WIth Milwaukee having fallen at the hot hands of the Houston Rockets – dare I say – defense, the Toronto Raptors are proving to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Makes sense – they’re the reigning NBA Champions.
But never take your eye off what Anthony Davis and LeBron James are doing in L.A. at the bubble in Orlando. Quietly, they became the first team to clinch the No. 1 seed in their conference, despite the Bucks having the No. 1 record in the NBA.
Damn those Raptors …
Toronto Raptors 107
Miami Heat 103
When the NBA franchise in Toronto was hatched, Jurassic Park was very popular, and Raptors were something that were reanimated in CGI for our entertainment. They hadn’t been real in years. I didn’t expect the nickname to last, to be honest.
The former head coach Dwane Casey was run out of Dodge, and a wet behind the ears assistant took over the reins. I didn’t expect the NickNurse to last either, to be honest
But the head coach and team has not only lived up to its prehistoric mascot, they have become quiet killers with their ability to maintain focus on their goal of a second consecutive NBA Championship in fast pursuit and as they close in making the impossible become a reality.
After dispatching the Western Conference favorite Los Angeles Lakers in the first game in the bubble, the Raptors wasted no time making mince meat of the Miami Heat last night, with a 23-17 opening quarter to give them breathing room, and consistency on offense and defense to give them their second kill, I mean, win.
Quiet in the first outing, Fred VanVleet let his star rise last night, leading all scorers with a career best three dozen in the point column, while Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka did the dirty work in the trenches. Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s star against the Lakers, has a more subdued performance, but still kicked in 14, eight and five.
Miami represented well, but not like they did in their opener against Denver, and certainly not well enough to be considered a team that could bounce the Milwaukee Bucks from their deer stand.
Goran Dragic led all Heat players with a 25 point performance off the Miami bench, Kelly Olynyk shone again, Jimmy Butler and Jaw Crowder dropped 16 apiece, Tyler Herro hit for a dozen, and Bam Adebayo was a shade quieter in his second outing with 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Heat made just five of 23 3-pointers in the first half, but were in the thick of the battle for most of the game. Two turnovers in the waning moments cost the Heat the chance at the upset. Maybe against Boston.
|RAPTORS (48-18) 2nd in the East||HEAT (42-25) 4th in the East|
36 points – five rebounds – four assists – one steal
25 points – five rebounds – five assists – two steals – one block
22 points – six rebounds – three assists – one steal
17 points – four rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
15 points – six rebounds
16 points – seven rebounds – five assists – two steals – two blocks
Heat vs. Celtics – Tonight
Raptors vs. Magic – Wednesday
Indiana Pacers 111
Washington Wizards 100
Someone get a doctor, please. We need to see if the Washington Wizards even have a pulse at this point. Sadly, as the Wizards wither away toward a snowball’s chance at a post-season berth, they’ll probably be coded as COVID-19 when they flatline.
Heartbreaking, I know, but they were a below average team long before the CoronaVirus disrupted things on March 11th, even with Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans in the lineup. At least then they did have a pulse, as erratic as it was.
Taking on an Indiana Pacers team without Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Jeremy Lamb, it was an opportunity to steal a win. But T.J. Warren would have something to say about that.
Warren, fresh off his 53 point performance on Saturday night, dropped a game high 34 points last night, while Malcolm Brogdon got his first legs in the bubble, netting 20 points, seven rebounds and six dimes for the Pacers, who used a 10 point advantage in the second quarter and a 13 point margin in the third to distance themselves from the Wizards.
Washington’s top three mustered 53 combined points, if for no other reason, than to honor Warren’s game against the Sixers – it sure didn’t do much to help them win last night’s game.
Warren’s surge helped the Pacers to a convincing 22-2 run in the third quarter to pull away, and that was simply an encore performance of their 20-2 run in the second quarter. What a great gift for head coach Nate McMillan’s 56th birthday.
|PACERS (41-26) 5th in the East||WIZARDS (24-43) 9th in the East|
34 points – 11 rebounds – four assists – three steals – four blocks
20 points – 11 rebounds – three assists – three blocks
20 points – seven rebounds – six assists – one steal – one block
17 points – three rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
17 points – nine rebounds – two assists – two blocks
16 points – two rebounds – four assists – one block
Pacers vs. Magic – Tonight
Wizards vs. Sixers – Wednesday
Denver Nuggets 121
Oklahoma City Thunder 113 (OT)
As I mentioned in Sunday’s Rundown, for Denver to make any noise in this eight game position stretch, they needed more from Michael Porter, Jr. and Paul Millsap. Well, last night, they got it. (I love being right).
The Denver Nuggets desperately needed to win this game. Not only to make a statement to the Western Conference, but more importantly, themselves.
Oklahoma City is by far the best success story in the NBA this season, simply because they weren’t supposed to be. Anything. But Denver was one win away from a Western Conference Finals appearance last season, which left mile high expectations this season. Anything less than an appearance in the WCF would lead to disappointment, and begin the murmurs of whether head coach Mike Malone can get these guys over the top of the mountain.
Porter put his back injury behind him and carried this team last night, in only his third start of the season. A team missing Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Gary Harris – guys who’ve been instrumental in mining out so many crucial wins the last two seasons. Nikola Jokic was wonderful with a triple double, something he’s not stranger to. And Millsap came alive with 17 and six.
Oklahoma City was missing the grit and the 18.9 points per game that Dennis Schroder provides. The Thunder guard left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their second child; who can blame him for that?
