Charlotte Hornets vs. Brooklyn Nets
The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 119-110 to remain ahead of the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. The two teams have identical 39-36 records, but with this win, the Hornets move to 2-1 against the Nets and secure the tiebreaker. Led by LaMelo Ball‘s hot shooting, the Hornets spoiled Kyrie Irving’s home debut. Ball finished the game with 33 points (10-21 FG, 7-12 3PT), seven rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Miles Bridges added 24 points (9-24 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal. P.J. Washington tallied 18 points (8-12 FG, 2-3 3PT), 11 rebounds, and five assists. Terry Rozier notched 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal. If the Hornets are making their threes they can be tough to beat and that was the case in this game. They shot 42% from the field as a team, but they shot 53% from three (17-32). As things currently stand, the Hornets would match up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament, rather than the Nets. That’s unfortunate for us, the fans, as the pace of play and lack of defense on both sides would make a Nets vs. Hornets matchup must-see TV. Then again, there likely won’t be much defense in a Nets vs. Hawks series either.
The Nets are 7-3 in their last 10 games with wins over the Mavericks, Jazz, and Miami Heat. Despite that positive momentum, they were unable to win this important matchup against the Hornets. Although, there is still time for the Nets to catch and surpass the Hornets in the standings. It seems unlikely either team from this game would be able to overtake the Cavaliers in the standings, but crazier things have happened. Despite their supreme firepower in the form of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, games like these make it hard to believe in the Nets as a serious contender this season. I don’t believe the team will have enough time to gel as a unit and, furthermore, they are still missing two key cogs in Ben Simmons and Joe Harris. If they can manage to stay healthy and vaccination restrictions don’t return, they should have a better shot at a title next season. Kevin Durant led the way for the Nets in this game, tallying 27 points (9-24 FG, 3-11 3PT), eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Andre Drummond added 20 points (7-12 FG,), 17 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks. Kyrie Irving notched 16 points (6-22 FG, 1-9 3PT), two rebounds, 11 assists, and two blocks. Irving struggled to shoot the ball for much of the game, but he did hit some important baskets out of isolation in the fourth quarter. Irving was the leading scorer for the Nets in the final period and shot 4-9 from the field for 10 points, one rebound, and one assist. Durant, in contrast, was 1-8 from the field for just four points. Seth Curry finished the game with 12 points (5-10 FG, 2-6 3PT), two assists, and one block. Another reason for concern this season for the Nets is the fact that Curry has been in and out of the lineup recently, dealing with ankle issues and it doesn’t seem like something that will be able to fully heal until the offseason. Bruce Brown finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block.
New York Knicks vs Detroit Pistons
The New York Knicks defeated the Detroit Pistons 104-102, on an Alec Burks late game, two-way brilliance. Burks made a three off a Julius Randle drive and dish to put the Knicks ahead 104-100. Following a Killian Hayes driving layup to make the score 104-102, Burks stole the ball from Cade Cunningham on the game’s final possession. It was an impressive steal, as Burks swiped it after Cunningham had gathered to go up for a midrange jumper but before he got it above his shoulders. Six Knicks players scored in double figures, led by RJ Barrett, who finished the game with 21 points (7-18 FG, 1-5 3PT), nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Questions about shooting remain for Barret, but his improved ability to get to the free throw-line and bully his way to the basket should give Knicks fans plenty of hope about his progression moving forward. Julius Randle added 20 points (7-18 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Burks tallied 18 points (4-6 FG, 3-5 3PT), five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block—it’s been another solid season for Burks in New York. Immanuel Quickley notched 18 points (6-15 FG, 4-9 3PT), six rebounds, and three assists. Evan Fournier finished the game with 11 points, two rebounds, four assists, and one steal. I wonder if the Knicks will try and move Fournier this offseason? His production has felt hollow all season long. Obi Toppin finished the game with 10 points, one rebound, two assists, one steal, and one block.
