Post Up: MVP Candidates Make Their Case

James Harden and Chris Paul both set season-highs in close victories on Wednesday.
by April 02, 2015
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Hornets 102 (32-42), Pistons 78 (29-46)

The Hornets entered this game going 3-9 in their last 12 games. But by blowing out a tired Pistons teams, Charlotte remained right in the thick of the hunt for the final playoff spot. Marvin Williams (18 points, 6 rebounds, 3-6 on 3-pointers) and Kemba Walker (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals) led a balanced attack as six players reached double digits. The Pistons, on the other hand, only had three players in double figures. As great as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2 points, 1-6 from the field) has been at times this year, he will sporadically have one of these type of games, where nothing is clicking for him and he can’t even get 15 minutes of playing time. When you add the fact that Reggie Jackson (9 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) turned the ball over there times and was blocked five times as well, it’s going to difficult to score on the Hornets. The saddest part of this game was watching Al Jefferson (11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks) try to move. Even though Big Al isn’t a freak athlete when fully healthy, you can just tell something is off. He can barely move and is fighting through the pain. With the win, Charlotte two games back of the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Spurs 103 (49-26), Magic 91 (22-53)

The Spurs are going to the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season after blowing out the Magic Wednesday night. This team is healthy, balanced and ready to legitimately defend their title once the playoffs begin in a few weeks. Different guys step up every night, forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison in first, second and even third units. In their double-digit victory against the Magic, Kawhi Leonard (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) was the only starter than even had more than eight points while the Magic had four started with at least 14 points. Victor Oladipo (24 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) was exceptionally good late in the second quarter and towards the end of the game. However, San Antonio’s bench destroyed Orlando’s by outscoring them 69-12. Aron Baynes (18 points, 5 rebounds, 8-8 on free throws) showed his soft touch in the paint and Manu Ginobili (13 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) remained the offensive constant in the second unit. Boris Diaw (11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, +37) also played very well in many lineups, making those around him better simply by being on the court. The Spurs also played disciplined perimeter defense by holding the Magic to 5-17 (29.4 percent) shooting on 3-pointers and only fouling them nine times on the night. This forced Orlando to only make nine trips as a team to the line, while the Spurs went 23 times. The Spurs have now gone 15-3 on their last 18 games and don’t seem to be finished moving up the ladder as the No. 6 seed. They only trail the fifth-seeded Clippers by half a game.

Wizards 106 (42-33), 76ers 93 (18-58)

The Wizards entered this game losers of five of their last six and in desperate need of a win to revitalize a struggling group of players. John Wall (13 points, 15 assists) and Marcin Gortat (23 points, 14 assists, 2 blocks) put on a show with two strong double-doubles and one of their best combined games in quite some time. And with Bradley Beal (20 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 9-18 from the field) finding his touch from two-point range and Otto Porter Jr. (15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) filling in exceptionally well for Paul Pierce in the starting lineup, the scrappy Sixers couldn’t only keep up with them for so long. This game was actually much worse than the final score shows as Washington actually led 91-57 with a minute left in the third during its wire-ti-wire victory. Bench players Isaiah Canaan (18 points, 6 assists, 4-9 on 3-pointers) and Hollis Thompson (16 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) nailed some 3-pointers in garbage time late in the game when they never had a chance of making a full comeback. Ish Smith (23 points, 11-17 from the field) had an efficient and strong offensive performance in the loss, but only had 21 points of support from the rest of his starters. The Wizards also shot a blistering 57.9 percent from the field while the Sixers could only shoot 39.6 percent. Even though Washington only made eight more shots than Philly, they took 15 less shots. The Wizards also outrebounded the Sixers 47-34.

