Sunday night winners and losers: Boogie wonderland

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It’s a make or miss league. With that comes the simple fact every night in the NBA there are winners and there are losers.

In this new column at PBT, five nights a week we will lay out the nights winners and losers in NBA action for you — not just the teams and on the scoreboard, but in every facet of the game. No better time to start than on an interesting opening night.

source:  DeMarcus Cousins and the surprisingly entertaining Kings. Fresh off a win over the Trail Blazers, the Kings were impressive again in a road win against the Clippers. Cousins was dominant, with 34 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks, and Rudy Gay had another excellent game. But most impressive of all was the job Darren Collison did on Chris Paul defensively. The West is too deep for Sacramento to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, but they’re starting to look like a basketball team for the first time in several years, which is good to see.

source:  Miami’s big two. The Heat are the only undefeated team left in the Eastern Conference, picking up a 107-102 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. We knew they would be playing with a chip on their shoulders, but there have been plenty of questions about the health of Dwyane Wade and the readiness of Chris Bosh to step into the role of first option. So far, so good on both fronts. Bosh has been phenomenal since the start of the season, and finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Wade was terrific too, logging 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks against Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. Time will tell whether he can stay on the floor, but Heat fans have to be encouraged by the post-LeBron era so far.

source:  Damian Lillard. The Blazers have a lot of things to blame for their 95-90 loss to the Warriors, with late-game turnovers chief among them. But Lillard has been terrible. He shot 1-for-7 from three-point range on Sunday and 4-for-18 from the field overall. He’s missing a lot of shots he normally makes, so you have to think the stroke will come back eventually and this is just some early-season rust. The Blazers need Lillard to be the player he was last year if they hope to take the next step as playoff contenders.

source:  Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s 28 points helped the Knicks to a 96-93 win over the Hornets, but it wasn’t just his numbers. He made the two game-clinching plays down the stretch. He hit a contested jump shot with just over a minute to go that broke a 93-93 tie and gave New York the lead for good. Then, he secured the rebound with less than a second to go when Kemba Walker missed a jumper, sealing the win.

source:  The Raptors at the foul line. As a team, Toronto missed 15 free throws on Sunday, going just 24-for-39 from the line. Lou Williams missed both of his free throws near the beginning of the quarter, and Kyle Lowry missed two of three with 1:49 remaining. Lowry missed six foul shots on the night and DeMar DeRozan missed five.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”