by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Raptors 96 (18-17), Nets 80 (15-22)
The Nets might have been the hot team going into this game, having a five-game winning streak, but DeMar DeRozan (26 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and the Raptors proved their consistency with this divisional win. Patrick Patterson (14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals) had his first double-double since March 28, 2013 as this entire Toronto team played solid defense all night long, keeping the Nets from reaching 25 points in any quarter. Paul Pierce (15 points, 4 rebounds) led the Nets in scoring as Joe Johnson (11 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4-13 from the field) has suddenly seemed to lose his touch since scoring 22 points in the first quarter against the Heat. After a John Salmons (13 points, 5-5 from the field, 3-3 on 3-pointers) dunk midway through the second quarter, the Raptors held a 34-23 lead. However, the Nets kept fighting and eventually led 60-50 midway through the third quarter. The Raptors would close the quarter on an 18-4 run, capped off by DeRozan scoring the final 7 points of the quarter. By holding the Nets to only 16 points in the fourth quarter, Toronto was able to claim its seventh win in the last nine games and looks to be closing in on the third seed in the East.
Pistons 110 (16-22), Suns 108 (21-15)
One night after being one steal short of a 5×5 game, Josh Smith (25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) played the role of hero then fool then hero again. After J-Smoove hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 108-105 lead with 26.8 seconds left in the game, the one thing his team doesn’t want to do is foul on a 3-pointer. The one thing. Well, Smith fouled Gerald Green (15 points, 7 rebounds) shooting a 3-pointer and Green then went 3-3 from the line, tying the game 108-108 with 4.3 seconds remaining. After a 20-second timeout, Smith received the ball at the the elbow, drove right and made a tough left-handed bank shot for the win. Green would then miss a 3-pointer badly that would have won the game for the Suns. Greg Monroe (20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists) and Andre Drummond (13 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 5 blocks) both had double-doubles as the Pistons starting frontcourt finally have had back-to-back games in which they all played well—and both games were wins. These three helped Detroit outrebound Phoenix 59-45 and outscore them in the paint 68-40. Brandon Jennings (8 points, 18 assists, 8 rebounds, 4-14 from the field) has had many off-nights this season, but even when he can’t find his shot, he will distribute the ball to his big men. He had a franchise-record tying 11 assists in the first quarter. Six Suns players scored in double-figures, as Channing Frye (21 points, 5-10 on 3-pointers) was hitting from deep all night and P.J. Tucker (17 points, 11 rebounds) had a double-double. The Pistons led by double-digits going into the fourth quarter but let the Suns crawl their way back into this game, as they have often done this season during 2nd halves. Since losing Eric Bledsoe, the Suns are now 2-4.
Knicks 102 (14-22), 76ers 92 (12-25)
Brooklyn’s winning streak may have come to a close, but New York is still rolling. Behind big performances from their most expensive players—Carmelo Anthony (18 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) and Amar’e Stoudemire (21 points, 5 rebounds, 8-10 from the field)—the Knicks claimed their fourth straight win. Since mid-December, STAT has shown flashes of his old self, scoring more than 16 points on five occasions. However, he has never been able to do this two games in a row. Currently averaging 17.5 ppg over his last two games, it will be interesting to see if he can keep up this level of play. New York can thank its stout defense in the second quarter, in which they held an uptempo Sixers team to only 12 points, for giving the team the cushion it needed to close this game out. The Knicks went on to lead by double-digits throughout the entire third quarter and only allow the Sixers to get within eight points over the final 12 minutes. Spencer Hawes (17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and James Anderson (17 points, 7 rebounds) led Philadelphia in scoring. In his return from a one-game benching after untying a few too many shoes, JR Smith (14 points, 6 assists, 5-8 from the field, +20) had one of his efficient games…but who knows what the next one will be like. The Knicks trail the Nets by half a game for the eighth seed and will look to extend their winning streak when they face the Suns (21-15) on Monday night.
Rockets 114 (24-14), Wizards 107 (16-19)
Due to a roof leak, this game was stalled for 35 minutes at one point and 22 minutes at another. The Rockets almost could have used these delays as an excuse for their inability to hold a huge lead. After Terrence Jones (19 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks) converted an and-one, the Rockets led 78-53 with 8:13 left in the third quarter and seemed to be in control. However, over the next 15 minutes in this game, the Wizards went on a 49-19 run—including finishing with a 17-0 run—to take a 102-97 lead. During this time, John Wall (23 points, 10 assists) had 13 points and 6 assists, willing his team back into a game that should have been over. Kevin Seraphin (18 points, 5 rebounds) was also important, scoring all of his points in the 2nd half. Trevor Ariza (23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals) had his sixth double-double of the season, after having just five the previous three seasons. As a team contending for a championship, the Rockets shouldn’t be giving up this many points during any 15 minute periods in any game. However, the Rockets do have one of the best shooting guards in the game as James Harden (25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) then scored 8 straight points following this Washington run and saved his team from being embarrassed on the road. Dwight Howard (23 points, 7 rebounds) failed to reach double-digit rebounds for the fourth time in the last six games. But he did have the highlight of the night, throwing down a Jeremy Lin (18 points, 8 assists) lob.
