Post Up: Tickets Punched
Spurs clinch West; Thunder win Northwest.
by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam
So much for the Lakers getting the No. 1 seed. After losing six straight games, the Spurs (60-19) won their third consecutive game last night, smacking the Kings and clinching home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs. Manu Ginobili poured in a game-high 25 points, and Tony Parker chipped in 15 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. George Hill and Gary Neal contributed with 19 and 14, respectively. Tyreke Evans led Sacramento with 16 points, along the way violating Neal’s career.
A night after knocking off the red hot Denver Nuggets, the Thunder were back to business. Kevin Durant had 29, 7, and 7, and Russell Westbrook had a smooth 26, 7, and 7 to help OKC earn its 52nd win and the Northwest Division title. Blake Griffin got his 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists, but it wasn’t enough to come out victorious. Kendrick Perkins grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds, and seemed to be locked in Celtics mindset after the game.
AP: “We’ve got goals at hand,” Perk said. “When you have bigger goals, you tend to reach smaller goals.”
It’s evident the Thunder have a “Why not us?” attitude, and have the talent to back it up. After going 20-62 in his rookie season, Durant and Co. are now division champions. Props to Sam Presti for assembling a progressive, successful roster.
With the win and a Charlotte loss, the Pacers punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time since 2006, rounding out the top-8 in the East. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, as Danny Granger tallied 25 points on 7-11 shooting, and rookie Paul George (5-6 from three) had 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Pacers shot 60 percent, as the Wizards gave the most points they have in a game this season. Andray Blatche had 16 points in the first quarter for Washington, but scored only seven more in the last three quarters. Rookie Jordan Crawford dropped 29 and John Wall chipped in with 19 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort. The good news: Indy is playoff bound. The bad news: They will most likely face the Bulls, whom they are 1-3 against this season.
Side note: After nine seasons, Mike Dunleavy will finally make his first playoff appearance. For some reason, I feel he’s been in the League for like 71 years.
A blown 19-point lead and three heart attacks later, the Knicks regained the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Carmelo Anthony led the way, scoring 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Amar’e Stoudemire contributed 18 points, seven assists, and six rebounds as the Knicks won their fifth straight. Thaddeus Young led Phili with 25 points off the bench, and Elton Brand poured in 24 points and nine rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
Down 88-87 with less than two minutes left, Toney Douglas (17 points) hit a three to regain the lead, and the Knicks escaped with the victory. Worrisome news for Knick fans, though, as Amar’e tweaked his ankle late in the game, and Chauncey Billups went down in the third with a sore thigh. The severity of both injuries is not yet known, but with direct playoff implications at stake in the remaining games, I expect both veterans to return asap.
JJ Hickson led the Cavs, scoring 28 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, and Baron Davis had 19 points to help Cleveland win consecutive games for the first time since November. Playing without Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson, Toronto’s bench outscored its starters 54-42, as Jerryd Bayless scored 28 in a losing effort.
This one needed overtime, but the Magic eventually won the game, simultaneously eliminating the Bobcats from Playoff contention. It was a heated contest, as Quentin Richardson muffed Gerald Henderson en route to an ejection, and Dwight Howard picked up his 18th technical foul—warranting a one-game suspension, which will be in effect Sunday when Orlando takes on Chicago. After hitting a game-tying three with under 20 seconds left, DJ Augustin (six points) missed a reverse layup that would’ve won Charlotte the game. But his attempt was off the mark, and the Magic outscored the Bobcats 15-6 in the extra period. Gilbert Arenas led Orlando with 25 points, and Henderson—despite getting violated—dropped 32. The Bobcats were without Stephen Jackson, who was nursing a sore left hamstring.
In the absence of Deron Williams (wrist), Brook Lopez had 39 points and seven rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to counter Richard Hamilton (25 points), Rodney Stuckey (22), and Greg Monroe (20). It’s tough to win, regardless of the opponent, when Jordan Famar and Sasha Vujacic are your second and third leading scorers. The Nets continue to distribute minutes randomly, as Avery Johnson used his 23rd different starting lineup of the season. The Pistons have now matched their win total from a year ago (27).
After trailing by as much as 17 in the first half, the Hornets rebounded to claim the victory and clinch a playoff spot. Chris Paul had a near triple-double (28 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds), and Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack each chipped in 19 points. Jack, Emeka Okafor, and rookie head coach Monty Williams will all make their first career playoff appearances. Kevin Martin led Houston with 21 points, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets will be eliminated from the playoffs with another loss or one Memphis win. Houston, we have a problem.
Sans an ailing DWade, the Heat dropped a close one in South Beach, and as a result slid to third in the East, now a half-game behind Boston. Even as they realized they’d been eliminated from Playoff contention, the Bucks led for 38 minutes of the game, holding Miami to 41 percent shooting and forcing 16 turnovers. LeBron scored 29 points and dished eight assists, and Chris Bosh had 18 in a losing effort. Miami hosts Charlotte on Friday before facing off against the Celtics on Sunday, a game that could decided the second seed.
Marcin Gortat scored 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Grant Hill had 17 points in only 19 minutes to help Phoenix hand Minnesota its 11th straight loss. “Be Easy” Mike Beasley led the Wolves with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. A night after losing to potential first-round foe Oklahoma City, the Nuggets (winners of seven of eight) rebounded to hand the Tyson Chandler/Jason Kidd-less Mavs their fourth straight loss. JR Smith scored 23 points off the bench and Kenyon Martin/Danilo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler combined for 44 points to carry the Nugs, as they fielded an 8-man rotation. Shawn Marion had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Dirk Nowitzki chipped in 20 and 7 in the losing effort.
With San Antonio clinching the top seed and Dallas struggling, L.A. didn’t get too wounded in last nights defeat. Steph Curry had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists to compliment Monta Ellis’ 26 points and David Lee’s 22 points/17 rebounds, and the Warriors improved to 25-14 at Oracle Arena. The Lakers once again looked sluggish, but I don’t think it’s a cause for concern. Kobe Bryant had 25 points (peep his hangtime below) and Pau Gasol scored 18 for the Lakers, who according to Andrew Bynum, will be just fine.
AP: “We’re not locked in,” Bynum said. “We’re complacent. I just think we’re going out there and playing kind of stupid basketball. We know that come playoff time, everything’s going to be fine.”
Highlight of the night: