Pistons 98 (15-25), Pacers 96 (15-26)
This matchup featured two teams fighting to sneak into the playoffs due to Brooklyn’s season spiraling out of control. And the Pistons pulled off another close win because they executed down the stretch, locked down defensively and received a major tip-in from big man Andre Drummond (16 points, 6 defensive rebounds, 10 offensive rebounds). Brandon Jennings (37 points, 8-13 on 3-pointers) missed a floater with just under a second left on the clock and Drummond gravitated to the ball as he does so well and softly tipped it in for the win. Before this final play, the offense was all Jennings, as the Pistons point guard ran all around the Pacers frontcourt. C.J. Watson (0 points, 1 assist, 24 minutes), Rodney Stuckey (9 points, 5 assists) and Donald Sloan (11 points, 5 assists) were all outplayed by Detroit’s crafty lefty. Roy Hibbert (14 points, 2 blocks) led the Pacers in scoring. The Pistons pulled this one out despite shooting 37.6 percent from the floor.
Grizzlies 106 (28-11), Magic 96 (15-28)
Both the Grizzlies and Magic entered Friday’s game winners of their last two, but Memphis ended up winning by double-digits because a certain newcomer ended up showing his worth in the final 12 minutes. Jeff Green (21 points) made a statement in the fourth quarter, posting 12 of his team-leading 21 points. Based on how head coach David Joerger has used Green, it looks like he will act as the scoring punch off the bench—what they expected Vince Carter (0 points, 7 minutes) to be. If Green can occasionally put up numbers like this, this grit-and-grind Grizzlies team just became more explosive. Big men Zach Randolph (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (12 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) both looked good, handling Orlando center Nikola Vucevic (18 points, 9 rebounds). Victor Oladipo (16 points, 4 assists) played well while fellow backcourt member Elfrid Payton (22 points, 12 assists, 2 steals) continued his strong rookie campaign. However, they simply couldn’t slow down Memphis coming out of halftime. The Grizzlies outscored the Magic 58-47 in the second half.
76ers 96 (8-31), Pelicans 81 (19-20)
The Pelicans put on one of their worst offensive performances of the year while the Sixers showed off their defense that seems to be improving as the season has moved along. A major reason Philadelphia led this game wire-to-wire was the strong play of Nerlens Noel (17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 steals). He is slowly finding his place in the NBA and understanding his strengths and weaknesses; he no longer looks lost on the floor. Noel got some help from Michael Carter-Williams (22 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) and Robert Covington (18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks), who have both been playing well of late. The Pelicans were without practically their entire offense. Both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday sat out due to injuries, and with Ryan Anderson (8 points, 8 rebounds, 2-11 from the field) putting up a dud offensively, the Pelicans had on chance against any team in the League. Alexis Ajinca (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Eric Gordon (16 points, 6 rebounds) led New Orleans in scoring. The Pelicans were held to 38.7 percent shooting from the field. Even thug this season has been hard to swallow for the city of Philadelphia, there are some interesting players developing and growing. They are unexpectedly fun if you give them a chance.
Nets 102 (17-23), Wizards 80 (27-13)
The Nets entered this game losers of their last seven games and rumors of their big man being shipped out to the West. However, that big man in Brook Lopez (26 points, 2 blocks) helped his Nets cruise to a victory against a very good Wizards team. The Nets led 18-15 with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter before Brooklyn went on a 9-0 run to close out the quarter. Then Lopez and Jarrett Jack (26 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) put their games in another gear. With these two leading the way, the Nets obliterated the Wizards 84-56 over the course of the final three quarters. The biggest push came in the third quarter when Brooklyn outscored Washington 28-18. Lopez then went on to score the Nets first eight points of the final quarter. The Wizards simply looked tired as John Wall (13 points, 6 assists) and Kris Humphries (12 points, 8 rebounds) were the only players in double digits. Randy Whitman is surely telling his players to just chalk this one up as a loss and forget it ever happened.
Bulls 119 (27-14), Celtics 103 (13-25)
The Bulls have been in a bit of a funk of late, as they have lost four of their last five games. They seemed to slightly turn the corner against the Celtics as the offensive came alive in the final three quarters. Derrick Rose (29 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers, 5-8 on 3-pointers) notched his second double-double of the year and shot above 50 percent for the third straight game—the second time he’s done so this season. When Rose has his jumper going and is distributing the ball, this team instantly becomes one of the best teams in the East. It just depends on Rose’s ability to find comfort in his game and find his consistency. Even though Tom Thibodeau only played eight players, they all filled their roles extremely well. Pau Gasol (20 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Jimmy Butler (22 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals) played both sides of the ball while Aaron Brooks (15 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers) provided just enough offense off the bench. The Celtics are simply in a weird transition and lack any sort of defensive continuity. Jared Sullinger (20 points, 8 rebounds) led the team in scoring and Brandon Bass (16 points, 5 rebounds) led the second unit. It will be interesting to see what this roster looks like once the trade deadline has passed.
