Hornets 101 (29-35), Bulls 91 (40-27)
The Hornets stayed hot Friday night by coming back from a first-half, 19-point deficit against Aaron Brooks (24 points, 4 assists) and the Bulls. With a new sense of grittiness and toughness, the Hornets seem to have really turned the corner since Mo Williams (18 points, 5 rebounds) came to town. He adds a veteran leadership and fills many of the holes the team blatantly had before he arrived. Gerald Henderson (20 points, 7 rebounds) also has looked like a different player the past few months and he knocked down a big 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Hornets allowed the Bulls to rack up 35 points in the first 12 minutes but only 56 points in the next 36 minutes. The change in momentum came in the third quarter when Charlotte really locked down defensively and outscored Chicago 25-10. Joakim Noah (1 point, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) never really got in a groove in this one and even picked up a technical foul in the second quarter. He was a major reason the Hornets outrebounded the Bulls, 55-36.
76ers 114 (15-50), Kings 107 (22-42)
Philadelphia has had an up-and-down season filled with moments of incompetence along with streaks of resolve. Facing a 73-55 deficit with 8:46 left in the third quarter, the Sixers could either pack their bags or fight back. After head coach Brett Brown shown some anger, Philly quickly rallied and shown maturity in staying the course and coming all the way back to make it 95-82—that is a whopping 40-9 run—with 9:56 left in the fourth. Every Sixers player that stepped on the court during that stretch seemed to know their role on both ends of the floor and excel while doing so. JaKarr Sampson (10 points, 3 assists) and Henry Sims (8 points, 4 rebounds), specifically, really played key parts during the Sixers’ huge run. For the entire game, Robert Covington (24 points, 6-12 on 3-pointers) led the way with his deep ball while Ish Smith’s (10 points, 9 rebounds) distribution became contagious with his teammates. Philly had a 30-21 assist advantage. For the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins (39 points, 24 rebounds) had nine points in the fourth quarter and earned the first 30-20 game in the NBA this season. He kept pounding it down low and went to the line 20 times, making 15. However, once the Sixers went on that 40-9 run, they never looked back.
Celtics 95 (28-36), Magic 88 (21-46)
Through two quarters, the Celtics looked sluggish and out of sorts, only putting up 40 points. But then Evan Turner (30 points, 5 rebounds) poured in 24 of his 30 points in the final two quarters to change the momentum and give Boston its fifth win in the last six games. Phil Pressey (10 points, 10 assists, 2 steals) also came alive and put up double-digit points and assists for the first time this season. This was also the first time he played more than 20 minutes (27) all year. (As if this team didn’t have enough productive guards. Kelly Olynyk (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Avery Bradley (10 points, 2-7 on 3-pointers) both helped the team find its groove in the second half while the Magic dropped their tenth straight on the road. Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 11 rebounds) notched another double-double while Elfrid Payton (20 points, 9 assists) controlled the offense in his awkward but effective playing style. However, the young point guard shot a horrid 4-15 from the stripe. The Celtics are now on a three-game winning streak and just won’t slide out of playoff contention. They are only one game back of the eighth seed and two games back of the seventh seed.
Raptors 102 (39-26), Heat 92 (29-36)
Going into this game, the Raptors had lost nine of their last ten and needed some sort of boost for their home crowd at Air Canada Centre. Backcourt starters Kyle Lowry (19 points, 8 assists, 7 steals) and DeMar DeRozan (18 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 12-13 on free throws) finally seemed to both find their groove in the same game while guards Greivis Vasquez (12 points, 5-11 from the field) and Lou Williams (14 points) came off the bench as sparkplugs. With Terrence Ross’ (9 points) up-and-down season and the lack of consistency in the frontcourt, if these four guards can get their mojo back, Toronto will start winning at a high level again. Few teams in the League have this kind of quality scoring depth from four guards. For the Heat, Dwyane continued his recent surge and scored at least 25 points for the fifth straight game. The problem Friday night was he didn’t get much help from his teammates other than Goran Dragic (18 points, 5 assists). The Heat are now half a game back of the Hornets for the eighth seed in the East.
Thunder 113 (36-29), Timberwolves 99 (14-50)
Another triple-double, just another game for the masked thunderbolt. Russell Westbrook (29 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 steals) picked up his sixth triple-double in the last eight game…and also score 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter when his team outscored Minnesota 34-27. Even though he also had eight turnovers and threw the ball away a few too many times, the pros seem to be outweighing the cons of late. The electric point guard had a ridiculous play late in the fourth when he received a pass from D.J. Augustin (9 points, 5 assists) and drilled a deep trey while being fouled. He is simply playing on another level while putting the entire team on his shoulders and attempting to carry them into the playoffs. Even though Westbrook is the story, Enes Kanter (23 points, 15 rebounds) had a solid double-double and really battled with Gorgui Dieng (21 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks) down low. These two have their flaws but showed great promise Friday night. Andrew Wiggins (19 points, 5 rebounds) got to the line all night while Justin Hamilton (17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals) also picked up a double-double with Dieng. However, when Westbrook is flying up-and-down the court at a breakneck speed with blow-by acceleration, there’s not much anyone can do. The Thunder are now tied with the Pelicans for the eighth seed in the West.
