by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Bobcats 101 (33-34), Bucks 92 (13-54)
Kemba Walker (21 points, 8 assists), Al Jefferson (20 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and the Bobcats used a big second half push to claim their fourth win in a row. Trailing 50-46 at halftime, the Bobcats allowed guards Ramon Sessions (18 points, 6 assists), Brandon Knight (21 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) and Nate Wolters (11 points) to combine for 33 of the team’s 50 points. During the second half, though, Gerald Henderson (14 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks) led a defensive push as the Bucks could only manage 12 points in the final 10 minutes. Jefferson provided the offensive punch during the final two quarters, scoring 16 of his 20 points. After Milwaukee cut the deficit to 88-87 with 5:44 to go, Big Al made a layup followed by a smooth hook shot to give his team a five-point lead that was enough cushion the rest of the way. Sixth man Gary Neal (18 points) had a solid game versus his former team as his Bobcats shot a very efficient 57.4 percent from the field. Currently riding a season-high four-game winning streak, Charlotte must now face the Hawks (29-35), who are currently riding their own season-high three-game winning streak, Monday night.
Suns 121 (38-28), Raptors 113 (37-28)
Even though it seems most likely that the Suns will be the odd team out among the four team racing (Warriors, Mavs, Grizzlies, Suns) for the bottom three playoff spots in the West, they just keep fighting. Sunday afternoon, Goran Dragic (19 points, 4 assists) orchestrated the offense while his team’s bench completely outplayed the Raptors bench. The Suns ended the game with a 59-11 advantage in bench points. Markieff Morris (16 points, 14 rebounds) was a commanding presence down low and Gerald Green (28 points, 5-8 on 3-pointers) had the hot hand on the day while Kyle Lowry (28 points, 13 assists) did everything in his power to keep his Raptors in the game. Green had 13 of his 28 points during the 4th quarter and played a major role during the Suns’ 11-2 run to start the quarter. He has seemed to come to terms and embraced his new role coming off the bench. At that point, they led 107-92 with 7:26 remaining. The Raptors would get as close as 114-107 but a Marcus Morris (10 points) tip-in put this one away for good. Led by Eric Bledsoe (14 points, 10-10 on free throws), the Suns incessantly got into the lane and shot 34-38 (89.5 percent) from the line because of this concerted effort. They also easily outrebounded the Raptors 45-26. The main reason the Raptors stayed within reaching distance throughout the game was because of the Suns’ 21 turnovers.
Heat 113 (45-19), Rockets 104 (44-22)
The Heat used an offensive blitz at the very end of Sunday’s nationally-televised game to stave off the struggling Rockets, who have now dropped three straight games. No one played bigger than the red-hot Ray Allen (team-high 25 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers). Currently averaging 23.5 points in his last two games, the 38-year-old veteran poured in 14 of his 25 points in the 4th quarter. During the latter half of this quarter, the Heat played fantastic inside and out, knocking down jumpers and getting into the lane. After Patrick Beverley (15 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) made a 3-pointer with 4:26 remaining in the game, the Rockets held a 102-98 lead. Then the Heat went on a 15-2 run, including 7 points from Allen and plenty of support from the entire team. LeBron James (24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Dwyane Wade (24 points, 7 assists) and Chris Bosh (18 points, 8 rebounds) all had about there averages numbers while James Harden (30 points, 11-12 on free throws) and Dwight Howard (21 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks) kept the Rockets in the game. Most of the team statistics ended up being fairly even for the Rockets and Heat…except for the final 4:26. This type of lackluster defense happens in far too many parts of Rockets games. Including the Rockets’ most recent win against Portland, they are allowing opponents to score 110.8 ppg during the past four games. Out of the current top four playoff teams in both conferences, Houston easily gives up the most ppg (102.0). If the Rockets want to make some noise in the postseason, Howard needs to become more of a defensive presence.
