Post Up: Knicks Inch Closer

by Jay Wallis | @JayWallis11

Thunder 116 (54-19), Jazz 96 (23-51)

The Thunder took care of business Sunday afternoon by winning wire-to-wire and emptying the bench by the start of the 4th quarter. Kevin Durant (31 points, 9 assists, 9-9 on free throws) reached at least 25 points for the 38th consecutive game and is now two games away from tying Michael Jordan’s record from the 1986-87 season. The last time Durant scored less than 25 points was January 5. Russell Westbrook (19 points, 9-9 on free throws) also played well and lived at the line. Including these two superstars, no one other than Serge Ibaka (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks) reached 30 minutes on the night. This was reflected in their balanced scoring attack as seven Thunder players reached eight points, including Caron Butler (15 points, 5-5 on 3-pointers) off the bench. This was one of Butler’s best games from deep since joining the Thunder. After the first 12 minutes, the Thunder already led 26-9. OKC led by double-digits the rest of the game and led by around 20 points for the majority of the final three quarters. Enes Kanter (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Gordon Hayward (16 points, 9 assists) led the Jazz, who seemed like a tired team ready for the season to be over. Utah has lost 15 of its last 17 games. The Thunder ended the day shooting 55.4 percent from the field and making 11-18 (61.1 percent) on 3-pointers.

Cavaliers 90 (30-45), Pacers 76 (52-22)

Dion Waiters (19 points) and Luol Deng (15 points, 5 rebounds) pushed the Cavs to another big victory, who have gone 4-1 in their last five games. They have been playing quality basketball against legitimate opponents. The Pacers, on the other hand, can best be described with one word: reeling. Paul George (15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals) and David West (14 points) seemed to be the only players with any offensive capabilities, and they were forcing shots because of it. As a team, the Pacers had no fluidity in the offense as their spacing and timing were off. For the final 5:33 of the 2nd quarter, the Pacers only managed one basket from David West, while the Cavs poured in 14 points during that time. Cleveland would continue leading by double-digits and eventually lead 84-63 after Waiters knocked down one of two straight jumpers. Six Cavs ended the game scoring in double-figures as Tristan Thompson (12 points, 16 rebounds) put up a big double-double. The Pacers, who shot 37.2 percent from the field Sunday afternoon, have now failed to reach 80 points in four of the last five games. They now only lead the Heat by one game for the top spot in the East.

Nets 114 (39-33), Timberwolves 99 (36-36)

Paul Pierce (22 points, 8-11 from the field, 25 minutes) had another fantastic start in helping push the Nets to a franchise-record 13th straight home victory. Pierce efficiently scored 16 of his 22 points in the 1st quarter, having some fresh legs at just the right time in the season. Six Nets scored at least 13 points as Kevin Love (14 points, 9 rebounds, 5-14 from the field) had an off night. And when Love has an off night, the Wolves have an off night. Minnesota’s All-Star power forward only scored seven points in the final three quarters, and during the final quarter, Love didn’t score on 0-2 shooting from the field. His team’s offense struggled during these 12 minutes, being outscored 29-17 and letting a close game turn into a blowout. Joe Johnson (19 points, 8-13 from the field) shot the ball well as center Miles Plumlee (13 points, 8 rebounds) had another solid game in Kevin Garnett’s absence. Kevin Martin (21 points) and Corey Brewer (21 points, 4 steals) led the Wolves in scoring while rookie Gorgui Dieng (5 points, 11 rebounds) gobbled up more boards. In his last eight games, Dieng has collected 104 rebounds (13 rpg), more than twice as many rebounds as he grabbed in his first 41 appearances. After a 124-80 loss to the Blazers on February 26, the Nets stood at 26-29. Since then, they have gone 13-4 and look to be taking a lot of momentum into April.

Raptors 98 (42-31), Magic 93 (21-53)

Thanks to DeMar DeRozan (28 points) and a mental mistake by the Magic, the Raptors took one step closer to locking up the No. 3 seed in the East. After Tobias Harris (14 points, 7 rebounds) made two free throws a few minutes into the second quarter, the Magic only trailed 33-25. Then behind strong play from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas (20 points, 9 rebounds), the Raptors went on a 26-13 run spanning over halftime to take a 59-38 lead. Kyle Lowry (16 points, 4 assists, 6 turnovers, 6-18 from the field) didn’t have one of his better games but backup point guard Nando De Colo (4 points, 4 rebounds, 7 minutes, +11) looked comfortable running the offense during his short time on the floor. With Nikola Vucevic (22 points, 10 rebounds, 10-13 from the field) living in the paint per usual, the Magic gradually got back into this game and only trailed 73-64 by the end of the 3rd quarter. This is Vucevic’s 36th double-double of the season. With 2:20 left in the game, Toronto held a comfortable 93-84 lead before Orlando went on a quick 9-3 run in just under two minutes. After Lowry missed a layup and Harris grabbed the rebound with 9.8 seconds remaining, the Magic called a timeout so Jacque Vaughn could draw up an inbounds play. The only problem is they couldn’t inbound the ball or call a timeout once the play was broken, causing a five-second inbound violation. DeRozan would then make two free throws to put this one away. The Magic actually shot 55.1 percent from the field compared to only 45.2 percent for the Raptors. Toronto, though, won this game at the line (26-27 on free throws), led by DeRozan (15-16 on free throws).

