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Jazz Fan

Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward lead Jazz past Grizzlies posted by Jazz Fan

After losing to Eastern Conference foes Chicago and Cleveland over the weekend, Memphis showed signs of fatigue in not being able to counter Utah's youth, allowing the Jazz to beat the Grizzlies 97-91 on Monday night.

Alec Burks scored 23 points and Gordon Hayward added 21 to lead the Jazz, who withstood a late push by hitting eight of 10 free throws down the stretch for their third win in the last four.

Derrick Favors finished with 15 points, while Enes Kanter added 13 points and nine rebounds. Rudy Gobert had a career-best 16 rebounds as the Jazz dominated the boards 49-34.

"I think our offensive game started with our defense," Hayward said. "We have a goal of not letting teams score over 24 points per quarter, and we won on three of four quarters."

Utah connected on 9 of 19 from outside the arc to create a buffer from Memphis. Another factor, beyond the rebounding margin, was the Jazz converting 20 of 27 free throws, while Memphis went to the line only nine times in the game, making eight.

Utah led through much of the second half until Gasol connected with 5:32 left for a 77-75 Memphis lead. Burks answered with a 3-pointer, and Utah never let go of the lead the final 5 minutes in rebounding from a 104-86 loss Saturday at Charlotte.

"It was big for our confidence to be able to come back and get a road win here in Memphis after a poor performance in Charlotte," Jazz guard Trey Burke said.

The Jazz pushed the lead to six points in the third quarter, and managed to keep the Grizzlies at bay through most of the period as Hayward had nine points and Kanter added seven.

Continue reading "Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward lead Jazz ..."

Magic Fan

Magic Hang Tight With Cavs Before Falling Short posted by Magic Fan

Midway through Friday’s second quarter, the Magic were in possession of a feel-good 10-point lead on the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers, confetti inexplicably starting falling from the rafters.

It was a case of premature celebration considering LeBron James’ propensity for taking games over late and the Magic’s struggles in the clutch in recent weeks.

Orlando started strong and matched the Cavs blow for blow most of the night only to see James come alive in the fourth quarter as the Magic went cold at the wrong time. James ended up with 29 points – one more than the Magic over the final 12 minutes of the game – to lead Cleveland to a 98-89 victory that wrecked Orlando’s hopes of capturing a signature win.

``You just watch the film on the game and you will see two different teams. One from the first three quarters and one from the last quarter, especially the last five minutes of the game,’’ frustrated forward Tobias Harris said.

``A big part of this league is at the end of the game having the ability to put the basketball in someone’s hands and that person makes a play,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``How many possessions at the end of the game was the ball in LeBron’s hands? He made the plays for himself and for his teammates.

``We’re still growing and understand where we want the ball and in whose hands,’’ Vaughn continued. ``And we’re still learning how to finish once the ball is in that person’s hands.’’

Continue reading "Magic Hang Tight With Cavs Before Falling Short"

Heat Fan

Miami fans should applaud LeBron, and he should return the favor posted by Heat Fan

Four Finals appearances in four years? Two championships? I'd say James delivered on his promise when he the Heat in 2010.

When he left Cleveland, he was the game's biggest individual talent who hadn't won anything. He needed validation; needed to begin his ring count before it was too late.

His four years in Miami built leadership qualities and maturity that were lacking before. And his time in the South Florida sun removed the stigma of being the best player in the world who hadn't won a championship. When it was all over, the experience had given him the confidence to return home and try to build something new.

As he returns to face his buddy, Dwyane Wade, on Thursday, here's a question: Is it possible that James' four years in Miami will wind up being the apex of his career? That he'll never have another run like that again?

It's more than possible. Only three teams have been to the Finals four consecutive times -- the Lakers and Celtics in the '80s and the Heat of James, Wade and Bosh. The odds that James could accomplish that feat a second time with another team? Pretty slim.

Even slimmer when you consider how much the NBA landscape has changed since James formed his Big Three in 2010. That was the last hurrah under the old collective bargaining agreement, and the deal struck after the 2011 lockout has fundamentally changed how teams are being built.

This is not to say that the Big Three model can't or won't work one more time for James in Cleveland. But with the landscape changing all around him, it's a reminder of how special his four years in Miami really were.

Continue reading "Miami fans should applaud LeBron, ..."

Houston Rockets

Corey Brewer to Rockets. posted by Houston Rockets

The Minnesota Timberwolves' wing is a little less crowded after Friday, as they've agreed to trade swingman Corey Brewer to the Houston Rockets.

Brewer, 28, is averaging 10.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game on 41.8 percent shooting. One of Minnesota's first players off the bench in most contests, a Brewer trade nonetheless became inevitable.

