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Nikola Jokic returns to lineup, puts up 21 and 10, Nuggets beat Celtics (VIDEO)

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Nikola Jokic had missed a couple of games due to illness.

Bad news for Boston, the Denver big man was back Friday night. He only played 23 minutes, but he had 21 points, 10 boards, and seven assists in that time.

Jokic (along with 23 from Wilson Chandler) helped Denver beat Boston 119-99, a key win for the Nuggets as they try to hold off Portland for the eighth seed in the West.

Andrew Wiggins comes up big to lift Wolves over Warriors, 103-102

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Stephen Curry got free for a clean look, and a record crowd at Target Center held its collective breath when he let it fly. Like it has so often during a remarkable slump for the game’s best shooter, the ball clanked off the rim again.

Like they have so often during a late-season surge toward playoff contention, the Minnesota Timberwolves walked off the court winners again.

Andrew Wiggins scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and hit the go-ahead free throws with 12.8 seconds left to lift the Timberwolves to a 103-102 victory over the scuffling Golden State Warriors on Friday night.

Ricky Rubio had 17 points and 13 assists, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points to give the Timberwolves their sixth win in eight games as they try to chase down the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. They trail Denver by 2 1/2 games.

“We are learning and getting experience,” Rubio said. “These games are meaning a lot. We are going after it.”

Klay Thompson scored 30 points for Golden State, but Curry’s struggles continued in the Warriors’ second straight loss and fourth in six games without injured star Kevin Durant. Curry scored 26 points, but was just 10 for 27 from the field and 1 for 8 from 3-point range. And he missed an 18-footer in the closing seconds that would have won the game.

Wiggins missed a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left that would have given the Wolves a three-point lead. After Curry hit a floater for a 102-101 Golden State lead, Wiggins responded by calmly knocking down two in a row.

“I missed two but I made the two most important ones of the night,” Wiggins said.

Before a two-game skid against Washington and Chicago last week, the Warriors had gone a league-record 146 straight regular-season games without consecutive losses. Their next streak lasted just two.

In his last 13 games, Curry was shooting 29.7 percent from 3-point range and he missed his first four from long range on Friday night. Three of them were wide open, catch-and-shoot looks that didn’t go down and the other was one of his patented crossover-stepbacks that glanced off the rim.

His first 3 of the night splashed through with 7:59 to go in the third quarter, but missed his next two to keep the floodgates closed. The Warriors were down 14 to start the fourth, but Curry scored nine points in the final four minutes before missing his last shot.

“You take that shot that Steph got any day of the week,” Thompson said. “It went in and out.”

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry needed 14 points to surpass his father, Dell, in career scoring. Dell Curry scored 12,670 points in his career. … G Shaun Livingston was given the night off to rest. … The Warriors gave up 34 points in the first quarter, the fourth time in the last seven games they’ve allowed at least 30 in the opening frame.

Timberwolves: G Brandon Rush returned to the starting lineup after sitting out on Wednesday because of an illness. … The attendance of 20,412 set a Target Center record. … Towns had just four points on 2-for-8 shooting in the second half.

WEARY WARRIORS

The Warriors are at the tail end of a stretch of eight games in eight different cities in 13 days. Coach Steve Kerr said after the game he planned to rest Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala against the Spurs on Saturday night.

FALSE START

The teams had to be called back onto the court after the players had reached the locker room for the halftime break after a timing problem. The players thought the half had ended on a goaltending violation by Shabazz Muhammad, but replays showed there was still 0.6 seconds left on the clock. Referee Kenny Mauer called everyone back to finish the half, so the players trudged back on to the court to inbound the ball.

Rubio fired up a three-quarter court heave and then everyone went back to the locker room again.

 

James Harden leads the way as Rockets pull away from Bulls, 115-94

Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — James Harden had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds, and the Houston Rockets used a dominant third quarter for a 115-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

Ryan Anderson added 21 points as the Rockets avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Houston outscored Chicago 36-14 in the third quarter – after scoring the last nine points of the first half – on 13-of-22 shooting, including 7 of 12 on 3-pointers. Harden had six points, six assists and five rebounds in the period.

Dwyane Wade had 21 points in 25 minutes for the Bulls after missing the previous two games with a left quad strain. Chicago has dropped four straight.

Despite not having played in nearly a week, Wade was sharp at the start. He scored 12 points in seven minutes – making all five of his field-goal attempts – to help Chicago to a 33-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Bulls were still up 49-47 with just under three minutes to go in the second when things fell apart. Houston scored the final nine points of the first half for a 56-49 halftime edge and then had the first eight of the third for a run of 17 straight and a 64-49 lead.

The lead was 80-51 with just under five minutes to go in the third. The rout was on and the United Center crowd serenaded the home team with boos.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Harden scored seven of his 13 first-half points in the final 2:08, including an impressive four-point play. He was fouled as Chicago’s Michael Carter-Williams fought through a screen. Despite being knocked off balance, Harden flung the ball toward the basket and banked it in.

Bulls: In the previous four games, they averaged 15.8 points (on 28.6 percent shooting) in the fourth quarter. Coach Fred Hoiberg is hopeful the return of Wade will improve those numbers, although the point was moot with the blowout Friday. “He’s been one of the guys in the fourth quarter that’s been able to take over games at times,” Hoiberg said.