Celtics 100 (34-41), Pacers 87 (32-43)

Kelly Olynyk (19 points, 7-10 from the field) could barely even open his left eye for most of this game. The Celtics big man took an elbow from teammate Shavlik Randolph when playing one-on-one before the game. But he got his four stitches and came through when his team needed him most, keeping the Celticshalf a game out of the final playoff spot in the East. The Celtics built up an early 59-41 lead a few minutes into the third quarter before George Hill (21 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds) brought his Pacers back and made it only a 68-62 deficit going into the final quarter. Olynyk and Jae Crowder (13 points, 4 rebounds) responded by scoring the team’s first 13 points of the fourth and helping push the lead to 13 points midway through the quarter. The Celtics wouldn’t give up the lead the rest of the way. Tyler Zeller (19 points, 8-9 from the field) finished with a solid line in only 23 minutes of play while Evan Turner (13 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) continued to show his newfound versatility with another triple-double. When Turner flopped after being traded from the Sixers to the Pacers, it seemed like he was simply a washed-up player who only put up big numbers because he was on a bad team. Even though the Celtics aren’t necessarily at the top of the East, he’s still contributing in a lot of different ways for a team making a late-season push for a playoff spot.

Nets 100 (34-40), Knicks 98 (14-61)

The Nets found a way to sneak by their in-state rival in the Knicks thanks to Deron Williams (26 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, +20) revitalized night and Brook Lopez’s (18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks) late-game tip. Williams looked like his former self Wednesday night, breaking out a killer crossover, knocking down jumpers from all over the court and finding his teammates in the right spots. His biggest shot of the game, though, was one of his 10 misses. After Cleanthony Early (14 points, 6 rebounds) knocked down a clutch game-tying 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining in the game, the game was knotted at 98-98. After Williams missed a jumper with 4.2 seconds left, Lopez skied for the offensive rebound, missed his first tip-in attempt and then grabbed another offense rebound as he putback his own miss with only two seconds left on the clock. Every game is important at the bottom of the East, and the Nets would have been upset with themselves if they allowed Andrea Bargnani (22 points, 5 rebounds) and the Knicks to upset them at Madison Square Garden. With the win, the Nets have now gone 9-2 in their last 11 games…after a five-game losing streak right before that. They will need to do everything to avoid that kind of losing streak down the stretch.

Rockets 115 (51-24), Kings 111 (26-48)

James Harden (career-high 51 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 8-9 on 3-pointers) poured in 51 points to help the Rockets secure their 51st win of the season and remain tied with the Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed. To put it simply, Harden was absurd Wednesday night. The shooting guard couldn’t be stopped on his way to becoming the first player in Rockets history to post two 50-point games in the same season. He used a balance of footwork, strength and ballhandling to get exactly where he wants on the court. He relentlessly pounded the ball to the rack and made it to the line 13 times in the process. He has carried this team with Dwight Howard struggling to make his way onto the court due to injuries. Even though this game was all about the Beard, DeMarcus Cousins (24 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, 6 blocks, 3 steals) countered Harden’s performance with a dazzling display of his own in recording his second career triple-double. He came four blocks away from a quadruple-double while snagging three steals as well. Boogie has really grown this season both on and off the court, becoming an absolute force in the paint. With no Dwight Howard, Joey Dorsey (7 points, 11 rebounds) and Terrence Jones (16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 blocks) could only hope their team scored more points than the Kings with the way Cousins was controlling all aspects of Sacramento’s offense. But with Harden in command and Trevor Ariza (22 points, 6-14 from the field) knocking down shots from deep, the Rockets built up a late eight-point lead that the Kings couldn’t come back from.

