by Brett Weisband | @weisband
Bulls (27-25) 92, Nets (24-27) 76
Chicago outslugged the Nets heading into the All-Star break, besting Brooklyn in typically ugly fashion. The Bulls got a balanced effort, with five players scoring between 14 and 16 points. Taj Gibson was the high-man with 16 off the bench, while Carlos Boozer (15 and 10 boards) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 boards, seven assists) both posted double doubles. Chicago played efficiently despite their low point total, shooting 50 percent for just the eighth time all season.
With the Bulls leading 75-72 with six and a half minutes to go, Chicago clamped down and went on a 9-0 run over the next three minutes, putting the Nets in a deficit they couldn’t recover from. Brooklyn showed all the signs of a team ready to go on break while playing the second game of a back-to-back, starting out slowly (they didn’t hit 10 points until halfway through the first quarter) and finishing just as poorly, shooting 38 percent from the field for the game. Paul Pierce led in the scoring column with 15 points (4-11 shooting), while Deron Williams had 13 points and five assists in 42 minutes, his longest outing in two months.
There was some chippiness in this game, as Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-8 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks) and Joe Johnson (11 points) got in each other’s faces, with Noah having to hold Butler back after Johnson gave him a finger poke to the forehead.
Thunder (43-12) 107, Lakers (18-35) 103
For most of the game, it looked like the Thunder had checked out and had their minds on vacation (or in New Orleans) until Kevin Durant took over in the fourth quarter, leading Oklahoma City over Los Angeles. OKC trailed the Lakers 82-72 heading into the final quarter when KD turned it on. The MVP frontrunner poured in 19 of his 43 points in the last 12 minutes, hitting 5-11 shots to help salvage a subpart shooting night (14-33 overall, 12 rebounds, seven assists) while hitting all six of his free throws down the stretch. Durant, who shook off an 0-8 start from long range, got support from Reggie Jackson, who hit for 16 points and dished out five assists, while Jeremy Lamb had 12 on 3-10 shooting, hitting a big 3-pointer late.
The short-handed Lakers, who had just eight active players, put up a tough fight. They didn’t trail in the game until there were less than six minutes left on the clock. L.A. played some solid defense, holidng OKC to 44 percent shooting while hitting 48 percent of their own shots. Wes Johnson put up 19 for the Lakers, while Kendall Marshall went for a double double with 14 points and 17 assists. L.A. heads into the break having lost seven straight on the Staples Center floor, while OKC stretched their lead for best record to 1.5 games over Indiana.