Post Up: Atlanta’s Ascension

by March 07, 2015
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Hornets 103 (27-33), Raptors 94 (38-24)

In a chippy game with emotions running high, the Hornets continued to stay hot while the Raptors saw their guards yet again hoist up a lot of shots. Charlotte, now on a four-game winning streak, had things clicking on the perimeter and in the paint. Mo Williams (23 points, 7 assists, 4-8 on 3-pointers) was knocking down treys and getting his teammates involved while Al Jefferson (23 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks) looked like the Big Al before his injury. And most promising of all, Lance Stephenson (11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 turnovers) actually had an efficient 24 minutes of play besides his elbow that caused him to get a technical. There were six total technicals given out to six different players. The Raptors had plenty of reasons to be frustrated. DeMar DeRozan (30 points, 3 assists) and Kyle Lowry (25 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) needed 48 shots to get 55 combined points, Jonas Valanciunas (9 points, 6 rebounds) had little presence down low and the entire team had another dreadful final quarter. The Raptors found a way to close the game on a 13-4 run in the final 1:13 when the game had been all but decided. In the first 10:47 of the fourth quarter, though, the Raptors were outscored 22-10. Losers of seven of their last eight, the Raptors are falling and falling fast.

Pacers 98 (27-34), Bulls 84 (39-24)

Since George Hill (7 points, 6 assists) returned to the starting lineup, Indiana’s offense has been thriving and pushing the team to a three-game lead going into Friday game. The Pacers, though, took down the Bulls in large part due to their stout defense. Solomon Hill (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) was active on the defensive end while David West (10 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) and Ian Mahinmi (14 points, 11 rebounds) played a large role in the Pacers outrebounding Pau Gasol (18 points, 10 rebounds) and the Bulls 51-44. And even though Roy Hibbert (6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block) only managed to grab three boards, he still made his presence felt on the interior and was a factor in forcing Chicago to only shoot 36.0 percent from the field. Aaron Brooks (4 points, 2-11 from the field) simply can not take advantage of the absence of Rose. In his past 10 games, the speedy quick point guard is shooting a dreadful 34-122 (27.9 percent) from the field. Ouch. The silver lining for the Bulls came form rookie Doug McDermott (16 points, 8-17 from the field), who showed clear confidence during his 16 minutes on the floor. The Pacers will look to extend their winning streak Saturday against the Knicks.

Magic 119 (20-43), Kings 114 (21-39)

The Magic broke their four-game losing streak thanks to another fantastic scoring performance from Victor Oladipo (32 points, 10 assists, 5 steals). The crafty guard has now poured in 70 points in his last two games while shooting a blistering 29-49 (59.2 percent) from the field. Even though there have been plenty of ups and downs for Orlando this season, including a fired coach, this type of back-to-back  show Oladipo’s put on has to bring a smile to all Magic fans. His team needed every bit of his 32 points, as the Kings came storming back from a 16-point deficit with just over 16 minutes left in the game. After Andrew Nicholson (14 points) drilled a 3-pointer with 4:43 left in the third quarter, Orlando held a comfortable 89-73 lead. Then behind 1o point from Rudy Gay (39 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals), who notched his third 30-point game of the season, the Kings sprinted their way to a 27-10 run and actually led 100-99 after Nik Stauskas (7 points, 2-3 on 3-pointers) made a shot from deep. However, Tobias Harris (19 points, 6 rebounds) and Channing Frye (22 points, 10 rebounds, 6-9 on 3-pointers) both made their 3-pointers and free throws down the stretch to close this one out and give their home fans a victory. The Magic shot 56.5 percent from the field while the Kings only shot 44.7 percent.

Jazz 89 (25-36), 76ers 83 (13-49)

Since the trade of Enes Kanter and the emergence of Rudy Gobert (9 points, 15 rebounds, 1 block, 2 steals), it can’t be stated enough just how drastically improved this Utah defense is. After holding the Sixers to 36.4 percent shooting from the field and only 83 points, the Jazz have now held seven of their past eight opponents under 90 points—and gone 6-2 during that stretch. (If only you were in the East, right Jazz fans?) Friday night, Utah got just enough offense from Gordon Hayward (25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Derrick Favors (15 points, 10 rebounds) to hold down the feisty 76ers. Guards Isaiah Canaan (16 poitns, 4 assists) and Ish Smith (14 points, 7 assists) had decent games but didn’t much help from their teammates. Thomas Robinson (11 points, 12 rebounds, 15 minutes) did post an efficient double-double off the bench despite Philly’s lack of offensive firepower. The Jazz will now travel to Brooklyn to play the Nets on Sunday.

