by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Thunder 112 (41-12), Knicks 100 (20-31)
Kevin Durant (41 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks) did Kevin Durant things yet again while Carmelo Anthony (15 points, 4 offensive rebounds, 5 assists, 5-19 from the field) struggled from the opening tip. The Thunder played fantastic team defense against Melo, forcing him to take difficult jump shots late in the shot clock. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder had little resistance in getting what they wanted, as Durant had his seventh 40-point performance. Whether he was working a two-man game with Serge Ibaka (16 points 9 rebounds) or working in isolation, the Knicks didn’t know what to do with Durant. Point guard Reggie Jackson (19 points, 6 assists) had another solid performance and will make this second unit very potent once Westbrook returns. The Knicks hung around in this game early on, thanks to exceptional 3-point shooting from Iman Shumpert (12) and the rest of the team. New York shot 5-8 from deep in the first seven minutes, as they built up a 19-16 lead. Thabo Sefolosha (12 points, 4 steals), though, used his defense to help the Thunder keep up with the Knicks, having three of his steals in this first quarter. Without much going on offensively, the Knicks couldn’t keep up with the Thunder solely with the long ball. New York shot 4-16 on 3-pointers for the rest of the game. OKC slowly built up a lead that turned into a 15-point lead late in the fourth quarter. As has often been the case for both these teams, the Knicks struggled in the fast break while the Thunder pushed the ball all night. Oklahoma City had a 15-4 advantage in fast break points.
Bulls 92 (25-25), Lakers 86 (18-33)
This might not have been the matchup the League envisioned when making it a nationally-televised game, but these injury-ridden teams fought to the best of their ability. The Bulls starting lineup and D.J. Augustin (15 points, 6 assists, 2 steals) led the Bulls to victory against a Lakers team that just doesn’t have enough legitimate NBA players on the roster. All L.A. players struggled except for the three bench players that were the only positive Lakers in terms of plus-minus—Chris Kaman (27 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks), Kendall Marshall (13 points, 11 assists) and Jordan Hill (15 points, 9 rebounds). The Bulls found a way to be scrappier, as their starters plus Augustin all grabbed at least 2 steals each. Joakim Noah (20 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) had a fantastic game, which has often been the case since Luol Deng was shipped away. Both teams made about the same about of field goals and 3-pointers, but the Bulls had the advantage in free throws, making 17-17 from the line. The Lakers only shot 8-11. The Bulls scored the first 10 points of this game and eventually led 72-53 late in the third quarter after a Kirk Hinrich (17 points, 5 assists, 2 steals) 3-pointer. The Lakers would get as close as four in the final minute but Augustin finished this one by making 2-2 from the stripe.
Nets 93 (23-26), Pelicans 81 (22-28)
The Pelicans had won five straight games against Eastern Conference opponents going into this game. The Nets changed that streak by starting the game on an 11-0 run, leading by 27 points at one point in first half and eventually winning wire-to-wire. It was just clear from the start that the Pelicans wouldn’t have enough offense from players not named Anthony Davis (24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) to compete with a Nets team that has effectively started playing small ball. The Nets had eight players score at least six points, which was enough to beat a Pelicans teams missing the offense from Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. Brooklyn got a huge boost from their bench as Mason Plumlee (career-high 22 points, 13 rebounds) had one of the best games of his young career, taking it to Davis. (Sidenote—are the Plumlees currently the second best brothers in the NBA behind the Gasols?) Alan Anderson (13 points, 3 assists) and Mirza Teletovic (13 points, 11 rebounds) also had solid games off the bench. The Nets outplayed the Pelicans in every way, especially shooting the ball. Brooklyn shot 53.0 percent from the field while New Orleans only shot 36.1 percent. The Nets won for the first time in franchise history with no starter scoring in double-digits.
Cavaliers 91 (18-33), Grizzlies 83 (27-23) OT
Finally—the Cavaliers have done something positive in 2014. After recently losing six games in a row, seven of nine and firing general manager Chris Grant, Cleveland has now won two games in a row for the first time since early January—and those wins came against the Sixers and Jazz. All-Star Kyrie Irving (28 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4-4 on 3-pointers) looked much closer to the player the League expected him to be this season. When Irving is motivated enough, he looks like the All-Star starting point guard he is. The glaring question is if he can sustain that motivation. The Grizzlies almost stole this one from the Cavs, as James Johnson (15 points, 4 rebounds) went into crazy mode, scoring 13 straight points to give Memphis a 78-74 lead with 2:10 left in the game. Johnson may look reckless but he has honed that energy-driven recklessness during his time with the Grizzlies. Irving would answer with a pair of buckets that would send this one into overtime. Then Luol Deng (9 points, 5 rebounds) and Dion Waiters (18 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds) led the way in overtime as Nick Calathes (17 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and the Grizzlies could only muster five points in the extra five minutes of basketball. Marc Gasol (8 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals) and Zach Randolph (14 points, 8 rebounds) combined to shoot 9-27 from the field, being bothered by the surprisingly strong team defense from Anderson Varejao (4 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists) and the Cavaliers. Both teams shot below 40 percent for the game as this one turned out to be a slugfest. Memphis has failed to reach 100 points in 14 straight games. If the Cavs know how to do one thing in particular, it’s playing in overtime. By taking down the Grizzlies, they have now won an NBA-best five games in overtime this season.
