Associated Press

Three things we learned Tuesday: Boston’s defense is its funeral, not Wizards

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA Tuesday night while trying to find cheaper parking than a $74,000 space….

1) Washington wants to credit the all-black funeral attire for the win. Really, it was Boston’s poor defense. Boston and Washington have developed a fun rivalry, one that has gotten chippy in a couple recent meetings. Arriving for Tuesday’s game, the Wizards wore all black — because they were going to the Celtics’ funeral (figuratively not literally).

Then the Wizards went out and handled the Celtics 123-108 behind 31 points from Bradley Beal, while John Wall had 27 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Just ask Kelly Olynyk how good Wall was playing.

That’s 14 home wins in a row for the Wizards.

The Celtics were frustrated, to the point that Marcus Smart got into it with an assistant coach on the bench, but after the game apologized (and it was a good one, a genuine apology, not one just written by the PR staff).

That’s three losses in a row, and the reason is Boston’s defense — they are allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions in January, 26th in the NBA. Their defense hasn’t been good all season (22nd in the league overall) but it has taken a step back the past few weeks. The Celtics are 6-4 in the month because their offense has been improved (fourth best in the NBA for the month) behind the surging Isaiah Thomas, but their poor defense is starting to catch up with them. There are a number of factors in the Celtics’ defensive decline, but the undersized Thomas is a big part of it — in January, the Celtics defense is 15 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court (to be fair, the offense is 17.4 per 100 better when he plays, so Brad Stevens is going to play him). The Celtics defense is particularly getting exposed in the fourth quarter and, according to Synergy, when teams go to isolation sets — Boston has man defenders that can be exploited.

The Celtics remain the three seed in the East, just 1.5 games back of the Raptors for the two seed, but if Boston has playoff dreams beyond the first round they have to sure up their defense. Quickly.

2) Andrew Wiggins with the game winner and Minnesota has a win streak. The young and improving Timberwolves have won three in a row. Sure, those wins were against an injury-ravaged Clippers team, the Nuggets, and the Suns, but the Timberwolves will take it. Tuesday’s win came thanks to Andrew Wiggins, he had 31 points including the game winner as the clock ran out — a good shot where he played through the contact of a good defender in P.J. Tucker and got to his spot on the floor.

If Timberwolves fans want to dream big, their team is just 2.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, although Minnesota would have to leap three other teams (Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento) to “win” the final playoff spot in the West (Denver has the spot now and is six games below .500, and remember the reward for getting that spot is Golden State). Minnesota has improved as the season has gone on — the young team is making fewer mistakes — and they are 6-6 so far in January. This team isn’t coming together as fast as predicted, there are still roster questions (starting at point guard), but they are improving. And still just loaded with talent.

3) Blake Griffin returned for the Clippers, but that couldn’t stop them from blowing a 19-point lead to the Embiid-less Sixers. The good news for the Clippers is Blake Griffin returned to the court after having been out since mid-December with knee surgery. Los Angeles needs him and particularly his playmaking with Chris Paul out – Griffin had a few nice plays where he drew the defense and found teammates for good looks. Los Angeles is much better with him on the court right now.

But that still couldn’t stop Los Angeles from blowing a 19-point lead to Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid sitting out.

The Sixers went on to win by a comfortable 121-110 margin, and Nerlens Noel led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan lead Raptors past Mavericks, 94-86

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DALLAS (AP) — DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points apiece, and the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth after their fifth straight victory, 94-86 over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

The Raptors, who came back from 15-point deficits to win each of their last two games, made it a little easier on themselves Saturday. Toronto scored the game’s first seven points and never trailed in dealing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes a damaging blow.

Harrison Barnes scored 23 points for Dallas, which missed 18 of its first 22 3-pointers and finished just 7 of 28 from behind the arc.

Patrick Patterson added 14 points for Toronto, including a perfect 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.

The Mavericks fell four games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

Toronto led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 early in the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Dallas run made things more interesting.

Dorian Finney-Smith‘s free throws with 7:57 to go brought the Mavs within 79-74, the closest they had been since 7-2 early in the game. But Ibaka made consecutive jumpers to restore a nine-point lead, and Dallas got no closer than six after that.

The Raptors had their biggest lead at 42-26 in the first half. Barnes scored Dallas’ last 11 points of the half to help cut into the lead, but Toronto led 54-44 at the break.

J.J. Barea‘s long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer again brought Dallas within 10 at 74-64.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey said he was hopeful that guard Kyle Lowry would return from wrist surgery before the end of the regular season. “I know he’s doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of work to keep his body in shape,” Casey said. “Just let him rehab, let him do his thing and trust our medical people.” Lowry has missed the last 16 games. . Toronto was also without starting forward DeMarre Carroll due to a sore lower back. P.J. Tucker started in his place.

Mavericks: Seth Curry with 11 points and Yogi Ferrell with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures. . Nerlens Noel started his second game in a row at center for the Mavericks, who have gone to a big lineup. They’ve moved Dirk Nowitzki to power forward, Barnes to small forward and Curry to point guard.

STREAK IN JEOPARDY

The Mavericks took their 41st loss of the season. Their next loss will end the NBA’s second-longest streak of .500 or better seasons – currently at 16 seasons. Their last sub-.500 season was 1999-00, when they finished 40-42 and Mark Cuban became owner of the team in January 2000.

San Antonio has the longest streak of .500 or better seasons with 20, including this season.

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT

Cuban couldn’t resist giving his opinion on Barea’s ejection from the Mavericks’ victory over the Clippers on Thursday night. Barea was called for a flagrant 2 foul for pushing Blake Griffin, a player with a 10-inch height advantage over Barea.

“I just feel bad for Blake,” Cuban said. “It’s hard to come back from a knockout like that. We sent flowers to his family, condolences. I can only guess that he’s going to be drinking through a straw for a long, long time.”

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.