Pelicans 121 (27-39), Celtics 120 (22-45) OT
Whatever Anthony Davis’ (career-high 40 points, 21 rebounds, 3 blocks) ceiling ends up being, I’m afraid to think just how high it will be. The 21-year-old freak of nature willed his team to an overtime victory Sunday night while becoming the first player this season and in his team’s franchise history to notch at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a single game. According the Elias Sports, Davis is the 3rd-youngest player in NBA history to reach these numbers. In his last six games, the Unibrow is averaging an eye-popping 32.3 ppg, 14.3 rebounds and 3.0 bpg. That’s scary good. Tyreke Evans (26 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) gave Davis solid support throughout the night. Jeff Green (39 points, 6 rebounds) also had a huge night that included three big free throws with 4.7 seconds left in regulation that tied the game 110-110. But then Davis hit a go-ahead, clutch midrange jumper with 1.7 seconds on the clock…before Kris Humphries (16 points, 12 rebounds) responded by knocking down an extremely difficult (and slightly lucky) fadeaway jump shot in the corner to send this one into overtime. Even though Davis didn’t score in overtime, he grabbed 6 rebounds in the five extra minutes of play, showing his ability to control the boards and impact play in many ways. Boston came within one after Green converted an and-one, but the Celtics couldn’t foul the Pelicans on the inbounds play, allowing New Orleans to dribble out the clock. Led by Davis, the Pelicans had a dominating 70-46 advantage in points in the paint. Rajon Rondo (6 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds) had a nice stat line but didn’t really have an impact in overtime. With the loss, the Celtics have now lost four games in a row.
Mavericks 109 (40-27), Thunder 86 (48-18)
The Mavs finally took down the Thunder, beating them for the first time since January 2, 2012. Oklahoma City had won the past 11 meetings. The Thunder rested Russell Westbrook, and with Thabo Sefolosha (calf) still recovering from his injury, OKC seemed to be a step behind all night. Since Derek Fisher (3 points, 3 assists) and Caron Butler (7 points, 3-10 from the field) took a lot of the minutes that would have gone to these two starters, the Thunder lacked the speed that usually puts them above their competition. And Monta Ellis (9 points, 7 assists) took advantage by giving his team’s offense a great pace. The former Most Improved Player of the Year has struggled with consistency this season and throughout his career. But Sunday night, his assists numbers might not show it, but he played a very efficient and steady game. Vince Carter (18 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers, 20 minutes) defined what it means to have the “hot hand” Sunday night. Playing only 20 minutes off the bench, Carter never hesitated to release the deep ball, no matter how covered he was, and it resulted in a great performance. There are a lot of good Sixth Man of the Year candidates this season, and Carter has certainly put himself right in the middle of the discussion. Jose Calderon (16 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) put in 10 of his 16 points in the 1st quarter as the Mavs jumped out to a 29-23 lead. They continued to build their lead in the 2nd quarter, taking a 59-48 lead going into halftime. Then behind strong play from starting forwards Dirk Nowitzki (17 points) and Shawn Marion (19 points, 6 rebounds), the Mavs poured it on in the 3rd quartern by using a 15-5 run to take their first 20-point lead of the night. Playing the first night of a back-to-back, the Thunder called it quits early in the 4th quarter as Scott Brooks emptied his bench. Devin Harris (8 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) and Brandan Wright (8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) didn’t reach double-digits in scoring but provided valuable minutes off the bench. The Mavs shot 53.3 percent from the field while the Thunder only shot 36.7 percent. Dallas has now won at least 40 games for 15 straight seasons.
Timberwolves 104 (33-32), Kings 102 (23-44)
Kevin Love (26 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) had another big game in leading his team back to one game over .500. In his first career start, rookie Gorgui Dieng (career-high 12 points, career-high 11 rebounds, 5 blocks) also had his first career double-double and first performance with a real impact. He finally looked like the athlete that was an inside presence for Louisville during their national championship run. Kevin Martin (31 points, 14-14 on free throws) lived at the free throw line as his Wolves shot 30-38 from the charity stripe. The Cousins-less (knee) Kings plead well without their star center, as Isaiah Thomas (27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) had another dominant showing. Thomas plays with a certain level of confidence that any coach would love to see out of his starting point guard. Even though he’s undersized, he always seems to be giving it his all when he’s on the court. Derrick Williams (26 points, 11 rebounds, 28 minutes) had a fantastic revenge game and made it clear the Kings won the Williams-Mbah a Moute trade. But the Wolves jumped out to a quick 29-19 lead in the 1st quarter. Sacramento, though, quickly fought back and kept it close for the majority of the game. After Williams made two free throws with 1:26 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Kings led 95-94. Then behind 6-6 shooting at the line from Martin, the Wolves went on a 10-6 run to take the lead and the win. Even though the Kings outrebounded the Wolves 48-35, Minnesota took care of the ball (9 total turnovers) while sharing it as well.
