Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Boogie’s night too much for Rockets, Warriors win. In building a team to challenge the Warriors, the Rockets didn’t think big. Actually, they got even smaller this season, which made some sense because Golden State has been most feared when its “death lineup” with Draymond Green was the center was on the court. Houston put its faith in 6’10” center Clint Capela, who is athletic enough in the middle to counter to all things Warriors.
That was until Golden State went out and got DeMarcus Cousins.
Wednesday night Boogie was too strong inside, was finding cutters and shooters with his passing, and carved up the Rockets to the tune of a season-high 27 points, plus eight rebounds, and seven assists. Cousins led the Warriors to a 106-104 win in Houston, snapping the Rockets’ nine-game win streak. And they did it without Kevin Durant (tweaked ankle).
Two key areas stood out with Boogie. First, the Rockets tried to go at Cousins defensively, an area where he has had his struggles since joining the Warriors. Not Wednesday night. When switched onto James Harden or Chris Paul, Cousins contested shots but did not foul. He did not get exploited, and Cousins even drew a charge on Harden.
The other was posting him up. The Warriors in the Curry era have not had a big they could just post up and watch him go to work on the block. Cousins did that to Capela. They also took advantage of Boogie’s passing skills, with cutters moving to the rim and shooters spotting up at the arc. Cousins even found Curry when he was not in the game.
Don’t read too much into this game, regular season matchups are a poor predictor of postseason outcomes. (Same with the Rockets’ three wins against the Warriors this season.) The Rockets made mistakes and missed shots we haven’t seen from them during their recent nine-game win streak, while the Warriors were without Kevin Durant. What you can take away is the Rockets look like the second best team in the West right now.
The playoffs have a different flow because it becomes more about matchups, more about exploiting weaknesses or covering them up. What Cousins gives Steve Kerr and the Warriors is another weapon. They can post Boogie up and not many teams can do anything about it. Just more versatility for the two-time defending NBA champs.
2) Russell Westbrook owns the second half, gets another triple-double in Thunder win against Nets. The tradition in Oklahoma City is the fans stand until the Thunder get their first basket. Legs were getting tired on Wednesday night — OKC started 0-of-8 from the field and it took 4:04 of game time before Russell Westbrook hit a three and fans could plop themselves down. The Nets were up 11-1 by the time it happened. That’s pretty much how the entire first half went, Brooklyn was in control and led by 10 after 24 minutes.
Then Russell Westbrook woke up. He had 14 points and 10 assists in the second half and led a 21-4 run that sealed the win, while Paul George pitched in 13 points on 8 shots in the half. The Thunder won 108-96 and Westbrook had his 26th triple-double of the season with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. Westbrook and George combined for 56 points.
The win, combined with Houston’s loss, ties the Thunder and Rockets for the 3/4 seeds in the West (both teams are 42-26). Both would rather be the three seed, which will put them on the other side of the bracket from the Warriors.
3) Heat go on 21-0 run to start the second half, blow out Pistons, give their playoff chances a big boost. How about if Dwyane Wade’s “last dance” has an encore? A few playoff games?
Miami got closer to that Wednesday night with a critical win, 108-74 against the Detroit Pistons. The game itself wasn’t that interesting, the Heat led by five at the half, went on a 21-0 run to start the second half, and that was the ballgame. Detroit scored just 25 points in the second half. Miami did have some flashy highlights.
The win, coupled with Washington beating Orlando, gives eight-seed Miami a two-game lead over Orlando and Charlotte, who are tied for the nine seed (Washington is still alive 3.5 games back as the 11 seed). The Heat’s cushion matters because the Magic have a much easier schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com gives Orlando a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Heat are at 35 percent (Washington and Charlotte each are at 12 percent). The numbers are the numbers, but I think with this win Wednesday Miami’s chances are actually much higher.
But maybe that’s just because I want to see Wade in the playoffs one more time.