by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Heat 102 (53-23), Knicks 91 (33-45)
This was a game of runs, but the Knicks’ consistently inconsistent defense was what allowed it to get out of hand. And the only reason the loss ended up looking respectable was due to J.R. Smith (32 points, 10-22 on 3-pointers) having the green light all day. Smith made a franchise-record 10 3-pointers while hoisting up an NBA-record 22 3-point attempts. Smith also set the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a three-game stretch (24). But by the time the 4th-quarter began, Smith started taking some extremely ill-advised shots and missed his final three shots from deep. LeBron James (38 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 13-22 from the field), on the other hand, let the game come to him and had a phenomenal 2nd half, taking over inside and out. He scored 12 of his 38 points in the 4th quarter when the Knicks seemed to keep getting almost close enough to make it game…but couldn’t get enough stops. They allowed James, Ray Allen (12 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers), Mario Chalmers (15 points, 2-3 on 3-pointers) and Chris Bosh (14 points, 7 rebounds) all to have fairly open looks from deep, and they all consequently knocked down big shots from deep late in the contest. James, though, had a very odd first few minutes of the first quarter, in which he had 4 turnovers and looked nothing like his normal self. With Smith’s hot shooting, the Knicks took advantage of LeBron’s slow start and took hold of a 16-3 lead. Miami quickly responded with a 31-10 run of its own, taking hold of a 34-26 lead midway through the 2nd quarter. New York lost this game in the 3rd quarter when James started to heat up and Carmelo Anthony (13 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4-17 from the field) continued to stay off. The Heat outscored the Knicks 25-14 during these 12 minutes. Even with Smith’s shooting display, he needed help from his superstar teammate, and whether or not it was because of his bruised shoulder, Melo couldn’t provide his normal offensive support. The Knicks bench also wasn’t able to provide much support, being outscored 24-9. Iman Shumpert (9 points, 8 rebounds) had all nine of these bench points. With only four games left in the season, the Knicks are going to need a lot of help from the Hawks (34-42), who have seven games left, if they want to make the playoffs.
Clippers 120 (55-23), Lakers 97 (25-52)
The Lakers held on for dear life up until halftime, right before Chris Paul (23 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) decided to put this one away. With Jordan Hill (22 points, 9 rebounds, 10-14 from the field) having a strong 1st half, the Lakers were able to stay within single digits until right before halftime. Then behind a quick 14-2 spurt, the Clippers took their first double-digit lead, 52-39, with 3:04 to go in the half. But with Nick Young (18 points, 2-11 on 3-pointers) firing away and Hill continuing his play well down low, the Lakers cut the deficit to eight before the half. During a 3rd quarter in which the Clippers outscored the Lakers 37-23, CP3 scored 10 of his 23 points and dished out three assists. Blake Griffin (23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals) and DeAndre Jordan (11 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks) also came alive, combining to score 15 points in the quarter. The Clippers were able to cruise to a victory the rest of the way, bolstering their league-leading ppg (107.8). The Lakers just couldn’t control the Clippers on the boards, as Lob City outrebounded them 52-38. Now only being one game back of the Thunder (55-21) for the two seed, the Clippers have a big game against OKC Wednesday night.
Mavericks 93 (47-31), Kings 91 (27-50)
The Mavs held off a Kings team that was playing without Isaiah Thomas (leg) and should consider themselves lucky for pulling this one out. With neither team leading by double-digits at any point and the game actually turning out to be a dogfight, the Mavs used some big free throws from Dirk Nowitzki (15 points) and Monta Ellis (23 points) to close this one out…if that’s the right phrase. After Ellis converted an and-one with 1:51 remaining, Dallas was up 90-84. With just a few more makes and a few more stops, the game should have been over for good; however, that’s not how the Mavs like to end games. After Dirk and Ellis each missed a 3-pointer in back-to-back possessions, Rudy Gay (32 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) converted an and-one to make it a one-possession game. Ellis then made two free throws followed by Ray McCallum (8 points, 9 assists) making a layup to put the score at 92-89. Playing the foul game, the Kings put Shawn Marion (7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals) on the free throw line…and he then went on two miss both. Gay would make two free throws and then Dirk wold make one of two free throws. On the final possession of the game with his team’s deficit being only two points, DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 10 rebounds) missed a baseline jumper that could have sent the game into overtime. Boogie went on to throw one of his tantrums by tossing his headband onto the floor and making a pouty face. Thanks to efficient shooting from Jose Calderon (14 points, 4-7 on 3-pointers) and Vince Carter (17 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers), who have become fantastic from deep of late, the Mavs converted 13-31 (41.9 percent) from long range. With the win, the Mavs retained the seven seed in the West and will have another easy game (on paper) against the Jazz (24-53) Tuesday night before facing the Spurs (60-17) Thursday night.