 

Three Things We Learned Thursday: Russell Westbrook’s 31st triple-double ties Wilt, beats Spurs

Associated Press
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It’s only March, but I think we have the winner for “Best Headline of 2017” already: “Lawyer’s Pants Catch On Fire During Arson Trial.” Beyond that, here are the takeaways from a Thursday around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook‘s 31st triple-double ties Wilt Chamberlain, lifts Thunder past Spurs.
Anytime you’re mentioned as doing something as well and as often as Wilt Chamberlain, you’re in impressive company. (And I know where your mind just went, but I’m going to be classier than that. Just this once.)

Russell Westbrook had been putting up big numbers lately, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops or wins and had dropped four in a row, all to teams under .500. Thursday night Billy Donovan finally decided to put Taj Gibson in the starting lineup (over rookie Domas Sabonis), and that helped. So did the fact Steven Adams had his best game in a while, getting touches early, going right at the Spurs’ Dewayne Dedmon, and being engaged on both ends. Victor Oladipo would score 20, and Enes Kanter added 14. More importantly, this was the best defensive game from the Thunder in a while. It all helped, but as always this is Westbrook’s team and for them to win he had to put up numbers — he tied Wilt for second most triple-doubles in a season with 31, putting up 23 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists.

For the Spurs, this may have been a little reminder that they want to actually chase the Warriors and the No. 1 seed in the West (they are two games back and the teams play head-to-head Saturday in San Antonio). Granted, Thursday was not the full Spurs experience — no Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker, plus Kawhi Leonard went to the locker room in the third quarter after a blow to the face and did not return — but the road for the No. 2 seed in the West is going to be much tougher than the top seed.

 

Think about it. Win the top seed and a team faces either Denver or Portland in the first round, two terrible defenses, then in the second round gets the beatable Clippers or Jazz. Come in second and the first round is either Westbrook and the Thunder or the very physical and talented Memphis Grizzlies, followed by James Harden and the Rockets in the second round. Yes, the Spurs would beat the Thunder and very possibly the Rockets in a seven-game series (although it would be interesting with Houston), but the road to the conference finals is exponentially harder for the two seed.

2) LeBron James got zero help Thursday night, and the Cavaliers have dropped three straight. The individual +/- stat for a game is rarely useful. There’s a lot of noise in that statistic, a lot of factors beyond how the player performed that make up that number.

However, every once in a while it tells the story. The Cavaliers were + 18 in the 39 minutes LeBron James played against the Pistons Thursday, they were -23 in the nine minutes he rested. This is a little trend.

J.R. Smith returned to the Cavaliers lineup, which will be a boost but on Thursday he was trying to shoot his way out of feeling rusty. Kyrie Irving had 27 points, Channing Frye 15 on seven shots, but the fact is the Cavs shot 26.7 points when LeBron sat. He’s not a Terminator, he’s a human and LeBron still needs rest, but when he played he did put up a triple-double of 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Credit Detroit for a good game and a big win. This was the best Reggie Jackson has looked maybe all season, scoring 21 and dishing out five assists, leading six Pistons players in double figures in scoring. Andre Drummond had 20 points and 16 boards. This looked like the Pistons team we expected this season, and the win moved them into the seven seed half-a-game ahead of the slumping Bulls and a full game up on the Heat and Bucks, who are knocking on the door. Detroit needs more games like this down the stretch to ensure a playoff visit.

3) Jusuf Nurkic has been a revelation in Portland, lifts Trail Blazers past Sixers. In Denver, Jusuf Nurkic was the odd man out — Nikola Jokic was the big man of the future (as he should be), Jokic and Nurkic couldn’t play well together, and that left Nurkic the odd man out. Denver wanted to get rid of Nurkic so badly they sent him and a valued 2017 first round pick to Portland (for Mason Plumlee and a second rounder).

Since his arrival in Portland, Nurkic has done things he didn’t show in Denver (or refused to do) and has been the big man has sparked a four-game winning streak (Nurkic said  “I played minutes for first time in my life”). Thursday night he had 28 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists, six blocks, two steals and the game-sealing defensive play in overtime to help the Blazers beat the Sixers in overtime. Portland is now just half a game back of Nurkic’s former team in Denver for the eighth seed in the West.

Nurkic has averaged 16.5 pts, 9.6 rebs, and 4.5 assists per game since coming to Portland, giving the Blazers far more than Plumlee did — and more than they expected in the deal. Plus the Blazers got a first rounder out of this.

If Portland makes the playoffs, Nurkic will be a key reason.

This GIF showing the evolution of Chris Andersen’s look is awesome

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Chris Andersen has had an interesting NBA career.

The Birdman has been in the league 14 years playing for seven different teams, battled addictions and spurious charges, been a guy who loves hunting/fishing/shooting/outdoor life playing an urban game, and through it all he’s picked up an NBA ring (Miami 2013) and made nearly $37 million.

The evolution of his look has been even more amazing, as this GIF shows.

(Image viaSportsBettingExperts.com, with a hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie)