Post Up: The Clutch Jameses
James Harden and LeBron James hit big shots as all but four teams played Wednesday night.
by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11
Grizzlies 86 (29-23), Magic 81 (16-38)
The Grizzlies held off a Magic team that just wouldn’t go away. Behind strong play from Zach Randolph (20 points, 5 rebounds) early on, Memphis jumped out to a quick 24-15 lead. After an Ed Davis (2 points) alley-oop midway through the second quarter, the lead was extended to 36-23, the Grizzlies’ largest lead of the game. But behind strong play from Tobias Harris (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Nikola Vucevic (13 points, 10 rebounds), Orlando would go on a quick 20-9 run in the third quarter to take a 60-59 lead with a minute left in the third quarter. The score would remain single-digits for the majority of the fourth quarter, with both teams fighting on every possession. Memphis would use a 6-0 run in the final few minutes to close this one out. Courtney Lee (17 points, 6 rebounds) and Nick Calathes (12 points, 6 assists, 4 steals) played well together in the starting lineup, with Mike Conley still sidelined. They were instrumental in the Grizzlies taking care of the ball, as the team only turned the ball over eight times on the night. Memphis had a 14-4 advantage in terms of fast break points. Marc Gasol left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.
Mavericks 81 (32-22), Pacers 73 (40-12)
A night after they allowed the Bobcats to put up 114 points, the Mavs had one of the best defensive performances against this Pacers team. Losing just their third game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season, the Pacers were held to a season-low 73 points against a Dallas team that will go into the All-Star break 10 games over .500. Dirk Nowitzki (18 points, 6 rebounds) and Monta Ellis (23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks) have worked well together so far and led Dallas in Wednesday night’s victory. Shawn Marion (4 points, 5 rebounds) played fantastic defense against Paul George (12 points, 7 rebounds), holding the All-Star to just four made field goals. After George hit a step back jumper with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter, the game was tied 66-66. The Mavs would then go on a 15-7 run to close out the game, behind 8-8 free throw shooting from Ellis. He has simplified his approach on the offensive end of the court, relying mainly on the pick-and-roll and getting into the paint. Led by George Hill (14 points, 5 assists), five Pacers scored in double-figures, compared to only three Mavericks. However, the Pacers shot a dreadful 32.1 percent while the Mavs didn’t shoot much better (35.7 percent). The Mavs haven’t had many gritty wins such as this one, but they’ll need to make it more of a habit if they want to be a threat in the playoffs.
Raptors 104 (28-24), Hawks 83 (25-26)
Other than the 76ers, there isn’t another team in the NBA that needs the All-Star break more than these Atlanta Hawks. Now riding a five-game losing streak, the Hawks have dropped below .500 for the first time since December 2. The Raptors, on the other hand, are going into the break leading the Atlantic Division for the first time since the 2006-07 season—a year they ended up winning the division. They took down the Hawks by lighting it up from deep, making 11-33 on 3-pointers. The Hawks, on the other hand, shot 4-20 from deep. All-Star DeMar DeRozan (31 points, 11-19 from the field) left no doubt in viewers’ minds that he deserves to be an All-Star while teammate Kyle Lowry (16 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) still looks like an All-Star snub. Jonas Valanciunas (2 points, 14 rebounds) didn’t do much offensively, but had 5 big offensive boards. Two of these boards came during a quick 7-3 run to start the third quarter. The Raptors would go on to pull away in this third quarter, outscoring the Hawks 33-21. DeRozan scored 14 of his 31 points in this quarter. Then Toronto poured it on by outscoring Atlanta 26-18 in the final 12 minutes. The Raptors missed 11 of their first 12 shots, but found their touch as the game progressed. Gustavo Ayon (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Paul Milsap (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) didn’t get much help from their teammates, but helped the Hawks actually outscore the Raptors 50-32 in the paint. However, the Hawks just couldn’t keep up with the Raptors’ hot shooting.