Wizards 99 (35-27), Heat 97 (27-34)

Even with no Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng, the Heat almost completed the ridiculous comeback against the struggling Wizards. With a mission to break out of their slump, it was clear the Wizards started this game angry and with a mission to finally pick up a win against a playoff team. Entering this game, Washington had gone 3-11 in its last 14 and only defeated the Nets, Magic and Pistons in that stretch. Behind 15 early points from Marcin Gortat (14 points, 17 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Drew Gooden (11 points, 4 rebounds), the Wizards led 40-18 after only the first quarter. Nene (20 points, 8-8 on free throws) played one of his more complete games of the season while John Wall (6 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks) worked to get his teammates involved. This lead would swell all the way to 83-48 with 7:10 to go in the third quarter—a 35-point lead. The blowout was on. But Shabazz Napier (16 points, 4 assists), who had one point made three consecutive 3-pointers late in the third quarter, led a monster 39-15 comeback that made the deficit only 98-97 with 1:08 to go. Henry Walker (8 points, 4 rebounds), though, would miss a 3-point attempt with 5.9 seconds remaining to save the Wizards from one of the most embarrassing losses of the season. With the Hornets and Pacers both winning their fourth straight Friday night, Miami has officially dropped out of the playoffs and into the ninth seed.

Hawks 106 (49-12), Cavaliers 97 (39-25)

As many people know—or don’t know—the Hawks lack a boisterous, well-known superstars that can be frequently found on television commercials or in NBA Twitter discussions. What they don’t lack, though, is confidence and a true ability to beat any team in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks built up a fourth quarter double-digit lead and then locked down defensively to close this one out and earn their sixth straight win. Al Horford (19 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals) and Paul Millsap (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) have such chemistry and diversity in how they can defend and work off each other on the offensive end of the court. They both played a key role in helping the Hawks outscore the Cavs 54-24 in the paint. Defensively, Horford acts as an anchor while Millsap has the ability to cover a lot of ground against bigger and smaller forwards. Millsap, specifically, got to LeBron James (18 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 9 turnovers) on multiple possessions, causing the King to have another high-turnover game. Atlanta also does a great job of sporadically throwing in traps or witching on screens, causing Cleveland to never have a good handle on what to expect coming off a screen. This was a factor in Kyrie Irving (20 points, 4 assists, 5 turnovers)—just like LeBron—having more turnovers than assists on the night. Just as Horford and Millap seem to mesh in the starting lineup, Jeff Teague (16 points, 3 assists) and backup point guard Dennis Schroder (15 points, 8 assists) continue to balance each other extremely well. Atlanta went into the fourth quarter only up 81-79. But after a quick 10-2 run in the first 2:13, the Hawks established a double-digit lead and help on to this the rest of the way. The Cavs would only be able to manage one free throw and a dunk after the game had been decided in the final 3:16.

Suns 108 (33-30), Nets 100 (25-35) OT

The Suns finished regulation play on a 16-1 run and got some big buckets from their guards and twins in overtime to steal this one on the road. Eric Bledsoe (19 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 7 turnovers) set the pace, especially during that 16-1 run, while Markieff Morris (19 points, 5 rebounds) and Marcus Morris (19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) had one of their best games combined this season. One of the main reasons the Nets lost this game was due to the lack of production from their starters. Not only did they combine to shoot 14-42 (33.3 percent) from the field, the Suns starters outscored them 74-38. If it wasn’t for Brooklyn’s bench, the Suns wouldn’t have needed overtime to close this one out. After Phoenix sprinted back to tie the game at 92 a piece in regulation, Jarrett Jack (10 points, 5 assists, 3-12 from the field) had a decent look to win the game but couldn’t connect, as he struggled to do for most of the night. In overtime, Bledsoe and Brandon Knight (12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers) struck early while the Morris twins followed that with a pair of back-to-back jumpers. The Suns found a way to win this game despite shooting an ugly 3-26 (11.5 percent) on 3-pointers. No matter how ugly the win, Phoenix needs as many as they can get down the stretch if this team wants to sneak by the Thunder and Pelicans.

Rockets 103 (42-20), Pistons 93 (23-38)

Going into this game, the Rockets had lost two straight and allowed the Blazers to surpass them for the three seed in the West. In need of a boost, James Harden (38 points, 12 assists, 12 rebounds, 16-18 on free throws, +28) reminded everything that Russell Westbrook isn’t the only MVP candidate out there. The Beard posted his third triple-double of the season and calmly sunk eight straight free throws in the final eight minutes of the game. Terrence Jones (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and Corey Brewer (15 points) both shot efficiently from the field and were factors on the defensive end. The Pistons hoisted 102 shots and only shot 36.3 percent from the field. Reggie Jackson (17 points, 7 assists), who was coming off his first double-double with the Pistons in Detroit’s last game against the Pelicans, played well in 34 minutes, looking more and more comfortable at the helm. Greg Monroe (19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals) and Andre Drummond (8 points, 21 rebounds, 2 blocks) did their damage in the paint. However, Detroit just didn’t have anybody who could slow down Harden and Houston took the victory because of it.

