by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Pacers 99 (26-6), Pelicans 82 (15-17)
One of the League’s top defenses held the Pelicans under 90 points for the first time all season. And they did so with Roy Hibbert (6 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks) anchoring the defense and Paul George (24 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) and Lance Stephenson (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) remain active on the perimeter. Those latter two players have found a way to play both sides of the ball very well. Even though they were outscored 27-15 in the 1st quarter and trailed by 27-13 at one point, the Pacers fought back and won in commanding fashion. Eric Gordon (21 points, 6 rebounds, 3-5 on 3-pointers) had his shot going on the night while Anthony Davis (10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) was clearly bothered by Hibbert down low. Alexis Ajinca (17 points, 7 rebounds), though, didn’t have any problems on the night, as he started and literally came out of nowhere. After scoring 18 points in his first 7 games with the Pelicans, he came one point short of matching that on Saturday night. And other than Ajinca shooting 2-2 in the 3rd quarter, the rest of his team shot 2-14 in a quarter they were outscored 30-12. At this point, the Pelicans had fallen behind by double-digits thanks to Indiana’s consistently exceptional 3rd quarter play. They never had a chance in the final quarter, when the Pacers led by 20 before garbage time begun. The Pacers, who currently have the best record in the League, outrebounded the Pelicans 45-33, which included 14 offensive rebounds.
Heat 110 (25-8), Magic 94 (10-23)
After a Jameer Nelson (21 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 5-8 on 3-pointers) 3-pointer with 5:22 to go in the 1st quarter, the Magic led 18-15. Once the Heat realized who they were playing, they responded by going on a 23-10 run, led by Dwyane Wade (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Michael Beasley (13 points, 5 rebounds), who combined to have 13 of these 23 points. However, with Tobias Harris (17 points, 10 rebounds) punching in back-to-back dunks soon after, the Magic wouldn’t go away in the 1st half. Orlando has enough young, athletic players to outhustle opponents at times, keeping them in games they shouldn’t be in. After another Nelson 3-pointer gave his team another 3-point lead, 55-52, LeBron James (15 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) then decided to put his game into another gear, as he so often does when his team needs him to. The Heat would go on a 21-4 run and eventually lead by double-digits going into the final quarter. Aron Afflalo (16 points, 8 rebounds) and Orlando continued to fight in the final quarter, but the more experienced team just executed at a higher level down the stretch. The Heat currently lead the League in field-goal percentage (51.1 percent) and they continued that trend, shooting 54.1 percent on the night.
Nets 89 (12-21), Cavaliers 82 (11-22)
The Nets have a “winning streak” for just the second time this season. Even though this win might not be as impressive as their 95-93 win over the Thunder on Thursday, Deron Williams (21 points, 6 assists) and Brooklyn made a statement defensively, holding the Cavs to just 36.7 percent shooting. This team won both the 1st and 4th quarter, 22-17, really opening and closing strong. Jarrett Jack (2 points, 7 assists, 1-8 from the field) distributed the ball in Irving’s absence but had one of his worst shooting performances of the season. Dion Waiters (26 points, 0 assists, 4 turnovers) and C.J. Miles (19 points, 8 rebounds) picked up the scoring slack but didn’t get much help from the rest of their team. Paul Pierce (17 points, 5 assists) and Andray Blatche (12 points, 5 rebounds) were the only other Nets in double-figures, but when the Nets play this type of defense for 48 minutes—and without Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett at that—that is enough to beat a bad Cavs team. Cleveland could only put together 14 assists on the night, compared to the Nets’ 24 assists.
Bulls 91 (14-18), Hawks 84 (18-16)
This was the first Horford-less game for the Hawks where it really looked as if they were missing something substantial. They let Mike Dunleavy (20 points, 2-3 on 3-pointers) put up 11 points in the 4th quarter as six Bulls players scoring in double-figures. Each of the 3 players that make up the Bulls starting frontcourt—Noah, Gibson, Deng— had a double-double as the Bulls outrebounded the Hawks 52-43. Paul Millsap (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (16 points, 6 assists) carried a Hawks team that shot 37.2 percent on the night and struggled to get clean looks. Kyle Korver (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2-7 from the field) extended his streak, currently making at least 1 3-pointer in 103 straight games. The Hawks were able to pull within 1 at two different points in the 3rd quarter but never took the lead. The Bulls held the Hawks scoreless in the final 2:41 of the game.
Thunder 115 (26-7), Timberwolves 111 (16-17)
Kevin Durant (48 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) has always been vocal about disliking always being No. 2 behind LeBron James. He looked like the best player in the NBA Saturday night, being utterly unstoppable in the 4th quarter. During the final 12 minutes, Durant scored 23 points, including the go-ahead basket with 4 seconds left in the game. At this point in the NBA, Durant might be the closest thing to “doing it all” on the offensive end of the court. He can pull up, drive, shoot from deep, knock down free throws and make plenty of awkward one-handed and/or one-legged shots. They don’t have Russell Westbrook anymore, but KD isn’t going to let that slow his team down. Steven Adams (10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 15 minutes) didn’t have the same level of impact as Durant did, but he certainly played efficiently and took advantage of his time on the court. With Reggie Jackson (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) getting in foul trouble, Derek Fisher (13 points, 3-6 from the field) came alive, making four big free throws at the end of the 3rd quarter. The Timberwolves starters all scored in double-figures, led by Kevin Love (30 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nikola Pekovic (31 points, 11 rebounds), who each had big double-doubles. Pekovic has been on a tear of late, averaging 24.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over his last 8 games. Other than their starters, though, Minnesota only had an embarrassing 5 bench points—all coming from JJ Barea (5 points, 3 assists). After back-to-back Love 3-pointers to end the 3rd quarter, the Timberwolves actually led by 10, 87-77, going into the final 12 minutes. But then Durant decided to play 1-on-5 and the Wolves had no way to respond. The Thunder’s ability to make their free throws (27-28) was a major difference maker on the night, especially with Love missing four free throws in the final minute.
