by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Bulls 95 (35-28), Heat 88 (43-17) OT
The Bulls have found a way to have the Heat’s number of late, winning seven of the last eight matchups. One thing is for certain: Chicago has quickly fallen head over heels for Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks). It’s a perfect pairing for a city that seems to feed off the big man’s energy and appreciate his hustle. And there is always plenty of hustle from Noah when he has to go up against the Heat—and also when his dad, Yannick Noah, is in attendance. This was a defensive struggle from the very start, as everyone not named Dwyane Wade (25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) had to fight for almost every basket. By halftime, the Heat had a 43-37 lead and Wade had 17 of his 25 points. Going into the 4th quarter, neither team had scored 25 points in any quarter. Jimmy Butler (16 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals) did a fantastic job guarding LeBron James (17 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 8-23 from the field), who continued to struggle with his outside shot…even with no mask or sleeved shirt. While D.J. Augustin (22 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers) was the consistent scoring punch for the entire night, Taj Gibson (7 points, 10 rebounds) brought a lot of energy when his team needed him most. After James slammed one home with 10:16 left in the final quarter to give Miami a 74-62 lead, he even caused some oohs and awws from the crowd. But behind Augustin’s shooting, Gibson’s work down low and Noah’s fight, Chicago quickly got the fans on their feet and turned the deficit into a 75-74 lead with 6:34 left. The two teams went back and forth for the end of regulation, as neither team led by more than two points down the stretch. After Kirk Hinrich (11 points, 4 assists) made a tough lefty layup with 20.1 seconds to go, James had his chance to silence the United Center. But Butler came up with his biggest stop of the night, stripping James as he was about to hoist up a right-handed layup for the win. With Noah, Butler and Augustin continuing to lead the way offensively and the defense holding the Heat to only two points during the extra five minutes of play, the Bulls easily handed the Heat their third straight loss. The multiple scuffles and three technical fouls made it clear that there will be plenty of dissension between these two teams for quite some time. Miami’s overall record still might be exceptional just like the past few seasons, but the usual unpredictability and high-powered motion offense seems to have lost some of its zip. To put it simply, when the Heat go up against a good enough defense with a smart enough coach, they have looked guardable.
Lakers 114 (22-42), Thunder 110 (46-17)
Jodie Meeks (career-high 42 points, 6-11 on 3-pointers, 14-14 on free throws) came alive against the Thunder as Kevin Durant (27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) earned his third triple-double of the season. The difficult-to-figure-out Lakers surprised us all by taking it to the Thunder in the 3rd quarter, outscoring them 36-19. Eariler in the 2nd quarter, OKC actually led 46-28 with 7:40 left until halftime. After closing it to five points before halftime, L.A. then came out firing. Scoring 20 of his 42 points during these 12 minutes, Meeks couldn’t be contained by the Thunder guards, as that group didn’t include Thabo Sefolosha (calf). I don’t think it’s a coincidence this team has struggled to guard the Suns and Lakers—two guard-heavy teams—the past two games. While Perry Jones (7 points, 4 rebounds) is working to become more like Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook (20 points, 8 assists, 8 turnovers) has explosiveness but not the same defensive tenacity as Sefolosha. Jordan Farmar (12 points) knocked in a 3-pointer early in the 4th quarter to give the Lakers their own 18-point lead. This 36-point turnaround has to worry the Thunder a little bit as their offense seemed to stall for a good chunk of the game. During the Lakers’ run, OKC only managed 29 points in just under 23 minutes. Durant, though, obviously wouldn’t go down without a fight, leading a late surge to get his team within reaching distance. After Reggie Jackson (14 points, 9 rebounds) made a floater with a few minutes to go, the deficit had been cut to 105-100. Newcomer Kent Bazemore (11 points, 7 rebounds) scored seven straight points to close this one out. Even though the Lakers were horrid on the glass, being outrebounded 59-36, they made enough shots to earn the unexpected win. Ryan Kelly (12 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal) had one of his best all-around games as Serge Ibaka (21 points, 15 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (20 points, 11 rebounds) each notched a double-double.
