Pacers 93 (33-43), Hornets 74 (32-43)
The Pacers and Hornets are in the mix of five teams all within three games of each other from the No. 7 seed to the No. 11 seed. Rodney Stuckey (15 points), C.J. Watson (13 point, 4 steals) and C.J. Miles (12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) all provided just enough offense for Indiana to cruise by the struggling Hornets. Charlotte played a decent first half through 24 minutes as Gerald Henderson (12 points, 7 rebounds) scored nine of his 12 points to keep the Hornets within 11. However, the Pacers used a late 11-0 run in the third to finish off a defensively dominating quarter in which they outscored the Hornets 21-9. Charlotte’s offensive woes spanned from the second and third quarter during which the team could only manage 21 total points. Even though the Hornets aren’t the most prolific offensive team, they struggled mightily Friday due to Al Jefferson’s (4 points, 11 minutes) lingering right knee issues. He didn’t play in the second half and Steve Clifford said they are considering shutting him down for the rest of the season.
Wizards 101 (43-33), Knicks 87 (14-62)
John Wall (6 points, 18 assists, 2 steals) might have struggled to score himself, but he messed around in getting a career-high 18 assists—one more than the entire Knicks team had Friday night. Seemingly every possession, it seemed as though Wall found the right teammate, in his comfortable spot, at the right time. Not only did Wall dish out 18 dimes, he did so through only three quarters—28 minutes. Marcin Gortat (19 points, 6 rebounds), Bradley Beal (18 points, 5 assists, 2 steals) and Otto Porter Jr. (17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) were on the receiving end of many of these assists while Wall’s passing became contagious by the rest of his teammates. Washington finished with 32 assists compared to New York’s 17. The Knick are just treading water at the moment and trying to get to the NBA Draft. One silver lining of late, though, has been young guard Ricky Ledo (career-high 21 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists). Even though he has been getting many of his recent stats in garbage time, he’s still blowing his former career-highs out of the water.
Bucks 110 (38-38), Celtics 101 (34-42)
The Bucks got a first half from O.J. Mayo (24 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 4-6 on 3-pointers) and a strong third-quarter run from Ersan Ilyasova (17 points, 4 rebounds) to get back to .500 and avoid a 12th straight road loss. Through the first 24 minutes of play, neither team had held a double-digit lead and looked like this would be a back-and-forth battle. Avery Bradley (17 points, 4 rebounds) and Mayo had some entertaining back-and-forth play in the first half. Mayo had seemingly carried the Bucks up to this point, already scoring 20 points by halftime. However, the Bucks veteran guard slowed down in the second half as Ilyasova began to heat up. Milwaukee entered the second half trailing 52-50. By the time just over seven minutes had passed in the third quarter, the Bucks held a 73-58 lead and wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way. During this 23-6 run, Ilyasova scored 11 of the team’s 23 points by scoring from the interior and perimeter. Seven Bucks players reached double figures and even all nine Milwaukee players that stepped on the court scored at least six points. Isaiah Thomas (23 points, 6 assists) made some shots late in the third and the fourth to try and get his team back in the game. But the momentum Milwaukee built at the start of the second half carried the Bucks to the finish line. The Celtics now trail the Heat by half a game for the final spot in the East playoffs.
Nets 114 (35-40), Raptors 109 (45-31)
After having one of the most inconsistent seasons in the NBA this year, the Nets are really starting to hit their stride at just the right time. They have now won eight of their last nine games, and that is in large part due to the emergence of Brook Lopez (30 points, 17 rebounds, 10 offensive rebounds). Brooklyn’s big man has always found a way to get his points for most of his career. What has made this recent run unique is his improved rebounding, blocking and overall defense. During this nine-game stretch, Lopez is averaging 27.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 2.9 bpg. Another reason the Nets have rediscovered their winning ways is because Deron Williams (season-high 31 points, 11 assists) has rediscovered his crossover. Whether it is due to the fact that he is finally healthy or has simply stepped up his game, D-Will looks like the player the Nets traded for back in February of 2011. These veterans have grown together in Brooklyn and looked very comfortable playing with each other Friday night. Even though these two Nets were clearly the stars of the night, Thaddeus Young (season-high 29 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) played one of his best games as a Net and came up with a crucial tip-in. After DeMar DeRozan (27 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds)—who had a great game in the loss—knocked down a pullup jumper with 36.9 remaining, the game was knotted 109-109. After Williams couldn’t hit a tough jumper and Lopez missed the follow shot, Young stayed with it and tipped in the go-ahead basket. Joe Johnson (13 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) then made 3-4 free throws to seal the victory. The Raptors now trail the Bulls by one game for the No. 3 seed.
Bulls 88 (46-30), Pistons 82 (29-47)
Pau Gasol (26 points, 10 rebounds) notched his 50th double-double of the season as the Bulls built up a large first-half lead and held off the Pistons down the stretch. Chicago outscored Detroit 22-9 in the second quarter and took a 47-35 lead into the half. However, thanks to strong play from Reggie Jackson (22 points, 9 assists), the Pistons quickly got right back in the game by using a 13-0 run early in the third quarter. These two kept it close the rest of the way before Gasol made a putback dunk while being fouled by Andre Drummond (14 points, 22 rebounds, 6 blocks) at the 5.7 second mark in the final quarter. This extended Chicago’s lead from one-point to four and kept Detroit from pulling off the upset. Jimmy Butler (18 points) helped in the scoring department while Joakim Noah (6 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds) almost notched a triple-double. If the Bulls want to find any kind of success in the postseason, these two—along with Derrick Rose—have to be one-hundred percent healthy.
