Pacers 93 (24-34), Cavaliers 86 (37-23)
Even though three Cavaliers players finished with double-doubles, George Hill (15 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 steals) notched his first career triple-double and took over down the stretch to put Indiana into the eighth seed and the Nets out of the playoffs. In the final quarter, Hill knocked down five total free throws that each time extended Indiana’s lead right as the Cavs were making a push. The Pacers point guard got plenty of help from his teammates as Rodney Stuckey (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) was a huge spark off the bench. The Cavs, who were without Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, only managed to shoot 35.9 percent from the field—their second lowest percentage of the season. J.R. Smith (21 points, 4 assists), Kevin Love (17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals), Iman Shumpert (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Matthew Dellavedova (14 points, 10 rebounds) all reached double figures but all shot below 50 percent from the field. With Paul George’s return right around the corner and his team building momentum into the eighth seed, things are looking up for last season’s top seed in the East. (Could there be another Pacers-Hawks first round matchup?)
76ers 89 (13-45), Wizards 81 (33-26)
The Wizards season continues to spiral out of control with another loss, this time to the scrappy 76ers, who won their first game since the departure of Michael Carter-Williams. Nerlens Noel (14 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) had one of his best overall games of the season and did a exceptional job leading his team down the stretch. He exemplifies the scrappiness and grittiness Philadelphia has started to established as the season has moved along. Robert Covington (13 points, 6 rebounds) continued to be a consistent force on the offensive end while Jason Richardson (12 points, 5 assists) still some bounce to his step. Philly started the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run and led the rest of the way. Nothing has seemed to go right for the Beal-less Wizards of late, as they have lost six in a row and 11 of their last 13. John Wall (21 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds) put up decent numbers but has missed 20 of his last 23 3-point attempts. Otto Porter (19 points) filled in well for Paul Pierce but struggled to find his shot. And as a team, Washington only managed to shoot 32.3 percent from the field and 4-17 (23.5 percent) from deep. The Wizards are still fifth in the East only because the Lakers took down Milwaukee Friday night. Don’t be surprised if the Bucks pass the Wiz soon enough.
Hawks 95 (46-12), Magic 88 (19-41)
The Hawks used strong play coming out of the locker room to inch closer to their 50th win of the season. Atlanta started out the game on a 19-3 run and used a 10-2 run early in the third quarter to create space against the Magic. Even though he may be the one starter that wasn’t an All-Star, DeMarre Carroll (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) has matured and evolved this season, truly becoming the epitome of a glue guy. Whatever type of hustle play his team needs on either side of the court, the former Mizzou Tiger will sacrifice his body to get the job done. While Carroll scrapped for his statistics, Paul Millsap (20 points) led the team in scoring and Al Horford (17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals) earned another double-double. Horford, though, couldn’t keep Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 15 rebounds) from having another 20-15 night. If he ever finds a way to get on a decent team and put up the kind of numbers he does with Orlando, he will certainly be an All-Star. The Hawks used the long ball time and time again to extend the lead, shooting 14-31 (45.2 percent) on treys.
Celtics 106 (23-33), Hornets 98 (23-33)
After Marvin Williams (6 points, 3 rebounds) made a layup with 3:27 left in the third quarter, the Hornets led by a commanding margin, 73-57. Mo Williams (31 points, 7 rebounds, 6-13 on 3-pointers) was hitting everything from deep and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12 points, 11 rebounds) had established himself on the boards early and often. However, the Celtics second unit then took this game over. Newcomers Isaiah Thomas (season-high 28 points, 7 assists) and Jonas Jerebko (16 points, 10 rebounds), along with relative newcomer Jae Crowder (14 points, 6 rebounds) all led the way in the game’s final 15 minutes when Boston went on a 49-25 blitz. These three combined to score 40 of these 49 points, really showing promise for what this team could be with time. All five Hornets starters reached double-digits, but the bench really struggled to give them anything offensively. Don’t look now but there are currently five teams (Pacers, Nets, Hornets, Celtics, Pistons) that all have legitimate chances to make the playoffs.
Knicks 121 (11-46), Pistons 115 (23-35) 2OT
Since the Pistons traded away Josh Smith, they have turned into a team with a legitimate chance to sneak into the playoffs. However, they aren’t going to grab the eighth seed by blowing an 18-point lead and losing in double-overtime to the lowly Knicks. Andrea Bargnani (25 points, 12 rebounds) has suddenly come to live since Carmelo Anthony decided to shut it down for the season. Shane Larkin (16 points, 3 assists), though, came through with a huge play for New York that sealed the win. After Anthony Tolliver (6 points, 5 rebounds) drilled a 3-pointer with 1:17 to go in the second overtime, the Knicks only led 112-111. Larkin then went on to convert a three-point play to extend the lead to two possessions and made 4-4 free throws in the final 22 seconds to give the Knicks their 11th win of the season. The Pistons frontline still looks so much stronger without J-Smoove getting in the way. Andre Drummond (21 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Greg Monroe (28 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks) both had monster double-doubles. However, Bargnani’s ability to stretch the floor bothered these two big men as the game moved along. Detroit also missed Drummond’s interior presence when he fouled out less than a minute into the second overtime.