The Pistons, despite this loss, or maybe in part because of this loss, have to be feeling good about themselves heading into the offseason. Cade Cunningham looks like the star he was advertised to be before the draft, Marvin Bagley III has shown new life in Motown, Saddiq Bey had a 50-point game recently, and Killian Hayes is, at least, making very minor improvements, I think. On top of all that, the Pistons are tied with two other teams for the worst record in the league and they could add Chet Holmgren to this young, developing roster if the lottery balls bounce in their favor. In this game, Marvin Bagley showed out against his older doppelganger in Julius Randle. Bagley wracked up 27 points (11-14 FG, 1-2 3PT), seven rebounds, and one block. While it was outlier three-point shooting and more refined playmaking that took Randle’s game to new heights last season, Bagley should still model his game after Randle’s left-hand dominant bully ball style of play. I doubt Bagley will ever be the passer Randle is, but if he can make other teams feel him every night by scoring in transition, being a force on the offensive glass, and bullying mismatches in the halfcourt, it’s a huge win for the Pistons front office. Cade Cunningham added 18 points (7-18 FG, 1-4 3PT), seven assists, one steal, and two blocks. Even as a rookie, there is an old-man tinge to Cunningham’s game and he showed it off multiple times in this game with hanging hook and flip shots around the basket. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a negative that a player is forced to rely on these cheeky, feel-heavy scoring methods as a rookie, but ultimately I think Cunningham is just too skilled and too savvy not to be a star in this league. Saddiq Bey notched 14 points (4-10 FG, 1-6 3PT), three rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Isaiah Stewart finished the game with 10 points (4-6 FG, 2-3 3PT), 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block.
Boston Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Boston Celtics blew out another playoff team, this time the victim was the Minnesota Timberwolves, whom they beat by a score of 134-112. It’s Boston’s sixth straight win and their ninth in their last 10 games. The team is now first in the Eastern Conference with an identical 47-28 record to the Miami Heat. The Celtics were on fire in this game as they made 56% of their shots from the field (49-87) and 43% of their threes (17-39). Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics, as he finished the game with 34 points (12-21 FG, 5-11 3PT), five rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one block. Tatum is a really good shooter, especially if you consider the high volume and difficulty—read off the dribble and step-backs—of his three-point attempts, but he can’t continue to shoot 46% from three the way he has in 12 March games, right? Right!? Help! Jaylen Brown added 31 points (12-20 FG, 3-5 3PT), 10 rebounds, and two assists. Given the fact that Tatum is now a more willing passer and better able to make defenses pay for sending excess attention his way, Brown’s mid-post iso game feels like a welcomed variety rather than something that bogs down the offense. The zip-zap ball movement that Tatum’s improvement and the arrival of Derrick White have initiated recontextualizes Brown’s isolations in a much friendlier light. Derrick White tallied 15 points (4-6 FG, 2-4 3PT), two rebounds, six assists, and one steal. This is the role White was meant to play on a really good team all along and that simply wasn’t going to be possible on the Spurs, given where they are in their development. A month-long hot streak from beyond the arc for White could potentially put the Celtics in the NBA Finals. They still have no one to guard Giannis and Brook Lopez is back and playing well, but the importance of White’s shooting reminds me of Fred VanVleet’s hot streak that helped the Raptors beat the Bucks and thus go on to win the championship in 2019. Robert Williams III played just 23 minutes as he left the game in the third quarter with a left knee sprain—the one area of concern for the Celtics coming out of this game—but in his time on the court, he wracked up 13 points (4-7 FG, 3-5 3PT), 10 rebounds, one steal, and one block. Payton Pritchard added 11 points, two rebounds, five assists, and one block.
After winning 10 of their last eleven before this week, the Timberwolves have now lost three of their last four games. This game serves as a sobering reminder of what a real contender looks and feels like. Anthony Edwards led the Wolves in scoring, as he finished the game with 24 points (9-16 FG, 5-9 3PT), five rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Karl-Anthony Towns added 19 points (8-15 FG, 1-3 3PT), four rebounds, five assists, and one steal. Jaylen Nowell finished the game with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, and one block off the bench and Taurean Prince notched 10 points, four rebounds, one steal, and one block in his reserve role. Jarred Vanderbilt tallied 11 points and four rebounds. Both Patrick Beverley and D’Angelo Russell had quiet nights. Beverley finished the game with 7 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Russell notched just four points, one rebound, six assists, and two steals.