The former Florida star isn't a superstar by any stretch, but he's a smart player who knows what he is at this point in his career. Most of Brewer's best shots come in transition and semi-transition, where he's an expert at using the open floor to get to the rim. A subpar shooter from beyond the arc in his career, Brewer has almost abandoned the three-point shot entirely this season.

Minnesota's willingness to move him despite a fine start is an indicator head coach and team president Flip Saunders has come around to a full-scale rebuild. The Wolves' trade of Kevin Love to Cleveland this offseason started the project, but it seemed like Saunders was taking half-measures by signing veterans in free agency and trading for Thaddeus Young.

But a 5-19 start leaves the Timberwolves with little excuse not to see what they have in their young talent.

Getting Brewer is about the best Houston could hope to do given its salary situation. Brewer is by no means a lockdown defender, but he's a high-energy guy who consistently fights his way to a couple turnovers per game.

Offensively, he is more of a noticeable minus, where his penchant for leaking out for transition buckets can sometimes lead to some questionable decision-making. That, of course, is also an issue defensively when the opposing team gets the offensive board.

Continue reading "Corey Brewer to Rockets."

Cavaliers Fan

Cavs rally to beat Magic 98-89 without Kyrie Irving; Kevin Love sits fourth quarter posted by Cavaliers Fan

LeBron James had 29 points and eight assists, Kevin Love scored 22 points despite sitting out the fourth quarter and the Cavs beat the Orlando Magic 98-89 Friday without Kyrie Irving.

Irving was a late scratch with his bothersome left knee. Coach David Blatt thought he would be able to play, but Irving tested the knee prior to the game and determined he couldn’t go.

The Cavs’ defense was terrible throughout the first half when the Magic shot 60 percent, but the effort improved in the second half to win after trailing by 10 in the third quarter.

Love scored 13 points in the first quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers then was relatively quiet the rest of the night. That has been a recurring trend with the third member of the Cavs’ Big Three.

Love played the entire third quarter, shot 1-for-6 and struggled at times defensively. He started the fourth quarter on the bench and didn’t return to the game.

James put the game away in the final minute. With the Cavas already leading92-89, James blew past Tobias Harris for a basket and foul. He made the free throw to extend the lead to six with 40 seconds left.

Tristan Thompson had nine points and 13 rebounds as the new starting center and Dion Waiters scored 17 points off the bench for the Cavs, who rebounded from Thursday’s disappointing loss at Miami.

The Cavs have been playing hurt lately. James’ left knee has been bothering him, Irving aggravated his knee in Thursday’s loss at Miami and Anderson Varejao has been lost for the season with a torn Achilles.

Continue reading "Cavs rally to beat Magic 98-89 without ..."


Cavaliers Fan

Cleveland Cavaliers Preseason Report 2014 posted by Cavaliers Fan

Unfortunately, missing on the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers were quite difficult to figure out, from the start. The team had accumulated lottery picks for three seasons, which made them bring back Mike Brown, and they were confident in succeeding in the Eastern playoffs. Since the East lacked talent and depth, the Cavaliers had an easy task before them, but they missed it by eight games, finishing the season with 33-49. The team lacked consistency, and every time, it kept taking steps forwards and backwards by winning and losing several games in a row.

Before Luol Deng was traded in January, the Cavaliers seemed to have a good defense, but their offense was horrible and ranked 28th. However, acquisition of Spencer Hawes helped the offense considerably, and their rank jumped to 14th. The team had many requirements and objectives to fulfill for the offseason. They needed LeBron to come back and a new coach would have been ideal. Even though the Cavaliers had young talent like Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller, and Tristan Thompson, they needed somebody anchoring the rotation. Anderson Varejao had the capacity but had missed many games in the last four seasons.

Cavaliers had the number one draft pick three times in four years, and their choice came down to Jabari Parker from Duke and Andrew Wiggins from Kansas. The team decided to take Wiggins, who was a potential all-rounder, and would pair ideally with Irving. Cavaliers also picked Joe Harris who was a good shooter in the wings. Dwight Powell was also taken in, on a trade for Alonzo Gee.

Cleveland Cavaliers had the number one pick and they selected a possible future star. They also hired an excellent coach who can adapt to almost any roster and situation. Cavaliers might still have other big moves up their sleeve, which might include trading Wiggins for Kevin Love.

