by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
Last night, JR Smith kept rolling, the Heat got back on track and the Spurs beat the Clippers very, very late. Lots of good games, so let’s get to it.
Magic (18-54) 97, Wizards (26-45) 92
The Wiz were within a few late in the fourth, but the Magic held them off. Orlando was led by 30 and 11 from Tobias Harris. He’s averaging around 16 and 8 on 47 percent shooting to go with a block and a half and a three per night in 18 games with the Magic. Safe to say Orlando did very well in the deal that sent to-be free agent JJ Redick to Milwaukee.
Mo Harkless added 18 and 9 and fellow rookie Andrew Nicholson scored 14 points with 5 rebounds.
The Wiz got 35 from John Wall (11/28) and 19 from Martell Webster. Nobody else eclipsed 8 points.
Interesting question: would you rather be a Wizards fan or a Magic fan right now? The cases for each team:
Wizards—sure-fire third-tier, probable second-tier and possible first-tier player in John Wall. Third overall pick Brad Beal is playing well. They’re better than .500 with Wall and may have been a Playoff team if he didn’t get hurt before the season started. Kevin Seraphin has nice upside and they should be picking in the top 10 in the upcoming draft.
Magic—still no sure-fire really good players, but some guys who are getting there. Nikola Vucevic, Harris, Harkless and Nicholson are a pretty sweet core, but they’re all most likely role players on a real team. Orlando doesn’t have a guy like Wall, but they do own (protected) first-round picks from Philadelphia, Yellow LA and Denver, and their own pick is sure to be in the top 5 in the upcoming (weak) draft and could be first overall.
Neither team has any cap space in the near future. I vote Magic with their deep front line and picks. Amazing how far they’ve come in seven months.
Celtics (38-34) 118, Hawks (40-33) 107
Boston doesn’t often score as well as they did last night, but everything clicked on Friday. They shot 11-of-23 from deep and 54 percent overall. Pretty good for a team down Kevin Garnett and, of course, Rajon Rondo.
Jeff Green scored a team-high 27, Paul Pierce triple-doubled with 20, 10 and 10 and Jason Terry came off the bench to drop 24 on only 10 shots.
This was a fairly close game, but Atlanta was outscored in each of the first three quarters. 24-year-old rookie Mike Scott came out of nowhere to score a team-high 19 off the bench for Atlanta. The forward hit 6-of-10 attempts from the field and 7-of-8 from the stripe. Jeff Teague scored 17 with 7 assists, but Josh Smith (18) made only 7-of-23 shots.
Knicks (45-26) 111, Bobcats (17-55) 102
This was a blowout before a late Charlotte run made things look slightly exciting. JR Smith stayed red-hot with 37 off the bench. He’s scored at least 32 in three straight games, and made 12-of-18 shots and 11-of-12 free throws on Friday night. He’s certainly a streaky player, and right now he couldn’t be playing better for New York. The 6th man award looked like Jamal Crawford’s to lose a few weeks ago, but now I’m leaning toward Smith. He’s been massive for the Knicks while the whole team has battled through injuries.
Carmelo Anthony scored 32 (11/28) with 11 rebounds (7 offensive). You wouldn’t guess it if you don’t watch Knicks games, but it seems like Melo can be one of the best offensive rebounders in the League when he feels like it. He’s hard to box out and gets a ton of his own misses.
Raymond Felton scored 18 on 7-of-11 shooting. New York has won seven straight.
The ‘Cats were led by Gerald Henderson’s 35. He got to the line 17 times, and tallied 7 boards. Granted he’s doing it for a bad team, but Henderson has scored 34 and 35 points in his last two games, and is one of the more reliable scoring-wings in the NBA. I wonder what he could do on a fully-functioning team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 & 8 boards) and Kemba Walker (16 and 8 dimes) were solid in the blowout.
Raptors (27-45) 99, Pistons (24-49) 82
Toronto outscored Detroit by 19 in the third quarter, leading to a not-so-close fourth. Three Raptors (DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson) scored at least 20. Kyle Lowry dished out 11 assists, but took just 4 shots. Quick comparison:
Player A: 12 ppg, 6 apg, 5 rpg, 1.5 stl, 1.5 threes, 40% from the floor, acquired for a lottery pick this summer
Player B: 13.3 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3 rpg, 0.7 stl, 1.1 threes, 45% from the floor, acquired for Dorrell Wright this summer
….time’s up! The numbers are obviously comparable—player B’s field goal percentage makes them essentially equal. The compensation to get them—a lottery pick (strong asset) vs. Wright (the opposite of an asset)—erases any doubt of which guy I’d rather have if I was running a franchise (Player B). If you haven’t already figured it out, Player A is Lowry and Player B is Jarrett Jack. My point is that the Raptors made a bad trade.