Spurs 104 (38-15), Celtics 92 (19-35)
Boston struggled offensively early on, only scoring 2 points in the first 7 minutes of play and trailed 13-2. Behind strong play from Rajon Rondo (16 points, 4 assists) and Kelly Olynyk (15 points, 10 rebounds), the Celtics responded by going on a 24-12 run to take the lead. Both teams had balanced offenses on the night, as 11 total players scored in double-figures. But Tim Duncan (25 points, 9 rebounds) was too much for the Celtics to handle down the stretch. The Big Fundamental scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, during which his Spurs scored 55 points. Marco Belinelli (16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) flirted with a triple-double, taking a bigger role with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter all sidelined with injuries. San Antonio used an 11-0 run toward the end of the fourth quarter to put this one away. The Celtics are now 4-18 against Western Conference opponents.
Nets 105 (24-26), Bobcats 89 (23-30)
This Nets team is becoming difficult to read. After winning five games in a row in January, they lost three straight. Now, they have currently won four of their last five…with that one lost coming against the dreadful Pistons. But Wednesday night, after Paul Pierce (25 points, 9-11 from the field, 5-5 on 3-pointers) hit a 3-pointer to give Brooklyn a 5-4 lead a few minutes into the game, the Nets wouldn’t give up the lead the rest of the way. This might have been Pierce’s best game of the season, which might be a sign of good things to come once All-Star weekend is over. Pierce had help from Andray Blatche (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Mirza Teletovic (13 points, 8 rebounds), who are becoming reliable forces off the bench. Kemba Walker (16 points) led the Bobcats in scoring as they didn’t have much of that going on Wednesday night. They only scored 34 points during the second and third quarters. The Nets have won 11 of their last 13 games at Barclays Center. If the Nets want to really start to climb up the East ladder, though, Deron Williams (13 points, 7 assists) needs to start playing at a much higher level.
Cavaliers 93 (20-33), Pistons 89 (22-30)
Both these teams came into Wednesday’s game recently making drastic management decisions and each riding three-game winning streaks possibly because of it. But the Pistons don’t have an All-Star starting point guard on their team. Kyrie Irving (23 points, 9-9 on free throws) made a clutch 3-pointer with just under 30 seconds left in the game that sealed the victory. With the win, the Cavs have now four games in a row for the first time since Mr. LeBron James was on the team. Irving and Tristan Thompson (25 points, 15 rebounds, 12-16 from the field) were playing with a purpose tonight, taking it to the Pistons. Detroit had five players score in double-figures, led by that big frontline consisting of Josh Smith (18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks), Greg Monroe (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) and Andre Drummond (16 points, 10 offensive rebounds). The Cavs were actually outrebounded 53-45 and lost the assists battle, 21-17. But the Cavs made timely plays, especially late in the game when Irving and Thompson took over. Thompson scored 14 of his 25 points in the final eight minutes, during which Drummond couldn’t seem to handle the former Longhorn. Even though these teams have similarly inferior records, since neither have “Bucks” in their team name, they both still have a chance to make the playoffs.
Kings 106 (18-35), Knicks 101 (20-32) OT
Even though they didn’t have J.R. Smith (fractured cheekbone) Wednesday night, the Knicks were able to hold a 33-20 lead toward the end of the first quarter. But they couldn’t finish against one of the worst teams in the West. Losing to these Kings and allowing Jimmer Fredette (career-high 24 points, 6-8 on 3-pointers) to go off out of nowhere against his so-called “defense” can’t bode well for Mike Woodson. Reports say Knicks management want Woodson to stay, but coming off recent losses to the Bucks and Kings is not a good way to go into the All-Star break. Carmelo Anthony (36 points, 11 rebounds) and Amare Stoudemire (20 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) looked like the players that signed massive contracts a few years ago. However, other than Tyson Chandler (17 points, 11 rebounds), these two didn’t get much help. Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 points, 3-12 from the field) had one of the worst games of his young career, finishing the game with a -28 plus/minus in 37 minutes of play. The Kings, being led by Fredette and his hot shooting, also had strong play from their new big three—Isaiah Thomas (20 points, 7 assists), DeMarcus Cousins (19 points, 14 rebounds) and Rudy Gay (20 points, 7 rebounds). Gay hit a jumper with 20 seconds left to send this game into overtime. The Knicks didn’t score for the first 3:23 of overtime and simply gave up too many points (13) for a five-minute span. Melo didn’t score any points in overtime. Sacramento doesn’t have much going for them, but if they can keep their big three and sixth man Derrick Williams (14 points, 4 rebounds), that’s a promising young nucleus for the future.
