Pacers 105 (26-34), Knicks 82 (12-48)
George Hill (season-high 21 points, 6 assists) has helped turned this Indiana offense into one that can thrive rather than flounder. A team plagued by injuries to start the season is beginning to reestablish its identity with the other George in Paul George on the doorstep of coming back. Even though it was only the Knicks, Hill and the Pacers led wire-to-wire and held a 30-point lead a little more than three minutes into the fourth quarter. Hill received help offensively from fellow guards C.J. Miles (16 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers, 2 steals) and Rodney Stuckey (17 points). And defensively, from the first unit down to the garbage time players, the Pacers brought solid team defense all night. (However, it obviously helps when Andrea Bargnani (25 points, 2 blocks) is your opponent’s go-to scorer.) The Pacers currently trail the Hornets—who have also won three straight games—for the eighth seed.
Suns 105 (32-30), Magic 100 (19-43)
The Suns haven’t been able to find any form or consistency or rhythm since Eric Bledsoe (13 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 7 turnovers) was left as the team’s remaining point guard from the original three-headed point guard attack. However, with Brandon Knight (28 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) attacking the paint, getting to the free throw line and finally showing Phoenix why he was an All-Star candidate this season, the Suns found a way to come back from an early 15-point deficit and hold off Victor Oladipo’s (career-high 38 points, 3 steals, 7 turnovers) monster fourth quarter. Phoenix, though, turned this game around in the third quarter. After Oladipo started the third quarter with a 3-pointer and layup, the Magic held a 57-50 lead. Behind Bledsoe and Knight pushing the pace and quickly getting the ball up the court, the Suns went on a 16-2 run in less than three minutes. The Magic remained in this game down the stretch due to 17 points in the final quarter from Oladipo. Even though his draft class has been considered as one of the weakest classes ever, he is really started to thrive next to Nikola Vucevic (18 points, 5 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (11 points, 4 rebounds). With Bledsoe and Knight leading the way and forward Markieff Morris (23 points, 6 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker (19 points, 3 steals) shooting an efficient 18-27 (66.7 percent) from the field, the Suns found a way to keep their playoff hopes alive Wednesday night.
Celtics 85 (24-35), Jazz 84 (24-36)
It may not have been one of the more exciting matchups in terms of stardom, but the Celtics and Jazz put on a fun, gritty show Wednesday night. Neither team led by double-digits at any point in this game and the Celtics held off a huge two-minute rally from the Jazz. After Isaiah Thomas (21 points, 7 assists, 26 minutes) nailed one of his many pull-up jumpers on the night with 2:32 to go in the fourth, the Celtics led 81-73 with 2:32 remaining in regulation. Behind some clutch shots from both Trey Burke (16 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) and Gordon Hayward (13 points, 2-5 on 3-pointers), the Jazz quickly turned that eight-point deficit into a 84-83 lead with 1.7 seconds to go. Hayward hit what seemed to be the go-ahead bucket in the form of a pretty pull-up jump shot. However, after Brad Stevens called two timeouts and drew up the play he liked, Marcus Smart (7 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) lofted the ball into Tyler Zeller (8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks) down low and the Boston big men pump faked, twisted and tossed in the game-winner even with Rudy Gobert (10 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) coming from the weak side in an attempt for another block. Zeller showed great composure in taking just enough time to get that shot off and keep the Celtics playoff hopes as legitimate as ever. They only trail Charlotte by two games and travel to play the Pelicans Friday night.
Hornets 115 (26-33), Nets 91 (25-34)
Steve Clifford went to work against Lionel Hollins and out-coached him in every which way on both ends of the floor. The Hornets showed all types of lineups from small to big with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10 points, 13 rebounds, +33) being tossed in and out of different positions. In Walker’s absence, the former Kentucky Wildcat has started to grow into the pesky and strong NBA guy many saw as a possibility during his one year in college. Just like MKG’s shot, the Hornets offense looked much more fluid than in the past and featured great ball movement. Mo Williams (14 points, 14 assists, 1 turnover) deserves much of the credit for this team finally starting to play team ball. The Hornets had a 24-15 advantage in terms of assists. (And it should be noted Lance Stephenson (6 points, 20 minutes) didn’t get many significant minutes before this game turned into a rout.) The Nets simply looked pitiful on the offensive end. Deron Williams (12 points, 6 assists) led the team in scoring—with 12 points. He was one of three players to hit a 3-pointer as the team shot 3-16 (18.8 percent) from deep. The Hornets are now in sole possession of the eighth seed and will host the struggling Raptors on Friday.