Back to the game—Jonas Valanciunas scored 14 points with 13 rebounds. He’s averaging around 11 and 7 this month—his best so far—and is looking like he’ll continue to develop going forward. Toronto has a nice young core and some quality veterans, though they’ll be spending upwards of $25 million annually on DeRozan and Gay—a pair of volume shooters who can’t shoot. Also Landry Fields has two years and $14 million left on his contract after this season ends. Okay, I’m done. Sorry.
Wait, last thing. Andrea Bargnani has two years and $23 million left on his contract after this season ends. Okay, now I’m done. Back to the game (again).
Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight were off for Detroit offensively. They combined to shoot 4-of-15 from the floor, though Monroe did rack up 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s a very talented passer for such a big guy. Jonas Jerebko scored 20 off the bench.
76ers (29-43) 97, Cavaliers (22-49) 87
Philly trailed at half but led by 11 after three and held that lead for most of the final period. Evan Turner scored 23 points with 13 rebounds. Pre-season I wrote that he’d be the most improved player this season (should be Jrue or Paul George). Instead, it seems he’s got Most Inconsistent Player all sewn up. It’s been nearly three seasons and I still have no idea what he is.
Speaking of Jrue, the UCLA product scored 20 points with 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 threes. Like I said: vastly improved and very dangerous. Spencer Hawes double-doubled and Thaddeus Young added 18 in the win.
Rookie Tyler Zeller double-doubled for Cleveland. CJ Miles (19), Tristan Thompson, Shaun Livingston and Wayne Ellington all joined him in double-figures, but the Cavs are obviously pretty helpless without Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving.
Grizzlies (48-24) 103, Rockets (39-33) 94
The Grizz took a 15-point lead into the fourth. They maintained a double-figure advantage until the final play of the game. Zach Randolph led the team with 21 points and 12 boards. Post buddy Marc Gasol scored 21 on 8-of-12 shooting. (Side note: through a typo, my dad recently accidentally nicknamed Pau Gasol “Pasol,” meaning Marc would be “Masol.” Still undecided on if those are the best or worst nicknames ever. Keep reading the Post Up to find out what I decide!)
Mike Conley (15 & 10), Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Jerryd Bayless each scored at least 10.
James Harden had a rare quiet night. He made only 3-of-9 shots to finish with 7 points and 4 assists. Jeremy Lin had the same shooting performance—a very bad formula for Houston. Chandler Parsons and Donatas Motiejunas each scored a team-high 16.
Heat (57-15) 108, Hornets (25-48) 89
Miami doesn’t exactly seemed phased by their loss at Chicago on Wednesday night. They ran right over the Hornets on Friday.
LeBron James led the charge with 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting. He hit 7 shots from downtown, easily making up for his surprisingly lame performance on the glass (4 boards). He’s just better than everyone else. Dwyane Wade scored 17 with 9 assists and 4 steals (6 turnovers, too), and Norris Cole chipped in 12 off the bench.
Ryan Anderson was New Orleans’ top scorer with 20. Anthony Davis scored 11 with 5 boards, 4 steals and 2 blocks and Al-Farouq Aminu snatched 16 boards to go with his 7 points. He produces plenty of flops, but has turned into a pretty good player this year.
Timberwolves (26-45) 101, Thunder (53-20) 93
Minnesota’s 45 percent clip from the floor and 33.3 percent mark from deep doesn’t scream “upset win over OKC,” but they got it done anyway.
Nikola Pekovic was huge down low, scoring 22 points with 15 boards. He’ll be a really interesting free agent to watch this summer. If Nene (mediocre D and rebounding, injury woes) secured a near-max contract two summers ago, I think Pek has a great chance of getting one in July. Then we’ll have a League where a top-60-ish guy (Pek) and a once-in-a-lifetime guy (LeBron) get paid the same. Nothing wrong with that except for everything. (For the solution, click on this Shameless Plug.)
Ricky Rubio scored 17 points with 7 dimes and 4 steals. He only made 4-of-11 shots, but, like great point guards can do, made a huge impact anyway.
His counterpart Russell Westbrook scored 18 points with 9 assists for the Thunder. Kevin Durant led the game with 36 points on 19 shots. He hit 9-of-9 free throws and grabbed 7 rebounds—another day at the office. Serge Ibaka double-doubled and stuffed 5 shots.
