by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Mavericks 108 (13-8), Blazers 106 (17-4)
Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, +16) hit multiple patented fadeaway, one-legged jump shots down the stretch as Monta Ellis (22 points, 4 assists) played the role of hero in the game’s waning moments. Ellis certainly has a knack for hitting big shots when he’s dribbling to his right and kicks his right foot out. These two combined to score the final 14 points for Dallas, a team that has now won three in a row, which includes the last two close wins on the road. (This Southwest Division looks like it will once again be one of the stronger division of the League.) The Mavs are now 31-1 all-time in games that Dirk has at least 7 assists. With 18 lead changes on the night, this game went back-and-forth with each team winning two of the four quarters. By halftime, Robin Lopez (14 points, 14 points) already had a double-double and Damian Lillard (32 points, 5-9 on 3-pointers, 9-9 on free throws) had 19 of his points on the night. Over the next two quarters, Rick Carlisle put his trust in his bench, as Gal Mekel (7 points, 2 assists, 12 minutes) and Bernard James (5 points, 6 rebounds, 11 minutes) played some valuable and efficient minutes. DeJuan Blair (15 points, 8 rebounds), who has replaced the struggling Samuel Dalembert (0 points, 2 rebounds) as the team’s starting center, used his wide frame on screens to help Ellis and Dirk get clean looks. LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 13 rebounds, 7-16 from the field) got another double-double but was contained due to the Mavericks doubling him from the baseline. And since the Blazers had one of their worst performance from deep Saturday night (9-30 on three pointers), Aldridge’s teammates weren’t making their shots when he kicked it out. The Mavs had a 54-36 points in the paint advantage but only had 11 free-throw attempts, proving the difficulty in getting calls at Moda Arena.
Nuggets 103 (12-8), 76ers 92 (7-14)
Denver overcame playing without the motor that makes this team go in Ty Lawson (left hamstring strain) by relying on the spark known as Nate Robinson (20 points) and the three-point shooting of Jordan Hamilton (13 points, 3-3 on 3-pointers). With Tony Wroten (20 points, 5 rebounds) leading the way as Michael-Carter Williams sat out with a sore right knee, the Sixers kept this one close for the majority of the game. After a Hollis Thompson (10 points, 9 rebounds) 3-pointer with 7:18 left in the game, the game was tied for the 12th time at 86-86. However, J.J. Hickson (12 points, 10 rebounds) and the Nuggets closed this one out by outscored the Sixers 15-2 over the next six minutes, including Hamilton making all three of his 3-pointers on the night in the span of just over a minute. While the Nuggets have won 11 of their last 15, the Sixers have lose 10 of their last 12.
Cavaliers 88 (7-13), Clippers 82 (13-8)
The Cavaliers didn’t let a fan stop them from taking down a Clippers team that has now lost three of their last four games. If you like a high-powered, light-em-up basketball game, this one wasn’t for you. These two teams combined to shoot 59-170 (34.7 percent) from the field and neither team scored 40 points in the second half. After a Jarrett Jack (11 points, 9 rebounds) half court buzzer-beater to end the third quarter, the Cavs led 67-66 and never gave up the lead that point forward. Kyrie Irving (20 points, 6 assists) bounced back from his scoreless performance against Atlanta Friday night while Tristan Thompson (20 points, 13 rebounds) had his third double-double in the last four games. In these four games, Thompson is gobbling up boards, averaging 14.8 a game. With a 60-45 rebounding advantage, the Cavaliers controlled the interior as their big men dominated the Clippers more renowned front court. Anderson Varejao had a season-high 17 rebounds and Andrew Bynum (18 points, 6 rebounds) still looks to be making a legitimate comeback. During the last four games in which Cleveland has gone 3-1, Bynum has averaged 18 ppg, 9 rpg and 2 bpg while shooting 55.4 percent from the field. The Clippers shot 7-35 (20.0 percent) from the arc while Chris Paul (13 points, 15 assists, 7 rebounds, 4-16 from the field) tried to make up for his poor shooting with his distribution. Until JJ Redick returns from injury, the Clippers are going to struggle to stretch the floor and give Paul enough room to operate.
Pistons 92 (10-10), Bulls 75 (8-10)
As often happens the game after an undermanned team pulls off an upset, the Bulls did not show up to play Detroit Saturday night. Brandon Jennings (season-high 33 points, 5 assists, 5-8 on 3-pointers) had his way all night long while Greg Monroe (8 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks), Andre Drummond (8 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Josh Smith (7 points, 10 rebounds) combined to grab 70.6 percent of their team’s rebounds. The Pistons seem to be finding somewhat of a groove, currently on a 4-game winning streak and winning three of these games by double digits. Marquis Teague (10 points, 3 assists, 17 minutes) played well during his time on the floor. Josh Harrellson (season-high 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) gave the Pistons an unexpected boost off the bench, scoring in double digits for just the sixth time in his 3-year NBA career. Without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng (left calf injury), the Bulls are simply dreadful. They shot 33.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent on 3-pointers while letting Jennings get whatever he wanted. Things looked bleakest during a third quarter in which they were outscored 24-9. However, Taj Gibson (21 points, 10 rebounds) continues to put up big numbers scoring-wise while still playing efficiently. In the past 5 games, the former Trojan is averaging 21.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg while shooting a blistering 60.8 percent from the field. If Chicago plans to compete without Rose, they’ll need Gibson to continue playing at such a high level. (Also—the East has another team at .500! Celebrate!)