Cavaliers 120 (39-24), Raptors 112 (38-23)
Kyle Lowry, who sat out of this game for rest, might have been on to something when he recently talked about how bad he has been playing. At this point, he could extend that to his entire team. Behind a dominant performance from LeBron James (29 points, season-high 14 assists, 6 rebounds), Kyrie Irving (26 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (22 points, 10 rebounds), the Cavs just kept pouring it on in the fourth quarter when the Raptors couldn’t seem to get a stop when they needed one. Since the Raptors turned into a legitimate playoff team a season ago, Dwane Casey has worked to make this a defensive team and one that locks down late in games. During a stretch where they have now lost six of seven, they have also allowed their opponent to reach 100 points in five of their last six. DeMar DeRozan (25 points) has at least recently started to look like his normal self before his injury while Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks) is starting to find his offense. And Wednesday night, Lou Williams (26 points, 6 assists) did everything in his power to bring this team back in the final 12 minutes with 21 fourth quarter points; however, Toronto’s defense held the team back from completing a 19-point comeback. The Cavaliers seemed to get any look they wanted and scored 36 points in the final 12 minutes. The Bulls, Raptors and Cavs are now all tied for the second seed in the East, and with the way they have been playing since the All-Star Break, it seems unlikely the Raptors will take control of the position.
Grizzlies 102 (43-17), Rockets 100 (41-20)
Going into this game, the Grizzlies had lost three of four and had the Rockets right on their tail for the divisional lead and the two seed. They found a way to create some distance thanks to a dazzling last-second shot from crafty big man Marc Gasol (21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists). When Gasol works in the post, he never rushes his dribble or his shot once he goes into his motion. Wednesday night, he leaned back and hit a difficult jumper with only 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock. It was a shot that exemplified Gasol and kept his team firmly in the two seed. Gasol, though, did get plenty of help from his guards. Courtney Lee (6 points) sunk two free throws with about a minute left to go and Mike Conley (17 points, 6 assists) made a key floater with three minutes to go. That’s all they needed down the stretch as their defense did the rest. For the Rockets, Terrence Jones (21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 10-14 from the field) continued his recent tear of efficient and powerful basketball. In the past six games, Jones is averaging 18.8 ppg, 9.8 rbg and shooting a blistering 64.4 percent from the field. James Harden (18 points, 13 assists) acted as the distributor Wednesday night, continually getting his teammates involved. Houston just couldn’t get to the line, only shooting five the entire game. It will be interesting to see if the League admits the refs missed a foul against the Grizzlies on Harden’s attempted layup before Gasol hit the game-winner. It looked like Zach Randolph (15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) got a little bit more than the ball on his called block.
Nuggets 100 (22-39), Timberwolves 85 (13-47)
It may have been against some subpar teams, but the Nuggets have suddenly gone 2-0 since Brian Shaw was fired as head coach and Melvin Hunt replaced him as interim coach. Kenneth Faried (18 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) reminded fans at the Target Center of the energizer bunny he once was when this team was at one time competitive. Will Barton (17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) contributed 30 quality minutes off the bench while Danilo Gallinari (16 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) found his stroke from deep. The Nuggets really turned it up a notch in the second quarter when they outscored Minnesota 34-16. The Wolves got another 20-point performance from Andrew Wiggins (20 points, 5 rebounds) and a double-double from Ricky Rubio (10 points, 10 assists). However, they just couldn’t shoot consistently and only went 32-82 (39.0 percent) from the field. They also shot a measly 3-18 (16.7 percent) on 3-pointers while the Nuggets made 8-20 (40 percent).
Pelicans 88 (33-28), Pistons 85 (23-37)
The Unibrow is back and better than ever. In his return from a shoulder sprain, Anthony Davis (39 points, 13 rebounds, 8 blocks, 3 steals) put up a monster line to help New Orleans get past Andre Drummond (13 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks) and the Pistons. This frontcourt matchup was a blast to watch as it featured two of the brightest young big men in the game. They may have much different styles, but a Davis-Drummond battle is fun to watch no matter if you’re a fan of the Pelicans, Pistons or neither team at all. Davis, though, obviously has the much more polished game and has the offense run through him, especially late in games. Davis made two clutch jumpers in the final 1:14 to help seal the victory. Tyreke Evans (21 points, 9 assists) gave Davis a boost while Jodie Meeks (20 points) had one of his better games off the bench. However, this game was all about the return of the Unibrow and the Pelicans remaining chance to make it into the playoffs even with the streaking Thunder.
Thunder 123 (34-27), 76ers 118 (13-48) OT
He put on the mask and turned into a superhero yet again. Russell Westbrook (49 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals) has been an utter monster during this span of four straight triple-doubles. These aren’t just triple-doubles where he barely reaches it—he is putting on a performance like we haven’t seen since…well, Michael Jordan. Westbrook is the first player to notch four in a row since Michael Jordan did in 1988-89. With Kevin Durant watching from the sideline, Russ is carrying this team into the playoffs and making his MVP case more and more legitimate with each successive performance. Even though it’s easy to focus on Westbrook’s brilliant performance, what a night for the Sixers guards as well. Isaiah Canaan (career-high 31 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) went off for a career-high eight 3-pointers and looked like a piece Philadelphia might want to invest in if he plays half as good as he did tonight on a regular basis. And it’s hard not to be happy for Jason Richardson (29 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers) that he has possibly come back from so many injury problems and has become a key piece in this Philly starting lineup. But with Dion Waiters (20 points, 10 rebounds) and D.J. Augustin (17 points, 4 rebounds) chipping in 37 points off the bench, the Westbrook show was too much for the Sixers to handle. Keep messing around, Russ.