Rockets 113 (36-17), Wizards 112 (25-27)
Houston is currently riding a League-best seven-game winning streak, all thanks to James Harden (35 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 16-16 on free throws) and his ability to hit free throws and clutch shots. After Dwight Howard (24 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) set a solid pick in order to free up Harden coming out of a timeout, Harden drove into the lane for the game-winning layup with 0.7 seconds left. Even though an effective play was run for Harden on the final play, the Wizards let him euro-waltz his way into the paint for an easy two points. It seemed like they all simply accepted that Harden would be taking this win from them. Trevor Ariza (season-high 32 points, 11 rebounds, career-high 10 3-pointers) played exceptionally well…up to the last few seconds of the game. Ariza actually fouled out by pushing Harden to the ground before the ball had even been inbounded, giving the Rockets one free throw and possession. John Wall (19 points, 14 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers) efficiently orchestrated the offense, having his second game of the year with no turnovers. Chandler Parson (18 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) did a little bit of everything. (Is Parsons becoming the glue guy for this Rockets team?) The Rockets actually led 89-70 with 3:32 left in the third quarter and almost let this game slip away. As successful as this season has been for the Rockets, they have a bad habit of letting teams get back into games that should be over. This bad habit won’t translate to wins once the playoffs arrive.
Pelicans 102 (23-29), Bucks 98 (9-43)
Well, the Tanks—I mean Bucks set a new attendance low (11,102) since the team moved to Bradley Center in 1988. And that’s not even how many people were actually at the game. The Pelicans offense was extremely balanced and efficient. Seven players scored in double-figures as Al-Farouq Aminu (10 points, 7 rebounds), Alexis Ajinca (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Luke Babbitt (10 points, 5 rebounds) combined to shoot 16-22 (72.8 percent) from the field. Guards Brandon Knight (22 points, 9 assists, 0 turnovers), Nate Wolters (14 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) and Gary Neal (18 points) all played well for the Bucks. But even with Anthony Davis (12 points, season-low 1 rebound) having his minutes restricted due to foul trouble, the Bucks couldn’t take advantage of a one-possession deficit late in this game. After Ersan Ilyasova (16 points, 9 rebounds) made a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left and then Brian Roberts (17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) missed a jumper, the Bucks only trailed 100-98 with a chance to tie the game. However, after Ilyasova missed a layup, Milwaukee got the offensive rebound…only to have Khris Middleton (11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) turn the ball over. Eric Gordon (21 points, 6 assists) would make 2-2 free throws to close this one out. The Bucks have lost 10 of their last 11 games, with no silver lining in sight…other than a high 2014 draft pick.
Timberwolves 117 (25-28), Nuggets 90 (24-27)
Kevin Love (32 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) must not have wanted to lose five straight games going into the All-Star break, almost attained his first career triple-double during a big night. Ricky Rubio (11 points, 12 assists, 7 steals) provided just enough scoring while still being the distributor, and Corey Brewer (22 points, 5 steals) got plenty of buckets simply from leaking out and cherry picking. J.J. Barea (18 points, 8-8 from the field, 2-2 on 3-pointers) had a perfect game from the field as his team led wire-to-wire. The Wolves led 31-19 after 12 minutes and never looked back. The Nuggets, who have now been blown out in four straight games, were led by Jordan Hamilton (16 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) off the bench while J.J. Hickson (14 points, 13 rebounds) had a double-double. Without Ty Lawson (fractured rib), the Nuggets just don’t have a conductor for their train that doesn’t seem to be moving at the moment…there’s a reason they had 21 turnovers in this game. And with Kenneth Faried failing to reach 13 points or double-digits rebounds in seven of the last eight games, Denver is crawling into the break.