Bucks 95 (37-38), Bulls 91 (45-30)

The Bucks snapped the Bulls’ three-game winning streak and looked more like the team that was seven games above .500 going into the All-Star Break. Michael Carter-Williams (21 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds) has had a tough time finding his place on this Milwaukee team, getting inconsistent minutes to go along with his inconsistent play. Wednesday night, this wasn’t the case as MCW came up with a big jumper and layup down the stretch in playing 33 minutes. Fellow starters Ersan Ilyasova (16 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) and Khris Middleton (14 points) provided some offensive support while O.J. Mayo (13 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) came through with two crucial assists to Middleton midway through the fourth. As great as the Bulls have looked this season, they seem to put up duds like this every now and then. Jimmy Butler (25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) remains aggressive most of the night on his way to an 8-8 shooting night on free throws, but Chicago still only managed to shoot 5-26 (19.2 percent) on 3-pointers and 24-37 (64.9 percent) on free throws. For a team striving to go deep into the playoffs, the Bulls simply can’t have games when they jack up 3-pointers and miss their freebies. They will need to hope this was simply a one-game shooting slump for versatile big man Nikola Mirotic (6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 turnovers, 3-1o from the field), who missed all five of his attempts from deep.

Raptors 113 (45-30), Timberwolves 99 (16-59)

The Raptors came through with a monumental win against the Rockets Monday night and seem to have kept the momentum going in a blowout with against the Timberwolves. This team that has struggled to get quality play from multiple positions this season showed great balance from their starters and bench players as they used quick ball movement to get everyone involved. Seven players finished in double figures with Lou Williams leading the way. Through the ups and down of their inconsistent season, Toronto’s sixth man in Lou Williams (18 points, 3-9 on 3-pointers, +25) has been one of the most consistent forces on the entire team. Whether Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez (14 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers, +26) is starting, he balanced both of them well with his fast-paced style of play. Tyler Hansbrough (10 points, 11 rebounds) also came through off the Raptors bench with his first double-digit rebounding performance of the season. This was a collective effort in taking down Andrew Wiggins (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Zach LaVine (22 points, 7 rebounds) and the inexperienced Wolves. These two rookies continue to show raw talent and give Minnesota fans hope for the future. The Raptors, though, were too much to handle as they built up a 31-point lead and cruised to a victory the rest of the way.

Mavericks 135 (46-39), Thunder 131 (42-33)

We all must have missed the memo in this one, but apparently the Mavs and Thunder teamed up Wednesday night to not play any defense for an entire basketball game. The Mavs shot 61.5 percent from the field for the game, which is the highest percentage OKC has allowed on the year. As great as some of these offensive performances were, there was no resistance on the perimeter by either team while Dallas scored 72 points in the paint. Let me repeat that: Dallas scored 72 points in the paint. This game was entertaining to say the least as Monta Ellis (26 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) and Chandler Parsons (22 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 10-15 from the field) provided just enough down the stretch to withstand Russell Westbrook’s (31 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) 10th triple-double of the year. It’s gotten to the point where a triple-double simply seems to be the standard for this freak athlete point guard. He may still take a lot of shots, but he does so many other good things while on the court. He certainly didn’t do it alone Wednesday as Anthony Morrow (32 points, 6-9 on 3-pointers) was stroking it from deep while Enes Kanter (30 points, 16 rebounds) scored 30 points on a ridiculously efficient 13 shots. The Thunder became the first team to lose a game with three players reaching the 30-point plateau since Portland lost to Phoenix in four overtimes in 1997. They couldn’t pull it out because of late-game shots from Ellis and Parsons, who accounted for 18 of the Mavs’ final 20 points. Parson specifically used good footwork to step back for a turnaround jumper that extended Dallas’ lead from 132-131 to three points. Ellis would make one free throw with 2.4 seconds left to snatch the high-scoring victory. This is a huge road victory for Dallas as they now are ahead of the eighth-seeded Thunder by four games rather than two. Dirk Nowitzki (18 points, 2-5 on 3-pointers) added another milestone to his illustrious career as he became the seventh player in NBA history to score 28,000 career points. Even though he has slowed down a step this season, the Mavericks won’t realize just how much the Big German will be missed by their franchise until he actually retires.

