Post Up: Home Stretch
19 teams are in tight Playoff races with about 10 games left.
by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
Last night, the Mavs, Lakers and Jazz all won to keep pace with each other in the three-way competition to snag the West’s final Playoff spot. Things are getting intense.
Mavericks (36-37) 100, Bulls (39-32) 98
Great, great game between two teams fighting for Playoff position in their respective conferences. Nate Robinson caught fire with three treys early in the fourth, and the Bulls led by five with under a minute left. Dirk Nowitzki drained a three in the corner, cutting the lead to two. Dallas got the ball back down three, when Dirk hit a nice jumper to pull Dallas with one with 27 seconds left. Then, Jimmy Butler missed two free throws for Chicago to give Dallas the ball back still down one—big mistake. Dirk hit one more huge shot—another three—putting his Mavs on top for good.
Nowitzki outscored the Bulls 8-1 in the final 53 seconds, turning a five-point deficit into a two-point win. He finished with 35 points on a tremendous 14-of-17 shooting. He was 5-of-6 from downtown and grabbed 7 boards. Vintage show. Brandan Wright (13 boards) and Vince Carter both came off the bench to score 17 for the Mavericks.
Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Robinson each scored a team-high 25 for the Bulls. But Butler, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson—usually reliable—combined to shoot just 7-of-20. Chicago hit 12 threes on the night, but simply got Dirked.
Hawks (41-33) 97, Magic (19-55) 88
This game was pretty close down the stretch, but Atlanta had a lead the entire way. Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson both dropped 21 for the Hawks, and Devin Harris added 17. The Hawks committed 18 turnovers and shot under 44 percent, but were able to pull out the win at home.
The Magic got solid contributions from its young core. Nikola Vucevic was at it again, piling up 17 points, 15 boards and 2 steals. Mo Harkless scored 17 with 3 steals, Tobias Harris double-doubled and Andrew Nicholson scored 9 in just 12 minutes off the bench. Those four could be the heart of Playoff team (in a shallow East) surprisingly soon. It’ll take some good drafting to get there, though. I like this Orlando squad.
The Hawks leaped ahead of the Bulls in the standings, though they still trail Chicago in the loss column. It’s a battle for the fifth seed and, in all likelihood, the advantage of facing Brooklyn rather than New York in the first round. Frankly, though, I’d rather have the six seed since the winner of 4-vs-5 faces Miami in the second round. All teams should be trying to avoid the Heat for as long as possible.
76ers (30-43) 100, Bobcats (17-56) 92
Royal Ivey put the 6ers up with a three midway through the fourth and they hung on from there. Each Philly starter scored at least 10, and Ivey scored 11. Evan Turner was the team’s high-man with 22, and has strung together consecutive good games. You can bet he’ll come out flat as a bench next game. Thaddeus Young double-doubled with 15 and 10.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led Charlotte with 21 and 9. He’s also played well in consecutive nights, and is having a solid rookie season. The book on him before the draft was that he’d likely be a good forward who will never be really great. Charlotte could use a few guys like that. Gerald Henderson scored 19 with 7 assists.
Rockets (40-33) 98, Clippers (49-25) 81
Surprising outcome here, especially since James Harden sat with a sore foot for the Rockets. Lob City got outscored by 17 in the third—ultimately the difference in the game.
Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Francisco Garcia each scored a team-high 15 for Houston. The Rockets didn’t play particularly well (44%, 9/24 threes, 22 turnovers), but the Clippers didn’t bring their A-game on Saturday.
Chris Paul was solid with 19 points, 7 assists, 5 boards and 3 steals, but his teammates were off. Blake Griffin made only 5-of-11 shots in a quiet outing, and Caron Butler was 2-of-10 from the field. The Clippers shot below 40 percent overall, scored just 26 points in the paint, turned the ball over 19 times and got out-rebounded by 10. Red LA now trails both Denver and Memphis in the loss column in the West.
Grizzlies (49-24) 99, Timberwolves (26-46) 86
Memphis dominated the fourth quarter. They trailed by two entering the final period but led by 12 five minutes later. Marc Gasol scored a team-high 21 for Memphis, and added 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks. There isn’t a better center in the League. Mike Conley scored 19, and Darrell Arthur added 15 off the bench.
The T-Wolves got a big performance from Ricky Rubio. He scored 23 points, grabbed 10 boards, handed out 9 dimes and got to the line 12 times. He’s been playing really well lately, and it’s nice to see that he’s mostly over his bad knee injury from last season. If only Kevin Love could get back on the floor…
Thunder (54-20) 109, Bucks (35-37) 99
Milwaukee hung in there for a while. They trailed by 10 at halftime, but evened the score entering the fourth quarter. They held a lead early in the fourth, but eventually the Thunder took over and ran away with it. Kevin Durant led OKC with 30 points, but Russell Westbrook was just as sharp. The guard triple-doubled with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Martin bounced back from a terrible game on Friday with 17 points and 5 rebounds.