Warriors 113 (45-11), Raptors 89 (37-21)
The Warriors may have been tripped up by the Cavs in their Thursday night loss, but they got right back on track Friday and reminded the nation they are still the team to beat in the West. Klay Thompson (25 points, 5-8 on 3-pointers) and Stephen Curry (22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) fired away in helping the Warriors torch the Raptors and make a joke out of Toronto’s backcourt. Draymond Green (27 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals) also contributed in a big way, shutting down all of the Raptors’ struggling wingmen. Kyle Lowry (4 points, 1-7 from the field) had been vocal about his struggles on the court. Well, they continued and DeMar DeRozan (14 points, 4-16 from the field) wasn’t much better. Without these two Raptors clicking, Toronto never had a chance in their wire-to-wire loss and trailed 94-53 towards the end of the third quarter. This team lacks any sort of presence at the small forward position, which puts a huge burden on Lowry and DeRozan. And with Terrence Ross (18 points) being one of the most inconsistent players in the League, the foundation for the East’s two seed seems to be as shaky as ever. For the Warriors, they better be ready to bring this type of explosion if they get matched up with the Thunder in the playoffs.
Bulls 96 (37-22), Timberwolves 89 (13-44)
As the Bulls have seemingly been doing for the past three seasons, they picked up a close win despite multiple players out due to injury. Without Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol or Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler (28 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) showed why he is an All-Star and potential building block for this Chicago franchise. He has become one of the best two-way players in the NBA and has established a consistent shot he never showed prior to this season. Butler played well with crafty veteran Joakim Noah (11 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists) who has started to get in a groove since Gasol became ill. These two had crucial back-to-back buckets in the final few minutes of the game. They had room to operate due to Mike Dunleavy’s (21 points, 8 rebounds, 5-8 on 3-pointers) hot shooting from deep. When Dunleavy or Mirotic (8 points) can find their touch on any given night, it really helps Butler create and Noah work from the elbows. With Garnett resting, Kevin Martin (18 points, 5 rebounds), Ricky Rubio (15 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (14 points, 4 rebounds) led the team in scoring. Their downfall came from behind the arc, as Minnesota shot 2-14 (14.3 percent) from deep. Chicago has now won seven of its past nine games and is getting closer to surpassing Toronto for the second seed in the East.
Rockets 102 (40-18), Nets 98 (23-33)
Even with James Harden (15 points, 12 assists, 4-15 from the field) struggling most of the night, the Rockets sneaked by the Nets thanks to Terrence Jones (26 points, 12 rebounds, 11-16 from the field) having a season-best performance. The power forward has missed nearly three months earlier in the season because of a nerve inflammation in his left leg. This is the best he has looked in 11 games since returning from this injury. Even with Jones leading the way Friday night, Harden still made the tiebreaking free throw with 43 seconds to go and then went on to nail a jumper to give Houston the 98-95 lead. Jason Terry (5 points) and Jones made their free throws the rest of the way for the victory. Mason Plumlee (15 points, 2 blocks) and Deron Williams (15 points, 5 rebounds) led the Nets in scoring while Brook Lopez (12 points, 12 rebounds) picked up a double-double. Rookie Markel Brown (14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) started his third straight game and looked good for his third straight game. With the type of inconsistency Brooklyn has seen from its backcourt this season, it has to be nice to see such a promising guard bring consistency to the two-guard position.
Clippers 97 (38-21), Grizzlies 79 (41-16)
At times this season, the Clippers have been soft defensively and lacked a strong mental game when the going gets tough. Friday night was the complete opposite as they remained poised and showed a sturdy defense against Memphis’ burly frontcourt. Chris Paul (19 points, 13 assists) shut down Mike Conley (4 points, 2 assists, 2-11 from the field) all night and forced him into having one of his worst performances of his career. DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks) protected the interior and was a major reason the Grizzlies only managed to shoot 37.9 percent from the field. The big man entered this game averaging 16.1 points and 16.7 rebounds in February. Without Blake Griffin, Paul and Jordan will need to carry the load night in and night out if they want to move up the standings in the West. Without Conley’s production, Memphis had no chance against Los Angeles. There is a reason the lefty was considered by many as an All-Star snub—the Grizzlies offense doesn’t function without their star point guard involved.