Pelicans 111 (26-37), Nuggets 107 (27-35) OT
The Pelicans have gone through some rough stretches this season, but that’s not the case as of now. Currently riding a three-game winning streak, the Pelicans relied on Anthony Davis (32 points, 17 rebounds, 6 blocks) to come through; he did that and more Sunday night. Davis became the first player in franchise history to put up a line of at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocks in a single game. He is also the youngest player to earn this numbers. Even though Davis was the best player on the night, the other Anthony played the role of hero. With Ty Lawson (15 points, 12 assists) leading the way, the Nuggets jumped out to a quick 16-point lead. As bad as the Nuggets can look at times, they can also look really good with a young and active team that can get up and down the court in no time. But as has often been the case, defense was an issue, especially in a 3rd quarter that they were outscored 30-19. Brian Roberts (8 points, 5 assists) knocked down some free throw with 40 seconds left in the game to make the deficit only two. After a stop, New Orleans had the chance to send this one into overtime. Even though it might not have been how they drew it up, Anthony Morrow (14 points, 3 steals) found a way to make a tough jumper over an undersized Lawson. In the extra five minutes of play, defense again became a problem for the Nuggets as they allowed the Pelicans to score as many points (17) in overtime as they did in the entire 1st quarter. This game was sloppy with 51 total turnovers compared to 49 assists. Kenneth Faried (22 points, 14 rebounds) continued to play well Sunday night as Tyreke Evans (20 points, 8-14 from the field) found a way to play efficiently.
Celtics 118 (22-41), Pistons 111 (24-39)
Rajon Rondo (11 points, season-high 18 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers) had the Celtics offense firing on all cylinders Sunday night against a Pistons team that may never figure out what “playing defense” means. (Are the Pistons about to start tanking?) In becoming the first player to dish out 18 assists without a turnover since Steve Nash in 2007, Rondo also passed Bill Russell and moved into fifth place for most assists in Celtics history. Even though Kris Humphries (20 points, 11 rebounds) received a lot of these passes early on, Jeff Green (team-high 27 points) was the main recipient of Rondo’s elite passing. To Green’s credit, he does a great job of moving without the ball. When Rondo plays like this, his teammates feed off his unselfishness—especially backup point guard Phil Pressey (6 assists, 14 minutes). The Celtics finished the game with a season-high 38 assists and season-low 7 turnovers. The Pistons, on the other hand, only managed 17 assists to go along with 16 turnovers. Even though Brandon Jennings (14 points, 7 assists) usually finds a way to hand out a respectable amount of assists, it is never in a manner that makes everyone else want to pass the ball. The Pistons did outrebound the Celtics 54-39. The Pistons final lead of the game was 22-20 late in the 1st quarter. After the Celtics built up a 17-point lead midway through the 3rd quarter, Josh Smith (28 points, 11 rebounds), Will Bynum (18 points, 21 minutes) and Andre Drummond (18 points, 22 rebounds) helped the Pistons make the deficit manageable. However, Detroit was never able to take back the lead the rest of the way as Jerryd Bayless (15 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) and Humphries made their free throws in the closing minutes. Boston is now 8-0 this season when scoring at least 106 points.
Nets 104 (31-30), Kings 89 (22-41)
In the only clear blowout of the night, the Nets led wire-to-wire and took care of business against one of the bottom feeders of the West. They might have grabbed a season-low one offensive rebound on the night, but they didn’t really need to grab many when shooting 41-77 (53.2 percent) from the field and 12-25 (48 percent) on 3-pointers. And they did so without Paul Pierce, who left the game early on after being elbowed in the shoulder by Jason Thompson (4 points, 4 rebounds). Andrei Kirilenko (5 points, 3 assists) also left the game after spraining his ankle in the 3rd quarter. Jason Kidd has listed both of them as day-to-day. With both of these sources of offense out, Marcus Thornton (27 points, 5-8 on 3-pointers) took the chance to show up his former team. The sixth man scored 11 of his team’s first 14 points to start the final quarter, giving his team a 87-69 lead with 9:58 to go. DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 20 rebounds) stuffed the stat sheet, having a double-double by halftime. However, Cousins, Isaiah Thomas (10 points, 4 assists) and Reggie Evans (3 points, 9 rebounds) played some sloppy basketball, combining to turn the ball over 18 times. The Nets used a balanced attack to take advantage of all the Kings’ turnovers. Joe Johnson (18 points, 5 assists) played a key role in the post during stretches of the 3rd quarter as his team closed out the quarter on a 20-8 run. Brooklyn is now 2.5 games back of fifth place in the East.
Rockets 118 (44-19), Blazers 113 (42-21) OT
James Harden (41 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 steals) has been on an absolute tear of late as he put himself in good company while taking down the Blazers. Harden is the first player since Michael Jordan to register 41 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals. On top of all this, Harden was at his best during the 4th quarter and overtime in which he exploded for 20 of his 41 points. He helped the Rockets rally from a 13-points 4th quarter deficit as LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points, 12 rebounds) remained a force on the offensive end. Jeremy Lin (26 points, +21) also came up big for the Rockets, scoring 15 of his 26 points in the final quarter and overtime. Being down 100-97 with 2:10 left in the game, Lin hit a tough layup followed by a 3-pointer to give the Rockets a 102-101 lead. After Wesley Matthews (26 points) split a pair of free throws, the Blazers led 106-103, giving Houston a chance to tie this one up. That’s exactly what Harden did by knocking down a corner 3-pointer with a man right in his face. After back-and-forth play for the first 3 minutes overtime, the Rockets clamped down defensively and held the Blazers scoreless over the final 1:56. Centers Dwight Howard (17 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Robin Lopez (11 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks) each contributed a double-double. These two teams combined to attempt 78 free throws. During the Rockets’ current five-game winning streak, Harden is averaging 28.2 ppg, 7.8 apg and 2.6 spg. The Blazers have now lost 10 of their last 11 matchups against teams that entered the game with a winning record.
