The NBA regular season is quickly coming to a close with only a week left of games. The urgency across the league is truly starting to show as teams make their late-season postseason push. Every single game matters and every outcome influences a different storyline. Some teams are trying to control their playoff destiny by fighting to maintain their Top-6 seed. Other teams are jockeying for position within the Play-In tournament picture. At the end of the day, the fight for a spot in the postseason is underway and every night could have a serious impact on the Eastern and Western Conference standings.
On the second to last slate of Friday Night NBA regular-season games, we got some premiere matchups along with some interesting Playoff/Play-In implications. So, with that being said here are our top performers from last night’s matchups!
To the tune of “MVP” chants from the fans occupying the Wells Fargo Center, Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers to a close 109-107 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Embiid dropped a monster double-double with a near 40-burger and was flawless from the charity strike. He also got some help from Seth Curry and Tobias Harris. Curry scored 16 points with six rebounds and five assists while hitting 4-of-8 threes on 11 total shots. Harris one-upped Curry by a point with 17 points with three rebounds while going 7-of-16 from the floor.
The New Orleans Pelicans were formidable despite missing Zion Williamson, but the 76ers were just the better team in the end. Philadelphia is one step closer to securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 45-21 (2.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets).
Even with Zion Williamson out, it was still a Battle of the Big Men as Jaxson Hayes came off the bench and had a solid performance with a team-high 19 points on the night. In only 24 minutes, Hayes showed some flashes on both sides of the floor as a scorer, a tenacious rebounder, a team defender, and even as a rim defender (ala the three blocks). But Hayes was not the only one off the bench who had himself a game. Power forward Wenyen Gabriel and rookie guard Kira Lewis Jr. combined for 25 points as they both provided a much-needed 21 points apiece. In the starting lineup, it was all about the guards. Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe both scored 18 points apiece but they both struggled from three, going a combined 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. Got to commend the Pelicans though as they were in this game through and through despite missing their two All-Star forwards.
The Bulls backcourt went crazy for 25 points apiece to blow out the Boston Celtics 121-99. White was the better of the two guards as he was practically unguardable from beyond the arc but seeing LaVine healthy is a great sign for Chicago. Outside of these two guys, there is the Buckets Boards God that is Nikola Vucevic. Vucey-man had himself a special night with an impressive triple-double. 18 points, 14 boards, and ten assists while shooting 7-of-16 from the floor. The Bulls will more than likely be missing the NBA Play-In tournament as they currently sit 3.5 games back of the Washington Wizards, but they play the Toronto Raptors, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Brooklyn Nets twice so they have a pretty good chance to play late-season spoiler in terms of the Eastern Conference playoff seeding.
The Boston Celtics have officially dropped into Play-In tournament range as they lost and the Miami Heat won last night. To make matters worse they were missing Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum underperformed with only nine points while going 3-of-15 from the floor and 0-of-7 from three. Evan Fournier was asked to pick up the slack in Brown’s absence and he had a solid outing. 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists while shooting 7-of-11 from the field with three threes. Boston has been a teetering team all season, but they have a chance to regain momentum with back-to-back pivotal seeding games against the Heat. That is followed by winnable matchups against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the New York Knicks to close the season.
Charlotte got closer to securing a spot in the NBA Play-In tournament on the back of their dynamic backcourt as they took down the Orlando Magic, 122-112. The combination of Lamelo Ball and Terry Rozier went for 55 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists on the night. This was in spite of having to overcome a tough shooting night from deep as they went a combined 3-of-18 from three (Ball missed all seven of his attempts). With Mile Bridges missing this one, it was P.J. Washington who would be the third banana for the Hornets as he dropped a screeching 23 points and nine boards. Charlotte looks like a team that could be really dangerous in the Playoffs and now with postseason hopes still alive in the Play-In picture, they have a real shot to put the East on notice.
In spite of the loss, the Orlando Magic continue to show flashes of interesting future from some of their young guys. Dwayne Bacon led the team with 26 points. 22 points, six rebounds and a monster poster dunk were delivered by Cole Anthony. Nine points, a whopping 18 rebounds, and four big-time blocks were provided by Mo Bamba. Then they get 27 points from the bench backcourt of R.J. Hampton and Chasson Randle. This team is building some intriguing momentum heading into the offseason and it feels safe to say that they have a few guys worth keeping an eye on next season.