Grizzlies 97 (44-17), Lakers 90 (16-45)

It might have been a little closer than they would have hoped, but the Grizzlies used a big fourth quarter from their big men to earn the victory against the Lakers. It isn’t a secret that Los Angeles struggles against any and all big men. Zach Randolph (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (18 points, 6 rebounds) were able to take advantage of a starting lineup featuring Robert Sacre (0 points, 2 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (7 points, 9 rebounds) and continue to lead the way throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, though, it was the defense that shot down the Lakers for good. L.A. only managed to shoot 38 percent in the final 12 minutes, included four missed 3-point attempts to go along with four turnovers. Tony Allen (15 points, 5 rebounds) played a key role in contained Jordan Clarkson (25 points, 6 assists, 12-18 from the field) on the perimeter. He only scored two of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, coming just a minute into the quarter.

Celtics 104 (25-35), Pelicans 98 (33-29)

The Pelicans missed a great chance to tie the Thunder for the eighth seed in the West, but they got tripped up by the suddenly revitalized Boston Celtics. This team has been shaken up and mixed around all season long until a trade deadline forced Danny Ainge to stop making moves. One of those last moves was to bring in Isaiah Thomas (27 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers), who has fit in extremely well as a sparkplug off the bench and closer in the final quarter. He played both roles against New Orleans, scoring 14 of his 27 points in the fourth. He even had the ultimate heat check when he pulled up for and made a 3-pointer in transition early in the quarter. Even with Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger out Friday night, Boston just found a way to pull out this win—which they couldn’t seem to do at full health early in the season. Evan Turner (16 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds) has also played a major role in the Celtics’ recent success as he has started to turn his season around. New Orleans got a usual big game from Anthony Davis (29 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks) while Eric Gordon (20 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers) found his touch behind the arc. However, the problem came at the defensive end late, as the Pelicans allowed the Celtics to outscore them 33-30 in the final quarter. Even with the Hornets winning Friday, the Celtics are still only a game and a half back of the eight seed.

Spurs 120 (38-23), Nuggets 111 (22-40)

The Nuggets’ post-Brian Shaw winning streak was fun while it lasted, but the streaking Spurs weren’t going to go easy on the visiting Nuggets. For the second consecutive game, Kawhi Leonard (25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks) and Tony Parker (24 points, 7 assists, 2 steals) led the way for the Spurs throughout the night and helped their team pick up the victory despite some shaky defense. These two will need to be at the top of their game if the Spurs wants to pull off a first-round upset—which they clearly could. Ty Lawson (23 points, 9 assists) and Kenneth Faried (20 points, 10 rebounds) continue to look revitalized and energetic on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets, though, allowed the Spurs to shoot 54.4 percent from the field. They also sent San Antonio to the line 18 times in the final quarter, the Spurs made 15 of them. San Antonio has won four straight, 11 of its last 12 home games and now only trails Dallas by half a game for the seventh seed.

Warriors 104 (48-12), Mavericks 89 (40-24)

The Mavs never had a chance before tipoff even took place. Coming off a loss against the Blazers Thursday night with no Chandler Parsons or Devin Harris to help with perimeter defense, it was only a matter of time before the Warriors blew this game wide open. The Mavs did give a lot of effort on both ends of the court; they were simply the more tired, more injured and less talented team on the court. Stephen Curry (22 points, 7 assists, 5-8 on 3-pointers), Klay Thompson (16 points) and Draymond Green (18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) seemed to be toying with the Mavs all night, smiling at each other after buckets or laughing when the Mavs complained about every other call. Frustration mounted early for Dallas as no one could seem to find the basket. Monta Ellis (6 points, 4 steals) and Dirk Nowitzki (14 points) might have led the Mavs in scoring, but they combined to shoot a putrid 7-30 (23.3 percent) from the field. These two have struggled mightily since after the All-Star Break and honestly since the Rajon Rondo (14 points, 6 assists, 2 steals) trade as well. This team has lost four of five and only managed to average 82.0 ppg in the past two. Whether it’s benching Rondo and having him come in with the second unit so he doesn’t stunt the starters’ offensive flow, something drastic needs to be done before the Spurs, Thunder and Pelicans all pass the Mavs in the standings. It seems like a stretch, but with the difficult schedule the Mavs have ahead of them, it could be a very ugly end to the 2014-15 Mavericks season. It might even get uglier with Rondo, Ellis and Tyson Chandler (9 points, 5 rebounds) all being question marks this offseason.