Amazingly (considering it was a close game against a great team), Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 6-of-30. Neither guy made more than 3 shots, and each took at least 13 shots. Hypothetically the Bucks have, if nothing else, a really fun backcourt to watch, but Ellis and Jennings never seem to play well on the same nights. Both are free agents this summer (Jennings is restricted, Monta unrestricted), and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one or both are gone a year from now. I like the Bucks, but this overrated duo will never go far in the Playoffs. They’re both gifted scorers, but just aren’t supposed to be on the same team. That being said, I really hope they go off at least once against Miami and push the round-one series to five games.
Ersan Ilyasova scored 29 points with 14 rebounds for Milwaukee. Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh each had points-rebounds double-doubles. Udoh accomplished his in only 18 minutes. It’s easy to see why he didn’t play more, since forward Marquis Daniels was absolutely on fire, connecting on 4-of-12 shots while failing to grab a defensive rebound in 32 minutes.
Jazz (38-36) 116, Nets (42-31) 107
Randy Foye beat the Nets last night. He went absolutely bonkers in the second half, hitting five threes in a six-minute stretch in the third quarter. He added two more triples in the fourth, and finished with 26 points (8-of-9 from downtown). Al Jefferson had a big night down low, scoring 20 points with 7 boards and hitting a few big shots to hold Brooklyn off late. Paul Millsap made only 2-of-10 attempts, but handed out 9 assists.
Deron Williams played pretty well in his return to Utah, scoring 21 points (6/14) with 11 assists. He’s been a completely different player since the All-Star break (16.7 points on 41.3% vs 22.2 points on 46.6%). Brook Lopez played well, scoring 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. Reggie Evans continued his rebounding rampage with 16 boards. He’ll close out March with averages of roughly 8 points and 16 rebounds for the month.
Lakers (38-36) 103, Kings (27-47) 98
LA got hot in the third quarter and took a seven point lead into the fourth. They led for the entirety of the final period.
Kobe Bryant had a great game, scoring 19 points with 14 assists and 9 rebounds while passing Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time points list. He’s after MJ’s spot on the list next (should pass him sometime next season). He played all 48 minutes—totally crazy for a 17-year vet.
Pau Gasol double-doubled with 12 points and 10 assists. With his strange season, it’s easy to forget what a gifted player and, specifically, passer Gasol is. Hopefully he gets dealt to a team that can properly utilize him this summer.
Tyreke Evans scored 21 points for the Kings to go with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. DeMarcus Cousins posted 19 (8/20) and 11. I thought this might be the year Cousins takes off, but it just hasn’t happened. He’s had some nice games, but his numbers have dipped almost across the board from last season. That’s very rare for a third-year player (usually a big improvement year), and perhaps a bad sign for the immensely talented center.
Pacers (46-27) 112, Suns (23-50) 104
Paul George and Roy Hibbert led the Pacers to a pretty easy win last night. It was a close game for most of the way, but, if you were watching, it was pretty apparent the Suns had no chance of winning. George scored 25 and tallied 4 dimes, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks and 2 threes, while Hibbert went for 20 and 7.
Fellow starters David West, George Hill and Lance Stephenson all played well, too. Each of them scored at least 14 points on 50 percent shooting or better. That’s a strong starting five.
The Pacers attempted an absurd 46 free throws. 46! Two guys attempted at least 10 free throws, 4 others attempted at least 4 and two others also got to the stripe. By comparison, Phoenix attempted just 19 free throws and nobody got to the line more than 5 times.
Seven Suns scored in double-figures. Goran Dragic scored 21 points with 9 assists and Markieff Morris scored 18.
Warriors (41-32) 125, Blazers (33-39) 98
The Blazers have now dropped four straight at the worst possible time. Last night, they watched Stephen Curry go off for 39 (7 threes) in a blowout loss. Golden State won every quarter by at least five.
Carl Landry was big with 25 and 10 off the bench in only 23 minutes, and David Lee posted 13 and 8. The Warriors shot 54 percent from the floor compared to 38.4 percent for Portland. That always leads to big rebounding differentials, and last night was no different—the Ws won on the glass 52-38.
The Blazers’ leading scorer was Myers Leonard with 22. He snatched 10 boards and is playing well with LaMarcus Aldridge out of the lineup. Damian Lillard scored 16 with 8 assists and JJ Hickson tallied 15 points and 10 boards.