The takeaways have been on a vacation for a few days. Well, I’ve been on a mini-vacation for a few days (if staying with your in-laws is a vacation, that’s up for debate). But we’re back, just in time for another Warriors’ win and more Lakers drama.
1) Warriors clear last likely major hurdle between them and 73 wins by beating Utah. Most fans may have looked at the last weeks of the Warriors schedule and see those two games against the Spurs as what might keep the Golden State from their 73-win goal. I don’t think so. Gregg Popovich is going to rest guys in those games, especially the one on the road. He’s already accepted the two seed and is scaling back, plus he doesn’t want to tip his hand — the Spurs are going to play NFL preseason vanilla sets and defenses in those games.
No, the toughest test was a hot Utah team with its elite defense, when the Warriors were on the second night of a back-to-back. That test was Wednesday night. Utah lived up the billing, getting strong play from Gordon Hayward on pick-and-rolls (21 points), fantastic shooting from Rodney Hood (20 points), and great play clogging the lane on defense from Rudy Gobert (who finally got some quality minutes in the clutch). When Gordon hit a three in the final minute, it seemed like this may be Utah’s night.
But the Warriors did their version of the NCAA Tournament’s survive and advance. They got 31 points from Stephen Curry on some ridiculous shots (see below). They got another tough defensive and balanced game from Draymond Green. And they got the key game-tying shot to force overtime from Klay Thompson (thanks to the hustle of Shaun Livingston getting an offensive board off a miss and kicking it out). The Warriors overcame a cold shooting night from Harrison Barnes (1-of-8 from three), too many sloppy turnovers, and the fact the Marreese Speights/Anderson Varejao platoon at center is not primetime ready. The Warriors survived and are now 68-7. They are going to get to 73 wins, you could see the determination in this game to get it done when they could have just rolled over. But they also looked like a team where the stars could use a little rest, and that is going to be hard for Steve Kerr to balance with the drive for 73.
2) Forget all the drama off-the-court for a minute, Julius Randle hits game winner to lift Lakers over Heat in OT. Lamar Odom was sitting courtside. D'Angelo Russell was a distraction apologizing to teammates and publicly before the game. Kobe Bryant only played one half before sitting out due to general soreness. But somehow the Lakers thrived in all that drama and beat the Miami Heat in overtime thanks to a Julius Randle shot over a couple defenders. For the Heat, this is a blow — they are in the middle of a tight battle for playoff seeding in the East and this is the kind of game they needed to win. Yet Miami couldn’t force turnovers to get easy buckets, and they let the Lakers get points at the line. Then, with the game in the balance, Luol Deng let Randle get back to his left hand (the cardinal mistake in defending Randle right now) and paid the price after Randle hit the shot to win it.
3) Toronto Raptors get to 50 wins for first time in franchise history. This is officially the best Toronto Raptors team ever — no Raptors team has ever gotten to 50 wins. Until Wednesday. The Raptors got 26 points from DeMar DeRozan, and defensively kept the Hawks starters in check, which was enough for a 105-97 win. The Raptors now have a magic number of three to clinch a top two seed.
Still, this team feels like the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals last season — “great regular season guys, congratulations, but until you show me you can do this in the playoffs it’s all just window dressing.” Hopefully for the Raptors this turns out better than it did for the Bengals.
4) Lamar Odom sat courtside for the Heat/Lakers game. Kobe Bryant left him a couple of tickets, and Lamar Odom accepted — he was at the Miami/Los Angeles contest at Staples Center Wednesday. It was good to see him back in an NBA setting where there is still a lot of love for the man who almost lost his life due to an overdose five months ago. He talked with Kobe and Dwyane Wade among others, plus got a huge ovation from the crowd when he was shown on the big screen. Hopefully Odom is handling his demons.
5) Wizards playoff dreams on life support after loss to Kings. Washington is not playing like a team trying to make a desperate push into the playoffs — they were apathetic as a team Wednesday night in Sacramento. This was a game the Wizards needed, and they came out flat. Washington turned the ball over 20 times. They had no answer for DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 10 boards). The Wizards are now 3.5 games back of the eight seed Indiana Pacers for the last playoff spot in the East with just seven games to play. Hard to see them making that ground up (which is going to lead to changes come this summer in Washington).
By the way, the Kings got to 30 wins on the season for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Which isn’t exactly something to brag much about, but it’s still a step in the right direction.