The last two weeks of the NBA’s regular season is when it all hits the fan.
A traditional minefield of surprise DNP’s combined with teams resting their stars down the stretch, anyone still playing the game at this juncture of the campaign has to be prepared for the weirdest of the weird, especially when it comes to living on the waiver wire. I like to tell the story of when my college roommate beat me in a championship round one season by plucking a red-hot Ike Diogu off the scrap heap. This is where we are.
DeMarcus Cousins (foot, ankle, calf) has been ruled out for the season, and teammate Rudy Gay (concussion), who has played in just one game since March 30, is unsurprisingly joining him in street clothes. That means guys like Ray McCallum, Omri Casspi and even Derrick Williams are going to be relevant over the season’s final week, and that’s one heck of a way to win - or lose - a competition that began in October.
The Knicks actually won a game, Trevor Booker scored nearly 40 points and the Grizzlies now have another big injury to worry about heading into the playoffs.
Knicks 80, Magic 79
The New York Knicks’ starting five is an absolute candidate for the worst starting lineup we’ve seen in the NBA this season, and even the Philadelphia 76ers would be impressed at what Phil Jackson’s crew was able to achieve without Andrea Bargnani.
Somehow, the Knicks actually came out on top in this one and “won” a game where the two teams combined for a whopping 159 points, and when Cole Aldrich leads the way with 19 points, 14 rebounds and a block on 8-of-15 shooting, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the context. Jason Smith joined Aldrich to form a frontline onslaught that literally no one in the world saw coming before this game tipped off to contribute 13 points, seven rebounds, six dimes and four blocks in a surprisingly versatile line, while New York got matching 4-of-16 efforts from Tim Hardaway and Langston Galloway with the dynamic duo combining to score a raging 22 points in the process. That’s right: 22 points on 32 shots, and the two logged over 75 minutes combined in this one. Sometimes, basketball is weird.
Elfrid Payton had really been on a roll for Orlando, but he slowed down in the loss with seven points, nine dimes, two steals and a block on 3-of-7 shooting with his usual 1-of-4 from the foul line. Considering that can be viewed as a disappointment, it’s safe to say it’s been a productive and semi-surprising inaugural season for the wavy-haired Rookie Ragin’ Cajun. His backcourt mate Victor Oladipo had a tough night with just 21 points on 25 shots (making eight of them), including a lousy 1-of-8 from behind the 3-point line. The good news: Both should be involved as much as possible as the Magic conclude their season. Nikola Vucevic added a cheap double-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds, one block and one steal on 5-of-14 shooting, and in a game that produced 15 total second quarter points, it’s not a surprise there was a series of disappointing efforts.
Raptors 107, Heat 104
Despite getting a massive effort from Hassan Whiteside (16 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks), a 30-point effort from Dwyane Wade and 22 from free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic, any chance Miami had at making the postseason went up in smoke on Saturday night. This has been a particularly challenging season in the first year of the post-LeBron James era, and one would imagine that Wade (knee) and Whiteside (hand) could be among those rested now that Miami’s season is effectively over. If that turns out to be the case, guys like Mario Chalmers and Tyler Johnson could be very relevant over the next few days. Luol Deng added just 11 points and seven rebounds in what could be his final game of the year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pick up his $10 million player option for next season in Miami. It’s hard to see him getting that on the open market, but he may still prefer a multi-year deal.
On the other hand, Toronto clinched homecourt in the first round with the win over Wade’s crew. Jonas Valanciunas managed to foul out in a whopping 10 minutes of action in this one, and his electric four-point, three-rebound effort left owners in a bad spot considering Toronto has just two games remaining. Kyle Lowry labored through 36 minutes with just 12 points, seven rebounds, three steals and a block on 3-of-14 shooting, including 0-of-8 from distance, but the important thing is that he was healthy enough to play 36 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back set. That’s very encouraging, but again, he’s another candidate to rest as Toronto prepares for the postseason to begin.
The spark plug that is Lou Williams led Toronto’s effort with 29 electric points in just 29.5 minutes of action (9-of-18 shooting, 4-of-7 triples, 7-of-7 from the FT line), and DeMar DeRozan added an additional 24 points, six rebounds, four steals and a triple on 7-of-17 shooting and 9-of-11 from the stripe. Amir Johnson (ankle) sat out another one, but all indications are that he’s close to a return and might even get some run in before the next round begins.
Bulls 114, Sixers 107
In a storyline that is certain to be overshadowed, giving up 107 points against the Philadelphia 76ers - without Nerlens Noel - is not a good look for the Chicago Bulls.
The Sixers had six (see how that works?) different players in double-digits with Robert Covington’s 22 (just one triple) out front. RoCo shook off a leg injury and was supported by a throwback game from Jason Richardson, who miraculously had 19 points and four triples in just under 25 minutes of action. Without an active point guard available on the roster due to Ish Smith’s groin injury, JaKarr Sampson continued to pretend to play the role, and he managed a solid enough 18 points, seven rebounds, four dimes and a triple over 27.5 minutes in the loss. It’s very discouraging to see Thomas Robinson get fewer than 24 minutes in a game Noel doesn’t play, but the big man was still able to do limited damage during his time on the floor with 10 rebounds and a steal.
