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NBA Star Power Index: Jayson Tatum lights up Lakers; Zion Williamson ticks off touchy Suns

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. 

Tatum hit a mini rough patch heading into Tuesday night, shooting a combined 13 for 41 over his previous two games, including 4 for 17 from 3. He got right real quick against the Lakers with 44 points. He made five of his 10 3s and nine of 10 from the free-throw line. The Celtics blew a 20-point second-half lead and had to eke their way into overtime, which they were able to do thanks in large part to Tatum’s 12 fourth-quarter points that included an impossibly nasty, game-tying fadeaway over LeBron James with 17 seconds to play in regulation. 

Now the league’s leading scorer, Embiid went for 31 on 10-of-16 shooting in a win over Sacramento on Tuesday.  

This after putting 53 and 12 on Charlotte on Sunday. With a 59-spot against Utah in mid-November, Embiid joins Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson as the only players in Sixers history to post two 50-point games in the same season.

Over five games so far in December, Embiid is averaging over 39 points per game on better than 60-percent shooting. He is 52 for his last 58 from free-throw line, and seven for his last 13 from 3.  He has scored at least 30 points in five straight — and 13 of his last 19 — games. 

Lillard was well on pace to break Klay Thompson’s single-game 3-point record (14) on Monday. At the 5:45 mark of the third quarter, Lillard hit his 11th triple, but he was shut out from deep the rest of the quarter and he sat the whole fourth quarter as the uncooperatively bad Timberwolves couldn’t stay close enough. 

Lillard’s last three games: 40 points, 36 points and 38 points with 23 made 3s. 

Zion scored 26 points at Utah on Tuesday. The Pelicans lost, ending their six-game winning streak. But I have to note this play below. Zion is so deadly when he sees the slightest opening in the lane. It’s not about whether he has a step on the guy who’s guarding him; he’s only looking at the potential help, because nobody can bother him one-on-one even if they manage to stay in front, as Walker Kessler found out the hard way. 

Prior to Tuesday, Zion had scored 35 in each of his previous two games, including against the Suns, who were less than pleased with Williamson for finishing the game with a 360-windmill dunk as the final seconds ticked off. 

Professional athletes getting mad about this stuff will never not be laughable. This isn’t Little League. Nobody cares about your delicate sensibilities. If you don’t want a guy to score, play defense. You’re a grown up. Understand that you are getting paid tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to entertain people, and Zion did his job throughout the game, including in the final few seconds. The same goes for whiny baseball players who don’t like bat flipping or bunting during no-hitters or stealing bases when you have a big lead. You don’t like a guy swiping second on you, throw him out. Or don’t let him get on base in the first place. 

End rant

SGA was typically terrific on Monday in OKC’s loss to the Mavericks, going toe to toe with Luka Doncic for 42 points on 14-of-23 shooting. He hit all 13 of his free throws, and is 66 for 68 from the stripe for the month of December. 

SGA and Doncic are different players. Doncic launches more from deep and plays with more power in the paint, while SGA is a slithering finisher and midrange maestro. But the measured pace at which they operate — never sped up, methodically precise in winning angles, always on balance, sublime footwork, deadly deceleration — can make them look like mirror images. 

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