Mavericks 105 (38-26), Pacers 94 (46-17)
The Pacers have lost four games in a row for the first time since the 2011-12 season. The only thing keeping them from going into panic mode is the Heat’s similar struggles. Paul George (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Indiana had another slow start, allowing the Mavs to put up 30 points after the first 12 minutes of play. For Dallas, things were obviously clicking early on. Samuel Dalembert (8 points, 8 rebounds) was contributing down low, Monta Ellis (20 points, 8 rebounds) wasn’t settling for jump shots, Devin Harris (20 points, 5 assists) and DeJuan Blair (5 points) were forces off the bench, and Dirk Nowitki (14 points, 8 rebounds) had his midrange game going. Rarely do all of these things happen for the majority of the Mavs games, but when they do, this offense becomes lethal. After the Mavs built up their lead to 46-31, the Pacers finally woke up and finished the 1st half on a 14-2 run. With George scoring the first 9 points of the 2nd half, the Pacers continued their run, starting the 3rd quarter on a 10-2 run and holding a 55-50 lead. The Mavs, though, would respond with their own 17-3 run as Ellis and Nowitzki played a two-man game. They wouldn’t have too much trouble the rest of the way, eventually earning a double-digit victory. Dallas ended the game turning 20 Pacers turnovers into 26 points. The Mavs also had a commanding 41-4 advantage in bench points.
Raptors 111 (35-26), Timberwolves 104 (31-31)
With each successive win, it is more and more surprising that Kyle Lowry (20 points, 11 assists, 12 rebounds) didn’t make the All-Star Game (and Joe Johnson did). Lowry earned his fourth career triple-double and the hot Raptors took down the hot Timberwolves. Both teams came into the game winning seven of their last nine games. Kevin Love (26 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) almost matched Lowry’s triple-double but couldn’t dish out one more assists. Love set the franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a season with his 153rd make. The problem, though, was the Wolves defense down the stretch as Toronto scored 58 points in the 2nd half. And earlier in the game, after taking hold of a 33-28 lead, Minnesota let the Raptors run all over them and go on an 18-0 run over the course of four minutes. They did find a way to respond with a 17-2 run right before halftime. But by the end of the game, the Timberwolves allowed Steve Novak (15 points, 5-6 on 3-pointers) to light it up from deep before DeMar DeRozan (25 points, 7 rebounds) and Lowry knocked down their free throws to close this one out. The Raptors gritty defense led the way on the night, holding the Wolves to 43.2 percent shooting. Minnesota’s bench continued to be one of the worst in the League, managing just 16 points on 4-16 shooting from the field. Lowry also earned a conference-leading 10th game with at least 10 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Even with the Bulls’ success in 2014, the Raptors have found a way to retain the three seed.
Warriors 113 (40-24), Suns 107 (36-26)
The Suns have now been bumped out of the playoffs by the Grizzlies—for the time being. The Warriors, Mavs, Grizzlies and Suns are all playing great basketball right now, and it is disappointing all these teams won’t be able to squeeze into the postseason. Sunday night, though, was about Stephen Curry (18 points, 9 assists) and the streaking Warriors, who have now won four games in a row. Golden State also joins the San Antonio and OKC as the only teams in the League with at least 20 wins at home and 20 wins on the road. David Lee (26 points, 9 rebounds) had another big game and helped lead the way during a big 3rd quarter in which the Warriors went on a commanding 30-9 run. Behind 6-6 shooting from the free throw line to start the 4th quarter, the Suns used a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 10 points but the Warriors wouldn’t let them get much closer until the closing minutes. After Gerald Green (25 points, 6 rebounds) made a layup with 38.1 seconds left, the Suns only trailed 111-107. But then Green followed up that big shot by stepping out of bounds and turning the ball over for the third time. Andre Iguodala (7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) would make two free throws to close this one out. Goran Dragic (24 points, 6 assists) had good statistics but didn’t seem to have a dominant performance. Eight of 10 Warriors players that checked in scored at least 7 points in the game. Coach Jeff Hornacek said before the game that he plans for Eric Bledsoe to return Wednesday against the Clippers (44-20). The Warriors are now only 2.5 games back of fifth place in the West.