Pistons 111 (28-44), Magic 97 (22-52)
The Pistons stayed hot and picked up their fifth win in the past six games. This is in large part due to Reggie Jackson (26 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) finding his place on this Detroit team and picking up his second triple-double in the past five games. Jackson came into this game averaging 20.2 ppg, 12.2 apg and 6.0 rpg in his previous five games. The Pistons point guard and Andre Drummond (16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) are finding a groove and establishing solid chemistry. Tayshaun Prince (23 points, 7 rebounds, 10-15 from the field) had a throwback game, looking like the Tayshaun Prince that won a championship in Detroit. Orlando simply allowed Detroit to get to the line too often. While the Pistons shot 20-27 (74.1 percent), the Magic only went to the line eight times (8-8). Victor Oladipo (16 points, 7 assists) and Willie Green (7 points, 2 assists) also combined to have more turnovers (6) than the entire Pistons team (5). Magic starters Tobias Harris (21 points, 5 rebounds), Nikola Vucevic (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Elfrid Payton (14 points, 13 assists) played well, but none of them could keep up with Jackson on Friday night.
Clippers 119 (48-25), 76ers 98 (18-55)
The 76ers never had a chance against a Clippers team that is rolling right now. L.A.’s players have all started to understand their roles, accept them and thrive in the process. A healthy J.J. Redick (19 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) gets his shots early, DeAndre Jordan (17 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks) controls the interior on both ends of the floor, Blake Griffin (10 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) continues to diversify his game and Chris Paul (25 points, 7 assists) is the steady force on both ends of the floor throughout the game. After CP3 went on his own 9-0 run to finish the first quarter, the Clippers held a commanding 34-19 lead and wouldn’t allow the Sixers back into the game the rest of the way. Nerlens Noel (career-high 30 points, 14 rebounds) had yet another monster game, as has been the case many times in March. However, he and Ish Smith (18 points, 9 assists) didn’t get much help from the rest of their teammates. With the Clippers currently on a six-game winning streak, the West better start to worry about yet another team on the rise.
Wizards 110 (41-32), Hornets 107 (30-41) 2OT
It took 10 extra minutes of basketball for the Wizards’ woes to final come to an end, but John Wall (32 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals) found a way to carry his team to a big victory when his team really needed it. The Wizards came into this game losers of their last four and falling quickly down the East playoff ladder. But after 48 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, Wall decided it was time to take over. The lighting-quick point guard didn’t shoot well throughout the game (12-30) and even turned the ball over six times. But he stepped up when it mattered, making a clutch game-tying jumper in regulation and scoring seven of his team’s nine points in the second overtime by knocking down a 3-pointer and two tough pull-up jumpers. He asserted himself in the final five minutes and decided to take control of the offense. He didn’t seem to be all their physically, but Al Jefferson (31 points, 10 rebounds) carried the Hornets throughout the game before Mo Williams (26 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds) stepped up in crunch time to keep Charlotte alive. They just couldn’t contain Wall down the stretch. Even though this was a big win for the Wiz, Wall won’t be able to do it all once his team starts playing legitimate playoff teams. He can’t rely on Drew Gooden (15 points, 17 rebounds), who sporadically has these type of performances. His frontcourt starters in Marcin Gortat (8 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals), Nene (10 points, 5 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (6 points, 0-6 on 3-pointers) have to start contributing more on the offensive end of the court. They found a way Friday, as the Hornets have now lost eight of their last 10 games and are falling behind in the race (or lack there of) for the eighth seed in the East.
Hawks 99 (55-17), Heat 86 (33-39)
The Hawks built up a commanding lead in the third quarter on their way to a wire-to-wire win that allowed them to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. It was another balanced night for Atlanta as DeMarre Carroll (24 points, 5 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) both reached the 20-point plateau midway through the third quarter. The Hawks poured on 34 points in the third quarter, during which they held an 81-55 lead with a few minutes left in the quarter. Garbage time forced this game to look much better than it actually was. Luol Deng (17 points, 10 rebounds) led the Heat in scoring while backcourt starters Dwyane Wade (13 points, 5-13 from the field) and Goran Dragic (6 points, 3-11 from the field) looked outmatched on the night. It’s going to be difficult to win against the most efficient team in the East when your top guards need 24 shots to score 19 points. The Hawks as a team shot 37-72 (51.4 percent) from the field.
Nets 106 (31-40), Cavaliers 98 (47-27)
Brooklyn picked up a significant win while snapping Cleveland’s four-game winning streak behind 40 points from Joe Johnson (20 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (20 points, 9 rebounds). With Deron Williams (5 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 turnovers) still struggling to get back to where he once was, these two have to be the backbone for the Nets if they want to sneak into the playoffs. The surprise of the past few weeks for this team remains Bojan Bogdanovic (18 points), who is Jarrett Jack’s (16 points, 5 assists, 2 steals) partner in crime off the bench. Bogdanovic even showed superior defense in the second half, holding LeBron James (24 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) to only two buckets. With the type of offense Lopez, Johnson, Bogdanovic and Jack are bringing to the court right now at four different positions, Brooklyn can compete with any team in the League—when all their pieces are clicking. The problem, as has been the case all season, is finding consistency on both ends of the court. The Nets found their consistency Friday night as the Cavs got what they expected from LBJ, Kyrie Irving (26 points) and Kevin Love (18 points, 7 rebounds). However, with J.R. Smith (8 points, 3-10 from the field) reverting to a performance reflective of that during his time in New York, no one else really stepped up for Cleveland. James, Irving and Love can’t do it all, especially if no one else can even reaches double digits. With the win, the Nets have now won six of their past eight and are half a game back of the Celtics for the final playoff spot.
Celtics 96 (32-40), Knicks 92 (14-59)
The Celtics remain ahead of the Nets for the last playoff spot in the East, and they found a way to hold on to their position thanks big plays from their top bench players. After Lance Thomas (6 points) knocked down a jumper with 7:55 to go in the third quarter, the Knicks only trailed 51-50. Then with Isaiah Thomas (18 points, 6 assists) and Jae Crowder (17 points, 2 steals) leading the way the Celtics worked to build up an 86-75 lead with 4:09 remaining. These two players that started the season on two West teams have really started to gel and work well together in Boston’s second unit. With Andrea Bargnani (25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) leading the way, the Knicks didn’t go down without a fight and quickly cut the deficit to 92-88 after Langston Galloway (12 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) drilled a 3-pointer. The Celtics would make enough free throws down the stretch to avoid an embarrassing loss.
Raptors 94 (43-30), Lakers 83 (19-52)
After building up a 37-17 record by February 20, the Raptors have struggled significantly since that point holding a 6-13 in their last 19 games going into Friday’s matchup. However, they took care of business against the Lakers and took home the Atlantic Division title for the second straight year and third time in its 20-year history. Big man Jonas Valanciunas (19 points, 7 rebounds, 8-12 from the field) took advantage of the undersized Lakers frontline, as most big men have done this season. Lou Willams (18 points, 3-7 on 3-pointers) , scoring seven of the team’s final 12 points. Even though Toronto was already up by 10 points by the time Williams notched his final seven points, the shifty guard kept the Lakers at bay. James Johnson (17 points, 6 rebounds, 7-10 from the field) added 17 points off the bench. Guards Jeremy Lin (18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and Jordan Clarkson (14 points, 2 steals) led the offensively deficient Lakers. No one else reached double figures, and as a team, L.A. shot a putrid 34.5 percent from the field.
Rockets 120 (49-23), Timberwolves 110 (16-56)
The Rockets inched one game away from reaching 50 wins and clinched a playoff spot in the process behind another MVP-type performance from James Harden (33 points, 8 assists, 5 steals, 9-10 on free throws). There are very few players in the NBA right now that have a better isolation game than Harden. His ballhandling, footwork and relentlessness lead to many 30-point performances and trips to the free throw line—as was the case Friday night. All five Rockets starters had at least 14 points and Corey Brewer (11 points, 10 rebounds) added 11 points off the bench. Josh Smith (16 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 6-8 from the field) played in control and almost reached a triple-double in the process. Dwight Howard (18 points, +20) just missed playing 20 minutes and looked even more comfortable than his first game back. Even though they were playing the woeful Timberwolves, this team still showed how scary their offense can be when clicking. Even though Houston ended up winning by 10, Andrew Wiggins (31 points, 12-15 on free throws) kept his Timberwolves in this game. After the rookie knocked down a pair of free throws midway through the final quarter, Minnesota only trailed 102-94. The Rockets then went back to what they do best—playing inside out. They nailed three 3-pointers and slammed home two dunks on their way to extending this lead to 118-103. Houston finished the game with 34 assists.
