76ers

Best of NBA: Trail Blazers storm back from 17-point 4th quarter deficit

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Best of NBA: Trail Blazers storm back from 17-point 4th quarter deficit

WASHINGTON — C.J. McCollum scored 26 points, including seven straight during a 10-0 game-closing run, and the Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the short-handed Washington Wizards 108-105 on Saturday night.

Damian Lillard scored 29 points for Portland, which won for a second consecutive night on the East Coast in dramatic fashion after a 127-125 victory at Brooklyn on Friday.

Jusuf Nurkick had 17 points and Noah Vonleh grabbed 10 rebounds for the Blazers.

Bradley Beal scored 26 points and Otto Porter added 24 points and 10 rebounds for Washington in the first game of what the team expects to be a two-week stretch without All-Star point guard John Wall (see full recap).

Harden scores 37 for Rockets in win over Knicks
HOUSTON — James Harden had 37 points and 10 assists as the Houston Rockets rallied from an early deficit to beat the New York Knicks 117-102 on Saturday night.

The Rockets erased New York's early 22-point lead by making 18 3-pointers and getting 44 points from their bench, led by 17 from Ryan Anderson.

The Knicks rode hot shooting to build a 29-7 lead midway through the first quarter. The shots eventually stopped falling, turnovers mounted, and the Rockets shot their way back into the game, mostly from long range.

The Knicks led 39-29 at the end of the first quarter, and Houston finally tied the game at 51 on a free throw by Chris Paul in the second quarter. The Knicks led 61-58 at halftime (see full recap).

Irving, Horford lead Celtics to win at Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS — Kyrie Irving scored 25 points and Al Horford added 21 to lead the Boston Celtics to a 108-98 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Boston (18-3) outscored Indiana 37-16 in the third quarter to turn a nine-point deficit into an 82-70 lead entering the final quarter. Horford had 12 points during a period that saw Indiana record two three-minute scoring droughts.

Marcus Smart had 15 points and six rebounds for the Celtics. Terry Rozier scored 17 points off the bench.

The Pacers (11-9) were led by Myles Turner, who had 19 points but spent much of the night in foul trouble. Lance Stephenson had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Damontas Sabonis had 17 points and eight boards.

Victor Oladipo, leading Indiana with 22.9 points per game, did not play for the first time this season. He sat with a bruised right knee sustained in Friday's 107-104 win over Toronto (see full recap).

Gasol, Aldridge lead Spurs past cold-shooting Hornets​
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge each had 17 points and seven rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs held the Charlotte Hornets to 37 percent shooting in a 106-86 victory on Saturday night.

Rudy Gay added 15 points for the Spurs, who snapped Charlotte's three-game home win streak.

The Hornets entered the game 7-2 at the Spectrum Center, but shot just 22 percent from the field in the first half, fell behind by 11 at halftime and could never make a serious run at the Spurs.

Kemba Walker, who left the game briefly in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury, returned to finish with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He didn't get much help as Charlotte's four other starters - Nic Batum, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams - were a combined 6 of 29 from the field (see full recap).

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."

Leave the NBA playoffs alone

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Leave the NBA playoffs alone

You can't kill NBA commissioner Adam Silver for trying.

Last week, Silver announced to the media during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles that he's considering a change to the playoffs, where rather than the top eight seeds in each conference competing to determine a conference champ, playoff teams will be seeded 1 through 16.

More recently, ESPN reported that the league is kicking around a "play-in tournament" to determine the final two seeds in each conference.

Let's take these ideas one at a time:

Re-seeding the postseason may sound fun, and even kind of fair, but it completely dissolves conference rivalries that the league has celebrated for decades. Looking for the Warriors and Rockets in the Western Conference Finals? Sorry. Under the new format, there would be no more West Finals. Right now, those are the two best teams in the NBA. So you might see them in the Finals in that format — if they both get that far.

I could understand this argument in years when the disparity in balance of power is egregious. That's not the case this season. If the NBA season ended today, one team would reap the benefits of a 1-16 playoff format: the 9-seed in the West, the Clippers, who are a half-game better than Eastern Conference 8-seed Miami.

(Psst, right now the 5-12 matchup in a 1-16 format would be Sixers-Cavaliers. But let's stay on topic.)

As for the play-in tournament, this completely contradicts the re-seeding idea. The NBA wants the best teams in the playoffs, right? Is a Pistons-Hornets play-in game must-see TV? Or what's left of the Clippers vs. the Jazz?

And how long do you want the postseason to be? Last season, the playoffs lasted nearly nine weeks. It was only that "brief" because the Finals didn't go the full seven games. Adding another round could extend the NBA season into July (unless it corresponds with a shortening of the schedule). We have seen what happens in Olympic years when players don't get enough offseason rest and it ain't pretty.

I'm guessing this is a backhanded way for Silver to keep more teams from tanking for better draft picks. "Hey, you may be 11th in the conference, but you're one 3-game win streak away from a shot at the postseason!!"

I'm all for change, but in the case of the NBA playoffs, commish, I think we're good for now.