Washington Wizards vs. Golden State Warriors
The Washington Wizards defeated the struggling Golden State Warriors 123-115, behind Corey Kispert‘s career night. Kispert led the Wizards in scoring and set career highs in threes made and points on the night. He finished the game with 25 points (9-12 FG, 6-9 3PT), one rebound, and three assists. Kristaps Porzingis added 23 points (6-21 FG, 1-6 3PT), nine rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one block. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope notched 22 points (8-8 FG, 3-3 3PT), four rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks. Deni Avdija tallied 14 points (5-9 FG, 3-4 3PT), seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal off the bench. Daniel Gafford finished the game with 11 points (5-6 FG), six rebounds, one assist, and two blocks in just 14 minutes of play. Tomas Satoransky added 9 points, three rebounds, seven assists, and one steal.
The Warriors slide down the standings without Steph Curry continues. The Warriors have lost five of their last six games and are currently on a two-game losing streak. Curry remains out and has yet to progress to on-court basketball work with his left foot sprain. James Wiseman has been shut down for the season and Andre Iguodala remains out with a low back injury. Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson are doing their best to keep the offense afloat, with somewhat encouraging, but mixed results. Poole’s progress this season is certainly encouraging and although there are games where Klay Thompson doesn’t look great he’s had a number of classic Klay explosions recently. Thompson scored 37 points on nine made threes as recently as March 24th, although it came in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Everyone’s deficiencies have been thrust into the light without Curry and it doesn’t help that both Thompson and Green are re-integrating after injury absences. The team will need to pull out a few surprise victories in their final games to avoid dropping to the fourth seed in the West. Jordan Poole didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but he did get to the free-throw line consistently, which helped buoy his scoring, as he finished the game with 26 points (8-25 FG, 1-10 3PT, 9-11 FT), six rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Klay Thompson tallied 25 points (10-22 FG, 5-13 3PT), five rebounds, and three assists. Andrew Wiggins added 23 points (8-14 FG, 0-3 3PT), two rebounds, and one steal. Otto Porter Jr. notched 14 points (5-7 FG, 1-2 3PT), 11 rebounds, and two assists. In one of the rare bright spots for the Warriors at the moment, Porter Jr. has looked rejuvenated recently.
Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Phoenix Suns defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 114-104 to secure their eighth straight win. Devin Booker led the Suns in scoring with an uber-efficient offensive evening, as he finished the game with 35 points (13-22 FG, 3-5 3PT), two rebounds, and two assists. Chris Paul added 19 points (9-15 FG, 1-3 3PT), four rebounds, 14 assists, one steal, and one block. It was just Paul’s second game back from a thumb injury. Deandre Ayton tallied 14 points (5-8 FG, 4-6 FT), 12 rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Mikal Bridges wracked up 11 points (5-11 FG, 1-2 3PT), five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Landry Shamet also scored in double figures with 12 points. Jae Crowder finished the game with 9 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals. It’s hard to keep finding new ways to praise the Suns. They are a machine. Devin Booker gets injured and they keep winning. Chris Paul gets injured and they keep winning. Deandre Ayton gets injured and they keep winning. Where once the Western Conference looked like it might be a murder’s row of competition to get to the NBA Finals, the reality appears to be much more forgiving. The Warriors are injured and reeling, Ja Morant is currently sidelined with a knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are yet to return, and the Lakers are no one’s idea of a formidable foe. While it’s true Paul George and Kawhi could return for the playoffs, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding that situation. Phoenix has to be the favorite to come out of the West and if you get to the NBA Finals then you are one string of good fortune from winning it all.