Jazz 98 (34-41), Nuggets 84 (28-47)

In the one game on the night without a playoff team or contender, the Jazz reestablished themselves as one of the best defensive teams in the entire League because of budding big man Rudy Gobert (career-high 20 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks). When you watch the Stifle Tower play, it is surprising to think it took Utah this long to ship out Enes Kanter and give the 7-foot-1 Frenchman the opportunity to shine. He showed a different level of offensive abilities against the undersized Nuggets frontline by using sold footwork and soft touch down low. However, his team struggled defensively out of the gate as the Jazz allowed Kenneth Faried (19 points, 10 rebounds) and the Nuggets to score 29 points in the first quarter. This is a Utah team that only allowed 29 points in the opening quarter once–once–in March. In the second quarter, Trey Burke (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) brought some fight off the bench as his team went on a 30-9 run to put this game well out of reach. Similar to the Grizzlies, when the Jazz get up by a large enough amount, it is difficult for opponents to find enough scoring to make a comeback.

Clippers 126 (50-26), Blazers 122 (48-26)

The Clippers bounced back from Tuesday’s loss to the Warriors, overcame a 19-point deficit, watched their starting All-Star point guard bolster his MVP case and notched their 50th win of the season all in the same game. Chris Paul (season-high 41 points, 17 assists, 4 steals, 1 turnover) put on one of the best displays of pure point guard play this season. He made shot after shot while finding all of his teammates from every spot on the floor. The Blazers were simply forced to pick their poison as the game moved on. Cp3 and Blake Griffin (24 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) have established one of the most dangerous pick-and-rolls in the game, especially with Griffin’s rapidly developing passing ability. The Clippers’ second-half rally all came due to a shove from none other than Chris Kaman (8 points, 7 rebounds). With 25.7 seconds remaining in the third, CP3 grabbed a rebound of a missed tip shot from Kaman. Portland’s grizzled center decided to shove the pesky point guard, ensuing these two teams to get in a scuffle. At the time, Portland held a nine-point lead Just five minutes into the fourth quarter, L.A. had taken over the lead and would used back-to-back treys by Griffin and J.J. Redick (25 points, 8 rebounds, 5-9 on 3-pointers) to extend the lead to 106-100. The Clips led 114-103 with 3:04 to go and almost allowed LaMarcus Aldridge (29 points, 6 rebounds) to will his team back into this game. After two Aldridge free throws, Portland only trailed 122-119 with 19.5 seconds to go. Chris Paul, though, would calmly knock down four straight free throws to finish off his dominating night with a victory. Even though James Harden and Stephen Curry clearly have a legitimate case to make for the MVP, CP3 deserves some recognition for successfully running one of the best offenses in the entire league.

Pelicans 113 (40-34), Lakers 92 (20-54)

Anthony Davis (20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks) just can’t stop growing. The Pelicans big man put up another strong performance as his Pelicans cruised by the lowly Lakers. Even though his 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks has been a regular stat line this season, the Brow has suddenly become a legitimate distributor of late. Davis now has dished out five or more assists in six of his last nine games—something he hadn’t accomplished in a single games prior to March 9. He seems to show a new skill set every single time he steps on the floor, which is a bad omen for the rest of the League. Davis had more room to work Wednesday night thanks to the return of Ryan Anderson (17 points, 2-4 on 3-pointers), who has been sidelined since February 21. The stretch four scored 17 points in 22 minutes, providing the perfect balance with Davis and Omer Asik (8 points, 10 rebounds) down low. Guards Norris Cole (17 points), Tyreke Evans (16 points, 8 assists), Eric Gordon (10 points, 5 assists) and Quincey Pondexter (10 points, 4-5 from the field) all played well against the young Lakers guards. Coming off his game-winning shot against the Sixers, Jordan Clarkson (18 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 7-9 from the field) claimed his second consecutive double-double. He is quickly growing into a possible point guard for L.A.’s future. The Lakers, though, simply couldn’t make enough shots to keep up with New Orleans’ hot shooting. While the Pelicans shot 56.4 percent from the field, the Lakers only managed to shoot 44.6 percent.