by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
On Friday night, the Lakers, Jazz and Mavs all needed wins to stay relevant in the Western Conference Playoff race. Meanwhile, the East’s 7 and 8 seeds both lost and nobody noticed. That tells you all you need to know about which conference is stronger.
Cavaliers (23-52) 97, Celtics (39-37) 91
Kyrie Irving was only 4-for-20 from the field last night, but his jumper with 1:22 left was huge. It put Cleveland up eight, effectively ending the game. Irving finished with only 11 points, though he did tally 8 assists. Tristan Thompson had a massive night—he finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds. Alonzo Gee added 16.
Jeff Green scored a team-high 23 for Boston. He’s turned into a reliably productive guy, and we’re seeing less and less of the Why Is He So Bad Today When He Was So Good Yesterday Jeff Green.
Brandon Bass added 14. Boston hit only 6-of-22 three-point attempts and 13-of-22 shots from the free throw line while getting out-rebounded 58-42. That’s the formula for a loss.
Knicks (49-26) 101, Bucks (36-39) 83
The Knicks seem pretty unstoppable right now. Carmelo Anthony, who’s been the League’s best scorer over the last week, dropped 41 on only 28 shots, and snatched 14 rebounds. JR Smith scored a big 30 and grabbed 10 rebounds himself—an incredible number for such an offensive-oriented player. Nobody else scored double-figures, but Melo and JR’s big nights were enough to lead the Knicks to an easy W. The Knicks are on fire.
The Bucks showed exactly why they won’t go anywhere in the Playoffs. Brandon Jennings was a semj-efficient 9-of-20 and Larry Sanders grabbed 12 rebounds, but Monta Ellis was terrible. He missed 9 of his 13 shots and finished with just 11 points. I’m convinced that Jennings and Ellis are absolutely incapable of playing well on the same night. One or both will be gone soon. My money is on Ellis walking for nothing and Milwaukee overpaying Jennings to keep a “star” player around this summer.
76ers (31-44) 101, Hawks (42-35) 90
Philly outscored Atlanta by 14 in the first quarter, leading to a pretty easy win. The 6ers led by 16 with about two minutes left. Evan Turner led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Spencer Hawes (19 & 12) and Thaddeus Young (14 & 13) were big, too.
It’s amazing that Atlanta still has an outside shot at first round home-court advantage considering how mediocre they are. Josh Smith scored 19 and Al Horford scored 18 with 10 boards last night.
Heat (59-16) 89, Bobcats (18-58) 79
The Heat were shorthanded last night, playing without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the Bobcats couldn’t capitalize and pick up their 19th win. An eight point third quarter from Charlotte allowed Miami to pull away.
Mike Miller played well again, knocking down 7/11 threes and 9/15 shots overall. Chris Bosh did a little of everything with 18 points, 8 boards, 6 assists a steal, a block and a three.
Charlotte got 18 and 14 from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson combined to shoot 5-for-31. Ouch.
Thunder (56-20) 97, Pacers (48-28) 75
This was a close game at the start of the fourth, but OKC pulled away. They outscored the Pacers 25-8 in the final period.
KD led the way with 34 and 9. He was efficient, making 13-of-21 shots and getting to the line 7 times. Russell Westbrook scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Roy Hibbert (22 & 8 ) and David West (17) were both solid for the Pacers, who seemingly never get blown out at home. Impressive win from Oklahoma City.
Bulls (42-33) 87, Magic (19-58) 86
Orlando cut a nine-point deficit down to one with 1:32 left, but from that point on neither team scored. The Magic wasted a few chances late.
The Bulls’ leading scorers were Luol Deng and Nate Robinson, who each scored 19. Chicago only shot 40 percent from the floor, but you can get away with bad shooting nights when you’re facing the Magic at home.
Beno Udrih dropped 27 for Orlando. Nikola Vucevic (16 & 15) and Tobias Harris (12 & 11) both double-doubled.
Raptors (29-47) 95, Timberwolves (28-47) 93
I’m calling this matchup the Disappointment Bowl. Preseason, I picked these guys as the “Last Teams In” to the Playoffs in their respective conferences. I thought they both had enough young talent to shine. Instead, they’re a combined 37 games under .500.