I don’t believe in the Philadelphia 76ers in large part because I don’t believe in James Harden. I do, however, believe in Tyrese Maxey. The precocious youngster is fearless and appears to be well on his way to a star turn after an intriguing, but patchwork rookie season. Harden and Joel Embiid appear to be aware and appreciative of what they have in a teammate with Maxey as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what the second-year guard can do in the playoffs. Joel Embiid powered the 76ers offense in this game, as he tallied 37 points (14-27 FG, 1-5 3PT) 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks. Tyrese Maxey added 18 points (7-21 FG, 3-10 3PT) and three assists. Tobias Harris finished the game with 17 points (8-14 FG, 1-5 3PT), eight rebounds, and two assists. James Harden notched 14 points (2-11 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, nine assists, and one steal in another underwhelming and alarming performance in a matchup against a championship contender. Harden even recycled his 2-11 line from the field, twice an occurrence in Harden’s most high-profile flops in the playoffs. This game also goes down as another loss after having a double-digit lead—cough cough Doc Rivers—as the 76ers led by 15 points in the second quarter.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The New Orleans Pelicans stormed back from a 23-point deficit in the second quarter to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 116-108 and push them a half-game ahead of the purple and gold in Western Conference standings. Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans in scoring after missing 10 games due to a strained hamstring. He tallied 26 points (10-17 FG, 0-2 3PT), seven rebounds, and five assists in the victory. Trey Murphy finished the game with 21 points (16 in the third quarter) and four rebounds. Jonas Valunciunas added 19 points (7-13 FG), 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block. CJ McCollum notched 18 points (7-16 FG 2-5 3PT), four rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Herbert Jones finished the game with 16 points (6-14 FG, 3-7 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, and a career-high six steals. The Pelicans look like a fun, deep team heading into the play-in tournament and the following season.
It was another bad beat for the Lakers, as they led by as many as 23 points in the second quarter and didn’t trail until the fourth quarter of this game. LeBron James did all he could to propel the team to victory, finishing the game with 39 points (14-27 FG, 7-13 3PT), nine rebounds, five assists, and one block. Malik Monk added 23 points (9-17 FG, 2-8 3PT) and six assists off the bench. Russell Westbrook tallied 18 points (8-15 FG, 2-5 3PT), seven rebounds, six assists, and one steal. It was a pretty pedestrian effort from all of the other Lakers on the roster as Dwight Howard‘s eight points were best amongst the group. The Lakers shot 52% from the field and 40% from three in this game, but they did turn the ball over 15 times (two more times than the Pelicans) and they were outrebounded 41-39. Trying to single out one or even a handful of the problems plaguing this Lakers’ group is a waste of time. The team is old, not particularly dynamic, not great on defense, and not particularly good at three-point shooting. They do very little well besides employing LeBron James and I’m starting to think the sooner their season ends the better. James being this good at this age and the team still being this bad has got to feel like cruel and unusual punishment for Lakers fans.
Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks comfortably defeated the Utah Jazz 114-110 to move into the fourth spot in the Western Conference, a game ahead of the Jazz. However, the Mavericks will need to maintain their lead and finish a game ahead of the Jazz to remain in the fourth spot, since the NBA tiebreaker rule goes to division winners first. Luka Doncic led the Mavericks in scoring and finished the game with 32 points (11-21 FG, 4-7 3PT), 10 rebounds, and five assists. Reggie Bullock added 23 points (8-12 FG, 7-11 3PT), four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. His seven made threes were a season-high. Jalen Brunson tallied 22 points (7-15 FG, 2-4 3PT), 10 rebounds, and five assists. Spencer Dinwiddie notched 12 points (5-10 FG, 1-3 3PT), four rebounds, and two assists. Dorian Finney-Smith finished the game with eight points, three rebounds, and three assists.
With this loss, the Jazz have now lost four games in a row. The Jazz played this game without Rudy Gobert (bruised right leg), Hassan Whiteside (foot), Danuel House (knee), Bojan Bogdanovic (calf), and Udoka Azubuike (ankle surgery). Rudy Gay turned back the clock a little, as he led the Jazz in scoring and finished this game with 18 points (8–14 FG, 2-5 3PT), eight rebounds, and two assists. Gay operated a lot out of the post and even managed to have some success posting up Luka Doncic. Mike Conley added 14 points (6-9 FG, 0-2 3PT) and seven assists; and Jordan Clarkson finished the game with 14 points (5-12 FG, 3-5 3PT), three rebounds, and six assists. Donovan Mitchell notched 12 points (4-13 FG, 1-4 3PT), five rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Trent Forrest and Eric Paschall each scored in double figures with 10 points as well.