Suns 99 (14-14), Knicks 90 (5-24)
The Suns received some big games from Eric Bledsoe (25 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals) and Isaiah Thomas (22 points, 7-12 from the field) to make their way back to .500. These two scored Phoenix’s final seven points in the final 1:35 to clinch the victory. Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals) did all he could to keep his team in the game while pure shooter Jose Calderon (21 points, 5-6 on 3-pointers) found his touch from deep. However, the Knicks truly seem to fall apart every time a game gets to the fourth quarter. Saturday night, the Suns outscored the Knicks 32-22 and took control for good. With the loss, the Knicks now have 24 losses on the year—currently more than any other team in the League.
Blazers 114 (22-6), Pelicans 88 (13-13)
The Blazers might have just made as much of a statement as they did last night. One game removed from taking down the Spurs in a triple-overtime slugfest, Portland mustered up enough energy to take down the Pelicans a day later…and in commanding, dominating fashion. They got off to a quick 14-4 start in the first four minutes thanks to strong play from LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 12 rebounds) and led by double-digits for the majority of the game. Damian Lillard (17 points, 7 assists) and Steve Blake (3 points, 5 assists) both worked well distributing the ball, helping Portland have a 25-15 advantage in terms of assists. The Blazers also did an effective job shutting down Anthony Davis (7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3-14 from the field) and forcing him to have one of his worst games of the season. If Davis can’t have a decent game, the Pelicans don’t have a chance against the West’s elite. Austin Rivers (21 points, 11-12 from the field) led the Pelicans in scoring by getting to the free throw line. As a team, New Orleans only managed to shoot 35.3 percent from the field while the Blazers scorched them by shooting 53.3 percent. One thing is becoming fairly apparent—these Blazers are legitimate.
Hornets 104 (8-19), Jazz 86 (8-20)
The Hornets are now 2-0 without Lance Stephenson (groin) and have snapped their 10-game losing streak against the Utah Jazz. They were able to do so thanks to a complete game from their starting lineup as Kemba Walker (20 points, 6 assists, 4 steals, 0 turnovers), Al Jefferson (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) led the way. Gerald Henderson (17 points, 8-12 from the field) also had one of his most efficient games of the season. There have been a lot of problems for the Charlotte this season with offensive chemistry being one of them. Stephenson has not fit in at all. Saturday night, the offense flowed much better and the Hornets shot 48.3 percent from the field and 9-22 (40.9 percent) on 3-pointers. The Hornets outscored the Jazz in the first three quarters before trash time began in the final quarter. Gordon Hayward (14 points, 6 assists) led the Jazz in scoring as no one really found their groove. The Jazz are in a some trouble right now and can’t seem to find any consistency from their guards.
Hawks 104 (19-7), Rockets 97 (19-7)
The Hawks built up a big halftime lead and held of a late rally by Houston thanks to some clutch free throws from Dennis Schroder (8 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds), Al Horford (14 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks) and Kyle Korver (22 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers). These surging Hawks 52-40 at halftime, playing solid team defense, even without starting point guard Jeff Teague (hamstring). However, James Harden (18 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds) and Dwight Howard (19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) wouldn’t let his Rockets go down that easily, being the two forces behind the comeback. Houston used a 20-7 run to close out the third quarter and entered the final quarter tied 74-74. After a back-and-forth fourth quarter, the Hawks held a 95-90 lead after Korver nailed a 3-pointer. The guard has become so reliable from downtown late in games. As a team, Atlanta made 7-8 free throws in the final minute to claim the victory and inch one game away from reaching their 20th win of the season. The Rockets shot 51.4 percent from the field while the Hawks shot 34-86 (39.5 percent) from the field—hoisting half of their shots (43) from 3-point range. They certainly live and die by the long ball.
Mavericks 99 (20-8), Spurs 93 (17-11)
Monta Ellis (38 points, 4 steals, 15-23 from the field, 5-6 on 3-pointers) matched his season-high that he set in a huge overtime win against the Bulls earlier in the year. And Dallas needed all of his 38 points in a very ugly win that they pulled out due to four decent minutes they strung together at the end of the game. The main story of the night, though, was Rajon Rondo (6 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 33 minutes) debuting for his new team. Rondo seemed a little rusty to start but gradually found his footing as the game went on. As he did during his time in Boston, the point guard did little things here and there to give his team an extra possession or stop a Spurs’ possession, bringing a winning nature to a team trying to claim another championship. A backcourt consisting of Rondo and Ellis will be extremely fun to watch; however, Carlisle will need to work to find ways to cover up their lack of size and perimeter defense. After Marco Belinelli (21 points) converted a tough three-point play on a banked floater, the Spurs held a 89-86 with 3:52 to go. The Spurs were playing without almost all of their core players after playing back-to-back triple overtime games, but the role players held their ground, as will happen in Popovich’s system. Aron Baynes (16 points, 10 rebounds) had a solid double-double while rookie Kyle Anderson (11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) showed versatility and potential in the loss. They fell just short because Ellis took over after Bellinelli’s and-one, scoring 11 of the team’s final 13 points. Chandler Parsons (16 points, season-high 11 rebounds) also took on a new role in the victory, playing more at the power forward position with frontcourt players Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder being shipped to Boston. If Parsons can hold his ground against the larger bigs of the West, the Mavs didn’t lose much depth in the trade. It will be interesting to see what type of rotation Carlisle eventually settles into.
Nuggets 76 (12-15), Pacers 73 (8-19)
This game was hard to watch as one of these two teams technically had to win the game. Both the Nuggets and Pacers shot below 37 percent from the field, shot a combined 9-39 (23.1 percent) on 3-pointers and combined to have one more assist than turnover. Both these teams also set a new season low in points scored in a game. However, Danilo Gallinari (19 points) was the difference for Denver as the foreign forward nailed a huge 3-pointer that was a part of a 10-0 fourth-quarter run to put the Nuggets in front for good. Ty Lawson (15 points, 10 assists, 3 steals) also continues to do a good job running Denver’s offense—win or lose. The Nuggets also destroyed the Pacers down low, outscoring them 48-18 in the paint. With Roy Hibbert (0 points, 5 rebounds) still struggling and Ian Mahinmi (foot) sidelined, the Pacers don’t have much of an interior presence. Big man David West, though, did manage to notch a double-double.
Clippers 106 (19-8), Bucks 102 (14-14)
This back-and-forth game ended up being a good battle between two teams trying to earn their way into their respective conference’s playoffs. With neither team leading by double-digits at any point on the night, this one came down to the fourth quarter, when the more experienced Clippers took care of business. Chris Paul (27 points, 9 assists), Blake Griffin (24 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) and Jamal Crawford (17 points)—all players who have been in their fare share of playoff games—scored of the the Clippers’ 24 points in the final quarter. J.J. Redick (23 points) had another great shooting night while DeAndre Jordan (9 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks) gobbled up the rebounds. The Bucks had a balanced attack led by Jerryd Bayless (16 points) and Jared Dudley (16 points, 8 rebounds) off the bench, but this team is still trying to figure out how to close out games. That is something that will come as chemistry and a winning culture is set in place. The Bucks actually shot much better from the field than the Clippers, but they also turned the ball over 18 times and only attempted 15 total free throws compared to the Clippers’ 27.