Spurs 116 (26-8), Clippers 92 (23-13)
Even though the Clippers didn’t have Chris Paul (shoulder) for the first time since his injury, their lack of defense still remained the norm, giving up 114 points over the last two games. DeAndre Jordan (4 points, 10 rebounds) scored the first basket of the game and then his team never led again. Without CP3 being active on the perimeter defensively, the Spurs got into the paint with ease, scoring 28 of their first 37 points down low, and took a 70-35 lead into halftime. They ended with a season-high 76 points in the paint. The Clippers went the entire first 12 minutes with only 1 rebound. A single rebound. Tiago Splitter (22 points) played a major part in this scoring down low but injured his right shoulder in the 4th quarter. Tim Duncan (19 points, 11 rebounds) had a solid double-double while the other 2 parts of the Big 3—Parker, Ginobili— had a combined 32 points and 15 assists on 14-20 shooting. Jordan Crawford (24 points, 7 assists) carried the load for the Clippers while Blake Jordan (19 points, 7 rebounds) failed to reach a double-double for just the 2nd time in the last 10 games. Even though no one player reached double-digit assists, the Spurs finished with 34 assists, showing their ability to move and distribute the ball as a collective unit. The Spurs looked like the healthier, more complete and playoff-ready team.
Suns 116 (20-12), Bucks 100 (7-26)
Nothing surprising in this one as the plaoyoff-striving Suns won wire-to-wire against quite possibly the worst team in the League. The Bucks had a season-worst 25 turnovers, as 5 players had at least 3 turnovers. The Bledsoe-less Suns were led by Gerald Green (24 points, 5 steals), who might finally have found a place and role in the NBA, and Channing Frye (22 points, 7 rebounds, 6-9 on 3-pointers), who continued his feel-good story and return from heart surgery. Frye also had a fantastic +44 on the night. Brandon Knight (25 points, 8 assists) and O.J. Mayo (20 points, 5 assists) put up good lines in the loss. Phoenix led by 23 in the 3rd quarter, and even though Milwaukee found a way to cut the lead to 7 in the 4th quarter, Phoenix never seemed to lose control of this game. At this point in the season, the Suns are winning games by outhustling their opponents. It will be interesting to see if they can keep this up once all teams start putting it all out on the court late in the season.
Bobcats 113 (15-20), Kings 103 (10-22)
Kemba Walker (30 points, 6 assists, 12-19 from the field, 4-6 on 3-pointers) and Al Jefferson (27 points, 9 rebounds) have certainly asserted themselves as the leaders of this team as they snapped their 5-game losing streak. The Kings had 3 double-doubles from their 3 frontcourt starters—DeMarcus Cousins (26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals), Jason Thompson (15 points, 14 rebounds) and Rudy Gay (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists). Isaiah Thomas (21 points, 8 assists) continued his strong play as a starter. In the last 9 games, he has reached at least 7 assists 8 times and at least 20 points seven times. He has also made at least 1 3-pointer in 26 consecutive games. Sacramento just couldn’t stop the Bobcats from scoring, as Charlotte shot 54.2 percent from the field and had 65 point in the 1st half. The Bobcats used a 17-0 run late in the 2nd quarter to take control and then never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
76ers 101 (12-21), Blazers 99 (26-8)
Behind Thaddeus Young (season-high 30 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 14-20 from the field), the Sixers extended their winning streak to 4 games and picked up their biggest win since taking down Houston 123-117 in early November. Fellow veteran Evan Turner (23 points, 7 rebounds) also played well, making 2 clutch free throws with 14.3 seconds left that extended his team’s lead to 2 possessions. Damian Lillard (17 points, 6-20 from the field) responded with a driving layup but missed his next point-blank driving layup that would have tied the game. LaMarcus Aldridge (29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Robin Lopez (14 points, 15 rebounds) each played very well down low as Mo Williams (16 points, 5 assists) gave a punch off the bench. Nicolas Batum (4 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) had a Jason Kidd double-double. The Blazers, though, couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers and 36.4 percent shooting from the field. Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, 9 rebounds) was hit in the head and ended up on the floor right at the final buzzer. Philadelphia jumped out to a quick 18-4 lead as Portland had 5 turnovers in the first 7 minutes. The Blazers would fight back, though, eventually leading by 9 points in the 3rd quarter. The Sixers fought back as well, using their high-tempo to win this game down the stretch. Philadelphia is currently undefeated in 2014. (D-League Update: CJ McCollum had 24 points on 11-23 shooting in 23 minutes for the Idaho Stampede. He will be making his NBA debut in the upcoming week; however, with coach Stotts already having a solid three-man rotation between Lillard, Matthews and Williams, it will be difficult for him to find his way into the rotation.)