Post Up: Spurs Stand Tall

Spurs 92 (7-4), Cavaliers 90 (5-5)

This was a back-and-forth, high-intensity game featuring two teams that have a good chance to make it very deep into the playoffs when May rolls around. However, the final handful of possessions showed that at this moment, only one of these two teams already has their chemistry and late-game execution close to figured out. After Cory Joseph (10 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds) closed out the third quarter strong, San Antonio held a slim 72-69 lead. LeBron James (15 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers) had been doing his best to get his teammates involved, including Anderson Varejao (23 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks), who showed a nice touch around the rim on the night. The fourth quarter remained a tight one, as neither team led by more than three points from 9:48 left until the final buzzer sounded. The final 2:35 is where the Spurs took this one. After a Boris Diaw (19 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) missed 3-point shot with 2:36 remaining, the Cavs had an 86-85 lead and a chance to extend their lead to three or four points. However, they couldn’t capitalize on not one, not two but three opportunities as James snatched two offensive rebounds on the possession. Tim Duncan (19 points, 10 rebounds) would make them pay by easily placing in a turnaround bank shot to put his team back in front. Manu Ginobili (7 points, 5 assists) would later flip one in after two nice touches from Tony Parker (8 points, 3 assists) and Duncan to put the Spurs up 91-88. This was one of those plays where all three of San Antonio’s stars knew exactly where their teammates would be. Due to a Ginobili missed free throw, though, the Cavs had one more chance. LeBron went behind his back and consequently lost the handle of the ball, turning it over and giving the game to the Spurs. James’ and Kevin Love’s (10 points, 11 rebounds) shooting woes continued Wednesday night, as these two combined to shoot 10-29 (34.5 percent) from the field. Their team’s rhythm just isn’t there right now, but we all have to assume they will figure it out as the season moves along.

Pacers 88 (5-7), Hornets 86 (4-8)

Lance Stephenson (10 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) went back to where his career started for the first time since he took his talents to Charlotte, but Wednesday turned out to be all about one of the players who is trying to fill the void Born Ready left behind. Even though Rodney Stuckey (11 points) clearly was going to take the last shot for the win, Solomon Hill (6 points, 5 rebounds) wasn’t content with ball watching. As Stuckey stepped back for a potential game-winner, Hill snuck baseline, grabbed an air-ball in midair and tossed it in as the buzzer sounded to give his Pacers the victory. Before the late-game heroics, the Hornets squandered a 15-point, second-quarter lead because of their disappearing offense and strong play from Roy Hibbert (18 points, 11 rebounds). As strong as the defense has been and will be, Charlotte allows too many minutes to go by without scoring any points. Al Jefferson (28 points, 8 rebounds) is certainly Steve Clifford’s offensive anchor, but at sometimes Kemba Walker (12 points, 7 assists) and Stephenson over dribble or fail to make the simple pass. And with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (foot) and Gary Neal (concussion) sidelined against the Pacers, Gerald Henderson (0 points, 23 minutes) filled part of this void and put up an offensive dud. This is already the fourth time this season Henderson has been held scoreless…that can’t happen if Charlotte wants to make another playoff run. Clifford will make this team play defense, but they need to find some sort of an offensive rhythm. Once Stephenson inevitably settles in to his new role, the offensive should somewhat come around.

Clippers 114 (6-4), Magic 90 (5-8)

Los Angeles won all four quarters in this one, slowly but surely pulling away to an easy 24-point victory. The Clippers, who were starting this brutal road trip of seven road games in 11 days, didn’t even need their starters to play in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul (16 points, 9 assists, 8-13 from the field) was efficient with his shooting and passing, Blake Griffin (20 points) muscled his way to another 20-point performance and Jamal Crawford (22 points, 8-12 from the field) had one of those nights when he couldn’t miss from anywhere on the court. When Crawford finds his touch, he becomes the small forward this team desperately needs in their lineup. With Evan Fournier (heel) out, the Magic missed his scoring and ball distribution while only shooting 39.5 percent from the field. Tobias Harris (25 points, 2-2 on 3-pointers) had a solid showing and Nikola Vucevic (19 points, 14 rebounds) notched his usual double-double but barely had an impact in the second half. Even though they played with their usual rapid pace, the Clippers played smart basketball, only turning the ball over seven times.

Celtics 101 (4-6), 76ers 90 (0-11)

The Sixers played two good quarter of basketball going into the halftime with a tie and seemed like they might have a chance to pick up that elusive first win of the season. The Celtics, though, weren’t about to lose their fourth straight as Rajon Rondo (9 points, 13 assists), Jared Sullinger (22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Brandon Bass (23 points, 6 rebounds, 9-13 from the field) all played key roles in leading Boston to the double-digit victory. Bass, specifically, lived on the baseline and accepted pass after pass from Rondo. Tony Wroten (21 points, 7 assists) led the Sixers in scoring again as now starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 turnovers) only has one more assist than turnover in his first four games of the season (19 assists, 18 turnovers). Boston has struggled defensively this season, but the Sixers helped with that issue, as they scored a season-low 90 points on the Celtics.