As you might predict would happen in a game called the Disappointment Bowl, the losing team had a few opportunities in the final minutes and couldn’t deliver.
Rudy Gay paced Toronto with 26 points. DeMar DeRozan scored 25. They each shot 12-of-23 from the field. Jonas Valanciunas, who’s been coming on over the past few weeks, scored 12 points and got to the line 10 times. That’s a nice sign from the big man.
Minnesota got 26 from Nikola Pekovic and 20 from Andrei Kirilenko, but it wasn’t enough. Ricky Rubio shot just 3-of-10 from the field, though he finished with 13 points and 12 assists.
Jazz (40-37) 95, Hornets (26-50) 83
Utah grabbed a big lead early in the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Gordon Hayward (23) and Paul Millsap (20, 10 and 7) were both great for the Jazz, who were able to keep pace with the Lakers (more on them later) with the win.
Anthony Davis finally broke from his 16-and-6 routine with a 24-12-3 performance. He committed 0 turnovers in a very efficient 31 minutes. He came into the League with massive expectations and hasn’t fully delivered, but he’s clearly going to be very, very good. Greivis Vasquez scored 21 with 9 assists.
Warriors (44-32) 111, Suns (23-53) 107
The Suns made a few pushes in the fourth quarter, but Golden State led for the entirety of the period and held Phoenix off late.
Klay Thompson and David lee each scored 22+, and Lee grabbed 14 boards. Stephen Curry took on a distributing role with 18 points and 15 assists. He’s having an unreal season. In March, he averaged 25 points with 7.5 assists per game. In February, he averaged 25.4 points with 6.3 assists. On the year he’s at 22.5/7/4 while shooting 45 percent overall and draining 3.4 threes per game (45.3%). 3.4! Wow.
Phoenix got 32 (11/13) from Goran Dragic. Michael Beasley scored 25 and the team shot 61 percent overall. When you shoot 61 percent at home and still lose, uh… I don’t think I’ve ever come across this…
Mavericks (37-39) 117, Kings (27-49) 108
Dallas led by double-figures for most of the fourth and cruised to a win last night. Shawn Marion scored 25 with 12 rebounds, and Brandan Wright scored 20. He’s had some big games off the bench this year.
The story for Sacramento was that DeMarcus Cousins was benched and played only nine minutes. If the New York Jets are the writers of the How To Screw Up A Young Quarterback handbook, then a bunch of bad Kings coaches can take credit for co-writing the How To Screw Up Young Talent At Every Position Every Year handbook (featuring an intro written by Vinny Del Negro on how to minimize your players’ talents).
Isaiah Thomas (who’s seen inconsistent minutes this year, mainly early on) dropped 29. Tyreke Evans added 20, and Jason Thompson posted 16 & 16.
Rockets (43-33) 116, Blazers (33-43) 98
Houston won each quarter last night, leading to a not-so-close fourth. James Harden led the charge with 33. He hit 4 threes and 7-of-8 free throws, grabbed 7 rebounds and handed out 6 assists. Jeremy Lin scored 22 with 8 assists and Greg Smith dropped 19 on just 6 shot attempts. He got to the line 12 times in just 24 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 32 with 13 boards, but if you’re facing the Rockets and Greg Smith gets to line 12 times in 24 minutes, you can’t say any big man was that good. Defense is half the game, and, once more for emphasis, they let Greg Smith shoot 12 free throws in 24 minutes. I think we need to name something in honor of this performance (more on that very soon).
Lakers (40-36) 86, Grizzlies (51-25) 84
This was the game of the night. With four seconds left, Dwight Howard was sent to the Greg Smith Line up one. Amazingly, he actually split the free throws, giving Yellow LA a two-point lead with a few ticks left. Mike Conley couldn’t tie the game at the buzzer, and the Lakers got a huge win to stay a game ahead of Utah in the loss column.
Kobe Bryant hit 10-of-23 shots for 24 points, 9 dimes and 5 boards. Pau Gasol played well with 19 points and 9 rebounds. Howard finished with 9 points and 10 boards, and committed 4 turnovers and 5 fouls. That’s what happens when you go up against the NBA’s best center in Marc Gasol.
Marc posted 11 points, 8 boards, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in the loss. Conley scored 21 and Zach Randolph grabbed 7 rebounds to go with his 15 points.