Continue reading "Cleveland Cavaliers Preseason Report 2014"


Omari Prince

NBA Draft Recap posted by Omari Prince

This is a 3 part blog that I'll talk about regarding the 2011 NBA Draft

Last Thursday the annual NBA Draft took place in New Jersey and to nobody's surprise, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Kyrie Irving with the first pick. Coach Byron Scott played poker with the media but finally reveled his has when they drafted the former one & done freshmen from Duke. Why Irving was chosen first even though he only played eight games all year is simple: much like the quarterback in football, point guard is the most important position in basketball and they're an extension of the coach on the floor. Had Irving been healthy during the season, Duke easily defeats Arizona and most likely would have advanced to the Final 4 this past March. 

Derrick Rose and John Wall were the previous point guards selected first overall and are the leaders on their team. With the departure of LeBron James last summer, Kyrie Irving realizes he's no Lebron but he has to put the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers on his back. That's the cost of being drafted 1st overall. The verdict is still out if his turf toe injury is completely healed but when healthy, Irving has lighting speed, low turnover ratio, and extremely athletic. With this new team, he should not have any problem taking over the leadership (this team lost 26 consecutive games) since he hails from a winning high school & college program. Most scout are comparing him to Chris Paul but I see a more athletic Kevin Johnson in Irving. Remember KJ was a scoring PG who also dished 10 assist per game. 

Continue reading "NBA Draft Recap"


Randolph Charlotin

Refreshed Bench posted by Randolph Charlotin

Focus on the last names:

 

Jeff GREEN.

 

Troy MURPHY.

 

They were meant to be Celtics.

 

If Danny Ainge stopped his trade deadline dealings at the two-for-two swap that sent C Kendrick Perkins and G Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Green and Nenad Kristic, then fan dread over Boston’s chances in the playoffs would be understandable.

 

But Trader Dan was far from done. Often with Ainge, he makes a deal with complementary moves in mind. The two trades that followed Perkins’ departure cleared room for productive veteran players on the bench and improved versatility.

 

Celtic fans have a tough time accepting change from a winning formula. Perkins was the anchor in the middle of the defense, an intimidator that protected the paint from intruders. The Celtics hung their hat on being a physical defense-first team and was the cornerstone.

 

Health permitting, Boston could had claimed their NBA-record 18th championship. But health hasn’t been on the Celtics’ side this season. Already down are the two O’Neals (Jermaine and Shaquille) and G/F Marquis Daniels. Ainge decided not to wait and hope for modern medicine.

 Upon arrival Kristic was in the starting lineup and Green came off the bench. Regardless of their performance (they helped the Celtics win against the Los Angeles Clippers), they were available to play, which is something Perkins and Daniels can’t do right now. Perkins is expected to miss his first two to three weeks while Daniels might not play another game this season.

Continue reading "Refreshed Bench"


Joe Franciosa, Jr.

Dice-man rolls 7, C's just roll. posted by Joe Franciosa, Jr.

No walks.

 Matsuzaka, the pitcher who up until now had presumably preffered to pitch from the stretch, put no runners on base. He pounded the strike zone. He gave up only one run in the 6th. He pitched like the Dice-man that was advertised in '07. If he can do that consistently, the Sox will have the pitching staff that folks expected coming into this season.

Meanwhile, the Celtics essentially played by themselves in Cleveland. Lebron was all but absent from this game. 0-4 in the first half. Staring off into the crowd during team time-outs. Appearing winded on the court. Removing his "protective arm sleeve" and still throwing up LeBrick after LeBrick.

 Now, the rest of the Cavalier team was not doing much to help its MVP star. Delonte West was a non-factor. Mo Williams is a former All-star and he wasn't hitting shots. Shaq had 20 points, and almost took out Glenn Davis when he landed on Shaq's foot after coming down from a jump shot.

 Meanwhile, the big 3 scored 64 of the C's 120 points. Pierce finally warmed up and ended 3 assists shy of a triple double. Garnett hit key shots to stop a Cav's run. Ray Allen was just deadly from beyond the arc. Rondo didn't have a huge game, but he didn't have to. Indeed, he sat longer in this game than he did the entire rest of the series.

 So now that series comes back to Boston. The good news is that the C's are 31-1 when up 3-2 in a seven game series. The bad news is that one loss came just last year against the Orlando Magic. Of course, Garnett was out for that series, and Rondo did not have the experience he does now. Look for the Celtics to come out strong. And for you lucky fans who will be in the Garden Thursday night. You better be cheering and yelling as loudly as I will be at my television set.

Continue reading "Dice-man rolls 7, C's just roll."


Joe Franciosa, Jr.

The Tri-fecta, the Trinity, TGIF for Boston Sports. posted by Joe Franciosa, Jr.

Red Sox vs. Yankees. Celtics vs. Cavaliers in game 3 of a 1-1 series. Bruins vs. Flyers in possible series sweep.