Kevin Martin was awful off the bench, making only 1-of-9 shots in 20 minutes. Not to pin the loss on one guy or get caught up in hypotheticals, but this is the type of game OKC wins if they still had Harden and his reliable 16-22 per night. Just saying.
Nuggets (50-24) 109, Nets (42-30) 87
This game was close after the first quarter (26-23), but essentially over at halftime (55-38).
Denver’s scoring was typically spread out. Six guys scored in double-figures, two guys scored between 8 and 9 points and three other players managed to get on the board as well. Evan Fournier looked sharp and led the team with 19 points. He hasn’t gotten much run for Denver in his rookie season, but could be yet another weapon for George Karl’s club.
Andre Iguodala had 8 assists with Ty Lawson out of the lineup, and Corey Brewer scored 13 off the bench. The Nuggets’ box scores are sort of hard to dissect because of how well they spread the wealth, but they had this game in control the whole way. They’re a dangerous club, especially at home, where they’re now 33-3.jam
I hate when people describe Playoff teams as teams that “you wouldn’t want to face,” because there’s never been a Playoff team that anybody wanted to face. I could make a case for the 2013 Bucks. They have two electric guards who can each drop 30 in a heartbeat (not sure another team has that). Those two can easily string together four great games in a seven-game set. They have the best up-and-coming defensive stud in the League in Larry Sanders. JJ Redick and Ersan Ilyasova are quality players. Sam Dalembert, Drew Gooden and Ekpe Udoh can play relevant minutes in the post. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is kind of good. See? That’s a sub-.500 team that I’ve talked you into not wanting to face in the postseason.
Now that I’ve wasted your time talking about Milwaukee, I’ll get to my main point. The Nuggets are really good (not just “a team you don’t want to face”). Last year they were a cute team that I pulled for. This year, you’ll have a hard time telling me how any team other than the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers can beat them. (Memphis doesn’t have enough scoring and Golden State and Houston don’t have enough D.) On top of that, Red LA’s half-court offense and lack of size might prove to be huge problems and the Spurs won’t be able to keep up with Denver in Denver. I think I just talked myself into a ThunderNuggets Western Conference Final. I’d love it. For the record, I still think the Spurs win it all. Speaking of…
Spurs (55-17) 104, Clippers (49-24) 102
Unbelievable game and a potential round-two preview. With about a minute left, Jamal Crawford evened the score at 99 with a corner three. With 35 seconds left, Chris Paul knocked down a beautiful floater to put his team up a deuce. But with two seconds left, Tim Duncan got Willie Green to bite on a pump fake, drew contact, hit a shot and then hit the game-winning free throw to complete the three-point play.
The Big Fundamental led the Spurs with 34 and 11. It’s absolutely amazing how good he’s been this year. In the best statistical season of his career (’01-02), he averaged 25.5 points (51%), 12.7 boards and 2.5 blocks in 40 minutes per game. This year he averages 30 minutes per game, but his per-40-minutes 2013 stats look like this: 23.2 points (50%), 13.3 boards and 3.6 blocks. He can’t handle the heavy minutes anymore, but is every bit as effective more than a decade later. Unreal.
Tony Parker scored 24 points with 8 assists, and his been excellent all year as well. Tiago Splitter added 14 points. The Spurs shot nearly 53 percent from the floor.
No Clippers player scored 20 points, though five guys scored between 10 and 18 points. Griffin was the high-scorer and added 7 boards and 4 assists. Chris Paul tallied 12 assists and Crawford hit 7-of-12 shots off the bench.
Jazz (37-36) 105, Blazers (33-39) 95
Utah was down ten at halftime before rallying back. They closed the game on a 19-3 run to stay even with the Lakers, who are also 37-36.
Mo Williams (28), Paul Millsap (25 and 10) and Al Jefferson (22 and 8 ) were all huge for the Jazz. They need those three as well as Gordon Hayward (10 and 8 ) to show up every night down the stretch if they want to beat out the Lake Show for the final Playoff spot in the West. I’m not sure they can do it.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 24. Fellow rookie Myers Leonard started with LaMarcus Aldridge out, and scored 12 points with 3 rebounds. JJ Hickson and Nicolas Batum each dropped 17. The Blazers bench was awful once again, with only two reserves (Eric Maynor and Victor Claver) scoring. Why they didn’t move on JJ Redick at the deadline remains a mystery to me.
About a week ago, the Blazers had an outside shot at catching fire and snagging the last Playoff spot, but have instead dropped three straight and are almost definitely out of the running for the eighth seed.
PS—I stumbled onto this video earlier this week and, though very random, thought I’d share it with you guys.