Mavericks 129 (42-25), Clippers 99 (42-24)
With San Antonio right on their heels and everyone above them starting to pull away, the Mavs couldn’t afford to put up another no-show against a Western Conference playoff team. With a healthy Chandler Parsons (22 points, 5-6 on 3-pointers) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 12 rebounds, 6-7 from the field), their team suddenly looked liked the offensive powerhouse they turned into early in the season and scored more than 120 points for the first time since December 7. As a team, they shot a blistering 60.7 percent from the field as seven players reached double figures—something that was much more common early in the season. Veterans Charlie Villanueva (19 points, 5 rebounds) and J.J. Barea (15 points, 4 assists) played well off the bench and allowed Dirk Nowitzki (14 points) and Monta Ellis (14 points, 4 assists) to get plenty of rest. DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 18 rebounds, 1-5 on free throws) continued to rebound at a high level while Chris Paul (11 points, 7 assists, 5 steals) racked up his steal per usual. However, L.A. let this one slip away right at the start of the fourth when Dallas went on a 22-3 run in building a 32-point lead. The Mavs only trail the Clippers by half a game for the fifth seed.
Nuggets 114 (25-41), Warriors 103 (51-13)
With no Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala due to rest and Marreese Speights not with the team because of a suspension, the Nuggets took full advantage and pulled off the upset against the top team in the West. Kenneth Faried (24 points, 17 rebounds) showed the bounce he possessed all summer long with the Olympic team and really helped establish a fight in his Nuggets tonight. When the passion is there for Faried, he is a catalyst for Denver’s energy on both ends of the floor. He was the main force in the Nuggets outrebounding the Warriors 52-35. Randy Foye (20 points, 8 assists, 4-9 on 3-pointers) also knocked down three huge 3-pointers down the stretch. After Justin Holiday (career-high 23 points, 5-7 on 3-pointers)—who really stepped up to the occasion—made a trey with 5:19 to go, Golden State held a 99-94 lead. Foye would go on to make two free throws and then make a 3-pointer with 4:11 remaining to tie the game 99-99. Foye would drill two more triples in the final 2:36 to seal the victory. Danilo Gallinari (24 points, 7 rebounds, 9-11 on free throws) made a conserted effort to get to the line as the Nuggets shot 24-37 (64.9 percent) from the stripe. The Warriors only attempted 22, making 17.
Hawks 96 (51-14), Suns 87 (34-33)
For the majority of this game, Atlanta looked to be one or two shots away from landing its second loss in a row against the West. But in the final quarter of play, the team started playing 2014-15 Hawks basketball by spreading the ball around, finishing the play with the long ball and being connected by an imaginary string on the defensive end of the floor. Paul Millsap (23 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 3 steals) yet again did a little bit of everything. He may be undersized down low but he makes up for it with his versatility and energy. Kyle Korver (14 points, 3-4 on 3-pointers, +18) made two of the team’s five three pointers during a five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter. During this time period, the Hawks turned a 79-77 deficit into a 94-85 lead. Marieff Morris (22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals) had a solid line offensively but couldn’t keep up with Atlanta’s constant motion on offense. Eric Bledsoe (21 points, 6 assists, 7 turnovers) had a up-and-down game, finishing with more turnovers than assists. Unless the Suns have a crazy run to finish the season or Russell Westbrook loses his superpowers, it is looking like they will be on the outside looking in again.
Blazers 118 (43-20), Pistons 99 (23-42)
The Blazers easily handed the Pistons their ninth straight loss as they built up a large first-half lead and cruised the rest of the way. Damian Lillard (28 points, 9 assists, 9-12 from the field) caught fire from deep, ending the night with one of his most efficient shooting performances of the season. LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points, 7 rebounds) remained the a midrange master as six Blazers finished in double digits. Detroit simply couldn’t keep up with Portland’s shooting efficiency, as the Pistons shot only shot 45.1 percent compared to 57.5 percent for the Blazers. Greg Monroe (19 points, 3 steals) led Detroit in scoring, Reggie Jackson (11 points, 10 assists) notched a double-double and Andre Drummond (16 points, 17 rebounds) gobbled up the boards. However, they were simply outplayed and outmatched Friday night. The game got heated towards the end, with Joel Freeland and Shawne Williams butting heads and both being ejected.