Post Up: The Race Is On

Hornets 92 (33-43), 76ers 91 (18-59)

Gerald Henderson (7 points, 3-12 from the field) had a horrendous shooting night against the Sixers but found a way to knock down the biggest shot of the game. After Jerami Grant (10 points, 6 blocks) sunk two free throws with 2:51 to go in the game, Philly held a 91-90 lead. This team lost Nerlens Noel to a cut on his right eyelid in the second quarter, and he would not return to the game. Even without their scrappy center, the Sixers fought all night with guards Ish Smith (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) and Robert Convington (15 points, 6 assists) firing away through similar shooting woes to Henderson. The six-year guard, though, hit the go-ahead driving layup with 6.0 seconds remaining before Smith missed a layup to make Henderson the hero. Henderson received plenty of help from his fellow guards in Kemba Walker (24 points, 5 rebounds) and Mo Williams (18 points, 5 assists, 8-8 on free throws). If the Hornets are going to find a way to sneak into the playoffs, it’s going to be through these three guards since Al Jefferson might possibly be done on the year. Charlotte didn’t gain any ground on Boston but did pull closer to Brooklyn and Miami.

Hawks 131 (57-19), Nets 99 (35-41)

Brooklyn entered this game as one of the hottest teams in the League and winners of their last six. The Hawks quickly dismissed the notion that the Nets would be a formidable opponent for them in the playoffs by demolishing them in a wire-to-wire blowout and setting a season-high for points in a game (131). Al Horford (20 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, 10-13 from the field) and DeMarre Carroll (20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4-5 on 3-pointers) both had complete games while it still isn’t certain how injured Paul Millsap (8 points, 5 assists) is. Late in the first half, the Hawks forward hurt his right shoulder in a collision with Earl Clark (11 points, 7 rebounds) and wouldn’t return. Mike Muscala (7 points, 2 assists) played many of Horford’s minutes in the second have and fit in seamlessly with the starters. Bojan Bogdanovic (19 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) had an efficient night but many insignificant baskets. This Atlanta team simply has so much balance and chemistry from the top player to their third-string garbage time players. They finished the game with a 40 assists, compared to only 22 for the Nets. With the loss, Brooklyn still remains in the No. 7 spot but only leads Boston by half a game.

Pistons 99 (30-47), Heat 98 (34-42)

While the Hornets and Celtics found a way to pull out one-point victories, the Heat were on the other end of a game decided by a single point. Midway through the fourth quarter, this game seemed to be locked up for Miami. Dwyane Wade (24 points, 11-18 from the field) and Goran Dragic (21 points, 7 assists) both had their offensive games going while Hassan Whiteside (13 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks) shut down the interior for Detroit. With just over five minutes to go, the Pistons only had 78 points and trailed by 15 points. Then Reggie Jackson (29 points, 11 assists) willed his team to a win by scoring 12 points during a 21-5 blitz, including the go-ahead driving layup with 5.0 seconds to go. Aside from his scoring outburst down the stretch, he has established a solid foundation with Andre Drummond (11 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks) as these two are completely in sync in almost every pick-and-roll. And any time the polarizing guard in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (19 points, 3 steals, 2-6 on 3-pointers) can have a decent game rather than one of his dreaded chunking performances, Detroit will likely have a chance. The Heat now trail the Celtics by half a game for the No. 8 seed.

Celtics 117 (35-42), Raptors 116 (45-32) OT

The Celtics have had one of the wackiest and wildest seasons going into Saturday’s game against the Raptors. This game’s ending might top all finishes in the League. The sequence of events started and finished with Marcus Smart (15 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals). The Celtics guard knocked down a triple with 32.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Celtics a 114-113 lead. Then after Brandon Bass split a pair of free throws, Lou Williams (27 points, 4 assists, 3-8 on 3-pointers) hits a tough 3-pointer of his own with 4.9 seconds on the clock to give the Raptors a 116-115 advantage. After Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 4 assists, 3-8 on 3-pointers) takes it the length of the floor, the speedy guard tries to put up a shot, gets blocked by Williams and has the ball land right in Smart’s hand. He then tosses in the game winner to keep his Celtics right in the thick of the playoff race. Before this sprint to the finish, DeMar DeRozan (38 points, 14-25 from the field) got his team to that point, scoring the Raptors final eight points on regulation which included the arriving jump shot with 6.9 seconds to go. However, Toronto’s guard finished with six turnovers and many mistakes throughout the game. With the close victory, Boston moves into the No. 8 spot in the East (for now).