Pelicans 104 (31-27), Heat 102 (25-32)
No Anthony Davis? No problem for these surging Pelicans, who have now won four straight. Alexis Ajinca (24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 9-10 from the field, 21 minutes) not only stepped up in place of Davis but became New Orleans’ go-to guy down the stretch. The 7-foot reserve has a soft touch around the rim and never rushes his shot. The Pelicans ran back-to-back plays specifically for Ajinca with a minute left to go as they trailed 102-100. After those two plays, New Orleans led 104-102, which would be the game’s final score. Even though Eric Gordon (20 points, 8 assists, 4-6 on 3-pointers) and Tyreke Evans (19 points, 11 assists) came through in big ways without Davis while Goran Dragic (20 points, 5 assists) turned this game into a layup drill and Henry Walker (16 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers) fired away from anywhere and everywhere beyond the 3-point arc, the story Friday night has to be Mr. Ajinca. If he can find a way to bring this type of production once Davis comes back, a frontcourt rotation of Davis, Omer Asik (5 points, 10 rebounds) and Ajinca could cause havoc late in the season.
Jazz 104 (22-35), Nuggets 82 (20-38)
The boos came out in full force at the Pepsi Center as the Nuggets lacked any type of effort against the Jazz. Derrick Favors (21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Rudy Gobert (10 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks) can be the future frontcourt for the Jazz, as they already have good chemistry and a stout defensive presence. They balance each other well and have more room to grow with the departure of Enes Kanter. Whenever Trey Burke (19 points, 8-12 from the field) can make more than he misses, the Jazz have a much higher likelihood of staying in games. The young guard just needs to find some sort of consistency in his shooting. For Denver, there aren’t many silver linings to be found as their season is turning for the worst. Ty Lawson (8 points, 6 assists, 2-6 from the field) has lost his energy while Jusuf Nurkic remains sidelined. Will Barton (22 points, 8-15 from the field, 30 minutes) reached the 20-point plateau, but his points were insignificant in the blowout loss. The seat keeps getting hotter and hotter for Brian Shaw.
Spurs 107 (35-23), Kings 96 (20-36)
The Spurs snapped their four-game losing streak thanks to a dominating fourth quarter. San Antonio outscored Sacramento 27-18 in the final 12 minutes and received 20 of these points from Tony Parker (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), Tim Duncan (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (16 points, 6-10 from the field). As we have all seen time and time again, when these three are clicking late in games, there are very few coaches or teams that know how to stop them. The addition and rise of Kawhi Leonard (17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks) makes it that much harder. Without DeMarcus Cousins, guards Ben McLemore (21 points) and Ray McCallum (20 points) both reached the 20-point plateau but got there in different ways. McLemore made 10 free throws while McCallum made 10 field goals on the night. The Kings only attempted four three-pointers on the night, making one of them. Sacramento is now 2-11 without Boogie this season.
Lakers 101 (16-41), Bucks 93 (32-26)
Wayne Ellington (14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) finished this game in a much different way he started. Through the first three quarter, the shooting specialist had missed all six of his shot attempts. Then, as if a switch went off in his head, Ellington went off and scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter when his Lakers poured on 36 points to only 21 for the Bucks. Jordan Clarkson (16 points, 5 assists) led the Lakers in scoring and has now scored 38 total points the past two games. Ersan Ilyasova (17 points, 12 rebounds) earned a double-double while Giannis Antetokounmpo (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) added 13 points. In his second game with the team, Michael Carter-Williams (8 points, 4 assists, 4 turnovers) still looks like he will need some time to adjust to Kidd’s system. With Carlos Boozer (10 points, 6 rebounds) back in the starting lineup, the Lakers have now won three games in a row for the first time since December 12-14. They will host the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday night.
Blazers 115 (38-19), Thunder 112 (32-27)
This was a extremely entertaining, national-televised game featuring two playoff teams battling back and forth for a full 48 minutes. Even though the Blazers came back from a 15-point deficit thanks to a strong double-double from LaMarcus Aldridge (29 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists) and a pair of big 3-pointers from Wes Matthews (8 points, 3 steals) and Arron Afflalo (18 points, 2-3 on 3-pointers), Russell Westbrook (40 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) still stole the show with his third consecutive triple-double. In just the past two games, the electric point guard has 79 points, 27 rebounds and 22 assists. That is simply absurd. What is even crazier is the fact that his team lost both of those games…but that is the wild Western Conference for you. Mitch McGary (20 points, 9 rebounds) also came alive again after a handful of quiet performances. Damian Lillard (29 points, 5 assists) didn’t have his usual fourth-quarter takeover, but he played well in doing his best to match what Westbrook brought to the game. This win speaks a lot to the Blazers’ poised attitude and ability to sustain punch after punch without being knocked out. If they want to have another run in the playoffs this year, they’ll need to be able to do just that when the postseason arrives.