PBT Monday NBA Winners/Losers: At least one thing is working well in Washington

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while you watched the Entourage movie trailer again (I can’t wait for this one)….

source:  Washington Wizards. Are you mentioning this team as one of the best in the East? You should be. While the rest of the East struggles, the Wizards are now 7-2 against the powerful West. Those same Wizards have the best defense in the East so far — better than the Bulls — and that plus a variety of guys who can score the ball make them a threat out East. The Wizards showed a lot of what makes them dangerous in beating the Rockets in the game of the night on Monday, 104-103. The Wizards led by 23 at one point but the Rockets made a late charge behind James Harden (9 points in the final :19 seconds, he finished with 33) but the Wizards just had answers. They had their own 33 point man in Bradley Beal, who did it on 9-of-17 shooting. The Wizards went 8-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch. And they have Paul Pierce, the veteran who had 21 points on 9 shots on the night, and he had the biggest shot of the game.

source:  Rim at the Toyota Center in Houston. Just :48 seconds into the game, the rim at the Toyota Center was bent and the game had to stop for nearly 30 minutes while the arena crew put in a new basket. That’s always entertaining. The damage apparently happened on a Dwight Howard dunk and not, as rumored, because of Josh Smith’s jump shots.

source:  Danny Granger.The man has apparently been taking is post-game soaks in the hot tub time machine, because he looks more like the 2010 version of himself than the guy we have seen in recent years. Granger hit six three pointers on his way to 21 points in Miami’s loss to Orlando. Granger had 18 in the Heat’s previous game against Memphis. Consider me cynical that he can sustain this, but right now Granger is in throwback mode and making the Heat look, well, if not good then better.

source:  Jimmy Butler. The man is earning himself a big payday — the Bulls couldn’t reach a deal with him on a contract extension before the season and while Butler says he does not want to leave Chicago next summer the cost of keeping him is going up by the game. He scored seven of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and was a guy the Bulls leaned on to get buckets in a close win over Indiana. Butler is scoring 22 points a game averaging 40 minutes a night and has become a key cog in the Bulls. When the coaches get around to voting for the All-Star Game reserves it’s going to be tough to leave him off the list.

source:  Kings 4-on-5 strategy. Okay, this was not how the Kings’ owner drew it up… okay, he was never going to “draw it up” it was just an idea he had to have one player cherry-pick on offense and have the defenders go 4-on-5 with the other team. This only happened because Reggie Evans went to the bench thinking DeMarcus Cousins was checking in only to realize Cousins wasn’t waived in, so Evans sprinted back onto the court in cherry picking position. It still is the same principle. Then Evans caps it off the only way that would be truly funny.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

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.