Hornets 115 (31-41), Hawk 100 (55-18)
Charlotte bounced back in a big way after suffering a tough double-overtime loss against the Wizards Friday night. With all five Hawks starters resting on the night, Kemba Walker (21 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and the Hornets easily cruised by Atlanta with little to no resistance. Gerald Henderson (20 points, 9-10 from the field) couldn’t miss while Mo Williams (18 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers) and Marvin Williams (17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 3-9 on 3-pointers) found their touch from deep. Kent Bazemore (season-high 20 points) and Mike Muscala (18 points, 10 rebounds) stepped up as part-time starters, combining to shoot 14-27 (51.9 percent) from the field. The problem came on the defensive end, as the Hornets scored at least 25 points in every quarter. After back-to-back high-paced games, Steve Clifford said he would be giving the Hornets the day off on Sunday.
Bulls 111 (45-29), Knicks 80 (14-60)
The Bulls pounded the Knicks thanks to strong play from their crafty and skilled big men. Nikola Mirotic (24 points, 6 rebounds) has progressed at an extremely high rate this season and has turned into one of Chicago’s most dependable players. Pau Gasol (19 points, 12 rebounds) reached another double-double while Taj Gibson (14 points, 9 rebounds) came a rebound away from notching one. The Knicks frontline led by Andrea Bargnani (14 points, 7 rebounds) had no chance against one of the strongest forecourts in the League, as the Bulls outrebounded the Knicks 51-35. Chicago led by double-digits midway through the first quarter and kept pouring it on in each successive quarter. While the Bulls shot an efficient 51.2 percent from the field, the Knicks only managed to shoot 38.0 percent. This game’s outcome was simply an example of one team being more talented and better coached than the other. With the loss, the Knicks now have a franchise-worse 60 losses on the year.
Warriors 108 (60-13), Bucks 95 (36-37)
A night after the Hawks sealed the top spot in the East, the Warriors clinched the No. 1 seed in the West after cruising by the Bucks thanks to dominance in the second and third quarters. Stephen Curry (25 points, 6 assists, 6-9 on 3-pointers) and Klay Thompson (21 points, 3-8 on 3-pointers, +30) had their shot going, and when that happens, few teams in the NBA even have a chance of keeping up with them. The Splash Brothers have established a unique chemistry that works so well together despite their similarities. Curry has figured out Steve Kerr’s offense and is the main reason they have a franchise-record 60 wins and are currently riding a nine-game winning streak. The Bucks, though, kept pace through 12 minutes behind six early points from Khris Middleton (14 points, 2 steals). During the second and third quarter, the game took a drastic change in direction as Golden State outscored Milwaukee 58-40 during these 24 minutes. The Warriors are so efficient on the offensive end of the court during certain stretches that it quickly wears down their opponents. Golden State ended the game shooting 51.2 percent from the field while Milwaukee only shot 37.9 percent. The Bucks also couldn’t buy a shot from deep, finishing 2-15 (13.3 percent) on 3-pointers.
Jazz 94 (32-41), Thunder 89 (41-32)
Trey Burke (22 points, 6 rebounds) reached the 20-point plateau as the Favor-less Jazz got back to their defense ways in taking down former teammate Enes Kanter (18 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks) and the Thunder. Russell Westbrook (37 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 9 turnovers) poured in 13 points in the first quarter as OKC was on the way to building an early 16-point lead. However, during the second and third quarter, Westbrook only scored four points while the Jazz outscored the Thunder 55-34. Even though Westbrook finished with a strong stat line, he played a major role in the Thunder’s ball control issues. The Thunder shot 42.5 percent from the field compared the the Jazz shooting only 38.1 percent, but OKC finished with 23 turnovers. The Jazz only had 11, which is how many more shots than the Thunder they had in the game. The Thunder played too loose while the Jazz locked down defensively in the second and third quarter. And by the end of the game, Utah made enough free throws to pull off the upset. The Thunder’s lead over the ninth-place Pelicans has been cut to two and a half games.
Blazers 120 (47-25), Nuggets 114 (28-46)
The Blazers finally played at an elite level for the first time in quite some time due to a strong performance from LaMarcus Aldridge (32 points, 11 rebounds, 13-20 from the field). As great as Damian Lillard (8 points, 10 assists) usually is late in games, Aldridge is still the backbone of this team. They go as their power forward goes. And Friday night, the Blazers finally saw Arron Afflalo (21 points, 8-11 from the field) take advantage of his larger role. Whether it was because he was playing his former team or it was simply time for him to find his touch, Afflalo’s emergence has to be a sigh of relief for Terry Stotts (for now). His offensive contribution will be key as Portland heads into playoff basketball. The Nuggets did have seven players in double figures as they were led by veteran bench player Jameer Nelson (22 points, 5 assists), who now has back-to-back solid games. Nelson and Randy Foye (17 points, 6-11 from the field) each nailed four 3-pointers but, as has been the case far too often this season, the Nuggets had no defensive consistency. Whenever Denver needed a stop, they had no way of preventing the Blazers from getting the shot they wanted. Portland finished the game shooting a blistering 56.5 percent from the field.