Heat 100 (27-33), Lakers 94 (16-44)
Dwyane Wade (25 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 11-12 on free throws) has constantly been Hassan Whiteside’s (18 points, 25 rebounds, 4 blocks) biggest supporter since he has emerged as a possible Most Improved Player of the Year. Wednesday night, he was more than a fan—he was the second half of a dominant duo. Wade and Whiteside ran pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll late in the game and the Lakers’ weak side help had no idea how to handle these two. The highlight of the night came in the final minute when Whiteside slammed home a strong one-handed dunk off a Wade lob. Goran Dragic (21 points, 6 assists, 8-8 on free throws) incessantly worked his way into the paint and consequently lived at the line. For the Lakers, they had great balance with seven players reaching double figures. However, with Wayne Ellington (14 points, 2-4 on 3-pointers) leading them in scoring with only 14 points, no one player was able to step up down the stretch. It also hurt that they committed 26 fouls and sent the Heat to the line 43 times. With the win, Miami earned its first two-game winning streak in more than four months.
Spurs 112 (37-23), Kings 85 (21-38)
The Spurs returned to their home court Wednesday night and extended their winning streak to three thanks to big performances from Kawhi Leonard (21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) and Tony Parker (19 points, 8-14 from the field). Even though San Antonio has had an up-and-down season and consistently been in the bottom half of the West playoff standings, these type of performances have to scare the top of the West as they still can put on a Spurs-like clinic. They won this game with balance, ball movement and efficient shooting from the inside out. Five Spurs players reached double figures while five also dished out at least three assists. As a team, San Antonio shot 52.9 percent from the field and 10-23 (43.5 percent) from deep. The Kings couldn’t get anything going for DeMarcus Cousins (14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 5 turnovers). The big man only played 22 minutes in large part to his foul trouble when the game was still somewhat in reach. He also only managed to grab three boards as his team was outrebounded 44-35. Sacramento struggled against the Spurs’ pesky defense, shooting 37.2 percent from the field.
Warriors 102 (47-12), Bucks 93 (32-29)
As great shooters have shown time and time again throughout NBA history, the light switch sometimes just takes some time before it is flipped on. After going through a rough patch of shooting practically the entire night, Stephen Curry (19 points, 11 assists) all of a sudden found his touch and nailed three consecutive 3-pointers from the 10:18 mark to the 9:13 mark in the final quarter, extending Golden State’s lead from 76-73 to 85-75. The Warriors would extend this double-digit lead and wouldn’t let the struggling Bucks get back in the game. Draymond Green (23 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks) had a fantastic all-around game, doing a little bit of everything on both sides of the court. There’s no doubt that the former Spartan is going to get paid this summer. For Milwaukee, they are getting plenty of production from newcomer Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, 7 assists) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals). However, the turnovers are a problem as these two had 10 of the team’s 23 turnovers. Also, their team lacks any sort of fight down the stretch. The Warriors owned the fourth quarter and took their opponent down with ease. The Bucks have now lost six of their last seven and seem to be missing a certain point guard in Brandon Knight. (Why did they trade him in the first place?)
Blazers 98 (40-19), Clippers 93 (40-22) OT
The Blazers won a wacky and wild game thanks to Nicolas Batum (20 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) coming through in every which way down the stretch. The wingman hit a 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime after his team trailed by 10 points with three minutes left in regulation, then went on to set up three consecutive alley-oops, blocked a J.J. Redick (26 points) layup that would have tied the game and splashed a trey to extend the lead to five points. He was phenomenal in every which way down the stretch, and his team needed it since closer Damian Lillard (5 points, 18 rebounds, 1-13 from the field, 0-7 on 3-pointers) had one of his worst shooting games of his career in front of a national audience. Time and time again, Lillard kept heaving deep shots with plenty of time on the shot clock and clearly showed some frustration due to Chris Paul’s (36 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds) pesky defense. Dame started forcing things early and simply never stopped for the full 53 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge (29 points, 9 rebounds) also helped pick up his point guard’s slack. The oddest play of the game, though, came on the Clippers end. After Batum made the game-tying 3-pointer in regulation, the Clippers still had 25.1 seconds to hit a game-winner. After Paul just missed a layup, the shot clock sounded and the game clock actually stopped at 0.7 for some reason. DeAndre Jordan (6 points, 19 rebounds, 2-10 on free throws), who had already been rattled due to missed free throw after missed free throw during Hack-a-Jordan, simply grabbed the ball and stood there with the ball in his hand. Paul went on to have a temper tantrum, trying to convince Jordan to shoot the ball. However, the refs ended up sending the game into overtime, during which Batum took control. Just like the Rockets-Grizzlies game, we will have to wait and see what the NBA’s report looks like on this odd sequence.