Mavericks 105 (9-3), Wizards 102 (7-3)

The Mavs came into this game winners of their last four while the Wizards had won their last three. Both these teams had their cores return from last season while adding key small forwards. Dallas was able to pick up the road victory, though, due to a certain German power forward who did what he’s been doing since he entered the league. After a closely contested game with neither team leading by more than 10 points, Dirk Nowitzki (13 points, 3-4 on 3-pointers) twisted his left ankle after accidentally stepping on the back of Kris Humphries’ (9 points, 6 rebounds) shoe. But if you haven’t heard before, Dirk’s ankles are practically rubber at this point in his career. After getting his ankles taped in the locker room, he returned and drilled a critical 3-point dagger that extended the Mavericks lead from a two points to 102-97. The Wizards would cut it back down to three points after Bradley Beal (21 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers)–who looked good in his first game back–made a driving layup. Monta Ellis (34 points, 12-14 on free throws), though, calmly made a pair of free throws to put this one out of reach for good. Ellis was ridiculous through the first 12 minutes, scoring 18 of his 34 points. With Jameer Nelson (5 points, 2-12 from the field) having an off night, Rick Carlisle handed the reins to J.J. Barea (14 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 23 minutes), who played very well down the stretch. (This is a guy who was waived earlier in the season…now he’s playing crunch-time minutes on a 9-3 team.) Big men Tyson Chandler (5 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Brandan Wright (14 points, 6 rebounds, 6-7 from the field) remain a lethal one-two punch down low, acting as pogo sticks on both ends of the court. Through 12 games so far, 12 Mavs have net ratings of +6.9 or higher when on the floor, showing their insane depth. As long as the defense can become more consistent, there is no reason to think the Mavs can’t compete in the West.

Bucks 122 (7-5), Nets 118 (4-7) 3OT

This game was nothing short of a roller coaster. With the Bucks winning their last two to go over .500 and the Nets losers of their last four, Jason Kidd returned to Brooklyn with the brighter future and the better record. These two teams went back and forth early on as neither team led by more than four points midway through the second quarter. Behind some quick baskets from Jarrett Jack (14 points), who had nine of his 14 points in the second quarter, the Nets extended their lead to double-digits. The Bucks rallied in the third thanks to a two-minute scoring drought by Brooklyn that allowed Milwaukee to go on a 9-0 run. By the time the fourth quarter started, this one was back to being a back-and-forth contest as Brook Lopez (26 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked good for the Nets throughout Wednesday night. Regulation play finished with a tie thanks to a clutch layup from O.J. Mayo (21 points, 7 rebounds) with 30.4 seconds remaining. As disappointing of a career Mayo has had since the Grizzlies took him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, he seems to be finding a groove and role under Kidd. The first overtime ended with Mayo coming through for his team again, swishing two game-tying free throws with 21.2 seconds remaining. These closing seconds, though, weren’t about Mayo. During the Nets’ final possession of the first overtime, Joe Johnson (18 points, 8 assists) jumped in the air without knowing what he was doing with the ball (which is something a basketball player should never do), allowing Brandon Knight (18 points, 8 assists) to easily steal the ball and head to the other basket with the clock winding down. Knight went up for the right-handed layup he has successfully made thousands of time in his life…and botched the layup. Everyone was shocked, including Kidd, who had to hold back his frustration. As frustrated as the Bucks had to have been with Knight, they trusted him in the second overtime and he came through with a huge 3-point basket with 19.6 seconds left to send this one to a third overtime. And in these final five minutes of free basketball, the Bucks won this game with their defense, holding the Nets to only two field goals. Don’t look now, but Kidd has these young Bucks out to a 7-5 record. Giannis Antetokounmpo (18 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists) and Jabari Parker (career-high 23 points, 7 rebounds) are quickly turning into a long, dangerous one-two punch on the wing while there is plenty of depth off the bench. In a conference where at least one team can sneak into the playoffs below .500, don’t discount the possibility of the Bucks finding their way in.

Suns 88 (7-5), Pistons 86 (3-9)

Even though they usually use their up-tempo, fast-paced offense to blitz past the competition, the Suns showed their ability to grind out games defensively. (Granted, it was against the lowly and lost Pistons.) The Suns held Detroit to only 37.9 percent shooting from the field, as well as just 7-25 (28 percent) on 3-pointers. In the ugly victory, Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) and Goran Dragic (12 points, 4 assists) led the way for the Suns while P.J. Tucker (16 points, 7 rebounds, 6-8 from the field) looked very good in 30 minutes of play. After Dragic nailed a fadeaway jumper with 1:52, Phoenix held a 85-77 lead and looked to be in control. However, Kentavious-Caldwell Pope (15 points, 3 steals) and Brandon Jennings (19 points, 7 assists) made back-to-back-to-back bombs to quickly make this only a one-point deficit. After Bledsoe made a tough layup to put the Suns up by three, they won this game on the other end as Markieff Morris (10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) came up with a huge swat on on a Jennings layup attempt to close this one out. Don’t expect the Suns to have consecutive slugfests as they take on the Sixers Friday night.

