly as impossible to believe as … man landing on the moon?

Yep, Curry said it. He questions whether this whole moon-landing thing has been made up all along. So you can add potential conspiracy theorist to one of the most impressive resumes in NBA history. Curry was on a podcast with Kent Bazemore, Vince Carter and Andre Iguodala (listen here, it’s an entertaining one), and when the subject came up, and the other three fellas all expressed their own doubts as to the validity of the landing, Curry agreed. “They’re gonna come get us,” Curry laughed. “I don’t think so either.”

Of course, NASA immediately chimed in.

“We’d love for Mr. Curry to tour the lunar lab at our Johnson Space Center in Houston, perhaps the next time the Warriors are in town to play the Rockets,” Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesman, told The New York Times. “We have hundreds of pounds of moon rocks stored there, and the Apollo mission control. During his visit, he can see firsthand what we did 50 years ago, as well as what we’re doing now to go back to the moon in the coming years, but this time to stay.”

Houston Rockets GM Dary Morey also had a little fun with Curry:

Seriously, does Curry know how to play things or what? As everyone else is saving their pennies for when moon visits become a reality, Curry is out here working on getting one for free. Dude just keeps winning. Side note: How long until Warriors’ play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald says, “Curry from the moon!” on one of Steph’s bombs? It’s coming. And it’ll be as bad as it is glorious. 

Butler’s name has made some waves recently for a couple reasons. First, Joel Embiid voiced some frustration over his role changing since the Butler trade. Embiid has played more on the perimeter since the trade because Ben Simmons has moved more off the ball, and 76ers coach Brett Brown doesn’t want two players clogging up the lane. If one of Simmons or Embiid has to move out to the perimeter, more times than not it’s going to be Embiid, because Simmons is absolutely no threat beyond 10 feet and the Sixers’ spacing would go to hell by positioning him out there without the ball. 

Prior to Butler coming aboard, Embiid was averaging 28 points on 48 percent shooting. Post-trade, he’s averaging 23 points on 42-percent shooting. So his production is down, and he’s frustrated. It’s worth noting that Embiid is still getting the exact same amount of shots in the paint — 10.8 per game — as he was before Butler came aboard to Philly, which faces the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET — watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension).

The other reason Butler’s name has been buzzing is the further details he provided on JJ Redick’s podcast regarding his infamous practice takeover in Minnesota. We all know the main details by now, that Butler teamed up with the backups and proceeded to wipe the floor in a scrimmage against the starters while trash-talking everyone in sight. But what we found out on Redick’s podcast was that Butler didn’t even need to shoot to dominate Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Co., which drives his point home even deeper. 

Scoring on guys over and over is one thing, but to just steal the soul of professional basketball players by just basically choking them out, that’s a whole different level of domination. That’s intentional embarrassment. I don’t even need to shoot to punk you fools. This sums Jimmy Butler up perfectly. Dude is a junk yard dog. Brett Brown was right: Butler embodies the spirit of Philadelphia. Just straight up mean when it comes to competition, and you love him, and the city, for it. 

Luka is so good, man. In the absolutely star-loaded Western Conference, he has a legit claim as an All-Star. He’s 19 years old. At that age, to dominate a game without scoring is special, special stuff. In a win over Orlando, his shot was off but he had nine assists and 11 rebounds. The offense already runs through him, and he gives you that special feeling when he has the ball: Something good is about to happen. 

On Saturday, the Mavericks were trailing the Rockets 102-94 with three minutes to play. Then Luka decided to go on a personal 11-0 run to bring Dallas all the way back for the 107-104 win. 

That step-back three Doncic is hitting with regularity is already one of the NBA’s signature shots. It is unstoppable. Doncic appears to be something close to the same. 

Like everyone else, when I think about the MVP conversation at this point in the season, my mind goes right to three names: Giannis AntetokounmpoLeBron James and Stephen Curry. After that, I think about Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid. If I really stretch it, I can see Nikola Jokic in there, as well. If I was going to include a Thunder player, I would go to Russell Westbrook. But Monday night, I was watching Paul George systematically dismantle the Jazz for 31 points on 8-of-10 shooting (including 5 of 6 from three) while texting with a league source. The question was posed to me: Why aren’t we talking about George as an MVP candidate? 

I thought about it, and it’s true. George should be in the MVP discussion at this point. He’s the perimeter anchor on the best defense in the league, and entering Monday, he was the only player in the NBA averaging at least 24 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. Since starting the season 0-4, the Thunder have gone 17-4 and are sitting on top of the Western Conference standings, percentage points ahead of the Warriors.

The Thunder look, and feel, like an entirely different team than the one that squeaked into the playoffs last season before getting bounced in the first round by Utah. Carmelo Anthony is gone, and that, to be honest, might be the biggest factor of all. He just killed them defensively and was an unnecessary offensive interruption. Sliding Jerami Grant into Melo’s spot in the starting lineup has been a monster upgrade on both ends. Newcomer Dennis Schroder has also been huge. Westbrook has been his usual self. Steven Adams should be an All-Star and a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate, even if he likely won’t receive either honor.

But all things considered, George has been the best player on one of the best teams in the league. Isn’t that the definition of an MVP?

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