Magic 111 (22-49), Blazers 104 (44-23)
Elfrid Payton (22 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnover, 10-13 from the field) made a statement Friday night with his second straight triple-double while shooting efficiently the entire night. He is the first rookie since Antoine Walker (1996-97) to post back-to-back triple doubles. Payton’s herky-jerky rhythm of play keeps opponents on their heels, and Damian Lillard (18 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) and the Blazers frontcourt had no answers for the crafty rookie. This is a prime example of what the team lost when Wes Matthews went down for the season. Even though Arron Afflalo (7 points, 3 rebounds) is serviceable, he simply can’t bring the type of hard-nose defense that “Iron Man” does on a nightly basis. Payton got plenty of help from Victor Oladipo (22 points, 8 rebounds) and Nikola Vucevic (22 points, 8 rebounds), as these three combined to score 22 points each. The Blazers let this one slip away in the fourth quarter. Even though Aldridge (31 points, 10 rebounds) finished with a game-high 31 points, he only scored five in the final quarter while the Magic outscored the Blazers 36-23. With the Blazers, Rockets, Clippers and Mavs all right around the same place in the standings, this is a bad game for Portland to let slip by. The Blazers have now lost three games in a row.
76ers 97 (17-52), Knicks 81 (14-55)
Nerlens Noel (career-high 23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 blocks) has really started to turn a corner as the season is coming to a close. He racks up the blocks, steals, rebounds and points to some degree almost every time he steps onto the floor. Friday night, Noel stepped up his offensive game, finding his touch in the paint and making his free throws. Whenever Joel Embiid finally gets back to full health, these two are going to cause major problems in the paint. Even though the Knicks only managed to put up 81 points, Alexey Shved (25 points, 7-8 on 3-pointers) had another strong performance. Not only has Shved scored in double figures in 13 of the past 14 games, Philly’s guard has reached the 20-point plateau in three straight games. His team, though, only managed to shoot 36.2 percent from the field and scored 33 total points in the second half. With the loss, the Knicks fall to a League-worse 14-55.
Nets 129 (28-39), Bucks 127 (34-35) 3OT
The Nets kept their playoff hopes alive thanks to a thrilling triple-overtime victory over the reeling Bucks. Even though Brooklyn has had one of the most inconsistent seasons in the League, Friday night’s game showcased what the Nets thought this franchise would turn into for years to come. Brook Lopez (32 points, season-high 18 rebounds) dominated the paint and finally used his size to his advantage in gobbling up the boards. While Lopez controlled the interior, Joe Johnson (20 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4-6 on 3-pointers) came through in the clutch as he has so often done in his career. Not only did Johnson drill the game-tying 3-pointer with just over a minute left in regulation to send this game to one overtime, but the veteran guard also knocked down another trey with 18.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime to send this game into the third and final overtime. Lopez then scored the first five points of the third overtime and the Nets wouldn’t give up the lead the rest of the way. Thaddeus Young (24 points, 5 rebounds, 3-5 on 3-pointers) had one of his best games as a Net, bringing a certain level of scrappiness this team needs. With Khris Middleton (29 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) continuing to play lights out, all five Bucks starters reached double-digits and all played relatively well. Zaza Pachulia (22 points, 21 rebounds, 7 assists) had a monster 20-20 game, including 18 offensive boards. He really asserted himself on both ends of the floor and helped keep his team in the game. He played a key role in the Bucks obliterating the Nets on the boards as they outrebounding them 81-53. However, in a game in which their team scored 127 points, Milwaukee’s bench only managed to scored a measly 14 points. The Nets bench poured in 49 points with Bojan Bogdanovic (17 points, 5 assists) playing 48 minutes. The Bucks are now below .500 for the first time since they were 15-16 on December 27. They have gone 3-13 in their last 16 games.
Cavaliers 95 (45-26), Pacers 92 (30-38)
With LeBron James (29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) leading the way—even with a cold—Cleveland used a balanced attack to sneak by the pesky Pacers. Kevin Love (11 points, 13 rebounds) didn’t have a huge offensive night, but the Cavs power forward finished with a game-high 13 rebounds. Luis Scola (14 points, 11 rebounds) came close as he earned a double-double. George Hill (24 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) and Roy Hibbert (20 points, 8 rebounds) tried to carry the entire Indiana offense all on their own, but they didn’t get the support they needed down the stretch. Trailing 93-92 with 2:03 left in the game, the Pacers had six chances to take the lead against the Cavs…and missed six consecutive shots. After J.R. Smith (11 points) knocked down two free throws, C.J. Miles (8 points) missed a 3-point attempt to make it seven straight missed shots. The Cavs are getting closer and closer to clinching the No. 2 seed in the East.
