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…
1) LeBron James drops triple-double, the Cavaliers feel like the class of the East. The Atlanta Hawks appear have taken their foot off the gas and are coasting into the playoffs (they are 5-5 in their last 10, although they did destroy Brooklyn in their last game). Then every time you watch the Cleveland Cavaliers they seem to be just a little bit better, a little more cohesive and comfortable. All this doesn’t mean too much — the last time the Hawks played the Cavaliers Atlanta took them to the woodshed. Still, it feels like the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East right now. You can pick apart the win over the Bulls Sunday — no Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich and it was still a single-digit game — but the Cavaliers just seem superior. Especially when LeBron is dropping triple-doubles, Timofey Mozgov is playing like a beast, and J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving and hitting half courters.
2) Consider this your 536th reminder the San Antonio Spurs are legitimate title contenders. You can’t read too much into one regular season game ever. This one included — this is not necessarily an indication of how a seven-game series turns out. That said, the Warriors had won 12 in a row, and the Spurs beat them handily, 107-92. It’s a reminder the Spurs are back if nothing else. The Spurs offense took apart the Warriors defense. The Spurs defense challenged the Warriors shooters — Klay Thompson was 3-of-11, Draymond Green 2-of-11. Yes, MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry was in the game but KAwhi Leonard was the best player on the court hands down. And Leonard did this to Curry to set the tone.
3) Paul George returns and suddenly the Pacers look far more interesting. Paul George returned from his horrific leg injury to the delight of Pacers fans, and every basketball fan everywhere. He scored 13 points, but with him in the lineup the Pacers throttled the Heat and with that tied Miami for the nine seed in the East, just one game back of eight seed Boston and one-and-a-half back of Brooklyn. The Pacers are still in this with 10 days left, and they just got a huge boost.
4) Could Memphis lose out on home court in the first round? After Sunday’s play, Memphis is the three seed in the West, and if you want to look on the bright side just one game back of Houston for the two seed. However, they also are just half-a-game game up on the five seed Clippers and one ahead of the six seed Spurs. (Portland is the four seed, with a worse record than all of them, but can fall no lower than the four seed because they won the Northwest Division. Why do we have divisions in the NBA again?) As David Aldridge of TNT pointed out, the Clippers have a soft schedule the rest of the way that includes a game against Memphis. Right there also the Spurs are surging. If Memphis continues its recent stumbles, they could end up the six seed in the West and starting the Western Conference playoffs on the road.
5) James Harden and Russell Westbrook dueled. Houston won because they are the better team. It seems we write this daily, but Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. But as it has been of late, it wasn’t efficient, and it wasn’t enough. James Harden had 41 points, Dwight Howard was strong inside, the Rockets had 54 points in the paint (the Enes Kanter dillema), plus the Rockets had 26 points in transition. OKC did better in the second half and made the game intesting, but in the end it couldn’t stop Houston from doing what it wanted to do. The Rockets are just the better team and picked up the win to show for it. But this was fun to watch.