Hawks 107 (34-42), Pacers 89 (53-25)
This is getting to the point of being something more than a collapse. The Pacers are turning into an entirely different team, a distant memory of what was once a team that held a 39-10 record. Since then, they have looked like a team running out of gas and energy, going 14-15. Sunday night embodied the Pacers’ struggles all in one sluggish performance. After Cartier Martin (9 points, 5 rebounds) knocked down a 3-pointer to close out the 1st quarter, the Pacers already trailed 33-11 and looked to be in for another loss. The only difference this time around–they were playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The fans provided their players with plenty of boos as the starters had no flow or energy during these initial 12 minutes. Things only got worse in the 2nd quarter, as the Pacers went into halftime with a franchise-low 23 points. They could only score 23 points in 24 minutes against a Hawks team that is giving up 102.0 ppg. They made this game more respectable by having a big 3rd quarter, but this game was pretty much over from the get-go. As easy as it is to put it all on the Pacers, the Hawks do deserve some credit. Wingmen DeMarre Carroll (5 points, 4 rebounds), Mike Scott (7 points) and Martin all played good defense while Jeff Teague (25 points), Paul Millsap (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Pero Antic (18 points, 7-8 from the field) had great games overall. This is a Hawks team that has been injury-ridden all year long and is still missing their All-Star center in Al Horford (pectoral). But when Roy Hibbert (0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 turnover, 0-5 from the field) gets benched the entire 2nd half, Lance Stephenson (3 points, 5 rebounds, 1-6 from the field) looks nothing like the All-Star candidate he was early on and Paul George (18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, 6-17 from the field) lacks the force that embodied his entire play the first 50 games of the season, the Pacers have to feel like the end is near. A playoff upset seems to be the only reasonable ending to their fairytale start.
Rockets 130 (51-25), Nuggets 125 (33-44) OT
When these two teams meet, it seems fans are always in for a treat…that was certainly the case Sunday night. James Harden (32 points, 10 assists, 4 steals) had a phenomenal performance, scoring 15 of his 32 points in the 4th quarter and overtime. He also knocked down the game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation play. Even if Nuggets coach Brian Shaw didn’t want to play the foul game with a three-point lead, allowing Harden to walk into a 3-pointer seems like the one thing you don’t want to happen in that situation. With Chandler Parsons (15 points) knocking down two 3-pointers assisted by Harden in back-to-back possessions, the Rockets led 130-122 with 1:54 to go in overtime and closed this one out. Omer Asik (18 points, career-high 23 rebounds, 3 blocks) easily had his best game of the season, commanding the interior against a smaller Nuggets frontcourt. Aaron Brooks (24 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) and Quincy Miller (career-high 19 points) each had career-performances, taking advantage of the Rockets’ lack of perimeter and interior defense. Evan Fournier (26 points, 6-10 on 3-pointers) also put on a shooting display while Kenneth Faried (16 points, 13 rebounds) finished with a double-double. The Rockets were able to pull this one out against a pretty bad Nuggets team, but if they want to make a legitimate playoff run, they will need Dwight Howard (ankle) and Patrick Beverley (knee) healthy and making a defensive impact.
Spurs 112 (60-17), Grizzlies 92 (45-32)
The Spurs got back to their dominate winning ways after the Thunder snapped their franchise-record 19-game winning streak. With the win, the Spurs have now swept the season series against the Grizzlies, always seeming to play with a little extra edge against them. (Hmm…I wonder why?) Behind a great start by Tony Parker (10 points, 4-4 from the field, 9 minutes), San Antonio jumped out to a quick 22-8 lead late in the 1st quarter. Parker, though, had to leave the game due to back spasms and will get an MRI Monday. Parker missed a game in early February due to back spasms. Even without Parker, the Spurs simply utilized the motto “next man up” and handily won this one. Other than a few minutes midway through the 2nd quarter, the Spurs led by double-digits the rest of the way. Without Parker, Manu Ginobili (26 points, 8-11 from the field) and an extremely efficient Kawhi Leonard (26 points, 12-13 from the field) set the tone for the offense while Cory Joseph (8 points, 5 assists, 20 minutes) played well during his time on the floor. San Antonio finished the game shooting 55.8 percent from the field, 40.9 percent (9-22) on 3-pointers and 94.4 percent (17-18) on free throws. There’s only so much you can do defensively against that type of efficiency. For the Grizzlies, other than Mike Conley (18 points, 6 assists) and James Johnson (team-high 20 points, 5 rebounds), this was a poor performance offensively. Zach Randolph (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (6 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) just couldn’t find their touch as their Grizzlies remain out of the playoff picture with the loss.
