If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while casting your ballot for a dead man…
1) Derrick Rose is back, but Bulls lose ugly while Toronto passes them in standings. Derrick Rose is back. That should have been good news for Chicago — Paul George returned to Indiana and you saw every other Pacer player pick up their game in respose. The Bulls with Rose? Not even close. First off, Rose was settling for jumpers and ended up scoring 9 points on 9 shots, going 1-of-6 from three. But nobody else picked up their game for the Bulls — Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol got outplayed by Nikola Vucevic, who had 22 points and 7 boards. Nikola Mirotic was 3-of-11. The Bulls led by 15 in the second quarter but their defense still isn’t Thibodeauesque and they just can’t hold those leads. Chicago’s habit of playing to the level of their competition caught up with them again, capped off by Victor Oladipo hitting the game winner.
Meanwhile, Toronto trounced fading Charlotte, and with that the Raptors and Bulls are tied for the 3/4 seeds in the East — with Toronto having the tie breaker. Toronto does not have an easy schedule in its final four (three on the road), and the Bulls got Rose back, but unless that translates into better play the Bulls may fall into a tougher first round matchup.
2) Cleveland is locked in to the two seed in the East. Milwaukee was hanging with Cleveland on Wednesday night; they are not a team that rolls over and were within two (99-97) with :30 seconds left. Then LeBron stuck the dagger in the Bucks, hitting a contested three over Jared Dudley. Ballgame. With that, the Cavs locked up the two seed. Cleveland has 50 wins, enough to have them home against everyone in the East save Atlanta. However, they are not going to have home court in the Finals against anybody in the West, unless the Pelicans surprise us all.
3) New Orleans falls flat in Memphis, now tied with Oklahoma City for final playoff spot in West. Tuesday night the Pelicans had us believing — they beat Golden State and jumped up to the eight seed in the West. But a back-to-back against the stingy defense of Memphis brought the Pelicans crashing back to reality — the Pelicans shot 28-of-80 as a team (35 percent) and that ended about as well as you’d expect. With the loss, the Pelicans are tied with the Thunder for the last playoff spot in the West. New Orleans has the tie breaker but OKC has one team over .500 left on their roster, New Orleans has two. This could go down to the final day.
4) Brooklyn stumbles, Boston wins and the race for eight out East gets even tighter. Brook Lopez keeps putting up numbers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks — but they couldn’t get stops against the Hawks. Joe Johnson missed a three and a chance to force OT, so the Nets fell to the Hawks 114-111. Meanwhile, Boston got 34 points from Isaiah Thomas and picked up a key win. So here is where we stand as of today: Boston and Brooklyn are tied for the 7/8 seeds at 36-42, with both Miami and Indiana one game behind them. This remains one of the best races to watch the final week of the season (along with 2-6 in the West and the Pelicans/Thunder).
5) The Spurs just keep on rolling right into the playoffs. San Antonio would like to say all your playoff seeding and efforts are moot — they have won nine in a row, all by at least 12 points. Since the end of the rodeo road trip, they are 17-3 (and two of those losses were in OT). Kawhi Leonard is playing like a Top 10 guy. Tony Parker is getting in the lane. They rolled James Harden and Houston on Wednesday. The defending champs are back, and Gregg Popovich is having fun on the sidelines.