Magic 93 (16-37), Pacers 92 (39-11)
The Magic might have a bad record in the lowly Eastern Conference, but they have now beaten the top-ranked team in the West (Thunder) and East (Pacers) in back-to-back games. Being labeled as “inexperienced” and “frantic” for most of the season, they have turned that into “youth” and “energetic” during the past two games. The Magic have been scrappy and hustling to every ball, possibly giving them the best two-game stretch of any team on the year. They have also shown superior resolve, coming back from a 17-point deficit in each of these two wins. And after holding the Thunder to 14 points in the fourth quarter Friday, they held the Pacers to only 18 points in the final quarter, scoring 29 points of their own. Sixth man Maurice Harkless (6 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) has been a defensive specialist for the Magic, being a major reason the Pacers went through offensive lulls in the second half. The Magic won this game due to a 32-8 blitz in the second half, during which Victor Oladipo (23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) scored 12 of his 23 points. After hitting a couple of triples in an attempt to come back from a late seven-point deficit, Paul George (27 points, 7 rebounds) missed a contested jumper in the final seconds that he believes he got fouled on. George also didn’t seem to have his midrange game going at times during the second half. Orlando has now won five straight games at the Amway Center, which is the longest such streak since the 2010-11 season. If the Magic can retain its core consisting of Oladipo, Arron Afflalo (7 points, 3 rebounds), Tobias Harris (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Nikola Vucevic (19 points, 13 rebounds)—or package Afflalo in a trade for a higher pick—while adding a quality player from this upcoming draft, Orlando has a promising future.
Wizards 93 (25-25), Kings 84 (17-34)
The Wizards have made their way back to .500 by taking down a struggling Kings team. Isaiah Thomas (30 points, 8 assists, 3 steals) can only do so much for Sacramento, especially when DeMarcus Cousins (14 points, 12 rebounds, 3-16 from the field) has an uncharacteristic off night. Other than when he got injured against the Rockets, this ties a season-low for Cousins in terms of field goals made. After Jason Thompson (6 points, 9 rebounds) hit a jump shot with 2:11 left in the first quarter, the Kings only trailed 23-22. Then behind strong play from Kevin Seraphin (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Garrett Temple (4 points, 3 assists, 12 minutes), the Wizards went on a 16-4 run to take control of the game. Other than the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, during which the Kings went on a 6-0 run, the Wizards led by double-digits for the majority of the rest of the game and remained in control. Nene (18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks) and Marcin Gortat (17 points, 8 rebounds) played well down low while John Wall (12 points, 4 assists, 5 turnovers) had enough help to grab the victory. Shooting 35.4 percent from the field, the Kings just couldn’t make enough shots to keep up with Washington.
Mavericks 102 (31-21), Celtics 91 (18-34)
The Mavs are currently in one of their easiest stretches of the season, and they are riding a League-best five-game winning streak because of it. They have jumped the Warriors for the seventh seed in the West all thanks to Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) playing like the All-Star that he is. During the current winning streak plus their two-point loss to the Rockets, Dirk is averaging 26.9 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 55-95 from the field (57.9 percent), 12-24 on 3-pointers (50.0 percent) and 39-41 on free throws (95.1 percent). He uses his footwork, pump fakes and awkward angles to make much more athletic big men look foolish. Dirk got off to a hot start, scoring seven of the team’s first eight points. Boston would go on to fight for the first 12 minutes, behind strong play from Jeff Green (18 points, 5 rebounds). When Green is on his game, he looks like a player that can lead this Celtics team alongside Rajon Rondo (15 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds). The Mavs got strong play from Monta Ellis (11 points, 5 rebounds) and Devin Harris (12 points, 7 assists, 23 minutes) in the second quarter, as the Mavs led 44-38 going into halftime. Ellis playing through his injured hamstring seemed to motivate Dallas at times. Whether or not the Celtics simply have some bad offensive players, the Mavs looked like they were actually playing decent defense Sunday night. With Dirk, Ellis and Jose Calderon (18 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) leading the way, Dallas took control in the third quarter, going on a 13-3 run to take a 17-point lead. Calderon scored 10 of his 18 points in this quarter. It only got worst in the final 12 minutes, as Vince Carter (14 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) scored eight straight points to give Dallas a game-high 24 point lead. Jared Sullinger (11 points, 12 rebounds) had his fifth straight double-double while his Celtics ended the night shooting 35.9 percent from the field. The Mavs have plenty of offense to go around, especially with Harris now joining Carter and Brandan Wright (8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 20 minutes) as reliable sources of offense coming off the bench. If this squad wants to start beating elite teams and attempt to make some noise in the playoffs, though, they will need to start locking down defensively like they did Sunday.
Clippers 123 (36-18), 76ers 78 (15-37)
Head coach Brett Brown knew what he was getting himself into when he decided to coach a young Sixers team. But he still has a coaching foundation with the Spurs and must feel sick after his team’s fight—or lack thereof—Sunday night. Los Angeles led 46-15 after only 12 minutes of basketball, becoming the first team to lead by 31 points or more after the first quarter since 2001. It was a pitiful performance across the board for Philadelphia, as Tony Wroten (21 points, 23 minutes) was the closest thing to tolerable for the Sixers on the night. Chris Paul (7 points, 8 assists, 4 steals) played 22 minutes in his return and looked to be moving well. (He didn’t have to move much, though, with the lack of defense from Philadelphia.) No Clippers player had to play more than 29 minutes, as Blake Griffin (26 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 20 rebounds, 4 blocks) embarrassed Spencer Hawes (0 points, 2 rebounds). Jordan now has 31 consecutive games with double-digit boards. The Clippers set franchise-highs for largest halftime lead (39) and largest lead after three quarters (49). This game was at its worst midway through the third quarter, when the Clippers led 89-33 after a Jamal Crawford (21 points) jump shot. One last statistic to bring this game full circle—the Clippers shot 89 shots and made 50 of them (56.2 percent). The Sixers? They shot 100 shots…and only made 27 of them (27 percent).