Celtics 116 (33-41), Hornets 104 (31-42)
From the season opener to now, the Celtics look like a completely different team as the majority of their original roster has been traded away. However, one of the team’s constants in Avery Bradley (30 points, 8 rebounds, 12-23 from the field) came through in a major way to keep Boston right in the thick of the playoff race. The Celtics guard had a solid game on both ends of the floor, really being a pest in multiple ways for Kemba Walker (28 points, 12 assists, 9-20 from the field) and Gerald Henderson (17 points, 6 fouls). Bradlet got plenty of help on the offensive end of the floor as six Celtics players reached double figures. Boston has plenty of flaws as this team is still eight games under .500, but since Isaiah Thomas (10 points, 7 assists) joined the roster, they have had quality balance almost every night. Evan Turner (15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 7-11 from the field) has become the team’s most versatile player, fitting in many different lineups. Gerald Wallace (4 points, 5 rebounds) even showed a flash of his younger self against his former team. Monday against the Hornets, the Celtics shot the ball efficiently, quickly moved the ball from one side of the court to the other and kept their turnovers down. That is enough of a recipe to sneak into the playoffs in the East.
Lakers 113 (20-53), 76ers 111 (18-57) OT
At this point in the season, both these (tanking) teams are looking to build their young players and build some sort of momentum going into next season. For the Lakers, Jordan Clarkson (26 points, 11 assists, 3 steals) continued to be that momentum in a big way Monday night. With the game tied 111-111 in overtime after budding rookie center Nerlens Noel (19 points, 14 rebounds) scored seven straight points for Philly, the former Mizzou Tiger in Clarkson snuck backdoor, received a pass from Wayne Ellington (20 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers) and lofted in the game-winning basket with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Clarkson started this season as a backup point guard who would have to earn his way onto the court. He has certainly done that of late and has also taken ownership of L.A.’s offense. His former college teammate in Jabari Brown (career-high 22 points, 7-10 from the field, 3-4 on 3-pointers) got in on the action and reached the 20-point plateau himself with three treys. Even though Brown still has to show he can perform at this level for more than one game and Clarkson has a long way to go until he can be considered a legitimate starting point guard in the NBA, these two put on a show for one night in a down-to-the-wire overtime victory.
Hawks 101 (56-18), Bucks 88 (36-38)
The Hawks entered this game losers of four of their last six. However, they vamped up perimeter defense and handed the Bucks yet another loss as they continue to wade in mediocrity. This team had so much going for them when Brandon Knight was still on the squad. Since the the departure of Knight and acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams (4 points, 5 assists, 4 turnovers), Milwaukee can’t seem to find its identity and is falling dangerously close to the No. 7 seed if things continue to decline. The Hawks, though, received some big games from “Junkyard Dog” DeMarre Carroll (23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks) and sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, 5 assists, 3-9 on 3-pointers). Korver drilled four deep shots on four consecutive possessions in the third quarter. He had 11 points in 65 seconds, to be exact. These two wingmen have great balance in the starting lineup, bring a lot of different qualities on both ends of the court. Al Horford (18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Paul Millsap (15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals) have also established great chemistry and showed it Monday night. During Milwaukee’s recent struggles, Zaza Pachulia (17 points, 13 rebounds) has quietly been putting up quality double-double numbers and been a force down low. The Bucks simply have lost their defensive intensity, giving up at least 100 points in six of their past seven games.
