by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
I’ll keep today’s intro short: the Playoffs are less than 4 weeks away. Yes, in less than a month we’ll be talking post-season ball, y’all. Time for the legit contenders to start rounding into form. With that in mind, let’s hit the 8 games from Sunday…
What more is there to say about the Oklahoma City Thunder of late? After beating Chicago on Sunday, they’ve won six in a row—beating the Clippers, Timberwolves, Heat, Trail Blazers, Lakers and Bulls. Yesterday, without MVP Derrick Rose ready to go just yet, OKC relied on its superstar duo to get the job done, and boy did they deliver. Kevin Durant scored 26 points, grabbed 10 boards an dished out 4 assists, while Russell Westbrook had 27 points to go with 5 assists and 4 steals. Combined, KD and RW scored their 53 points on just 34 shots, had just 1 single turnover between them, and were totally in sync on offense. Chicago shot 33 percent from the field (30-91), never led at any point in the game and trailed by as many as 30. John Lucas III led the Bulls in scoring with 19 points, but most of that came with the game out of hand. The Thunder used a decisive 13-0 run to open the second half (sparked by Westbrook) to take a commanding lead and never looked back, finishing the day at 40-12—only barely trailing the 42-12 Bulls for the NBA’s best record.
Rajon Rondo notched his 18th career triple-double (16 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds) as the Celtics cooled off the Heat in Boston. It was Miami’s biggest loss of the season, margin-wise, the Celtics’ fifth straight win and eighth straight home regular season victory over the Heat. This game was tied at 40 just before halftime, but Boston completely shut down the Heat in the second half and rode Rondo’s playmaking to what ended up being a relatively easy win. In the third quarter, the Cs outscored the Heat 31-12, and led by as many as 29 points. Paul Pierce added 23 points for Boston, which outscored Miami 15 to 9 in fast break points and got another win despite being without Ray Allen for a sixth straight time. LeBron James led the Heat with 23 points, but finished with zero assists for just the second time in his entire career—the only previous instance was in February of 2009. Chris Bosh shot 2-11 for just 4 points (he called it “a shitty game”) but did have 11 rebounds, and Shane Battier made Pierce look silly on one playground move.
Without Dwight Howard manning the paint, the Magic allowed the Nuggets to shoot 55.6 percent from the field, and yet Orlando hung around thanks to 17 Denver turnovers and 18 offensive rebounds. But Ty Lawson scored 25 points (12 in the second half), Arron Afflalo added 22 and Andre Miller (15 points) sealed the game with 3 free throws in the final 10 seconds, handing the Magic their third straight loss. Denver’s win gave them back-to-back wins for the first time since the first week of March. Howard’s absence opened the door for nice performances from Jameer Nelson, who scored a game-high 27 points, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who racked up 18 points and 16 rebounds—his 9 offensive boards outdid Denver’s entire team, which had 7 on the offensive glass. Luckily for the Magic, their skid should end soon, as they get the Pistons twice and the Wizards once over their next 5 games.
In a matchup of two teams whose fans are far more worried about Lottery odds than winning basketball games, the Wizards wanted to win just a hair less than the Raptors, who were led by 18 points from Andrea Bargnani. In fairness to my beloved Wiz, Nene and Trevor Booker—the team’s two most effective post players—sat this one out with similar foot injuries, forcing Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin into the starting lineup and allowing Toronto’s bench to outscore Washington’s 40-20 on the night. The Raps led from start to finish, and while the Wizards made a late push to make things interesting, Amir Johnson had a follow-up slam to give Toronto a 91-86 lead, and Gary Forbes and Alan Anderson each hit free throws with under 20 seconds remaining to help the camouflaged Raptors (now 18-35) take home the win. Seraphin scored a career-high 16 points, Jordan Crawford had 18 (but shot 6-15) and John Wall finished with 13 points and 11 dimes, but after the Raps took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and extended it to as many as 15, the Wiz never got within legitimate striking distance.
