by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam
Boston who? With their eighth win in their last 10 games and Boston’s loss to Washington, the Heat secured the No. 2 seed in the East, setting up a date with the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the Playoffs. Led by LeBron James’ 34 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists, the Big Three combined for 70 points, 24 rebounds, and 15 assists. Josh Smith led Atlanta with 17 points and six rebounds, and ex-Hawk Mike Bibby scored 10 points against his former team.
With Atlanta locked into the fifth seed, Larry Drew rested his starters in the fourth quarter, easing Miami’s path to victory. After 81 games of non-stop dissection, knit-picking, and heavy scrutiny, the Heat will finish the season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference. Not too bad if you ask me.
Dwight Howard returned from his one game suspension to the tune of 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Magic over the Sixers, who are now locked in the seventh seed. Orlando outrebounded Phili 56-31, as Howard collected more boards than Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and Marreesee Speights combined. Playing without Andre Iguodala (knee) and Lou Williams (hamstring), Brand led the Sixers with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference. Quentin Richardson (suspension), Gilbert Arenas (knee), and JJ Redick (abdominal strain) all sat out for the Magic, but Ryan Anderson contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds in only 22 minutes. Phili is now 41-40, and with a win in the season finale, it will achieve its first winning season since 2004-05.
After Sasha Vujacic (19 points) hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 103 with 10.9 seconds remaining, DJ Augustin answered back with a fadeaway jumper with 1.1 seconds on the clock to provide an exciting finish (if there is such a thing in a mid-April Bobcats-Nets game) and give Charlotte the victory. Dante Cunningham led Charlotte with a career-high 21 points, as all five Bobcat starters scored in double figures. Brook Lopez had 31 points to lead New Jersey.
Off the court, Nets star Deron Williams underwent surgery on his wrist yesterday, and is expected to be out of commission for six-eight weeks. Shouldn’t be a problem though, as New Jersey will watch the postseason from home.
The Celtics seem content with the No. 3 seed, as Doc Rivers rested Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in last night’s overtime loss. Rivers said he wanted to “reset the team,” and have his squad running on a full tank to begin the Playoffs.
Rookie Jordan Crawford continues to make a name for himself, scoring 17 points and dishing six assists for the Wizards. John Wall poured in 24 points and nine rebounds, going 14-15 from the charity stripe. All five Celtic starters scored in double figures, as Jeff Green and Glen Davis each scored 20 points in a losing effort.
When you shoot 50 percent as a team, you will normally win the game. Well, normal has been the antithesis of the Detroit Pistons this season. After jumping out to a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Pistons lost the next two quarters 66-42, en route to a nine-point loss. Charlie Villanueva and Ryan Hollins got into a mini-scuffle that erupted into Villanueva attempting to jump Collins in the Cavs locker room. JJ Hickson led Cleveland with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Rodney Stuckey had a game-high 29 points (13-13 free throws) and 14 assists in a losing effort. Powerhouses just a short time ago, the Cavs and Pistons now occupy the basement of the Eastern Conference.
In sixth place at the start of the week, the New Orleans Hornets have now dropped to the eighth seed after losing their second straight last night. After going scoreless for the first time in his career against Memphis, Chris Paul had a meager 15 points and five assists in 35 minutes, while Devin Harris and CJ Miles each chipped in 18 points for the Jazz. Gordon Hayward continued his recent success, scoring 14 points on 6-8 shooting. With one game remaining, the Hornets are a half-game behind Memphis for the seventh seed.
John Salmons led all players with 24 points, and Brandon Jennings contributed 21 points, six rebounds, and four steals to help Milwaukee complete a come-from-behind win. All five Toronto starters scored in double figures, led by Jerryd Bayless’ 20, but the Raptors only fielded eight players, as opposed to the Bucks’ 12.
In what could very well be his final stretch with Milwaukee, Michael Redd scored two points on 1-6 shooting. Redd, who is making $18 million this season, will be a free agent at seasons end after 11 years with the Bucks.
After losing four straight, the Mavs picked up their third consecutive win last night, and in the process leaped the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Shawn Marion and Jason Terry each contributed 21 points in the overtime win—Dallas’ first overtime game of the season. Kevin Martin led Houston with 28 points, but also led his team with seven turnovers.
Nine of Denver’s 10 players scored in double figures last night, as George Karl’s team earned its 50th victory and continued its improbable post-Melo success. JR Smith led the Nuggets with 22 points, but this was a collective effort, as every single Denver player had a positive +/-. Chris Anderson scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and swatted four shots off the bench, and rising sophomore Ty Lawson paced the Nugs with 14 points, nine assists, and six rebounds. Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright each had 27 points to lead the Warriors, but any offensive production was negated by abysmal defense. Same story, different year for the Golden State Warriors.
Behind a game-high 33 points from Channing Frye, the Suns pulled out the overtime victory in Phoenix. Jared Dudley scored 26 points, and Steve Nash contributed eight points and 16 assists to lead the Suns. All five Minnesota starters scored in double figures, as Michael Beasley had a team-high 26 points in a losing effort.
Side note: With all the hoopla surrounding Rajon Rondo throughout the year, it’s worth noting that Nash overtook Rondo for the assist title last night, and has a good chance of winning his fifth title in the last seven years.
DeMarcus Cousins bodied OKC’s frontline, heading to the free throw line 21 times and finishing with 30 points and nine rebounds. But Cousins’ stellar play wasn’t enough to match Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s combined 62 points. Serge Ibaka had eight rebounds and six blocks for the Thunder, as the team won its fifth straight. OKC can finish no worse than fourth in the West, and can finish as high as second.
Highlight of the night: