Post Up: Surging Spurs

Raptors 101 (47-32), Magic 99 (25-54)

The Magic haven’t beaten the Raptors in three years and the trend continued Friday night. After Victor Oladipo (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3-4 on 3-pointers) made a trey with 13.8 seconds to go in the game, Lou Williams (13 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) drilled his own big-time 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds remaining to give the Raptors a 101-99 lead. Williams scored eight of his 13 points in the final 12 minutes. As important as Kyle Lowry (10 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (29 points, 5 assists) are for Toronto, Williams provides a vital scoring punch off the bench that often times can’t be matched. Since Amir Johnson has been sidelined for the Raptors, Tyler Hansbrough (16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) has stepped into the starting lineup and been serviceable for Toronto, letting the game come to him and making shots when he gets the opportunity. The back-and-forth play in the final few minutes of the game reflected the entire game as these two teams went back and forth all night.

Hawks 104 (60-19), Hornets 80 (33-46)

In winning their 60th game of the year, the Hawks dominated the Hornets to eliminate their opponent from the Playoffs. With Al Jefferson hobbled for most of the final stretch of the season before they shut him down, Charlotte simply couldn’t muster up enough offense on a nightly basis, as Friday showed. The Hornets only managed 28 points in the paint while shooting 36.1 percent from the field and 8-30 (26.7 percent) on 3-pointers. Troy Daniels (15 points, 5-10 from the field) and Jason Maxiell (13 points, 4 rebounds) led the team in scoring off the bench, but their team always seems to have a different leading scorer every night. This isn’t due to balance—it’s due to inconsistency. The Hawks, on the other hand, have many different scorers because they have become a well-oiled machine that knows how to work in many different ways. Kyle Korver (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3-7 on 3-pointers), Al Horford (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Dennis Schroder (14 points, 5 assists) led the way for Atlanta while Mike Muscala (17 points, 6 rebounds, 8-9 from the field) continued to fill in seamlessly for the injured Paul Millsap. The fact that Muscala can be placed in the starting lineup and consistently score in double figures is a testament to this team’s established and effective system. The Hawks finished with a 31-21 advantage in assists.

Nets 117 (37-42), Wizards 80 (45-34)

The past few months, Brook Lopez (26 points, 9 rebounds) and Deron Williams (9 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds) have rediscovered what made both of these players All-Stars at one point in their careers. These two poured it on in the first quarter as Brooklyn jumped out to an early 31-14 lead and never looked back. In these first 12 minutes, Williams was finding his teammates in all the right places while Lopez had no problem scoring on Nene (6 points, 2 rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (21 points, 16 rebounds). By the end of the first quarter, Lopez poured in 14 of his 26 points and Williams dished out seven of his nine assists. Bojan Bogdanovic (22 points, 6-6 on 3-pointers), who has been a crucial three-point scoring punch off the bench since the All-Star Break, kept the Wizards at bay in the final quarter by scoring 11 of his 22 points during this period. These three have been the key to the Nets turnaround down the stretch and could cause problems for the Atlanta if the Hawks starts to look past their first round opponent. With John Wall getting to rest for the night, the Wizard offense became completely out of sorts. Ramon Sessions (2 points, 10 assists, 1-7 from the field) can provide scoring off the bench, but when thrusted into the starting lineup for a point guard that practically runs the offense all by himself, Sessions suddenly becomes inefficient and misplaced. Bradley Beal (24 points) stepped up in Wall’s absence while Gortat finished with a strong double-double, but it wasn’t close to enough to slow down the thriving Nets. With a 37-42 record, Brooklyn and Boston are currently tied for the No. 7 seed.

Celtics 99 (37-42), Cavaliers 90 (51-28)

Kyrie Irving might have sat out of this game due to right hip soreness, but the Celtics didn’t care as the picked up a big victory against a potential first-round matchup. The three-headed guard attack consisting of Marcus Smart (19 points, 3-5 on 3-pointers), Avery Bradley (15 points, 2 steals, 7-12 from the field) and Isaiah Thomas (17 points, 5 assists) was in full force Friday night as Smart and Thomas knocked down important baskets down the stretch. Thomas, specifically, nailed a 3-pointer with 2:31 left in the game to extend a 94-88 lead to nine points that would seal the win. Kevin Love (19 points, 6 rebounds) and LeBron James (14 points, 7 assists, 0-5 on 3-pointers) led the way for a Cleveland team that struggled to shoot from deep…and kept chunking it up. The Cavs finished the night shooting 9-34 (26.5 percent) from the field. In large part due to Evan Turner’s (4 points, 13 assists) passing that continues to be a vital part of Boston’s offense, his team also had a 30-25 advantage in assists. The Celtics pulled out this victory by pouring it on early and closing out with strong defense. They scored 28 points in the first quarter and only allowed Cleveland to put up 13 points in the final 12 minutes. If the season ended today, these two would face off the first round of the Playoffs.

Pacers 107 (36-43), Pistons 103 (30-49)

The Pacers won their fourth straight game Friday night and kept pace with the Celtics and Nets thanks to Rodney Stuckey’s (24 points) shooting ability and George Hill’s (13 points, 9 assists) collectiveness at the free throw line. After Reggie Jackson (21 points, 9 assists) converted an and-one with 3:39 left in the game, Detroit held a 96-95 lead. Neither team had led by double-digits at any point on the night and it was still either team’s game to take. Stuckey then went on to knock down three straight jumpers to give Indiana the 101-96 lead. In Paul George’s (10 points, 13 minutes) absence, Stuckey has regularly taken on the role as the go-to guy down the stretch. Another player who has accepted this responsibility is Hill, who made six straight free throws after Stuckey’s three jumpers to keep Detroit from ever having the ball down one possession in these final few minutes. C.J. Miles (24 points, 5-9 on 3-pointers) didn’t make any crucial late-game shots but still managed to remind the Palace why he is one of the best shooters on the Pacers roster. Indiana currently trails both Boston and Brooklyn by one game for one of the final two playoff spots in the East.

Bucks 99 (39-40), Knicks 91 (15-64)

Milwaukee escaped the lowly New York Knicks due to a refocused and aggressive approach coming out of the locker room. Going into the half, the Bucks only held a 52-49 lead as Shane Larkin (14 points, 5 assists) already had 10 points for the Knicks. Langston Galloway (20 points, 2 steals) also played well for New York. With nothing to play for, New York was playing loose and seemed to be the more cohesive team in the first 24 minutes. The Bucks changed that in the third quarter when they outscored the Knicks 29-16. Khris Middleton (22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, 3-6 on 3-pointers) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (23 points, 9 rebounds, 9-11 on free throws) played some of their best 12 straight minutes of basketball of the season in the third. These two combined to score 21 of the team’s 29 points in quarter, both showing of their ability to shoot jumpers, get in the lane and knock down free throws. As rocky as the Bucks have been since Brandon Knight was shipped off to Phoenix, these two have remained the backbone of the team’s future. Michael Carter-Williams (19 points, 7 assists, 4 steals, 2 turnovers, 8-13 from the field) has been a major reason for the team’s inconsistencies but ended up having a solid and efficient game against the Knicks. His team needs him to take good shots and keep his turnovers down if they want a shot at pulling off an upset in the Playoffs.

Spurs 104 (54-26), Rockets 103 (53-26)

In a game that could have Playoff seeding implications, Tim Duncan (29 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 12-15 from the field) came through in the biggest way possible. The Big Fundamental undoubtedly had his best game of the season, which included two clutch free throws and one controversial but vital block. After James Harden (16 points, 10 assists, 3 steals) got into the lane and made a layup with 1:20 on the clock, the Rockets trailed the Spurs 102-100. This was a game filled with a lot of runs for both teams, but it could have gone either way down the stretch. After Dwight Howard (12 points, 14 rebounds) fouled Duncan, the Spurs forward calmy sunk two free throws to extend the lead to four points. Harden, though, came right back and drilled a 3-pointer with 28.9 seconds remaining to bring the deficit to one point. Manu Ginobili (6 points, 4 assists) then turned the ball over with 6.1 seconds left to give Harden and Houston one more shot to remain in the top half of the Western Conference Playoff seeding. With Kawhi Leonard (18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals) guarding him, The Beard received the inbounds pass, drove to the basket and was met by Duncan—who rejected him right at the rim. Duncan collected the rebound, ended the game and gave San Antonio a monumental victory. With their 10th consecutive win, the Spurs have now shot up the standings and are in the No. 3 slot, only half a game behind the Southwest Division leaders in the Memphis Grizzlies. The Rockets, on the other hand, have suddenly fallen all the way to No. 6…and would face the Spurs in the first round if the season ended today.

Pelicans 90 (43-36), Suns 75 (39-41)

Anthony Davis (19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) led the Pelicans to the double-digit victory despite taking a blow to the chin that kept him out of almost half the game. The Unibrow easily handled the undersized Phoenix frontcourt, which is one of the main reason their team hasn’t found success against bigger, stronger West teams. The Suns only scored 34 points in the paint as Eric Bledsoe (19 points, 7 assists) did most of the damage in the interior despite being blocked five times. Tyreke Evans (14 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Eric Gordon (15 points, 2-5 on 3-pointers) gave Davis help in the scoring department and the entire team received a boost with Jrue Holiday (2 points, 5 assists, 15 minutes) returning for the first time since injuring his right leg on January 12. Even though it was a rusty performance for the Pelicans point guard, knowing that he is back is certainly comforting for the eighth seeded New Orleans team. The Pelicans are currently tied with the Thunder with an identical 43-36 record but hold the tiebreaker.

Thunder 116 (43-36), Kings 103 (27-52)

Russell Westbrook (27 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds) and Enes Kanter (25 points, 6 rebounds) carried OKC to the 13-point victory as Dion Waiters (22 points) and Anthony Morrow (19 points, 5-10 on 3-pointers) contributed 41 points. If the Thunder want any chance of passing the Pelicans for the eighth spot, they need these four to play big every night the rest of the way. With no DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings were missing a huge hole on both ends of the floor as Carl Landry (6 points, 6 rebounds) and Jason Thompson (5 points, 14 rebounds) simply couldn’t muster up enough offense for the frontcourt. Ben McLemore (20 points, 4-10 on 3-pointers) and Ray McCallum (17 points, 6 rebounds), though, made shots to keep Sacramento within striking distance. The Thunder eventually pulled away late in the fourth when Kanter made three straight shots on three straight Westbrook assists. With Durant and Ibaka out, these two must be the catalyst behind all of OKC’s offense.

Mavericks 144 (48-31), Nuggets 143 (29-50) 2OT

In one of the wackiest games of the night, these two teams needed 10 extra minutes of basketball to decide who would come away with the insignificant win. During regulation play, forward Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Richard Jefferson (season-high 24 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) led the way for Dallas while Danilo Gallinari (career-high 47 points, 9 rebounds, 7-12 on 3-pointers) seemed to heat up more and more as the game moved along.  The Mavs, though, came out of the gates firing and built up a 73-50 lead right before halftime. Devin Harris (21 points, 9 assists) was a key part of the offense, scoring 12 of his 21 points in the first half. Dallas squandered this 23-point lead thanks to Gallinari having the game of his life. The Nuggets forward scored 38 of his 47 points in the second half, including 17 in the two overtimes. When Gallinari wasn’t firing away out of isolation, Ty Lawson (19 points, career-high 18 assists) orchestrated the rest of Denver’s offense. Neither of these teams were interested at all in playing defense and by the second overtime, Rick Carlisle sat all of his key veterans since this game has no impact on the Mavericks’ seeding. However, a certain point guard that has been suspended and injured this season suddenly came alive out of nowhere. And when I say out of nowhere, I mean out of nowhere. Raymond Felton (13 points, 5 assists, 2 steals). Before Friday night, the Mavs fourth-string point guard had played more than 15 minutes one time on the year and reached double figures one time (in that game of 15 minutes). Felton found himself starting in place of Rajon Rondo (rest) and on the basketball court of a tie game going into a second overtime. All he did was score seven of his team’s nine points in the extra period, including the game-winning driving laypu with 1.5 seconds on the clock. Felton wasn’t finished as he blocked Kenneth Faried (14 points, 9 rebounds) on the other end to finish the game on a ridiculous high note.

Grizzlies 89 (54-25), Jazz 88 (36-43)

When two of the top defensive teams faced off Friday night, it’s no surprise they both had to fight their way to almost reach 90 points each. (All the while, the Mavs and Nuggets were putting reached the 90-point plateau before their tipoff.) All-Star Marc Gasol (22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) pushed the Grizzlies to a crucial victory, being the force behind a late 16-4 that gave Memphis the lead. However, with his team up by three, Gasol fouled Gordon Hayward (27 points, 7 rebounds) on a 3-point attempt with 0.1 seconds on the clock. The Utah forward sunk the first two to make it a one-point game…and then missed the most important and final free throw to send the Grizzlies home with the dramatic victory. With no Mike Conley or Tony Allen, Beno Udrih (20 points, 9-13 from the field) and Courtney Lee (15 points, 6-10 from the field) both came through in a big way for Memphis, providing much-needed offense. Rudy Gobert (14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks) had another strong double-double in the loss as Utah outrebounded Memphis 39-36. The Grizzlies held a 22-16 advantage in terms of assists. With the win, Memphis remains in the two slot and half a game ahead of the surging Spurs.

Lakers 106 (21-58), Timberwolves 98 (16-63)

This has obviously been a tough season for the Lakers and the future still seems foggy for their esteemed franchise. Whether any of the current players will actually be a part of their future is still to be determined pending this offseason. Even though they were playing an equally disappointing Timberwolves team, L.A. showcased some of its promising young players who could play key roles next season. Starters Jordan Clarkson (18 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals), Jabari Brown (20 points, 7 assists, 8-12 on free throws), Ryan Kelly (21 points, 7 assists, 5-6 on 3-pointers) and Tarik Black (18 points, 10 rebounds) all came through for the Lakers Friday night and overcame Andrew Wiggins’ (29 poitns, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 15-16 on free throws) incessant trips to the free throw line. These four Lakers starters all scored in the final quarter, making crucial shots with the Wolves trying to get within striking distance. Even if they don’t end up starters, all four of these players could end up becoming important bench players for the Lakers. They all played loose and honestly made the game fun in helping the Lakers rack up 35 assists to only 12 turnovers. Minnesota is now one game behind New York for the worst record in the NBA.