Warriors 130 (48-29), Jazz 102 (24-53)
In scoring a season-high 130 points, the Warriors took care of business against the West’s worst team record-wise behind a phenomenal performance by Stephen Curry (31 points, 16 assists, 5-10 on 3-pointers, 29 minutes). Curry became the first player in NBA history to have at least 30 points and 15 assists while playing less than 30 minutes. There are certain players in the League that can get in a zone and literally be unstoppable. Curry is one of those players. He had plenty of help from Splash Brother Klay Thompson (33 points, 7-10 on 3-pointers), who put on a shooting display. This is the first time in their careers these two have both put up 30 points in the same game…and neither one played in the final quarter. Andrew Bogut (6 points, 11 rebounds) looked fairly comfortable in his return after missing the last four games. The Burk bros played well for the Jazz as Trey Burke (24 points, career-high 15 assists) looked in complete control of the offense while Alec Burks (24 points, 14-16 on free throws) lived at the line all night. The Jazz, though, just couldn’t put together any sort of stretch with enough stops, allowing the Warriors to score at least 29 points in every quarter. Golden State now has a three-day break before traveling to the Mile High City to face the Nuggets (33-44).
Suns 122 (46-31), Thunder 115 (55-21)
Those pesky Suns just won’t give up on their cinderella season. Even though Kevin Durant (38 points, 11 rebounds) scored at least 25 points for the 41st consecutive game, passing Michael Jordan’s record, and Russell Westbrook (33 points, 8 assists) had a commanding performance, the Suns used a much more balanced attack to take control of this one late. After Goran Dragic (26 points, 5 assists) knocked down a 3-pointer late in the 1st half, the Suns took hold of their first double-digit lead of the game, 57-47. (The Suns point guard uses some of the most effective ball fakes I’ve ever seen.) Even with all the Thunder’s athleticism, the Suns rapid pace and ball movement seemed to be too much for OKC to handle. When Reggie Jackson (11 points, 7 rebounds), Derek Fisher (5 points) and Caron Butler (5 points, 1-6 from the field) are getting major minutes off the bench, this is when some of that athleticism in the starting lineup is lost. After another 3-pointer early in the 3rd quarter, this time by P.J. Tucker (22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals), the Suns held their largest lead of the game, 73-59. The Thunder, though, wouldn’t go away, using a 12-3 run midway through the quarter to get right back in the game. Durant scored the final five points of the quarter, making the deficit only 94-91. The final quarter consisted of back-and-forth play, as neither team led by more than three points until the final minute of the game. The Thunder offense seemed to lose its rhythm down the stretch, as they only had one field goal in the final 3:48, and it was a Durant 3-pointer after the game had already been decided. The Suns made their free throws to put OKC away. The Suns ended the game shooting a blistering 58.4 percent from the field. Gerald Green (24 points, 5-7 on 3-pointers) continued to look comfortable coming off the bench while Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) got after it on both ends of the court. Phoenix is filled with just so much energy and effort, never seeming to run out of either no matter the situation. They’ll need plenty of it as they face the Mavs (47-31) and Spurs (60-17) later this week.
Blazers 100 (50-28), Pelicans 94 (32-45)
With the victory, the Blazers have punched their ticket into the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season. They might still be on the decline after their hot 31-9 start, but this team has been impressive with close to the same roster as last year. They were able to pull out the win Sunday thanks to a big night from their starting lineup. LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks) has changed the momentum of this team since returning from his injury. Anthony Davis (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks) and the rest of the Pelicans couldn’t contain the All-Star power forward on the block. Guards Damian Lillard (20 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) and Wes Matthews (21 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) had good games while Nicolas Batum (16 points, 12 rebounds) had a double-double. Portland did have to come back in this one after a sluggish start. With Alexis Ajinca (13 points, 7 rebounds) having a strong 2nd quarter, the Pelicans led by 10 points multiple times in the quarter. They went into halftime with a 55-48 lead. The Blazers then locked down defensively in the 3rd quarter, holding the Pelicans to only four points over an eight minute stretch. The Pelicans would only get as close as five points the rest of the way. Portland controlled the interior, outrebounding New Orleans 50-38. With the win, the fifth-seeded Blazers are now one and a half games ahead of the Warriors and two games behind the Rockets. They play the Kings (27-50) and Jazz (24-53) this week before facing off with the Warriors (48-29) next Sunday.