Goran Dragic got the Rockets to within 1 with 16.5 seconds remaining on a driving bankshot, then tied the game at 93 with 10 seconds to play on a pair of free throws. After a David West jumper fell short at the buzzer, the teams headed for overtime in H-Town. Dragic (team-high 22 points) fouled out in the extra period when he was forced to send Danny Granger to the line with 15.7 seconds remaining and the Pacers down 1. Granger’s made his free tosses, but Darren Collison—an 83 percent free throw shooter coming in—missed 1 of his 2 on the next possession (he was just 3-6 on the night from the line), leaving the Rockets one last possession down by 2. Granger came up big on the game’s final play, blocking a Chandler Parsons 3-pointer at the horn to help the Pacers steal one in Houston. The block was the finishing touch on DG’s monster 32-point performance (11-20 field goal shooting, season-best 6-8 threes). Roy Hibbert chipped in 15 points and 9 rebounds, and Indy won the rebounding battle 54 to 44.
The Suns made just 3 of 15 three-point attempts on the night, but made up for it by outscoring the Hornets 52-42 in the paint and got back to .500 on the year at 26-26. Jared Dudley led Phoenix in scoring with 21 points (15 in the second half), Channing Frye put up 14 points and 11 rebounds and Steve Nash dished out 14 assists while only shooting the ball four times (2-4, 4 points in 35 minutes) the entire game. New Orleans, meanwhile, scored only 34 points in the second half and struggled to get to even 75 points. The Hornets (now 13-40) got 14 points apiece from Jason Smith and Marco Belinelli, but Chris Kaman shot 4-11 for just 8 points and recent sparkplug Greivis Vasquez was 2-8 with only 7 points off the bench. Phoenix is now 1.5 games back of Houston for the No. 8 spot in the West after the win, while the Hornets are the first team in the West to lose 40 games this year.
Portland avoided a season sweep at the hands of the Timberwolves on the strength of a combined 50 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum and 6 Blazers players scoring in double figures. Aldridge and Kevin Love went at it all night, pushing and shoving in the post—which made for an entertaining matchup of All-Star power forwards. Aldridge scored 26 points on 10-17 shooting and pulled down 8 rebounds. Love matched his point total with 26 of his own (doing most of his damage at the free throw line, where he shot 11-12) and had 9 boards. But the Blazers won the game, after building a 7-point lead by halftime and riding 52 percent shooting throughout the game. Plus, Raymond Felton continued his unlikely post-trade deadline success, as he nearly had a triple-double with 10 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds. Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour each dropped 21 for the Wolves, who only turned the ball over 8 times but still dropped below Portland in the Western Conference standings with the L.
Kobe doin’ work. The Black Mamba put 40 points on the Warriors to lead the Lakers to 33-20 on the year. And even with Andrew Bynum heading to the locker room just 10 minutes into his night with a bum ankle (about which he claims he’s fine), Los Angeles dominated on the boards, outrebounding Golden State 50 to 29—Pau Gasol had 11 of those, to go with his 26 points and 6 assists. Ramon Sessions provided exactly what L.A. has needed from the PG spot, with 23 points and 9 dimes in his best game since joining the Lakers. The Warriors were led by a 26-6-7 night from David Lee, 18 points from Klay Thompson and 17 from Nate Robinson, who helped the Dubs hang around with 5 three-pointers. Lee’s three-point play cut the Laker lead to 112-109 with just under 2 minutes to play, but Bryant and Metta World Peace hit back-to-back threes to fend off GSW’s final push. And while the Lake Show will certainly take the win—and the fans will love Kobe’s big night—it leaves us to wonder about Bynum’s health and the state of the Lakers, who have now eeked past the Hornets and the Warriors twice for their last 3 wins.
Line of the Night: Rajon Rondo’s 16-11-14 triple-double to lead the Cs past Miami.
Moment of the Night: I hate to be mean to Ryan Anderson, but dude…
Dunk of the Night: Is there any doubt? Russell Westbrook on Omer Asik—damn, son!
Tonight: A Monday 6-pack gets started with Bucks at Wizards at 7, but that’s by far the least intriguing game on. The ones you’ll want to watch include Rockets-Bulls, Grizz-Thunder and Clips-Mavs.