There is an 85 percent chance the Houston Rockets will miss the playoffs this season (they are 1.5 games back of Utah for the final spot with less than a week to play) — and the reason is ugly losses like the one Thursday to the Suns. The Rockets lack of both consistent focus and a commitment to the defensive end has cost them numerous games they should have — and in Thursday’s case needed to — win.
No play may better sum up the Rockets’ disappointing season more than this.
After a Suns basket, Andrew Goudelock wanted to inbound the ball, but none of his teammates were around. Well, except for Josh Smith, who was doubled over grabbing his eye in pain after he had gotten poked there. So Goudelock bounces the ball off Smith’s backside to inbound the ball and goes about his play.
Well, maybe be a professional jockey. But when it was time for some Knicks rookie hazing and Porzingis (along with Jerian Grant) have to sing happy birthday to Robin Lopez. Porzingis gives it his all, you got to give the man that.
What were you thinking about instead of the NBA Thursday night? Spacepants. Spacepants. Spacepants.
1) Golden State crushes Spurs, gets to 70 wins, but Steve Kerr still thinking rest. For the second time this season, the Warriors thumped the Spurs at Oracle Arena, this time 112-101. Golden State continued their sloppy play for the first nine minutes or so of the game, but got some good defensive stops and used those to get out and run during a 14-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters. From there they were never really challenged again. Stephen Curry had 27, and Harrison Barnes had a strong game with 21. It was an impressive win, the kind that should put doubts in the minds of Spurs fans (if not the Spurs themselves) that beating this team four times out of seven — including once at Oracle — will be next to impossible.
The win also makes the Warriors just the second team ever to get to 70 wins in a season, and it keeps the dream of a record 73-win season alive. Curry wants that record. So does Draymond Green. But coach Steve Kerr is still thinking rest would be in order. Here is what Kerr said postgame, via Ethan Sherwood Straus of ESPN:
“It’s not so much that I want to rest guys to avoid injury, but we do have a back to back here. It will be our third game in four nights Sunday night. The good news for us is the guys who actually need rest have had plenty of rest: Bogut, Andre, Shaun Livingston. The rest of our core they’re 24, 25, they recover pretty quickly so I’m not sure they actually need a rest physically but maybe a break mentally would do them some good. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be in this position next year. You can’t keep winning at this level. It’s a very unique situation to be in this position and our guys are — not all of them — but most of our guys really want to do this.”
2) The Chicago Bulls lose to Heat, are all but out of the playoffs. In theory, the Chicago Bulls can still make the playoffs — they just have to win their final three games and hope the Indiana Pacers lose out. That’s it. That’s the only way — a path that could be dead by Friday night when the Pacers take on the Raptors, but if not then it will be over when the Pacers take on the Nets and Knicks after that. It’s over for Chicago. They can blame their defense — watch them part the Red Sea for this dunk by Miami’s Josh Richardson.
Dreams of Indiana losing are what the Bulls are left with after their 106-98 loss to Miami. This was a game the Bulls played with the urgency they have lacked too often lately, but the Heat just have more offensive weapons (and the Bulls don’t have the defense to stop it). Now we head into a summer where Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and maybe even Derrick Rose will be gone as Chicago does the kind of roster reshaping it should have considered a summer or two ago.
3) DeMarre Carroll returns for Raptors, who fall to Atlanta 95-87. Atlanta got the win because their defense — second in the NBA this season — was sharp, rotated quickly, took the Raptors out of what they like to do, and contested shots. That led to transition opportunities and some easy buckets for the Hawks, and that was the difference. And for Raptors fans, that’s not the big story — after missing 41 games DeMarre Carroll was back in the lineup. Carroll had five points and four steals, not a bad return. It’s a hopeful sign.
4) Rockets lose to lowly Suns, playoff chances take a serious hit. If the Rockets miss the playoffs — and they have just a 15 percent chance of making it now, according to fivethiryeight.com — they can look back on nights like this as the reason. Houston was up to take on Dallas Wednesday in a game they needed (and lost), then came out the next night and just didn’t bother to play any defense against Phoenix and paid the price, falling 124-115. It may be rock bottom for the Rockets. Houston is now 1.5 games back of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West — the Rockets need to win out (they have a soft schedule, but this team just lost to the Suns) and hope that the Jazz lose at leat two of their remaining four (Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Lakers). The Jazz are playing well, and they could win three of those. If the teams are tied, the tiebreaker (because they are 2-2 head to head) likely come down to conference record — if Houston wins out, they will take that. But that’s what the Rockets are banking on after too many bad defensive nights like Thursday.
5) Dunk of the night: Of course it’s Zach LaVine. How about an in-game windmill from the man who had 18 in a Minnesota win? You got it.
Warriors find rhythm, blow out Spurs 112-101 for 70th win
For the past few weeks (particularly two out of the last three road games), the Warriors have not looked like a team on its way to a record number of wins. They have been sloppy with the ball, unfocused when it came to defensive rotations, and as Draymond Green had said they just looked bored with it all.
The cure? A game against the Spurs at Oracle Arena.
They looked like the troubled Warriors to start — they jacked up quick shots and turned the ball over — but by the end of the first quarter Golden State settled down, went on a 14-0 run, and from there played their best game in weeks. With that, for the second time this season, the Warriors blew out the Spurs at home 112-101 (and it wasn’t that close).
That improves the Warriors to 70-9, they become only the second team in NBA history to get to 70 wins. They need to go 3-0 to get the record, and that includes having to play the Spurs again Sunday in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back (and their third game in four nights). Stephen Curry — one of the Warriors pushing to get this record — said the team will go after it, but coach Steve Kerr said that Friday at practice the team would talk about rest.
Thursday night was about Golden State getting its groove back.
The Warriors denied this was a statement game, but it has get into the Spurs heads a little with “we have to beat this team four out of seven and once on their court?”
Especially after Popovich decided not to rest anyone and played his core guys (minus the injured Boris Diaw). That almost led to real trouble when LaMarcus Aldridge dislocated the little finger on his shooting hand in the first quarter, but the team doctor popped it back into place and taped it to the finger next to it. That said Aldridge had just 11 points on 16 shots and was not himself in this game.
The Spurs — who clearly missed Diaw, so key for them in this matchup he might start over Tim Duncan in a series — did some things well, such as take away the three-point shot from Stephen Curry. However, one area Curry has improved this season is finishing drives in the paint, and that showed in this game when he took what the defense gave him. Check out his shot chart (and a little video evidence).
The Warriors had adjusted to what the Spurs did to them when these two teams met in San Antonio (a Spurs win). Harrison Barnes came up big early (14 points, many with Kawhi Leonard on him) and finished with 21 points, while Green added 18. Meanwhile, Golden State’s defense did a good job smothering Tim Duncan, who had four points on six shots.
Now it’s the Spurs turn to adjust. Do it by Sunday and they can deny Golden State their piece of history.