Raptors 96 (9-2), Grizzlies 92 (10-2)

What a great early matchup between the West’s best team and East’s best team in terms of records. This one didn’t disappoint in any way, even though the Grizzlies were without five of their players due to a stomach virus. Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Beno Udrih were all unavailable and spent time at a Toronto hospital Wednesday due to dehydration among other illnesses. The Grizzlies, though, grinding away as they always due, thanks to big-time play from big men Marc Gasol (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Zach Randolph (18 points, 18 rebounds). Mike Conley (19 points, 10 rebounds) also picked up a double-double along with his frontcourt as the Grizzlies controlled the boards 50-35. The Raptors matched this high-level of play with strong play from their guards as Kyle Lowry (18 points, 7 assists), DeMar DeRozan (21 points, 5 rebounds) and Terrence Ross (16 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) all played their respectives roles. These three scored the final 11 Raptors points, including a clutch fadeaway jumper from Lowry with 8.9 seconds left in the game. Ross had poured in 14 of his 16 points in the final quarter before Lowry took care of business. Lou Williams (13 points, 17 minutes) has quietly been a consistent scoring punch of the bench for Toronto, reaching double-figures in seven of the past eight games. He fills out a very underrated and potent backcourt.

Timberwolves 115 (3-7), Knicks 99 (3-10)

Minnesota came into this game losers of their last five and without starters Ricky Rubio (ankle) and Nikola Pekovic (wrist). However, when you’re going up against the Knicks, anything is possible offensively. Shabazz Muhammad (17 points, 8 rebounds) got the nod for his first career start and he shined in this new role. He was active and flying all over the court, acting as the slasher for the offense. Mo Williams (14 points, 13 assists) easily had his best game of the season as Kevin Martin (37 points, 7-11 on 3-pointers) was on the receiving end of many of Williams’ assists. Martin might have one of the oddest shooting releases in the League, but he certainly makes it work consistently. Even though Martin is a veteran and hasn’t changed the way he plays up to this point in his career, if he rounded out his game just a little bit more, he would become much more highly valued and respected across the NBA. Carmelo Anthony (20 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers) and Amare Stoudemire (19 points) shot very well Wednesday night, but their teammates only managed to shoot 20-50 (40 percent) from the field. Defensively, their was little resistance as they allowed the Timberwolves to post a season-high 64 points in the first half.

Nuggets 107 (4-7), Thunder 100 (3-10)

Four seasons ago, this was an intriguing first-round matchup in the Western Conference playoffs. Now, these two below-.500 teams are still trying to figure out what direction they are headed in this year. Wednesday night, Brian Shaw survived another day in Denver thanks to Ty Lawson (15 points, 15 assists) and Wilson Chandler (21 points, 9 rebounds) having strong performances. Speedy-quick Lawson has shown he can be an elite point guard and Wilson has simply battled with so many injuries the past few years. When these two are clicking offensively, it’s difficult to beat Denver at the Pepsi Center. For the Thunder, Serge Ibaka (22 points, 13 rebounds) posted a double-double while Sebastian Telfair (18 points, 7-7 from the field, 4-4 on 3-pointers) didn’t miss a shot from the field. Reggie Jackson (16 points, 9 assists) might have stuffed the stat sheet, but he did take 20 shots just to get to 16 points. The Nuggets almost let this one get away as OKC cut a 94-81 early fourth-quarter deficit to only 101-98 with 3:19 to go. Chandler and Arron Afflalo (13 points) would make consecutive treys to put the Thunder away for good.

Lakers 98 (3-9), Rockets 92 (9-3)

Swaggy P has arrived to save the day. This might be mostly sarcastic, but the Lakers have suddenly gone 2-0 since Nick Young (16 points, 2 steals) returned from his injury. After L.A. lacked little energy through its first 10 games, Young has provided a spark and simply fun element back into this team. Kobe Bryant (29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) led the way for the Lakers, having one of his best all-around games of the season. He led the way in a 12-1 run to close out the game by converting a three-point play during the run. The Rockets, who were playing without Dwight Howard (knee), had their chances down the stretch but just couldn’t capitalize. James Harden (24 points, 7 assists, 7-11 from the field) had one of his most efficient games of the season but committed his sixth turnover with 45.9 seconds remaining, which led to a Wesley Johnson (9 points, 2 steals) layup that gave the Lakers the lead. Greek rookie Kostas Papanikolaou (career-high 19 points, 6 rebounds) had a career night in the loss. More than half of the Rockets’ field goal attempts came in the form of 3-pointers (38/74). After averaging 103.3 points in their first eight games, the Rockets have plummeted to only 85.5 in their past four. They have now dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season.