Raptors 99 (44-30), Rockets 96 (50-24)
The Raptors entered Monday’s game on the verge of going into the playoffs on a very bad note. If they had lost to the Rockets, they would have begun the postseason on April 18 without a win against a winning team since February 20. That will not be the case because DeMar DeRozan (42 points, 11 rebounds, 14-27 from the field) decided to unleash the best game of his career in a entertaining duel between the former USC Trojan and MVP candidate James Harden (31 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds). These two shooting guards—who both grew up in the Los Angeles area—went back-and-forth all night and gave Raptors fans at Air Canada Centre a great show. DeRozan, though, elevated his play with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter. With the game knotted at 85-85 with neither team leading by more than four points up to that point in the quarter, DeRozan scored 10 of his team’s final 14 points, including a go-ahead bank shot with just over a minute remaining and a pull-up jumper with 18.8 seconds left to seal the victory. Before DeRozan went into take-over mode, Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Lou Williams (13 points, 5 assists, 3-6 on 3-pointers) provided just enough offensive support to help keep Toronto in this game. Valanciunas set the tone early on the defensive end of the floor by blocking two shots less than four minutes after the tipoff. Amir Johnson (8 points, 16 rebounds) snatched 16 boards and was a key factor in the Raptors outrebounding the Rockets 48-41. With the win, the fourth-seeded Raptors suddenly have some life in their play and might have the edge (for now) over the struggling fifth-seeded Wizards. Toronto also only trails the three-seeded Bulls by one game.
Grizzlies 97 (51-24), Kings 83 (26-47)
The Grizzlies broke their three-game losing streak and took back the No. 2 seed in the West thanks to strong play from Mike Conley (18 points) and Jeff Green (16 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) along with a ripped jersey from Marc Gasol (8 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals). Memphis quickly jumped out to a 16-5 lead within the first six minutes and wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the game. With DeMarcus Cousins getting the night off, Rudy Gay (24 points, 10-18 from the field) attempted to carry the entire offense and brought the Kings back at certain points. However, the Grizzlies’ stout defense was too much for the undermanned Kings to (attempt to) attack for a full 48 minutes. Sacramento only scored 19 points in the final quarter. Zach Randolph (15 points, 7 rebounds) contributed 15 points and Kosta Koufos (8 points, season-high 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) helped Memphis swat a season-high 11 blocks, which was one of the key difference-makers Monday night.
Jazz 104 (33-41), Timberwolves 84 (16-58)
Gordon Hayward (22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals), Trey Burke (19 points, 6 rebounds) and Trevor Booker (17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks) led the way offensively in Utah’s 20-point blowout over the Timberwolves. Zach LaVine (21 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) led Minnesota in scoring and showed some promise during stretches. However, the story of this game has to be the battle that ensued between Andrew Wiggins’ (17 points, 5 rebounds) hops and Rudy Gobert’s (15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) absurd reach in the second quarter. At the 8:48 mark in the first, Wiggins started things off with a power dunk on Gobert. Then in the second with 4:52 left before halftime, Wiggins challenged the Stifle Tower again and finished another hammer slam against the blocking machine. This time, the Rookie of the Year candidate finished the dunk with a roar to his crowd. But just 34 seconds later, on Wiggins’ third attempt at posterizing Gobert, the Jazz big man stuffed Wiggins and gave his own howl after the rejection. These two made an otherwise insignificant matchup turn into a wildly entertaining affair for a short period. While the Jazz managed to shoot 47.6 percent from the field, the Timberwolves only shot 36.8 percent.
Blazers 109 (48-25), Suns 86 (38-37)
Damian Lillard (19 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds), LaMarcus Aldridge (17 points, 7 rebounds) and the Blazers clinched a playoff spot Monday night by copying the Warriors’ third-quarter mastery. After Portland built up an early 53-37 lead with 3:34 to go before halftime, Marcus Morris (11 points, 5-8 from the field) converted an alley-oop, slammed one home and made a layup as his Suns went on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to six points at the half. Even though Phoenix seemed to have the momentum going into the third quarter, Lillard and Aldridge came out on a mission to put away the Suns for good…and they did just that. Behind 18 third-quarter points from this duo, the Blazers sprinted out to a 92-65 lead by the end of the third as they outscored the Suns 37-16 during those 12 minutes. Phoenix had six players in double figures, but none of them had more than 13 points. With the trade-deadline departure of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, the engine that made this Suns team run is gone and there has been no replacement because of Brandon Knight’s injury. The Blazers have now won four straight games and seem to be finding their groove despite the absence of Wes Matthews. The Suns, on the other hand, are going in the wrong direction and will soon be eliminated from the playoffs at this rate.