Sunday NBA grades: Phoenix Suns refuse to set, fade into night

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while figuring out why your iPhone battery keeps dying

source:  Phoenix Suns. This team just refuses to go away — looking like their season could be dead they have beaten the Trail Blazers and Thunder, the latter of those on Sunday and it put them in the eight seed one game up on nine-seed Memphis. Phoenix now controls its own destiny — win out and they make the playoffs. The Suns did it taking advantage of some lax defense from the Thunder — the Suns shot 58.4 percent (true shooting percentage of 67.3) and had an offensive rating of 124.9. Goran Dragic had 26 points, Gerald Green 24 and P.J. Tucker finished with 22. It doesn’t get easier for the Suns, they have four of five on the road, but if you watched this team beat the Thunder you can’t doubt them.

source:   LeBron James, Miami Heat. After a sloppy early morning start LeBron’s coffee kicked in and he was a force — 38 points on 22 shots, plus 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He had 12 of those points in the fourth quarter when he went NBA 2K14, hitting ridiculous shots and doing what he wanted no matter how the Knicks defended him. LeBron scored 30+ points in all four games against the Knicks this season, the last guy to do it was some dude named Jordan. LeBron has looked a little tired in some recent games and the idea he would play every game the rest of the way made people double-take (and he should still get a game or two off), but he didn’t look like he needed any rest Sunday.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. It was in a losing effort, but Kevin Durant did all he could to get the Suns a win — 38 points, extending his +25 streak to 41 games. That passes Jordan (Oscar Robertson did 46, he’s next on the list). Durant dropped 13 of his points in the fourth quarter as he led a team trying to pick up a hard-fought road win. It wasn’t enough. Durant’s flaws was the 4-of-15 shooting from three — he was getting good looks, and he can shoot the three, but this became too many.

source:   Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio needs Leonard to play like this in the postseason — 26 points (tying his career high) on a very efficient 12-of-13 shooting. He also played the most minutes of any Spur (as he will in the playoffs), 29:45. No Spur broke 30 minutes. Part of that is Popovich, part of that is the Spurs have the Grizzlies’ number (it’s a bad playoff matchup this time for Memphis). By the way, Manu Ginobili also had 26 points as his Sixth Man of the Year campaign continues.

source:   J.R. Smith, New York Knicks. He tried. The Knicks desperately needed a win to keep their playoff dreams alive and Carmelo Anthony was playing with a bad right shoulder, so Smith did what he could — 10-of-22 from three. That’s an NBA record for three point attempts by a player in a game, and a Knicks record for makes. Smith has 24 made threes combined in his last three games, also an NBA record. It wasn’t enough against the Heat and it looks like the Knicks will be home for the playoffs, but you can’t blame J.R. Smith for this loss.

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.