by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Kings 106 (7-15), Rockets 91 (16-9)
After DeMarcus Cousins (21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) made free throws with 8:02 to go in the fourth quarter, the Kings extended their lead to 87-76 and led by double digits the rest of the way. Early in the 3rd quarter, James Harden (25 points) went down with an ankle injury and didn’t look like himself when he returned later in the quarter. Afterwards, he shot 1-6, picked up two fouls and couldn’t give Houston the offense it needed to keep up with the Kings. Newcomer Rudy Gay (26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) has looked like a different, more efficient player since joining the Kings. While with Toronto for 18 games, Gay shot at least 50 percent from the field only once. He has now done that in each of his two games with Sacramento, and it’ll be intriguing to see if he can keep up this level of play. Isaiah Thomas (19 points, 8 assists, 41 minutes) has had at least 7 assists in 5 of his last 6 games and has transitioned smoothly into the starting lineup. Dwight Howard (13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) had his sixth straight double-double but missed 8 of his 13 free throw attempts. Facing his former team, Omri Casspi (4 points, 1-5 from the field) did not play one of his better games of the season.
Timberwolves 101 (12-12), Grizzlies 93 (10-13)
Minnesota beat Memphis for the first time since February 6, 2010 and did so behind a big performance from Kevin Love (30 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks). Losers of now 3 straight games and five of the last six, the Grizzlies failed to get much production from those not named Mike Conley (28 points, 12-20 from the field, 4-8 on 3-pointers); however, Conley had his second game of the year with more turnovers (4) than assists (3). Playing through the pain of knowing he’s on the trading block, Zach Randolph (20 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) played fairly well but shot 7-19 from the field and fouled Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 5 rebounds) in back-to-back possessions with under 3 minutes to go, allowing the Timberwolves to extend a single-digit lead to 7 points. Randolph’s inefficient shooting was in large part to surprisingly solid low-post defense from Love, while Randolph’s team had another poor defensive showing. Without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, Memphis looks lost defensively.
Blazers 111 (21-4), Pistons 109 (11-14) OT
Even though sixth man Rodney Stuckey (17 points) played solid defense against Damian Lillard (23 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) on the last play of overtime, Lillard simply made a difficult fadeaway shot to give the Blazers their 4th straight win. He did miss all 7 of his 3-point attempts throughout the course of the game, but Lillard continued firing away and scored 8 of his 23 points in overtime, giving more reason to send him to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend along with co-star LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 12 rebounds). Josh Smith (season-high 31 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 13-17 from the field) easily had his best performance of the year, finally living in the post and looking comfortable in the Pistons system. Fellow big men Greg Monroe (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (13 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals) helped J-Smoove give the Pistons a 68-42 points in the paint advantage. Brandon Jennings (15 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds) flirted with a triple-double but shot below 40 percent for the 11th time this season. Things are going very well for the Blazers and their revamped bench right now, yet they are still relying heavily on their offense and their starters. If they continue playing this way, Portland will certainly be challenged to keep up their winning ways as the season gets closer to the postseason.
Thunder 101 (19-4), Magic 98 (7-17)
The Thunder currently hold the longest winning streak in the League (six) and remain only one of two teams still unbeaten at home (Pacers). After a Russell Westbrook (20 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) layup with 6:12 to go, Oklahoma City led 96-80 and looked to be in control. However, Orlando went on a 20-2 run, led by 9 points from Aaron Afflalo (25 points), to cut the deficit to 100-98 with 22 seconds to go. After Kevin Durant (20 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) hit 1 of 2 free throws, Glen Davis (11 points, 9 rebounds) missed a 3-pointer, Nikola Vucevic (13 points, 16 rebounds) got the offensive rebound and then Serge Ibaka (4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks) blocked Vucevic’s putback attempt. As they’ve been doing all season long, the Thunder pushed the ball and had 27 fast break points to the Magic’s 12. Thabo Sefolosha (6 points, 4 steals, 0-3 on 3-pointers) returned to the starting lineup after missing the last three games due to a knee injury and played his defensive role. However, he’ll need to pick up his 3-point shooting if he wants to be considered as a 3-and-D player. After shooting 43.7 percent and 41.9 percent from deep the past two years, he is currently shooting 30.6 percent this season. Jeremy Lamb (16 points) and Reggie Jackson (10 points) each scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game.
Nuggets 102 (14-9), Pelicans 93 (11-11)
Without Anthony Davis down low, the Nuggets pounded the boards and out-rebounded the Pelicans 51-32. Ryan Anderson (game-high 26 points, 6 rebounds) played well down the stretch, scoring 9 points in the 4th quarter, and Austin Rivers (17 points, 5-9 from the floor) had a career-best performance (besides a 27-point game against the Timberwolves last season). However, New Orleans couldn’t handle a balanced attack from Denver, as five Nuggets reached double figures. JJ Hickson (19 points, 11 rebounds, 8-12 from the field) had his sixth double-double of the season, Wilson Chandler (19 points, 5 rebounds) continues to look more and more like his old self and Nate Robinson (14 points, 2 blocks) played the role of spark plug, a role he has become quite comfortable with of late. After a slow start to the season, Robinson has averaged 14.7 points over the last 11 games and has reached double figures in 12 of the last 14 games. It will be interesting to see how successful this team can be once Danilo Gallinari and JaVale Mcgee return from their injuries.
Suns 106 (14-9), Warriors 102 (13-12)
Behind a stellar performance from Eric Bledsoe (24 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals), including two straight 3-pointers with 3:52 to go and 2 clutch free throws with 18 seconds left in the game, the Suns extended their winning streak to five games. Stephen Curry (30 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 6 turnovers) reached the 30-point plateau for the third time in four games but also had 6 or more turnovers for the third straight game. The entire Warriors team struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over 20 times. Channing Frye (20 points, 5 rebounds) made a season-high 5 3-pointers and continues to be a feel-good story, looking very much like the player he was before missing all of last season due to an enlarged heart. Goran Dragic (21 points, 4 assists, 4 steals) has been playing exceptionally well of late, averaging 27 ppg while shooting 58 percent during his last 3 games. Klay Thompson (19 points) and Curry are the more renowned backcourt, but Bledsoe and Dragic did more than hold their own against the Splash Brothers.