Bulls 107 (41-32), Celtics 102 (23-50)

Joakim Noah (13 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists) had another MVP-type performance, being the focal point of the offense throughout the game. No other player in the entire League has more 4th-quarter assists than center Noah (103)…again, he’s a center. D.J. Augustin (career-high 33 points, 10-14 from the field, 10-10 on free throws) continued to play at a high level offensively, scoring 15 of his 33 points in the final quarter. These two have taken their games to another level as the team has gone 17-7 during the past two months. They’ll need to sustain this play during the postseason to have a chance of making a deep run. This game was close from start to finish as neither team led by more than seven points. In the final minute, Jared Sullinger (16 points, 10 rebounds) almost brought his team back by making two straight 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to make the deficit 105-102. He had the space to make these shots due to Rajon Rondo’s (17 points, 11 assists) control of the offense. The point guard is starting to look more and more like his former self. But Noah would make enough free throws and come up with a critical steal to take the victory. Six players from each team scored in double-figures. Jimmy Butler (15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) did a good job containing Jeff Green (16 points, 5 rebounds, 6-17 from the field) for most of the night. These two teams will now fly to Chicago and play each other again Monday night.

Knicks 89 (31-43), Warriors 84 (45-28)

Carmelo Anthony (19 points, 9 rebounds, 7-21 from the field, 0-4 on 3-pointers) may have had an inefficient game but with J.R. Smith (21 points, 3-9 on 3-pointers) firing up shots and Amare Stoudemire (15 points, 13 rebounds) playing like his old self, the Knicks inched one game away of the Hawks for the East’s final playoff spot. And they did so in a way they usually don’t go about playing basketball games—with their defense leading the way down the stretch. Stephen Curry (32 points, 6-12 from the field) had his shot going from the outside but didn’t get much help from his teammates, as Golden State shot 35.4 percent from the field. In the first eight minutes of the game, Curry already had eight points and the Warriors, who were without Andrew Bogut (groin) and David Lee (hamstring), led 27-15. Early in the 2nd quarter, though, behind strong play from Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points, +15) and Pablo Prigioni (6 points, 2-2 on 3-pointers), the Knicks locked down defensively and used a 12-0 run to tie the game 34-34. Then late in the same quarter, New York used a 15-0 run to retake the lead right before halftime. The Knicks would hold the lead the entire 3rd quarter, and after Curry knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining, the game was tied 81-81. New York would make 6-6 free throws to close the game and take the win. Klay Thompson (15 points, 9 rebounds, 6-18 from the field) couldn’t find his shot all night while the entire Golden State bench was held to 13 points. The Warriors only managed 24 points in the paint, relying far too much on their jumpers. They have a big game against the currently eighth seeded Mavericks (44-30) Tuesday night.

Blazers 105 (48-27), Grizzlies 98 (43-30)

LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points, 10-20 from the field) has completely changed the momentum of this Blazers team, as they have now won three games in a row since his return. Even when he’s not scoring or handling the ball, he forces the defense to place a lot of attention on him and opens up shots for guards Damian Lillard (13 points, 5 assists), Wes Matthews (15 points, 5 assists, 2-4 on 3-pointers) and Mo Williams (17 points, 7-9 on 3-pointers). Robin Lopez (9 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) also looks much more comfortable down low with Aldridge in the lineup. Zach Randolph (21 points, 7 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) played well down low but didn’t have any shooters to kick the ball out to. Mike Conley (16 points, 9 assists, 3 steals, 6-19 from the field) didn’t have his touch Sunday night as the Grizzlies shot 5-17 (29.4 percent) on 3-pointers. By halftime, the Blazers had built up a 57-45 lead behind strong play from Aldridge and Williams. By the start of the 4th quarter, the Blazers took a commanding 91-70 lead after Nicolas Batum (10 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) hammered one home. The Grizzlies made this game look more respectable over the next 11 minutes. With the win, Portland holds onto the 5th seed and is now 2 1/2 games back of Houston for the four seed. Later in the week, the Blazers will face off against the currently seventh seeded Suns (44-30) Friday night.

Lakers 115 (25-48), Suns 99 (44-30)

The Gasol-less Lakers surprised the Suns by holding the lead from midway through the 1st quarter to the end of the game. Everything seemed to be going right for the Lakers, who got a career performance from Chris Kaman (28 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 13-19 from the field), who had a double-double before halftime. With the Lakers rotation being in flux due to injuries and an inexperienced roster, Kaman has sporadically had these breakout performances on the year. With Jodie Meeks (22 points, 9-10 from the field) getting to the free throw line and Kendall Marshall (13 points, 11 assists, 3 steals) constantly feeding Kaman down low, Los Angeles built up a quick 26-13 lead toward the end of the 1st quarter. Later in the 2nd quarter, behind 13 points from Meeks, the Lakers used a 17-0 run to take a 57-39 lead. After halftime, L.A. would extend their lead to 83-57 and cruise to the victory in the final 12 minutes. Suns guards Eric Bledsoe (10 points, 4 assists, 4 turnovers) and Goran Dragic (17 points, 5 rebounds) struggled as the game moved on and finished shooting 7-25 (28.0 percent) from the field. Markieff Morris (16 points, 12 rebounds) finished with a double-double while Gerald Green (22 points, 3-9 on 3-pointers) seemed to be the only viable offensive option. The Suns ended up shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 22.2 percent (8-36) on 3-pointers, missing their first 11 attempts from deep. Of their eight games remaining in the regular season, the Suns still have to face the Clippers, Blazers, Thunder, Spurs, Mavs and Grizzlies. If they want to discredit most NBA writers’ preseason playoff predictions and make it into the postseason, Phoenix will certainly earn its way in.