Wizards 92 (44-33), Grizzlies 83 (52-25)

The Wizards have found a little bounce to their step of late, winning two straight games before facing the Grizzlies Saturday night. The winning streak continued thanks to a big first quarter and strong guard play. Washington and Memphis played three even quarters in the first, second and third; neither team outscored the other by more than three points in any of these quarters. However, the Wizards came firing out of the gates and took a 29-18 lead into the second. This is in large part due to John Wall (18 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds), who was coming off a career-performance in this previous game. After dishing out 18 assists through three quarters against the Knicks, Wall already racked up six assists to go along with seven points in the first 12 minutes. He would finish with 14 assists, which gives him a whopping 32 assists the past two games. Bradley Beal (20 points, 5 rebounds) was on the receiving end of many of these pinpoint passes, finding his midrange touch with his 3-point game being off. Memphis stay in this game with their stingy defense but needed more than Marc Gasol (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Mike Conley (14 points, 8 assists, 0-5 on 3-pointers) putting up 32 combined points to get over the hump. These were the only two Grizzlies in double figures. Conley and the Grizzlies also couldn’t buy a shot from deep, finishing the night 1-15 (6.7 percent) on 3-pointers. Even though they play a grit-and-grind style of basketball, they will need much more offensive firepower and consistent 3-point shooting to make it through the bloodbath known as the Western Conference Playoffs.

Warriors 123 (63-13), Mavericks 110 (46-31)

The Warriors won their 12th straight game by wearing down a Mavs team that seemed to do everything they could to lose Saturday’s game. Even though Stephen Curry (11 points, 3 assists) and Golden State kept going on early runs to put the team in front by double-digits, Dallas kept responding and making it a single-digit game. However, the Mavericks never seemed to get it close enough because of one glaring issue—free throws. For a good portion of the night, they were the aggressors, getting Andrew Bogut (8 points, 11 rebounds), Harrison Barnes (13 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals) and Draymond Green (5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) into foul trouble in the second half. These three all picked their fourth foul in the third, forcing Andre Iguodala (18 points, 4 assists) and Mareese Speights (18 points) to take on larger roles. Klay Thompson (21 points, 5-10 on 3-pointers) was also a consistent force throughout the night despite having four fouls as well. The Mavericks finished the night drawing 14 more fouls and tossing up a total of 54 free throws—22 more than the Warriors. Yet, they could only knock down 39-54 (72.2 percent) and actually shot even worse than that for most of the game before finally starting to sink them once the game didn’t matter. Dirk Nowitzki (18 points, 4 rebounds) and Monta Ellis (14 points) both missed some freebies at important points when their team was trying to cut into the deficit. Raymond Felton, Dwight Powell and Bernard James combined to shoot 8-8 from the line in garbage time, upping the team’s dreadful free throw shooting percentage. When playing the Warriors, you can’t pass up any free chances to score points. And Saturday night, Dallas didn’t want any part in making the challenge of taking on the best team in the NBA any easier.