Hawks 110 (32-8), Raptors 89 (26-13)
This looked to be a East showdown featuring two of the conference’s top teams, but one showed they are playing on a different level right now. The Hawks easily won their 11th straight game as they picked up their League-high 32nd game of the season. They aren’t just winning games—they are dominating games against quality opponents. They have the highest average point differential (+6.7) in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors held a 9-8 lead with 8:11 remaining in the first quarter after DeMar DeRozan (25 points, 11-18 from the field) scored six of his team’s first nine points. However, Paul Millsap (16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) led the way over the next six minutes as Atlanta went on a 14-5 run. The Hawks power forward may be undersized, but he really does do a little bit of everything while giving 110 percent. Atlanta didn’t take their foot off the pedal and continued to build and hold the lead the rest of the game. Al Horford (22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 8-8 from the field, 6-7 on free throws) had his most efficient game of the season, as the he made all his field goals and only missed one free throw. His efficiency spread throughout his teammates, and the Hawks shot a blistering 60.9 percent from the field and 12-23 (52.2 percent) on 3-pointers against a usually strong defensive team in the Raptors. Jeff Teague (13 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds) and DeMarre Carroll (13 points) both continued to play well. DeRozan didn’t get much help from his teammates on either end of the floor as James Johnson (17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) was the only other player that played decent. Kyle Lowry (11 points, 5 assists, 0-6 on 3-pointers) couldn’t find his touch from deep. With 11 straight victories, the Hawks have their longest winning streak since the beginning of the 1997-98 season. It’s time to start believing in these pesky, high-flying Hawks.
Thunder 127 (19-20), Warriors 115 (31-6)
Russell Westbrook (17 points, career-high 17 assists, career-high 15 rebounds, 4 steals) is the best point guard in the NBA and one of the top players when he is at the peak of his game. There are plenty of games when he becomes destructive and more of a detriment for the Thunder. But when puts on a show like he did Friday night and becomes an all-around commanding point guard, OKC becomes the team that almost won the NBA championship a few years ago. They especially looked that way Friday because Kevin Durant (36 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 14-18 from the field) also looked like the MVP we all saw last season. He had his smooth jumper going which makes him so efficient and dangerous. Everything simply clicked offensively for the Thunder as Serge Ibaka (career-high 27 points, 8 rebounds) and Dion Waiters (21 points, 3 steals, 8-16 from the field) both reached the 20-point plateau. As a team, they shot 52.6 percent from the field. The Warriors entered this game winners of their last eight and steamrolling through most of those opponents. But they ran into a motivated Thunder team that had this game circles on their schedule. Klay Thompson (32 points, 12-22 from the field) led the Warriors in scoring and Marreese Speights (20 points, 7 rebounds) played well in the starting lineup. But with Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala sidelined, Golden State’s perimeter and interior defense had major holes. The Warriors were also outrebounded 54-43. By allowing the Thunder to score 127 points, that is the highest point total they have allowed this season.
Mavericks 97 (28-13), Nuggets 89 (18-21)
These two teams played each other Wednesday in Denver, as the Nuggets pulled that one out with the Mavs resting three of their starters. Back at full strength for Friday’s game in Dallas, the Mavericks looked much more fresh and active on the defensive end of the court. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9 rebounds) sat out of Wednesday’s game and it showed Friday as he found his stroke from behind the 3-point line and at the free throw line. He managed to score the Mavericks’ first 10 points of the game, as they went on to build a 17-4 lead. The Big German was the constant throughout this game while Chandler Parsons (18 points, 7 rebounds) had some big shots as well. Tyson Chandler (11 points, 16 rebounds) earned his usual double-double, commanding the interior against a smaller Nuggets frontcourt. Rajon Rondo (2 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds) didn’t light up the scoreboard, but what he did do was slow down Ty Lawson (11 points, 12 rebounds, 3-13 from the field) early in the game. Denver’s star point guard didn’t make a basket until banking in a trey late in the third quarter. Rondo will have many of these offensive performances when he simply can’t buy a bucket. However, if he can bring it defensively night in and night out, his value just went through the roof as that is something the Mavs desperately need on the perimeter. Arron Afflalo (16 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) and former Mavs point guard Jameer Nelson (14 points, 7 assists) led the Nuggets in scoring and helped keep the Nuggets within reaching distance. The Mavericks, though, are simply too good when building a second-half lead. Dallas is now 21-0 this season when leading after the third quarter.
Spurs 110 (25-16), Blazers 96 (30-10)
If the playoffs started right now, the Blazers and Spurs would be facing off. (What a first round matchup.) And Friday night, the Spurs looked like the complete, veteran team that had all their pieces in place and clicking. One of the key reasons San Antonio ran away with this one is because of Kawhi Leonard’s (20 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) dominating return after he missed the previous 15 games. As shaky as the Spurs have been this season, Leonard changes all of that. The young swingman is the ultimate glue guy that brings both the offense and defense together. Six Spurs scored in double figures as Tim Duncan (11 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks) and Tony Parker (17 points, 7 assists, 2 steals) both had well-rounded games. The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (23 points, 5 assists, 0-5 on 3-pointers) and LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 8 rebounds). As great as these players were Friday night, they played a lot of hero ball and didn’t move the ball offensively. That’s a major reason the Spurs had a 34-20 advantage in assists. San Antonio also crashed the boards well, outrebounding Portland 49-32 and having a 15-2 advantage in terms of offensive rebounds. That led to the Spurs attempting 20 more shots than the Blazers. They were passing the ball early, and that helped them progressively build their lead quarter after quarter.
