A recent slide saw the Suns fall out of the playoff picture, after putting together a surprising start that had kept them in the West’s top eight all season long.
Every win is critical now as they attempt to climb back into it, and Phoenix managed to win its third straight on Sunday, a 127-20 triumph over the Timberwolves that now has them within a half-game of returning to the postseason race.
Minnesota got off to an incredibly strong start offensively, building a first-half lead of as many as 22 points while putting 73 on the scoreboard in the game’s first 24 minutes.
But the Suns clamped down defensively in the second half, and had cut the lead to just 10 by the time the fourth quarter began. From there, the activity level increased even more, and Phoenix held their opponent to just 5-of-21 shooting in the final period, while forcing six turnovers and outscoring Minnesota 34-17 over the final 12 minutes.
Kevin Love put up video game numbers as usual, finishing with 36 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. But he was just 2-of-8 in the fourth as the game was slipping away, and committed a key turnover with under a minute to play that hurt his team’s chances.
Markieff Morris led the way for Phoenix off the bench with 25 points and eight rebounds, while the Suns put together a typically balanced attack that saw six players finish in double figures.
The playoffs are within reach for Phoenix, with just two and a half games separating them from the sixth seed in the West. The Suns would prefer not to have to put together miraculous comebacks on the road to get there, but it’s good to know that they can overcome this type of adversity when absolutely necessary.
LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry
“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”
“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”
LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.
Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)
But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.
First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:
Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.
That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.
The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.
Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to the league:
Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.
But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.
Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.
Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)
Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.
The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.
It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.