Magic 97 (24-53), Bucks 90 (38-39)

Right as the Bucks started to build some momentum in winning back-to-back games and making it back to .500, they find a way to let the Magic pull off the upset. This was in large part due to Tobias Harris (23 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 5-9 on 3-pointers) and Nikola Vucevic (20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) having a strong performance for the second night in a row. When these two are clicking and fighting on both ends of the floor, they provide a perfect balance for Victor Oladipo (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Elfrid Payton (10 points, 11 assists, 3 steals) in the backcourt. Harris’ 3-point shooting, specifically, is key for Orlando’s spacing and success since Oladipo and Payton don’t necessarily have the most consistent deep shots. Rookie Aaron Gordon (10 points, 12 rebounds) also put on a fun performance off the bench in notching a double-double while sophomore Michael-Carter Williams (8 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals) almost reached a triple-double in the loss. Ersan Ilyasova (18 points, 8 rebounds) started the game off hot but cooled off as it moved along. This Bucks team just hasn’t had the same fervor and fight since Brandon Knight was shipped out for MCW.

Clippers 107 (51-26), Nuggets 92 (28-49)

Once J.J. Redick (25 points, 4-10 on 3-pointers) knocks down his first shot of the game in the first few minutes of play, the race is on for the Clippers. The former Duke guard had a solid just like his former college Saturday night as Redick moved effortlessly without the ball and made the most of his passes received from Chris Paul (23 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals). NBA rebounding leader DeAndre Jordan (14 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks) kept gobbling up boards against the undersized and outmatched Denver frontline. Even though Kenneth Faried (10 points, 14 rebounds) has just as much energy as Jordan, he doesn’t have the type of chemistry that Jordan does that helps the L.A. big man know exactly where he needs to be on both ends of the court. Wilson Chandler (17 points, 6 rebounds) led the Nuggets in scoring. Blake Griffin (12 points, 7 assists) continued to show off this radically improved part of his game—passing. The Clippers power forward has really started working with his back to the basket with a willingness to give the ball up if he sees an open teammate, which he is starting to see much more. Los Angeles clearly has one of the best starting lineups in the League, and their 13-0 run to start the game speaks volumes about there potency…and the Nuggets woefulness.

Suns 87 (39-38), Jazz 85 (34-42)

It might be too little too late, but Phoenix broke out of its five-game losing streak by ending Utah’s three-game winning streak. After the first quarter, though, this game seemed like it would be another defensive onslaught by the Jazz with Rudy Gobert (8 points, 15 rebounds) and Derrick Favors (14 points, 7 rebounds) taking it to their opponent’s smaller bigs. The 10th-seeded Suns could only score 13 points in the first 12 minutes and trailed by five. However, then the offense suddenly came alive as they almost tripled that amount in exploding for 34 points in the second quarter. Gerald Green (24 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) had a mini eight-point run of his own, which put his team up four with a little more than three minutes to go in the half. The streaky play continued in the third, this time for the Jazz as they outscored the Suns 31-18 and took back the lead. In the fourth, though, Green got things going with a 3-point shot and finished off a strong performance off the bench with 10 points in the final quarter to give Phoenix the close victory. Gordon Hayward (21 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) did score eight straight points late in the game before Eric Bledsoe (16 points, 5 assists) made a layup and split a pair of free throws to end the game. Phoenix trailed OKC by three and a half games for the final playoff spot in the West.

Blazers 99 (50-26), Pelicans 90 (41-35)

The Pelicans have slowly but surely climbed back into the playoff hunt by winning four consecutive games going into Saturday’s game against the Blazers. However, that streak came to an end at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon as LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (19 points, 4 assists) led their team to its 50th win on the year. These two have fought all season long to keep up with the other top teams in the conference and now have a division title to go along with a 50-win season. The biggest reason they controlled their game against the Pelicans was rebounding. With big men Aldridge, Robin Lopez (8 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Kaman (16 points, 11 rebounds) showing no fear against Anthony Davis (19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals), Portland outrebounded New Orleans 51-35 and had twice as many offensive rebounds. This also helped the Blazers get to the line as they shot 21-23 (91.3 percent) on the night. The Pelicans only 5-10 (50 percent) from the stripe. Guards Tyreke Evans (21 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Eric Gordon (22 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers) reached the 20-point plateau but allowed Lillard to bring his team back from a fourth-quarter deficit. The Blazers actually held a 81-77 lead about midway through the fourth before the Blazers used a late 18-4 run to put this game out of reach.