Warriors 108 (12-9), Grizzlies 82 (9-10)
From the opening tip, the short-handed Grizzlies never had a chance as Stephen Curry (22 point, season-high 15 assists) and the Warriors led the entire game. With Tony Allen (right mid foot sprain) being a late-game scratch and Marc Gasol continuing to recover from his MCL injury, Memphis seemed to lose their grit and play without that defensive tenacity they so often showcase for its fans. Golden State used a quick 20-6 run over a six-minute span in the first quarter to establish their offense early. With Curry feeding Klay Thompson (30 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) on the perimeter and David Lee (23 points, 11 rebounds) in the post, the Warriors eventually opened this game up in the second half, outscoring the Grizzlies 59-39. Kosta Koufos (10 points, season-high 16 rebounds, 2 blocks) had one of his best game since replacing Gasol in the starting lineup, but when your most potent scorer off the bench, Jerryd Bayless, shoots 0-11 from the field and your most washed up starter, Tayshawn Prince (4 points, 2-7 from the field), has another disappointing performance, it’s going to be difficult to keep up with an offensively skilled team like the Warriors.
Heat 103 (15-5), Timberwolves 82 (9-11)
Minnesota has looked like one of the worst teams in the West without Kevin Love the past few seasons. The trend continued Saturday night, as the power forward remains with his family after his grandmother’s death. Minnesota took an early 25-19 lead after two Corey Brewer (13 points, 6 rebounds) free throws with 2:51 to go in the first quarter. Nikola Pekovic (18 points, 12 rebounds) and the Timberwolves would actually go on to win the first quarter; however, this point forward, the Heat stepped on the gas pedal, winning the next three quarters 79-57. LeBron James (21 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 9-12 from the field) and Dwyane Wade (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) were up to their old tricks again while Ray Allen (11 points, 2 steals) and the revived Rashard Lewis (10 points, 2-4 on 3-pointers) hit some big shots coming off the bench. The Heat got the ball inside with ease, claiming a 56-28 points in the paint advantage. Ricky Rubio (1 point, 6 assists, 6 turnovers) didn’t seem to have his normal touch in terms of shooting or passing, as he played one of his worst games of the season.
Nets 90 (6-14), Bucks 82 (4-16)
Finally—a game the Nets can win. Brook Lopez (32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 11-13 from the field) dominated a young Bucks frontcourt, helping the team with its 44-30 points in the paint advantage. Even though he couldn’t contain Lopez, John Henson (18 points, 7 rebounds) continues to prove himself in the starting lineup. There aren’t many other bright spots for this team as Khris Middleton (9 points, 6 rebounds, 3-9 from the field) made his recent 29-point performance seem like a fluke. Alan Anderson (13 points) filled in nicely for Paul Pierce (fractured right hand) and Joe Johnson (15 points, 5 assists) hit some timely jump shots, including a 3-pointer to give the Nets a 42-40 lead to start the second half.
Pacers 111 (18-2), Spurs 100 (15-4)
In a battle between two of the best defensive teams in the League, not very much defense was actually played. The Pacers had seven players with 12 or more points while the Spurs had seven players with 8 or more points. This game had huge swings with plenty of runs as each team led by double digits at certain points. The Pacers played extremely well during the middle of this game, outscoring the Spurs 67-37 in the second and third quarter. The Spurs used a 15-0 run toward the end of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit from 26 to 11. But Indiana closed this one out behind 5 C.J. Watson (12 points, 4 assists, 2 steals) free throws. The Pacers had the advantage when it came to the matchup of the young wingmen: Paul George (28 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 4-4 on 3-pointers) vs. Kawhi Leonard (18 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2-4 on 3-pointers). Even though Leonard continues to make strides, George has already made his strides and looks like a legitimate MVP candidate with the way his team keeps winning. Roy Hibbert and Luis Scola each contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds while David West (20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 9-12 from the field) had his midrange game going all night long. The Pacers have another tough West test as they will travel to Chesapeake Energy Arena Sunday to play the 15-4 Thunder.
Kings 112 (5-13), Jazz 102 (4-18) OT
In this battle of the bads, the Kings stopped a 6-game losing streak behind a big performance from DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 10-15 from the field) and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas (26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals). (I will continue to press the issue—why is Greivis Vasquez starting? Ever?) Derrick Favors (sore back) was severely missed, as the Kings had a 58-40 points in the paint advantage and attempted 38 free throws. Gordon Hayward (22 points) and the Jazz seemed to have a handle on this game but ran out of steam by overtime, scoring only 5 points in the extra 5 minutes. Trey Burke (19 points, 7 assists, 10 rebounds 7-7 on free throws), however, had his most complete game of the season and continues to move up the many people’s Rookie of the Year rankings. The Kings rookie Ben McLemore (15 points, 9 rebounds) is making his own case for this award, hitting a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left to send this game into overtime. He has scored in double figures in five of the last six games.