Tyler Herro returns from his six-game absence to help lift the Miami Heat to the 6th spot in the East with a 121-112 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Herro and Goran Dragic went crazy off the bench as they combined for 50 points. Jimmy Butler also had himself a game as he dropped 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Now he did have a bit of a climactic final moment in this game as he exchanged words with former teammate Karl-Anthony Towns. All I will say is that the said exchange led to a double technical, so they surely were not words of encouragement. Miami has won four of their last five games and they have a crucial back-to-back against Boston coming up this weekend. The close to this season will be very indicative of the Heat’s title chances as they have to see Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee in their next four games before closing the season with Detroit Pistons.
In spite of butting heads with Jimmy Butler to end the game, Karl-Anthony Towns continued his mean streak of getting buckets. Towns led the team with 27 points alongside rookie sensation Anthony Edwards who scored 25 points with six rebounds. The backcourt for the T-Wolves was also pretty solid in this one as Ricky Rubio and D’Angelo Russell combined for 33 points and 13 assists. Minnesota has a very interesting slate of games left to end the season. They kick off their last five games against their Tank-for-Cade brethren in Orlando and Detroit. Then they close their season with three matchups against playoff teams in the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, the Dallas Mavericks.
The Milwaukee Bucks tie the Brooklyn Nets for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference with a 141-133 victory over the Houston Rockets. This was an “Everyone Eats” game as the Bucks had seven players score in double figures with six of them scoring 15 or more. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez combined for 47 points and nine rebounds while shooting 5-of-10 from three. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a great performance with a near triple-double of 17 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists on 8-of-11 from the floor (three missed shots were all threes). To close out the starting lineup, Jrue Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo got in on the action combining for 28 points out of the backcourt. Then off the bench, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes combined for 27 points and 11 rebounds. Again, just a solid performance all around for Milwaukee.
Kenyon Martin Jr.
The Houston Rockets were literally missing everyone. No John Wall (right hamstring strain), no Christian Wood (right ankle soreness), no Kevin Porter Jr. (left ankle sprain), and even no Jae’sean Tate (left knee contusion). And yet somehow, they were still able to put up 133 points on the Milwaukee Bucks. Kenyon Martin Jr. led the way with 26 points and had a monster dunk that literally forced Bucks’ Center Brook Lopez to duck out of the way. Kelly Olynyk continues to enjoy putting up video game numbers with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. The Rockets also had seven players score in double figures and Armoni Brooks was the third leading scorer in this one with 19 points and six assists off the bench. Houston has an extremely tough close out to the season which should help their cause in their pursuit of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Smooth sailing for Luka Doncic and the Mavericks as they maintain their 5th place spot in the Western Conference with a 110-90 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Doncic dropped 24 points and eight rebounds in 23 points and got to hang up his sneakers early in this one. Josh Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr. also had solid performances as they combined for 38 points, seven rebounds, and five assists on the night. Nothing too crazy in this one for Dallas, but the win does keep them in prime position to avoid the controversial Play-In tournament.
Not much to rave about in this one for the lowly Cavaliers. Collin Sexton led the way as he tends by dropping 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor. Cedi Osman had a pretty okay game with 22 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in spite of going 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Even rookie wing forward Isaac Okoro had a good game with 15 points and five rebounds. If you’re a team that is tanking for the top pick, this is the kind of loss you need to get closer to your goal.
Some history was also made last night as Bojan Bogdanovic had a career night to lead the Utah Jazz to a 127-120 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Bogdanovic scored a career-high 48 points on eight threes and is the first player in Jazz history to achieve such a feat. Jordan Clarkson followed suit in the scoring department with 21 points on six threes along with five rebounds and eight assists. Then in the frontcourt, you have Rudy Gobert and Georges Niang who combined for 27 points and 13 boards on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor. Utah is on a four-game winning streak despite missing their star backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. The Jazz have a great chance to regain the top spot in the West with three of their last five games coming against non-Playoff/Play-In teams.