Heat 108 (32-36), Nuggets 91 (26-44)
The Nuggets came out of the gate firing, but the Heat finished off strong to remain in the No. 7 seed in the East. Wilson Chandler (13 points, 7 rebounds) scored eight of the team’s first 21 points as Denver built up a 10-point lead in the first seven minutes of the game. However, the Heat came storming back in the second quarter behind Dwyane Wade (22 points, 4 assists) and Michael Beasley (9 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals). Miami outscored Denver 37-23 in the second quarter. While Wade has been on a tear of late, Beasley was surprisingly valuable in many ways Friday night, having one of his most balanced games of the season. Hassan Whiteside (14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) controlled the interior against the undersized Nuggets backcourt. Miami outrebounded Denver 44-35. Even though all five Nuggets starters scored in double-digits, their bench provided no support as they only scored 16 points compared to the Heat’s 33 bench points.
Bulls 108 (42-28), Raptors 92 (41-28)
The Bulls big men controlled this game as the Lowry-less Raptors continued to slide down the East standings. Nikola Mirotic (29 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks) stepped up yet again for the Bulls, becoming a bad matchup for the Raptors frontline as the game moved on. He only hit 3-11 from deep but really stretched the floor with his shooting and ball handling. Mirotic entered this game averaging 20.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg in the month of March. Even though Joakim Noah (8 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) might not have had much of an impact scoring-wise, Chicago’s center had a double-double in rebounds and assists while distributing the ball effectively from the elbow. Jonas Valanciunas (5 points, 6 rebounds) was limited to 24 minutes while Patrick Patterson (17 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) was decent off the bench. DeMar DeRozan (27 points, 7 rebounds) led the Raptors in scoring, but Chicago slowly wore down Toronto during the first three quarters in building up a 86-68 lead going into the final quarter. The Raptors only shot 38.0 percent from the field while the Bulls shot 53.2 percent. Chicago has now passed Toronto by half a game for the No. 3 seed in the East.
Thunder 123 (39-30), Hawks 115 (53-16)
Just another Thunder game and another triple-double for Russell Westbrook (36 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, 17-17 on free throws), who can’t seem to come back down to Earth since this recent surge of out-of-this-world play. This was Westbrook’s seventh triple-double since the All-Star break and 17th of his career. Not only did he post the impressive line, Westbrook also came through yet again when the game was on the line. Going into the fourth quarter, OKC trailed 95-90 as bench players Paul Millsap (19 points, 4 steals), Dennis Schroder (21 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) and Pero Antic (22 points, 4-6 on 3-pointers) combined to score 54 points through three quarters. (However, these three only managed to score eight points in the final 12 minutes.) Westbrook then took the game over in the fourth as he scored or assisted on 26 of his team’s 33 points. The Hawks only managed 20 points in the quarter, falling behind by double-digits at the hand of Russ. Guards Dion Waiters (season-high 26 points, 11-18 from the field) and Anthony Morrow (21 points, 6-10 on 3-pointers) found their stroke, especially Morrow. When the 3-point specialist can start knocking down treys, it helps opens up the floor for Westbrook.
Grizzlies 112 (48-21), Mavericks 101 (44-26)
The Mavs hung around as long as they could before the Grizzlies blew this game wide open. After Rajon Rondo (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) hit a turnaround bank shot with 8:11 left in the the third quarter, the Mavs only trailed 56-44. However, with Zach Randolph (21 points, 5 assists) and Marc Gasol (15 points, 10 rebounds) leading the way, Memphis went on a quick 16-4 run to put this game out of reach for good. Tyson Chandler (9 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) does so many good things for Dallas on the defensive end of the floor. However, when he goes to the bench and Dirk Nowitzki (16 points, 6 rebounds), Amare Stoudemire (4 points, 4 rebounds) and Charlie Villanueva (12 points) have to start protecting the pair and going after boards, the Mavs simply become soft down low. And Friday, the entire defense fell apart in a third quarter in which they allowed the Grizzlies to score 39 points—after they only scored 44 points in the first half. Mike Conley (14 points, 3 assists) played well in his return to the starting lineup after missing four games. While the Grizzlies shot 53.2 percent from the field, Nowitzki, Monta Ellis (12 points, 2 assists) and Chandler Parsons (12 points, 5 rebounds) combined to shoot 11-34 (32.4 percent) from the field. As promising as the Mavs’ last three wins of their five-game home stand have been, their finish Friday night washed away many of the positives. Dallas has now fallen to the seven seen in the West.