Grizzlies 100 (52-24), Thunder 92 (42-34)
After 12 minutes of play, it seemed as though Russell Westbrook (18 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds) was going to have another one of those games as he torched the Grizzlies for 12 early points. However, then something interesting happened—Jeff Green (22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) started shutting Russ down. In the past, Westbrook has struggled against the Grizz, mainly due to Tony Allen’s pesky defense. But Friday night, Allen was sidelined. So Green started guarding Westbrook in the second quarter, and after Westbrook started missing shots, coach Joerger kept his wingman on the point guard. After starting the game 4-9 from the field, Westbrook would shoot a torrid 1-11 during the final three quarters. The only reason OKC hung around in this games was because Kyle Singler (13 points, 3-4 on 3-pointers) kept making timely shots and Enes Kanter (24 points, 17 rebounds) showed his versatility on the offense end of the floor. Kanter has boundless potential, but the first step in his development has to be in the defensive end of the floor. Marc Gasol (19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) got his groove back against Kanter while Memphis as a team poured in 60 points in the paint—one game after letting Dallas score 72 down low. The Grizzlies are now tied with the Rockets for the No. 2 seed in the West while the Pelicans only trail the Thunder by half a game for the final playoff spot.
Magic 97 (23-53), Timberwolves 84 (16-60)
In a seemingly insignificant game in terms of this year’s season, Nikola Vucevic (career-high 37 points, 17 rebounds, 18-25 from the field) put on a career performance thanks to his aggression right out of the gate. Every time Vucevic touched the ball, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it and wouldn’t let any of the Wolves big men get in his way. Tobias Harris (25 points, 12 rebounds, 4-8 on 3-pointers) also had a commanding double-double as these two helped Orlando have a 53-30 advantage on the boards. This also led to a 21-6 edge in second-chance points as the injury-ridden Wolves were simply outmatched Friday night. Andrew Wiggins (22 points, 10-13 on free throws) incessantly made his way to the charity stripe while Justin Hamilton (14 points, 9 rebounds) came just short of a double-double. But shooting 1-11 (9.1 percent) is going to make it difficult to cut into any type of deficit. The Timberwolves also only had 15 assists, compared to 23 for the Magic.
Spurs 123 (50-26), Nuggets 93 (28-48)
Make that 16 straight 50-win seasons for these Spurs. Before this game even got the chance to get going, the Nuggets were down and out against the defending champs. After Boris Diaw (13 points, 4 rebounds) made a turnaround hook shot with 9.7 seconds left in the first quarter, the Spurs held an insurmountable 23-point lead. Kawhi Leonard (20 points, 4 assists) put on a strong performance, continuing to look like one of the best two-way players in the game. He is becoming the glue guy in so many different San Antonio lineups. Danny Green (21 points, 7-9 from the field) had one of those games where it seemed like he could start making it from the stands. The shooting guard nailed all six of his three-point attempts while Marco Belinelli (14 points, 6 rebounds) drained four of his own off the bench. Danilo Gallinari (20 points, 8-12 from the field) and Jameer Nelson (14 points, 6-10 from the field) both played well individually, but this Nuggets team is in a funky place right now. They don’t have any chemistry whatsoever and look like a team in the rebuilding phase. However, Ty Lawson (7 points, 7 assists), Kenneth Faried (1p points, 6 rebounds) and Gallinari are in no way rebuilding pieces. They all were just on this team when they were the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and don’t seem like players ready to go down the winding road of rebuilding. The Spurs, on the other hand, have won six straight games and quickly showing up on West teams’ radars as the team not to face in the first round.
Pelicans 101 (41-34), Kings 95 (26-49)
Sacramento’s season has been over for quite some time now, but that hasn’t stopped DeMarcus Cousins (24 points, 20 rebounds, 13 assists, 4 blocks) from finding himself in very good and respected company. The Kings big man picked up his second straight commanding triple-double in Friday night’s loss, showing a wide array of skills he hasn’t shown that often up to this point in his career. Not only is rebounding at an extremely high rate, he is showing a new level of unselfishness while finding Ben McLemore (17 points, 3-9 on 3-pointers) and his teammates in the right spots. With his stat line, Cousins now joins Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor as the only players in NBA history to post 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in consecutive games. Even though Boogie put on a show against New Orleans, Anthony Davis’ (20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Tyreke Evans’ (19 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists) squad picked up a crucial win with OKC falling to Memphis on the same night. With Jrue Holiday still sidelined, these two have really picked up their play these past few months and are honestly the reason this team is still in the hunt for the No. 8 seed. And when Eric Gordon (21 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) finds his stroke as he did Friday night, that opens up the floor for both Davis and Evans. If Ryan Anderson (9 points, 5 rebounds) can get back to his former self before the season comes to a close, the Pelicans might just sneak into the playoffs.
Blazers 107 (49-26), Lakers 77 (20-55)
At the start of this game, Jordan Clarkson (27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) scored the first six points for Los Angeles and seemed like he might be able to keep up with Damian Lillard (20 points, 5 assists, 8-15 from the field). The Blazers point guard quickly changed that notion by burying three consecutive triples all in the face of Clarkson, who should have gotten in Lillard’s face after he made the first one. If there’s one thing the scouting reports should say about Dame is the fact that he can heat up very quickly after just one make. Lillard finished off the quarter strong as Portland already led 26-12 after 12 minutes of play. This lead would build to 23 points early in the second and stay out of reach the rest of the way. While Lillard torched the Lakers early on, C.J. McCollum (career-high 27 points, 6 rebounds, 10-16 from the field) took the reins once the blowout was on and only made things worse for L.A. McCollum has a great vision for the game and never seems to play out of control. As much potential Clarkson has showed of late in being named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March, he still has a ways to go before being able to compete with this point guard duo in Portland. With the Blazers’ victory and OKC’s loss, Portland clinched the Northwest Division for the first time since the team was co-champions in 2009.