Bulls 103 (17-18), Bobcats 97 (15-23)
Tom Thibodeau does not have tanking in his blood and that will always be the case. The Bulls have won their last five games and won three in a row since Luol Deng was traded. At the 11:10 mark in the fourth quarter, Josh McRoberts (9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks) made a layup to give the Bobcats a 73-72 lead—their only lead of the game. Chicago responded by going on an 11-0 run, including 7 points from Joakim Noah (19 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks). Now losing three straight games and falling into ninth place, Charlotte never really got within reaching distance the rest of the way. Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson combined to score 79 points but didn’t get much help from their teammates. Luol Deng may have left some big shoes to fill, but Mike Dunleavy (17 points, 6 rebounds) has stepped into those shoes quite nicely. During this five-game winning streak, Dunleavy is averaging 14.8 ppg on 54.4 percent shooting. In his first game with the Bulls, ex-Hawk Cartier Martin (11 points, 4-5 from the field, 26 minutes) looked much better than starter Tony Snell (0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 17 minutes). D.J. Augustin (season-high 20 points, season-high 12 assists) also had a fantastic game off the bench, being an instant spark plug.
Thunder 101 (28-9), Bucks 85 (7-29)
This was one of those games when Kevin Durant (33 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) would accept nothing short of a victory. After Giannis “Copy & Paste” Antetokounmpo (13 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) capped off a 23-9 run with a dunk and gave his team their largest lead of the game, 49-47, midway through the third quarter, Durant went on to score 15 of his points the rest of the way and put this game out of reach. KD missed his first eight shots but made eight of his last 10. Serge Ibaka (17 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks) also had a fantastic game, controlling the interior for the majority of the 32 minutes he was on the floor and helping his team outscore Milwaukee 42-26 in the paint. Larry Sanders (0 points, 4 rebounds, 7 minutes) was ejected for elbowing Steven Adams in the head. Sanders is currently in the running for Most Disappointing Player of the Year. Jeremy Lamb (17 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) continued to be a scoring punch off the bench. OKC will need Lamb to score at this rate while Westbrook remains sidelined.
Mavericks 110 (22-16), Pelicans 107 (15-21)
Dirk Nowitzki (40 points, 5-9 on 3-pointers, 15-16 on free throws) did everything short of willing his team to victory on Saturday night. Becoming the sixth oldest player since 1963 to score 40 points and reaching the 40-point plateau for the 19th time in his career, Dirk notched 20 of these points in a third quarter that was an absolute barnburner. The Mavs barely outscored the Pelicans in the third, 42-40, as these teams played each other in back-to-back nights; however, this time around, the Pelicans kept it close until the very end. After Monta Ellis (26 points, 12-15 on free throws) used his soft touch at the rim to give his team a 106-99 lead with 2:42 left in the game, the Mavs just needed to make a few more stops to close this one out. But Anthony Davis (28 points, 14 rebounds) and his relentlessness allowed the Pelicans to pull within two points after Davis made 5-6 free throws on three of their next four possessions. Fitting with a common theme on the night, the Mavs made their free throws to earn their third straight win. (Ellis might have gotten away with a foul on the last play of the game.) The Mavs made a season-high 39 free throws on a season-high 45 attempts. It might have been the fourth game in five nights but Ellis and Dirk found a way to get to the free throw line in their own ways. Jose Calderon (17 points, 5 assists, 4-7 on 3-pointers) remained a serious threat from deep while Vince Carter (10 points) provided a punch off the bench. Eric Gordon (20 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) played well despite the trade rumors. Al-Farouq Aminu (15 points, 11 rebounds) continued to play well against Dallas, as the Pelicans dominated the boards, 48-30. Without the Matrix, Jae Crowder (5 points, 2 rebounds, 34 minutes) has had a chance to prove himself at the small forward position. Even with his strong frame, though, the second-year pro still can’t seem to find his rebounding touch. Darius Miller (12 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers) had his second double-digit scoring performance of the season. Losers of five straight games, New Orleans will look to rebound against the Spurs (28-8) on Monday.
Nuggets 120 (19-17), Magic 94 (10-27)
The Nuggets might just be the most difficult team to figure out at this point in the season. Denver started out 0-3, won seven in a row to be 11-6, later lost eight in a row to become 14-17 and have now won five in a row. Seven Nuggets scored in double-figures as Ty Lawson (16 points, 8 assists) remained the engine that makes this team go and Kenneth Faried (17 points, 9 rebounds) did all the dirty work. Quincy Miller (career-high 16 points, career-high 11 rebounds) has been a nice surprise of late, being a factor during their last two wins. Evan Fournier (18 points, 7-8 from the field, 3-3 on 3-pointers) has been a major reason behind Denver’s recent success, averaging 13.4 ppg during this five-game winning streak. He certainly resembles another Nuggets foreigner (Danilo Galinari), who is still working his way back to the court. Big men Tobias Harris (22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Glen Davis (20 points, 6 rebounds) played well even though their team never led past the 10:11 mark in the first quarter. Four minutes into the final quarter, the Nuggets held a 105-69 lead and put it in cruise control the rest of the way. The Magic have now lost seven games in a row…and allowed Timofey Mozgov (14 points, 9 rebounds) to Mozgov Andrew Nicholson.
Blazers 112 (28-9), Celtics 104 (13-25)
Jumping out to an early 32-22 lead in the first quarter, Avery Bradley (25 points) and the Celtics looked like they might be turning things around. They even took a 60-58 lead into the fourth quarter, after a Jordan Crawford (13 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) jump shot. However, behind 7 points from Wesley Matthews (18 points, 6-6 on free throws), the Blazers went on a 13-0 run midway through the fourth to take hold of the lead for good and hand the Celtics their eighth straight loss. (Tanking?) LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (15 points, 6 rebounds) led the way again, but the Blazers bench received an unexpected boost. Rookie C.J. McCollum (10 points, 4-6 from the field, 13 minutes) looked very impressive in his second game since returning from his foot injury, possibly showing flashes of what’s to come. With Mo Williams (11 points, 4 assists) being the only other reliable offensive force off the bench, coach Stotts will most likely find a way to get McCollum minutes. The Blazers are currently tied for first place with the Thunder in the Northwest Division.