As the season trudges on with 15-20 games left in the regular season, the most exciting thing about the NBA season is the constant jockeying for position in the NBA Playoffs. The teams in the Top-6 are fighting to keep themselves out of the Play-In tournament. The teams sitting between 7th and 11th are battling it out for a chance to earn a playoff spot through the Play-In tournament. So last night, we got a very silent but deadly lineup of games as we only had seven games on the docket but they all had playoff implications of some sort. Some teams were looking to keep their season alive. Others were looking to keep themselves atop their respective conferences. Playoff-caliber basketball is slowly kicking up as teams make a late-season push and things are getting really interesting as we inch closer to the homestretch.
With that being said, here are our Primetime Performers from last night’s slate of games under the pressure of the Friday Night Lights.
In a battle of two middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference playoff teams, it was Bogdanovic and the Atlanta Hawks that would prevail as they defeated the Miami Heat 118-103.
The Hawks were missing two of their big three (Trae Young and Clint Capela), but that that would not stop Bogdanovic and John Collins from keeping the ship on the track. They both inched near double-doubles as they combined for 41 points, nine assists, and 11 rebounds while also knocking down 6-of-10 threes on the night.
Atlanta also got great scoring production off the bench from veterans Danilo Gallinari and Brandon Goodwin, who scored 17 points apiece. Lemon Pepper Lou Williams even chipped in a solid 13 points in 20 minutes off the bench as the Hawks overperformed without their star point guard.
On the other side of this one was the outburst of Kendrick Nunn who quite literally went blow for blow with Bogdanovic. No seriously, your eyes are not deceiving you. He matched Bogdanovic in points, shooting splits from the floor, and even free throw attempts.
Outside of Nunn, all of the other four starters scored in double figures with Jimmy Butler leading with 19 points and seven assists. Tyler Herro also had a minor impact off the bench with 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
This team is being discussed a lot with the fact that they have slight championship equity with all their veteran players and upside from Bam Adebayo. The issue is that they have been inconsistent throughout the season and they do not seem to know what they have considering guys like Nemanja Bjelica are not even getting minutes and Victor Oladipo is out due to injury. They just feel like they are getting in their own way. Still do not think anyone wants to see them in a Play-In or playoff situation.
This was role player galore for the Nets as everyone chipped in to get this victory. Jeff Green scored 19 points. Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown combined for 28 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. Even DeAndre Jordan nearly put up a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds. This was all in the midst of their lone star Kyrie Irving struggling from the floor going 4-of-19 and 0-of-6 from three. And even then, he was one rebound shy of a triple-double with 15 points, 11 assists, and nine assists on the night.
This team just continues to get it done regardless of who is in the lineup and that is what makes them so extremely dangerous heading into the playoffs.
In defense of the Boston Celtics, they were missing their lead point guard Kemba Walker and their All-Star wing Jaylen Brown. But that did not stop Jayson Tatum from getting in his bag. Tatum single-handedly kept the Celtics in this game as 9-of-the-12 players in the rotation last night scored three points or less.
Outside of Tatum, the bright spots came from Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard. Smart struggled from three going 2-of-10 but still managed to put up 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the floor. Pritchard was the team’s leading scorer with 22 points off the bench in 24 minutes and went berserk from beyond the arc (6-of-7).
Like the Heat, Boston has been very up and down this season due to injury and Covid protocols, but they have the kind of 8-man rotation that will make them a tough out in the Playoffs. Do not let the record fool you. They are 7-3 in their last ten as they are slowly catching their stride at the perfect time. If they get fully healthy, watch out.
The Charlotte Hornets continue to keep things afloat as they take down the Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-102.
Now we all seem to be coming around that Julius Randle is the front runner or at least a Top-3 candidate for Most Improved Player, but Bridges should be right up there with him. He has gotten in his bag this season and has stepped up as the Hornets’ lead guy in the absence of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. With Ball reportedly coming back soon, the revival of the Air BnB tandem is going to be a thing of beauty to watch in competitive Playoff basketball.
This team has been so exciting all season and with the up and down play style and will be really interesting to watch when they meet the slow and steady flow of the Playoffs.
Despite being on the outside looking in regarding the Eastern Conference Play-In tournament, it was still good to see the Cleveland Cavaliers be competitive.
This was a game where the backcourt of Sexton and Darius Garland shined bright. The two combined for 55 points, eight assists, and 11 rebounds. The only thing is that they struggled from three, going 5-of-13, which is not horrible but not great in the context that the Cavs shot 10-of-30 as a team from beyond the arc.
The only other player really worth talking about is Jarett Allen who had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds on a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor. We all know that Cleveland is just shooting for a top pick in the upcoming draft.
The hope for the rest of the season would just be that they can identify four or five committable pieces on the roster. That way they can at least feel slightly comfortable moving some kind of core as they head into an offseason where they quite obviously will need to shop Kevin Love and hopefully get off of Cedi Osman.
George has quietly been performing at an MVP caliber level when Leonard has been out, and the Clippers have been on a roll in spite of the national media’s lack of respect for them throughout most of the season.