The Thunder put up a fight, taking the game to a 109-109 tie at the end of regulation. Jokic put up 13 of his points in the fourth quarter and the overtime to shoulder the load, and send the Thunder packing after a 12-4 overtime performance. Denver outscored the Thunder 30-24 at the free throw line.
|NUGGETS (43-23) 3rd in the West||THUNDER (41-24) 6th in the West|
|Michael Porter, Jr.|
37 points – 12 rebounds – one assist – one steal – one block
24 points – five rebounds – two assists
30 points – 12 rebounds – 10 assists – two steals
23 points – two rebounds – eight assists (FOULED OUT)
17 points – six rebounds – two assists – one steal
20 points – three rebounds – two assists
Nuggets vs. Spurs – Wednesday
Thunder vs. Lakers – Wednesday
Memphis Grizzlies 99
New Orleans Pelicans 109
The San Antonio Spurs have to be some of the biggest fans of the New Orleans Pelicans after last night’s games versus the Memphis Grizzlies and the Philadelphia 76ers. With the Spurs having lost to Philly, they had to be rooting hard and glad when the Pelicans got their first win in the bubble last night against the struggling Memphis Grizzlies.
Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson came alive after seemingly taking the last game off, combining for 47 points to lead the Pelicans to a 29th win of the season, and just 2.5 games back of the eighth seeded Grizzlies. A ninth seeded team can qualify for a play-in matchup against the eighth-place team as long as it is within four games.
Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart added 15 apiece in the Pelicans’ effort, which had them leading every quarter but the third. Jaren Jackson, Jr. was the lead man with 22 points for Memphis, and Ja Morant seemingly a non-factor at 11 points on 23.8 percent shooting.
Williamson had only had 29 points total between his first two games in the bubble, but seemed a little freer in his flow last night against Memphis.
|GRIZZLIES (32-36) 8th in the West||PELICANS (29-38) 11th in the West|
|Jaren Jackson, Jr.|
22 points – two rebounds – two assists – one steal – two blocks
24 points – seven rebounds – five assists – two steals
17 points – one rebound – two assists – one steal
23 points – seven rebounds – five assists
15 points – five rebounds – three assists (FOULED OUT)
16 points – two rebounds – two assists
Grizzlies vs. Jazz – Wednesday
Pelicans vs. Kings – Thursday
San Antonio Spurs 130
Philadelphia 76ers 132
The San Antonio Spurs had an opportunity to gain ground on the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference standings, or at least force a play-in. Instead, they ended up tied with the Portland Trailblazers after their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers, who’ve been inconsistent at best and dysfunctional at worst, put forth their best effort of the bubble thus far last night in defeating the perennial playoff team.
After playing to a 64-62 lead after two, the Sixers came out and outscored the Spurs by 10, then allowed San Antonio an upper hand as they gave away a 10 point fourth quarter and nearly cost themselves another game in the bubble. The final margin ended up the same two points they led by at intermission.
Joel Embiid had a quieter 27 points in this game than the 41 he dropped in the Sixers’ loss in their opener. It was the two boys from the University of Tennessee that made up the difference last night, as #VFL Tobias Harris and #VFL Josh Richardson combined for 44 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. Ben Simmons fouled out after eight points in 25 minutes.
DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 30, Ridu Gay had 24 and Derrick White hit for 20, but the Spurs got little help elsewhere. They’re certainly missing their big man, LaMarcus Aldridge, out for the season after right shoulder surgery and recovery.
|SPURS (29-37) 10th in the West||SIXERS (40-27) 6th in the East|
30 points – five rebounds – three assists – one steal – two blocks
27 points – nine rebounds – five assists – one steal
24 points – four rebounds
|#VFL Tobias Harris|
25 points – six rebounds – four assists – one steal – one block
20 points – two rebounds – three assists – one steal
|#VFL Josh Richardson|
19 points – one rebound – two assists – one steal – one block
Spurs vs. Nuggets – Wednesday
Sixers vs. Wizards – Wednesday
Los Angeles Lakers 116
Utah Jazz 108
Each team going into this game had a point to prove if they wanted to save face after each team’s last game in the bubble. Both were coming off tough losses and both would seem to have been equally motivated to get things back on track.
Seems Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers wanted it a bit more, as they sent the Utah Jazz tumbling to their second straight bubble loss in the shortened eight game schedule last night.
Davis played like a beast, dropping 42 points on the Jazz and dominating two time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, clinching the top seed in their Conference, something the best team in the NBA – the Milwaukee Bucks – have failed to do in the Eastern Conference.
The game ended on a couple of unusual four point plays – one for Davis, answered by one for Donovan Mitchell. But it wasn’t to be for the Jazz, who’ve been out of tune the last couple of games after beating Memphis in their opener.
Utah, led by Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Gobert, also clinched a playoff spot, but are currently sandwiched tighter than an Oreo Thin, between Houston and Oklahoma City in a pinch that is easily moveable by half a game on either side.
LeBron James added 22 points to give the Lakers big two 64 points, while Dwight Howard – eyeing his first ever championship dream – helped out with 11 points off the bench. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 10, and every other player that played for L.A. scored except Jared Dudley, who laid the goose egg.
Utah’s top three were the only ones who scored in double digits. Utah was swept by the Lakers in the regular season. The Jazz lost to the Lakers 95-86 at Los Angeles on October 25th and 121-96 at Utah on December 4th. The Jazz need to get back in sync – allegretto.
|LAKERS (51-15) 1st in the West||JAZZ (42-25) 5th in the West|
42 points – 12 rebounds – four assists – three steals – one block
33 points – five rebounds – four assists
22 points – eight rebounds – nine assists – two steals – one block
24 points – two rebounds – eight assists
11 points – five rebounds – one steal – one block
16 points – three rebounds – two assists – one block
Lakers vs. Thunder – Wednesday
Jazz vs. Grizzlies – Wednesday
(All Times Eastern)
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Los Angeles Clippers
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Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in
- Boise (G League)
- San Antonio
- Oklahoma City
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia
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