Tough loss for the Denver Nuggets, but they definitely had some promising performances in this matchup between two real Western Conference contenders. Michael Porter Jr. led the way with 31 points and six rebounds on 10-of-19 shooting from the field with four three-pointers. MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic scored 24 points along with nine rebounds and 15 assists on great shooting splits (9-of-11 from the field and 2-of-2 from three). There was also a rare Paul Millsap sighting as he scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Then off the bench, the Nuggets’ newly acquired Austin Rivers made a great impression with 18 points with five threes in 27 points. Denver sits just a half a game back of the LA Clippers for 3rd in the West and have been playing very well in spite of missing star point guard Jamal Murray.
In a chippy matchup between the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, Deandre Ayton dominates in Suns’ 128-105 victory. This was a game that Phoenix got contributions from all over the place. Ayton had a monster double-double with 26 points and 15 rebounds on efficient shooting splits. The All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul combined for 33 points and 14 assists. Mikal Bridges had a solid game with 16 points with four of his five made shots being threes. Then off the bench, Jae Crowder, Frank Kaminsky, and Cameron Payne combined for 43 points on 9-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc. Great win for a Phoenix team that has a real chance to lock up the No. 1 seed in the West with only five games left in the 2021 NBA regular season.
The New York Knicks might be a Top-5 defensive team in the NBA this season, but they were unfortunately not good enough to hold off the Suns’ offensive firepower. Nonetheless, they did get a handful of solid performances in this game. All-Star forward Julius Randle continues to lead the Knickerbockers with 24 points and 11 rebounds in spite of struggling from three. RJ Barrett continues to show out in Year 2 as he put up 23 points and eight rebounds with five threes. Off the bench, former Chicago Bulls teammates Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson combined for 28 points on the night. New York was missing their X-factor in Immanuel Quickley in this one, but they still managed to put up a fight against the Suns.
The Portland Trailblazers get a pivotal tiebreaker with a 106-101 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on the back of 38 points from Damian Lillard. Alongside Lillard, CJ McCollum scored 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the floor in spite of shooting 2-of-7 from three. Norman Powell had 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting from the floor. The Trailblazers also got solid performances from their frontcourt as Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter both put up double-doubles. This win elevates Portland to the 6th seed in the West with the advantage over the Lakers as they look to avoid the Play-In tournament.
THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS HAVE OFFICIALLY DROPPED INTO THE PLAY-IN PICTURE!
Sorry for screaming at you guys, but fellas this is one of the most interesting stories in the NBA right now. The Lakers are missing LeBron James and Dennis Schroder due to injury. Andre Drummond is not playing like his normal self (had 4 points in this game). And now the Lakers are on the verge of having to fight for their postseason lives in the Play-In tournament. Anthony Davis tried his hardest to carry Los Angeles in this one with a monster double-double, but his supporting cast did not rise to the occasion. Kyle Kuzma only had four points. The Lakers bench scored only a combined 22 points between four players. The only real bright spot was that the backcourt of Kentavious Caldwell-Pop and Alex Caruso combined for 35 points. For a team that was seen as the title favorites entering the season, this has been a pretty anti-climactic closing to the season. Unfortunately for them, it is only getting worse as they have a three-game road trip where they will face the red-hot Phoenix Suns, the overachieving New York Knicks, and the scrappy Houston Rockets.
The San Antonio Spurs snap their five-game losing streak on the back of DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray as they take down the Sacramento Kings, 113-104. DeRozan led the way with 25 points and dominated all night from the free-throw line with 13 attempts on the night. Murray scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to help close out this game for the Spurs. Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV both dropped 16 points apiece. Then to round up the starting lineup, Jakob Poeltl finished the game with a double-double of 11 points and ten rebounds along with a whopping four blocks. San Antonio sits in the 10th spot in the West just 2.5 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the last Play-In tournament spot. Hopefully for Spurs fans this win will put San Antonio back on track as they close out the season with six games, all against playoff teams.
No De’Aaron Fox and no Tyrese Haliburton mean more minutes for Terence Davis and he made every second count. Playing 33 minutes off the bench, Davis scored a team-high 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor and 4-of-8 from three. In the backcourt, Buddy Hield and Delon Wright both scored 17 apiece while also combining for 12 rebounds and 15 assists. Last is Richaun Holmes who had 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal, and two blocks in 33 minutes before fouling out. Sacramento’s suffering is almost done as they end the season with back-to-back matchups with the Oklahoma City Thunder, back-to-back matchups with the Memphis Grizzlies, then end the season with the Utah Jazz.