Spurs 101 (43-25), Celtics 89 (30-38)
Tim Duncan (10 points, 6 rebounds) established himself early while Kawhi Leonard (22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Tony Parker (15 points, 7 assists) pulled through in the end as the Spurs picked up the wire-to-wire win at the AT&T Center. Duncan had two steals and a two-handed flush in the first three minutes as San Antonio jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead. When Duncan can assert himself right out of the gate, it puts a certain amount of energy in all of his teammates. Since the Spurs really started to turn their season around though, Leonard and Parker have been the main reasons for their success. These two helped the Spurs build up a 25-point second half lead that turned out to look much better due to a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter. However, once Popovich put Leonard and Parker back in the game, the Spurs regained control. Evan Turner (17 points, 4 assists) and Avery Bradley (16 points) led the way for Boston as Jae Crowder (14 points, 6 rebounds) gave the Celtics a boost off the bench. Marcus Smart (10 points, 4 assists) showed some immaturity issues during his time at Oklahoma State and they might have reappeared Friday night when he received a flagrant 2 for punching Matt Bonner in the lower area. Hopefully this was a one-time incident for the rookie guard.
Kings 101 (23-45), Hornets 91 (29-38)
Aside from Derrick Williams (13 points) having one of the most powerful dunks of the season, the Kings played one of their most complete games of late thanks to a big time performance from Rudy Gay (33 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals). From time to time, Gay can really take over a game with his all-around offensive skills. He can shoot it from deep, pull up from midrange and get into the paint. He nailed a pair of threes and made 9-10 free throws Friday night. His biggest shot of the night came in the form of an and-one when he extended Sacramento’s lead from seven points to 87-77 midway through the fourth quarter. The Hornets would get no closer than six the rest of the way. Even though Gerald Henderson (20 points, 5 rebounds) had an efficient night in leading his team in scoring, the Hornets had an awful shooting performance. If you take away Henderson’s and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s (13 points, 7 rebounds) 13-25 (52 percent) shooting from the field, Charlotte only managed to shoot 23-66 (34.8 percent). If the Hornets want to squeeze into the playoffs, they can’t put up offensive duds like this down the stretch.
Warriors 112 (55-13), Pelicans 96 (37-32)
The Warriors had no problem handling the undermanned Pelicans as they built up a 98-71 lead early on in the fourth quarter and cruised to a victory. Harrison Barnes (22 points, 9-13 from the field) continued his recent strong play while Stephen Curry (16 points, 11 assists, 4-17 from the field) notched a double-double despite his poor shooting on the night. This is the first time in Barnes’ career he has scored at least 20 points in back-to-back regular season games. Leandro Barbosa (12 points, 4 assists, +26) really played well in the second unit and clearly had an impact during his 23 minutes on the floor. Even though the Pelicans had six players in double figures with Norris Cole (16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) leading the way off the bench, the lack of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in the paint made all those points…well, a moot point. They couldn’t contain any of Golden State’s penetration, and that is why the Warriors had a 58-30 advantage in points in the paint. The League’s best team record-wise is now four wins away from their franchise record.
Clippers 113 (45-25), Wizards 99 (40-29)
For all the MVP-buzz Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis have been getting, Chris Paul (30 points, 15 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 turnover) should at least be given legitimate consideration with the way he carried this team when Blake Griffin (22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) was out and continues to dominate down the stretch. Paul just seems in complete control of his game and Doc River’s offense right now, seemingly making all the right shots and passes. However, LA’s defense is what turned this game into a double-digit victory. The Clippers held the Wizards to only two baskets during the final 6:54 of the game, shutting down guards John Wall (19 points, 10 assists) and Bradley Beal (18 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers). Again, Paul’s pesky perimeter defense played a large part in containing Washington’s backcourt. DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 23 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) also does a fantastic job limiting opponents to just one shot per possession with the way he gobbles up rebounds. He may not be one of the stars on the team, but J.J. Redick (26 points, 4-7 on 3-pointers) has been on an absolute tear for the past few weeks. The Clippers go to him early and often as they are trying to open up the floor from the moment the ball is tipped. Redick nailed two 3-pointers before three minutes had even passed in this game. Winners of their last three games and on the rise, Los Angeles seems to be in a great groove right now.