Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while feeding the local alligator…
Washington Wizards. Congratulations Wizards. At the start of the season John Wall was writing “playoffs” on his shoes and when the Wizards opened the season 2-7 we smirked. Now they get the last smirk — for the first time in Wall’s career and the first time since 2008 for Washington the playoffs are a reality. They made it a reality with an easy 118-92 win over the Celtics Wednesday — Marcin Gortat led the way with 22 points on 13 shots, plus he got into the Celtics huddle, literally — which improved the Wizards 39-36 on the season. Enjoy it. Celebrate it, savor it Wizards fans.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers. The Pacers’ best player scored 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting and the Pacers as a team scored more than 100 points for the first time since the middle of March. Yes, it was against the Pistons (the team that ended the Sixers 26-game losing streak). Doesn’t matter. Everybody needs a slump buster every once in a while. The Pacers shared the ball (Lance Stephenson in particular) and they moved off the ball. It was a sign of what is possible, if they can build on it. For George, it was the kind of night where even this would fall.
New York Knicks. They made it all the way back — if the playoffs started today the Knicks would be in it. They care and it showed in their 110-81 thumping of the Nets Wednesday behind 24 points from J.R. Smith. (The Knicks passion contrasts with the stunning disinterest from Hawks management.) Of course Phil Jackson really had nothing to do with this, but he’ll get credit for it anyway because he is Phil Jackson. Still, there is work to do, the Knicks are just percentage points ahead of the Hawks and still one back in the loss column, but it looks like the improbable run to the postseason is going to be a reality.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors. He was matched up on James Harden — Olympian, one of the best two guards in the game — and played the beard to a standstill. DeRozan had 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Forget the fact Houston was without that Dwight Howard guy, this was a quality win for the Raptors.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets. He was a beast — 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting, plus 13 rebounds and three blocks. Even for a guy known for playing with high energy he seemed to be everywhere. There are a couple of reasons the Nuggets have played better ball of late, and Ty Lawson’s return is the obvious one, but Manimal has played well of late also.
The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.
One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.
ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.
Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.
That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.
Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.
He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?
It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.
Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?
If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.
Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.
With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:
Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.
A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.
Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.
Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.
But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.
It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:
1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.
2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.
3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.
4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.