Suns 110 (24-18), Timberwolves 99 (6-32)
One game after Minnesota witnessed their starting point guard light it up for a League-high 52 points this season, Mo Williams (26 points, 5 assists) managed to score half of that amount against the up-tempo Suns. The Western Conference-worst Timberwolves had no answer for the Suns’ balanced attack as five players were in double figures and nine players had at least six points. Guards Goran Dragic (21 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds), Eric Bledsoe (16 points, 7-7 on free throws) and Gerald Green (19 points, 23 minutes) led the way for the Suns—something that has become expected these past two seasons. When these three are clicking and get going, it’s hard to slow them down. Newcomer Brandan Wright (11 points, 5-6 from the field) played well off the bench and finished off a couple alley-oops late in the fourth quarter. Andrew Wiggins (17 points, 5 rebounds) continued his strong play in 2015. The Suns shot 55.2 percent from the field while the Wolves only shot 46.2 percent.
Jazz 94 (14-26), Lakers 85 (12-29)
The Jazz broke a three-game losing streak thanks to a strong performance from Gordon Hayward (31 points, 7 assists, 12-18 from the field) and the team’s overall defense. Utah held Los Angeles below 25 points in all four quarters Friday night. Nick Young (23 points, 13-13 on free throws) kept finding his way to the free throw line all night long, but Jordan Hill (16 points, 11 rebounds) was the only other Lakers player to reach double digits. Byron Scott rested Kobe Bryant and the offense certainly missed its ballhandler. Trey Burke (20 points, 4 assists) and Derrick Favors (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) offered just enough offense to help push the Jazz forward throughout the game. Every time the Lakers seemed to be creeping closer, Utah had a response. The Lakers have now lost four games in a row.
Heat 95 (18-22), Kings 83 (16-23)
On the last matchup of their current five-game West trip, the Heat entered this one attempted to finish it off with a victory—which would give them a winning record for those five games. They ended up cruising to an easy victory even without Dwyane Wade. Shabazz Napier (12 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds,2 steals) started in his place and looked comfortable in his increased role. However, Chris Bosh (30 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Luol Deng (25 points, 6 rebouds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) were the Heat players leading the way right up until the end of the game. Bosh, Deng, Napier and Udonis Haslem (7 points, 6 rebounds) scored all of Miami’s 20 points in the fourth quarter. The Kings, who were without Rudy Gay, had five players in double figures but no one that took control of the offense. DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 8 turnovers) led the team in scoring and notched a double-double; however, he had way too many dumb, costly turnovers. The Heat had a 26-20 advantage in assists and only turned it over nine times.
Cavaliers 126 (21-20), Clippers 121 (26-14)
After recently taking down the Lakers at the Staples Center, Cleveland went into Friday’s game looking to do the same thing against the much more talented Clippers. The Cavs pulled off this impressive feat and moved their way back above .500 all without power forward Kevin Love. Kyrie Irving (37 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, 5-7 on 3-pointers) and LeBron James (32 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 9 turnovers) put on a show in Hollywood, continually making bigger and bigger shots as the game moved along. By the final quarter, it was the LeBron-Kyrie show, as these two combined to score 22 of Cleveland’s 34 points in the fourth quarter. They had a dominating two minutes of play at the beginning of the quarter when they combined to score 10 points during a 12-3 run that turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead. The Clippers kept inching closer and closer the rest of the way, cutting the deficit all the way down to 123-121 with 11.1 seconds left. Matthew Dellavedova (8 points, 5 assists), though, knocked down a pair of free throws to extend the lead back to a two-possession game. Blake Griffin (34 points, 10 rebounds) and DeAndre Jordan (19 points, 6 defensive rebounds, 6 offensive rebounds, 5-12 on free throws) had big games down low while Matt Barnes (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3-8 on 3-pointers) had his shot going from deep. Chris Paul (15 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) led the way at the point. These starters had solid games but lost their defensive fight down the stretch. With all the flak David Blatt has been receiving, he made a gutsy and impressive call in the third quarter. With the Clippers gaining momentum and almost leading by double-digits, Blatt went to the hack-a-Jordan. The Clippers center went on to split most of his free throws. It completely threw off the Clippers’ pace and allowed the Cavs to get back into the game. Without Love, Tristan Thompson (season-high 24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 10-12 from the field) stepped up and had his best offensive game of the year. And without Thompson’s rebounding, the Clippers big men would have dominated the interior. Cleveland ended the game shooting 55.4 percent from the field while Los Angeles only shot 47.3 percent. Austin Rivers played 11 minutes for the Clippers, becoming the first player in NBA history to play for his father.