In this one, Reggie Jackson also had 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists. In the frontcourt, Patrick Patterson and Ivica Zubac combined for 24 points. Even Demarcus Cousins got in the mix with a near double-double of 11 points and eight rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes.
109-104 is a bit close considering the Clippers are much more talented than the Rockets, nonetheless, they got the job done as they look ahead to the New Orleans Pelicans who they have coming up on Sunday.
For a team that is low in the standings, the Rockets are a fascinating team to watch.
John Wall had a solid overall performance with a double-double despite struggling from the field. Christian Wood had a monster night with 24 points and 19 rebounds on 8-of-22 shooting from the floor. Then there is Kelly Olynyk who is just having the time of his life with the Rockets, chipping in 23 points and ten rebounds in this one. Unfortunately for Houston, they really did not get much production from anyone else.
Now the Rockets have lost three in a row after beating the Orlando Magic last Sunday. Will they be able to top the losing streak they had earlier this season? Stay tuned to find out.
Russell Westbrook returns to Oklahoma City in style with yet another triple-double to help lift the Wizards to their 7thstraight win with a blowout victory over the Thunder, 129-109.
Washington has been on a real tear as of late as they continue to chase a spot in the Play-In tournament and right now they might be the scariest team in the mix as they currently sit in 10th place.
Along with Westbrook, Wizards’ All-Star guard Bradley Beal continues to jockey for position with Stephen Curry for the chance at the scoring title as he put up 33 points along with six rebounds. With Rui Hachimura out and Davis Bertans only playing 22 minutes off the bench, Raul Neto was the third man up for Washington. He put up 15 points, four rebounds, and five assists on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor.
This is not the Wizards’ only hot streak this season and with the way they are right now, they are peaking at just the right time as a team that nobody is going to want to see in the Play-In tournament or the playoffs if they make it in.
The tanking Thunder may have gotten blown out, but they did get some solid performances across the board from their young guys.
Their young forwards Darius Bazley and Lugentz Dort combined for 38 points and 14 rebounds. Theo Maledon put up 20 points and eight assists on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Isaiah Roby came off the bench and dropped 18 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-16 shooting from the floor in 29 minutes.
They clearly are not trying to win, but performances like these do highlight the promising future OKC have if they continue to develop and build up this talented core they have.
First night with fans in the arena for Golden State and they did not disappoint, shockingly blowing out the Denver Nuggets 118-97.
For the Warriors, this was the definition of an “All Hands-on Deck” kind of game. Andrew Wiggins put up 19 points and seven rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor. Mychal Mulder snuck in a solid 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor. Draymond Green only scored two points on three shots but still managed to put up a double-double with 19 assists and 12 rebounds. Kelly Oubre and Jordan Poole even combined for 38 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Golden State is looking like one of the most dangerous teams in the Western Conference despite struggling for most of the season.
No offense to James Wiseman, but Curry and the Warriors have looked like a legit threat in the playoff picture since he was ruled out for the rest of the season. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, this team finally looks like they’re ready to make some noise in the playoffs with a legit MVP contender leading at the helm.
Michael Porter Jr.
In a weird game for the Nuggets, Denver just did not show up.
The team as a whole shot 13-of-46 from three with Michael Porter Jr. hitting over half of them. The Nuggets were outrebounded by the Warriors 36 to 52. Then of course there is the scoreboard where they lost by 21 points. It just was not a great night for a Denver Nuggets team looking to continue climbing up the Western Conference standings.
Nonetheless, the NBA MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic did have a solid night with 19 points, six assists, and six rebounds on 7-of-16 shooting from the floor but went 0-of-3 from beyond the arc. Aaron Gordon also played relatively well with 17 points and six rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor.
This was a game where the Nuggets’ depth was not apparent as their four-game hot streak has come to an end.
Last on the night was a game with real playoff implications as Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies took down the Portland Trailblazers in a close 130-128 victory.
Along with Morant in the backcourt, Dillon Brooks put up 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor with three threes. Then with Jonas Valanciunas still out due to injury, Jaren Jackson Jr. came up big with 23 points off the bench in 25 minutes.
As this young team looks to fight their way through this tough closing stretch of the regular season, this will be one of the main teams of conversation over the next couple of weeks regarding the Play-In tournament. This is a team that continues to overachieve. If they get Valanciuans back and Jackson Jr. continues to play his way back into game shape, these Grizzlies could really play spoiler throughout the Play-In tournament and maybe even scare a team in the first round of the Playoffs.
Dropping their 4thh game in a row, the Damian Lillard-led Portland Trail Blazers did everything to keep this game close but just could not seem to pull out the dub.
The backcourt of Dame and CJ McCollum combined for 49 points, 12 assists, and 12 rebounds. Jusuf Nurkic put up a monster double-double with 26 points and 17 rebounds along with five assists on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor. Then off the bench, the duo of Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter combined for 25 points off the bench.
The Trailblazers have a chance to get some revenge on Sunday as they get Memphis again. These next few weeks of basketball could be very telling as the way Portland finishes this season could affect whether or not to make wholesale changes.