Chicago got a phenomenal game from Derrick Rose in just his second contest back from knee surgery as the former MVP went off for 22 points, six rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a three with no turnovers on 8-of-19 shooting. He played 28.5 minutes, and if Rose can reach these kinds of numbers with any kind of consistency, Chicago would be a much more dangerous team in the playoff rounds. Jimmy Butler (calf) returned from a one-game absence, but he didn’t do much to impress with just 15 points, six rebounds and two steals on 3-of-11 shooting. Pau Gasol’s double-doubles have become so expected in Chicago that they’re taken for granted at this stage, but the big fella logging 24 points, 13 boards and three blocks on 8-of-17 shooting has to go on the record. Gasol has undoubtedly emerged as the best value signing of the offseason, and Chicago has to be thankful that their ‘Plan A’ of Carmelo Anthony didn’t work out so ‘Plan B’ of Gasol and Nikola Mirotic could materialize.
Jazz 111, Blazers 105
A point-loss against the Memphis Grizzlies followed up by a six-point victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, even if both Western Conference hopefuls are at less than full strength, is an impressive back-to-back set of games for the upstart Utah Jazz.
Utah got an absolute explosion of Trevor Booker, who went off for a career-high 36 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block on 12-of-15 shooting, including an unfathomable 4-of-4 from behind the 3-point line, in what has to be considered a career game for the former Washington Wizards player. With Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors each sitting this one out for rest (despite the season being over this week), Booker actually led the Jazz in both shot attempts and points, a scenario that could have only been considered likely in Booker’s mind to begin the season, but hey - that’s why they play the games. Speaking of career nights, Rodney Hood went off for 21 points and eight dimes, and since returning from his concussion, the rookie is averaging an impressive 20.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 triples over his last five games.
Playing without LaMarcus Aldridge (foot), the Blazers got 54 points from their starting backcourt of Damian Lillard (28 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals, three triples, 12-of-22 shooting) and CJ McCollum (26 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals, two triples, 9-of-17 shooting), and the latter is someone who should be owned in all formats if he’s still floating on the waiver wire. With both Wesley Matthews (Achilles) and Arron Afflalo (shoulder) out, McCollum is locked into a major role. The good news for Portland is that LMA’s MRI revealed nothing serious in terms of his foot injury, and the Blazers will likely rest Aldridge as much as deemed necessary before the first round begins next week.
Clippers 94, Grizzlies 86
This game shouldn’t have been this close considering the Grizzlies were without Mike Conley (foot) and Marc Gasol (ankle) played just ten minutes, and perhaps it’s contests like these that prevent more folks from hopping on the Clippers’ championship bandwagon.
Behind 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block from Blake Griffin, the Clippers were able to power through some less-than-desirable basketball en route to an important win. The team shot just 39.8 percent from the field overall, and Griffin was among the worst offenders, registering just 6-of-21 on the evening. Los Angeles also got a huge double-double from Defensive Player of the Year candidate DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 16 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 6-of-7 shooting), and not to be overshadowed, Chris Paul also made sure he was heard with 15 points, 14 helpers, a steal, a block and a triple on 6-of-13 shooting. There’s no question this team’s big three is legitimate, but it’s the remainder of the roster that will determine just how far this team can go.
Jeff Green came into this game questionable due to a back injury, but he was able to power through and play 41 minutes in this one. Unfortunately, his ridiculous amount of playing time did not translate to the stat sheet, as Green had just 15 points, five boards and four assists on 5-of-16 shooting. Despite a consistent attempt by just about everyone to make Green into a player he isn’t, Green just is what he is and the sooner that’s accepted, the better we’ll all be - especially those in the basketball Twitter community.
Beno Udrih again started in place of Conley, and his 14 points, two boards and three assists (four turnovers) is a pretty typical line for him in the role. Coming into Saturday, Udrih was averaging 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a starter this season. Zach Randolph was the story in this one as he usually is for Memphis, and the big man abused the Clippers’ frontline for 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three steals on 8-of-19 shooting. Wouldn’t it be great to see Z-Bo and Griffin go one-on-one in a steel cage match for the WWE Intercontinental Title? No? Just me? OK, moving on…
Warriors 110, Timberwolves 101
It wouldn’t be the end of the regular season without a little bit of craziness, and that’s exactly what had to be going on in this one for Zach LaVine to go off for 37 points, nine rebounds, four assists and six triples against the Splash Bros. Although it came in another loss for Minnesota, the UCLA product continues to exceed expectations that were set for him, and although his development has been much more inconsistent than teammate Andrew Wiggins, it’s been a solid if unspectacular first go-around from Bounce Brother No. two.
Wiggins added 17 points, six rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block (six turnovers) in 44 minutes, and although Nerlens Noel has a more-than-presentable case for Rookie of the Year, it sure smells like it’s going to be Wiggins’ to lose. Justin Hamilton took advantage of the entire Minnesota Timberwolves frontline being injured to go for 12 points, 10 boards, a steal and three blocks over his 31 minutes, and both Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger added 12 points per in the defeat.
Golden State secured win No. 65 because Stephen Curry (34 points, four boards, seven assists, four steals, five triples) is not human and Klay Thompson (23 points, three steals, three triples) illustrated why he’s emerged as a top-three shooting guard, and it shouldn’t be a surprise of any kind when the Bay Area’s dynamic duo splashes them through the nets like it’s their job. The starting frontcourt of Harrison Barnes (13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, one triple) and Draymond Green (13 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block, one triple) each had a very solid double-double and the Dubs used a big third quarter to propel themselves ahead of Minnesota for good.