Jazz 105 (19-33), 76ers 100 (15-39)
Since Trey Burke (7 points) returned from his injury, the Jazz have actually been somewhat mediocre, going 18-22. They are currently riding a three-game winning streak, thanks to the explosive play from Alec Burks (26 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals), who simply knows how to score at will. Many of his late jumpers and layups probably shouldn’t have gone in, being shots you would see during a HORSE competition. Burks remained aggressive and went off for 10 points in the final two minutes, helping lift the Jazz over the spiraling Sixers. Burks is averaging 25.0 points while shooting 14-21 (66.7 percent) from the field in the past two wins. Six Jazz players scored in double-figures, as Gordon Hayward (17 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks) had a solid all-around game and Marvin Williams (13 points, season-high 14 rebounds) had a double-double. All five Sixers starters scored in double-figures, led by Evan Turner (21 points, 5 rebounds), but the bench only produced 10 points, compared to 56 bench points for the Jazz. Utah almost let a 14-point lead slip away late in this game, when no one seemed to be able to find the basket. But Burks saved the day with his burst onto the scene. The Jazz have won a season-best three games in a row while the Sixers currently have a League-worst seven game losing streak.
Heat 111 (37-14), Warriors 110 (31-22)
Joe Lacob said it all, as he could be heard saying “he’s unreal” after the Warriors lost. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess he was talking about LeBron James (36 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 14-26 from the field), who hit a step back 3-pointer with less than a second left to earn a huge road win. And aside from this one shot, James had one of his best and most dominant games of the season. He went into that mode we’ve all seen before when it looks as if no one on the planet will or can stop him. He had to play like this since Dwyane Wade (foot; migraine) didn’t play and no other Heat teammate reached 20 points. Chris Bosh (19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Michael Beasley (16 points) provided solid minutes for the Heat while Stephen Curry (29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 4-4 on 3-pointers) almost got to play the role of hero himself. After James hit a 3-pointer with just under a minute to go, Curry knocked down a pull-up jumper to tie the game 107-107. James would go on to hit 1-2 free throws. Then it was Curry’s turn, who converted a tough and-one to give Golden State a 109-108 lead with 14 seconds left. And he made Mario Chalmers (12 points, 7 assists) look silly. But LeBron showed why he is truly something special, hitting a difficult shot on the road to go into the All-Star break on a high note. The Heat shot 53.8 percent from the field and had a 56-40 points in the paint advantage. They almost let a 21-point lead go to waste, as Curry started to heat up in the second half. David Lee (21 points, 11 rebounds) had a double-double but was a liability on the defensive end with the Heat’s athletic lineups. The Warriors have fallen to eighth in the West, just a game and a half ahead of the Grizzlies.
Clippers 122 (37-18), Blazers 117 (36-17)
The Blazers are little by little coming back down to earth. They do look to be on their way to the playoffs, but the Thunder’s grip on the Northwest Division is getting tighter and tighter. Losers of three of their last four games and eight of their last 13, the Blazers just couldn’t stop the high-powered offensive powerhouse known as the Clippers. They were led by their normal sources of offense—Chris Paul (20 points, 12 assists, 3 steals), Blake Griffin (36 points, 10 rebounds) and Jamal Crawford (25 points, 10-11 on free throws). When Paul has the offense flowing, Griffin is establishing himself in the post and Crawford is making shots he shouldn’t be taking, Los Angeles becomes lethal. This game had 40 lead changes, as neither team ever led by more than seven points. Lob City, though, closed the game on an 8-2 run for the victory. The Blazers had six players score in double-figures, led by All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points) and Damian Lillard (21 points, 5 assists, 6 turnovers). But again—the problem was the defense. The Clippers shot 58.2 percent from the field and scored at least 30 points in every single quarter. They also outscored the Blazers 58-36 in the paint and had a commanding 34-6 advantage in fast break points. The ability to push the ball up the court gave Los Angeles the edge in this matchup. Los Angeles has now scored at least 100 points in 11 straight home games. The Blazers are the only team in the NBA to use the same starting lineup in every game—Aldridge, Lillard, Wesley Matthews (15 points, 6 rebounds), Nicolas Batum (13 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) and Robin Lopez (12 points, 6 rebounds).