Warriors 107 (59-13), Grizzlies 84 (50-23)
Golden State extended its winning streak to eight games in commanding fashion by showing just how wide a gap there currently is between the No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors have done many impressive things this season, but one that sticks out has to be some of their wild and dominant third quarters. Klay Thompson (28 points, 6-9 on 3-pointers) didn’t have a third quarter outburst like before, but he still nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in the midst of a Warriors’ 31-16 run in the third. Stephen Curry (38 points, 10 assists, 3 steals, 8-12 on 3-pointers) took over like only he can during these 12 minutes, outscoring the entire Memphis team with his 17 points in the quarter. When Curry gets in his zone and starts stroking it from anywhere behind the 3-point line at any distance, sometimes all a defense can do is watch and sigh in disbelief. By the time the fourth quarter began, the Grizzles were worn out and had little to no chance of getting back into the game…even though they were at home. Jeff Green (16 points, 8 rebounds) and Mike Conley (16 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) led the Grizzlies in scoring but had no way of keeping up with the Splash Bros in that brutal third quarter. Conley also failed to score in the second half. If Memphis finds a way to grind through the first two rounds of the playoffs and meet up with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, they will need much more offensive production than 84 points.
Pelicans 102 (38-34), Kings 88 (26-46)
The Pelicans snapped their four-game losing streak thanks to strong play from Anthony Davis (24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks) and Tyreke Evans (25 points, 10 assists). Davis struggled in the first half but came out of halftime on a mission. When these two can both get their games going on the same night, the Pelicans have a good chance of keeping a game close. DeMarcus Cousins (39 points, 20 rebounds, 3 blocks) was an absolute beast in the loss, controlling all aspects of his game. New Orleans slowly knocked down Sacramento over the final three quarters, outscoring the Kings in each one by no more than six points.The Pelicans used two runs in the second half to keep the Kings out of reach. In the third quarter, the Kings actually led 57-72 with 8:31 to go after Rudy Gay (18 points) sunk two free throws. Behind consecutive treys from Quincy Pondexter (16 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers), the Pelicans then took the lead with an 8-0 run. After the Kings got back in the game after Cousins threw down an alley-oop to make the score 64-62, New Orleans responded with a 10-1 with Evans and Davis leading the way. Cousins had another fantastic game…but at some point, he is going to need some help from his teammates. And his front office will need to find the right players to put around him.
Spurs 94 (46-26), Mavericks 76 (45-28)
The Mavs picked up a crucial win Tuesday night during a nationally-televised game. However, the Spurs easily handed the Mavs Friday night and retained their No. 6 playoff spot in the West. Behind a strong performance from Boris Diaw (19 points, 8-11 from the field) and Danny Green (14 points, 4-9 on 3-pointers) from start to finish, San Antonio built an early lead, let the Mavs back in the game and then closed it out strong in an 18-point victory. The Spurs had balance offensively and defensively, continuing their recent surge with Kawhi Leonard (12 points, 6 rebounds) at the helm. The Mavs offense was dreadful before and after Monta Ellis (10 points, 5-10 from the field) left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. They shot 37.8 percent from the field and 4-18 (22.2 percent) on 3-pointers. They weren’t able to get anything going other than a few runs while the Spurs had a 28-15 advantage in assists. As good as the Mavs can look at times, there are just as many times they look completely out of sorts. And if Ellis’ injury turns out to be serious, this team could start spiraling out of control.
Nuggets 107 (28-45), Jazz 91 (31-41)
The Jazz came out of the All-Star Break playing some of the best defense in the entire League and held a League-best 11-2 record at one point. Their inexperience, though, has shown of late as they have now lost four straight and allowed the Nuggets to pour on 107 points. Ty Lawson (18 points, 9 assists, 3 steals) and Jameer Nelson (18 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers) ran circles around the young Jazz guards and effectively orchestrated the Nuggets offense. Will Barton (12 points, 10 rebounds) also played well, as has been the case since the coaching turnaround. Danilo Gallinari (13 points, 3 blocks, 3-8 on 3-pointers) found his touch from deep, unlike the entire Jazz team. Utah only managed to shoot 5-27 (18.5 percent) from behind the 3-point line, with Gordon Hayward (24 points, 7 rebounds), Trey Burke (6 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) and Joe Ingles (6 points, 2 assists) combining to shoot 2-19 (10.5 percent) on 3-pointers.
Blazers 87 (46-25), Suns 81 (38-35)
The undermanned Blazers entered Friday’s game against the Suns losers of their last seven games on the road. It might not have been pretty but Portland fought through some of their worst shooting of the season and snagged a six-point win on the road. LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 9 rebounds) scored 10 of his 27 points during the final 3:26 of the game while Nicolas Batum (5 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) knocked down a pair of free throws to seal the win. Even though they escaped Phoenix with the win, the Blazers shot just 40.4 percent (36-89) from the field and 7-26 (26.9 percent) on 3-pointers. They were able to stick around since the Suns didn’t do much better, only shooting 36.8 percent from the field. Marcus Morris (19 points, 12 rebounds) led his struggling Phoenix team in scoring. Portland only had 60 points going into the final quarter before Aldridge and Damian Lillard (11 points, 4 assists) did their usual late-game damage. Phoenix is now three and a half games back of the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West.