Spurs 122 (50-16), Jazz 104 (22-45)
The Jazz kept this one close behind a career night from Derrick Favors (career-high 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 12-19 from the field), but the Spurs always seemed to be in control in route to their NBA-record 15th straight season with 50 wins. Other than the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter, Utah remained within single digits from the tipoff until the final few minutes of the 3rd quarter. After a Gordon Hayward (17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) jumper with 3:09 to go in the 3rd quarter, the Jazz trailed 82-73. The Spurs then decided to get serious and go on a quick 10-3 run that made the deficit insurmountable for the Jazz. San Antonio had seven players with at least 11 points and was led by sixth man Manu Ginobili (21 points, 8-11 from the field). Playing exactly 30 minutes on the night, Tim Duncan (16 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks) was the only Spurs player that was on the court for more than 30 minutes. The Spurs have looked like the best passing team in the League while also looking head and shoulders above their competition. During their current 10-game winning streak, the Spurs are beating opponents by 15.3 points, shooting 50.2 percent and dishing out 29.6 apg. As flashy as the Thunder, Clippers and Rockets have been this season, they will have to go through Popovich’s methodical and fundamental Spurs if they want to make a deep playoff run.
Warriors 113 (42-26), Blazers 112 (43-24)
Stephen Curry (37 points, 6-12 on 3-pointers), who has been battling a quad injury, started the game 0-5 and looked nothing like the player that put up 38 points on the Blazers in January. In fact, Curry didn’t score for the first 20 minutes and 39 seconds of the game. At that point, his Warriors trailed by double digits a few minutes before halftime. Once the 3rd quarter began, it was an entirely new story. Curry and Klay Thompson (27 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) caught fire, combining to score 51 of their 64 points in the final two quarters as their Warriors outscored the Blazers 69-57 in the 2nd half. All of the Splash Brothers’ 30 points in the 4th quarter came outside the paint. After Damian Lillard (26 points, 7 assists) made a dunk followed by two free throws with 20.7 seconds left in the game, Portland had regained the lead 111-110. But then off a great swing pass from Harrison Barnes (5 points, 5 rebounds), Thompson knocked down his final 3-pointer of the night that would end up being the go-ahead basket. The Blazers let a 70-52 3rd quarter lead go to waste, as they are now only 1 1/2 games ahead of the Warriors. Nicolas Batum (23 points, 14 rebound, 5 assists) and Robin Lopez (14 points, 10 rebounds) each had double-doubles as their Blazers actually outrebounded the Warriors 48-41. Portland just couldn’t make enough stops down the stretch. When Golden State’s starting backcourt shoots lights out as they did in the 2nd half Sunday night, there’s very little any NBA defense can do. The key to that sentence is “when” since it doesn’t always happen. If the Warriors can find consistency in their offense, they will absolutely be a legitimate threat come playoff time.
Clippers 102 (48-20), Cavaliers 80 (26-41)
The Clippers led wire-to-wire as this was never going to be a competition. To add insult—or injury—to injury, Kyrie Irving suffered a potentially season-ending bicep injury late in the 1st quarter. Even before Irving departed, the game was quickly getting out of hand as the Clippers built up an early 21-7 lead that stayed around double-digits most of the night. Birthday boy Blake Griffin (21 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) continued to play at an elite level, showing his ability to knock down jumpers and distribute the ball. The Cavs, however, wouldn’t go down without a fight and used a 12-0 run spanning over the 3rd and 4th quarter to pull within seven. Los Angeles then locked down defensively and only allowed Cleveland to make a 3-pointer over five minutes and twenty-two seconds. During this time, the Clippers went on a 12-3 run that would put this game out of reach. Seven Clippers scored in double-figures as Chris Paul (16 points, 15 assists, 0 turnovers) and DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 11 rebounds) had a double-double along with Griffin. These three have really found their groove during this 11-game winning streak. Luol Deng (23 points, 6 rebounds) led the way for the Cavs while Reggie Bullock (season-high 14 points) took advantage of extra playing time with three Clippers guards currently sidelined. With CP3 leading the charge, the Clippers had a 25-5 advantage in fast break points and only turned the ball over five times. They will now travel to Denver to face the Nuggets (29-37) Monday night. Being 4 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the East, if Cleveland has in fact lost Irving for the season, the team’s playoff hopes might be lost as well.