There are so many story lines for this Friday night in Boston Sports.

Red Sox: You just swept the Angels. The Angels have problems of their own, being staked to a 4-0 lead after the ist inning thanks to the Dice-man's proclivity to gamble on his pitches. I understand that the Japanese strike-zone is different than MLB...but Dice-dude, you've been here 3 years now. I know you can speak English. You have to at least understand it, or else what exactly is V-mart and his own heavy accent conveying to you when he goes to chat on the mound after you walk 3 straight? What does John Farrell say while the umpire walks all the way out to the mound to break the conversation up. That's always a great way to get on the Ump's good side. Throw a ton of balls, and then make the Ump actually walk the 60'6" to the pitchers mound. In any event, the Sox offense again came up huge. The Angels certainly helped, but at this point we'll take whatever help we can get. On a 4 game win-streak, Bring on the Yankees!

Celtics: You have the momentum. Keep it. Don't come out flat. Don't wait for the crowd to get you going. Get the crowd going and you'll get yourselves further into the play-offs. The Cav's think they have the experience and the talent to finally get Lebron a ring. If Lebron is at 80%, and the rest of his team can't pick up any of that other 20%, do they really deserve to advance? Celtic basketball is better than Cavalier basketball. Enough said.

Continue reading "The Tri-fecta, the Trinity, TGIF ..."

Cleveland Cavaliers News

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Celtics-Cavaliers Preview

LeBron James called it nerves and Kevin Love said it was anxiousness, but whatever affected the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first 14 minutes of their playoff opener isn't something they plan to repeat. [read full article]

From FOX Sports Digital


NBA Playoff Picture Update: The Spurs send the Warriors, and everyone else, a message (Ball

With just about two weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. The NBA Playoff Picture Update keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds. [DraftKings: FREE entry to huge cash Fantasy Basketball Contest with first deposit ] Spurs of the moment: Another Sunday, another statement game from the San Antonio Spurs. After dismantling the East-leading Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and hammering a potential Round 1 opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, on March 29 , the Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors — winners of 12 straight, owners of the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs  — and mopped the floor with 'em. The 107-92 final's impressive enough — it's the largest margin of defeat the Warriors have tasted during this season for the ages — but it scarcely tells the story. Golden State never led, trailed by as many as 28 and finished the third quarter down 22 before turning the final frame over to the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli. San Antonio blitzed Steve Kerr's crew from the opening tip. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard keyed both a game-opening 8-1 run (six points of his own, plus an assist on a Tim Duncan jumper) and a 14-3 mid-quarter jolt that knocked the 63-win Dubs on their heels and gave the Spurs a 15-point lead less than eight minutes into the contest. The Spurs' ball movement had the Warriors' league-best defense scrambling early ... ... and often, as San Antonio logged 27 direct assists on 44 made field goals. The Spurs beat the Warriors with backdoor cuts in the half-court, with alley-oops on the break, with long-distance bounce passes in transition, and with just about every other weapon Pop and company could muster. San Antonio's most dangerous weapon, once again, was Leonard, who served as the tip of the spear that punctured the Warriors' free-flowing offense: The quick-as-a-cat perimeter mauler with the massive hands snared a career-high seven steals on Sunday. He opened the game by making life miserable for Harrison Barnes (four points on 2-for-7 shooting) and later switched assignments to cool down a Stephen Curry early third-quarter explosion. The MVP candidate scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just under two minutes to cut the Warriors' deficit to 14; Popovich called a timeout and put Leonard on Curry; Curry didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs ripped off six straight to rebuild the lead. Leonard's offense might never impress quite as much as his masterful defense, but his ascent into something like San Antonio's primary scorer continues. The 23-year-old tied a regular-season career-high with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in just 24 minutes, topping the 20-point mark for the 12th time in his last 19 games. He showed his combination of improving handle, increased confidence and strength against contact with plays like this drive and finish right through Andre Iguodala: Duncan (19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds) and Danny Green (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, great defense on the Warriors' Klay Thompson) also turned in great games for the Spurs, who have now won seven straight, 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 20 overall. During that stretch, San Antonio's outscoring its opposition by 15.2 points per 100 possessions — the best net rating in the league over that span, head-and-shoulders above even the league-best Warriors' historic full-season mark . There remain bits of disharmony in the system that keep the Spurs from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that overwhelmed the Miami Heat last June — Tony Parker (eight points on nine shots in 23 minutes) still seems to look more like a caretaker than a gamebreaker, the "Foreign Legion" shot a combined 6-for-22, etc. But as the regular season draws to a close, San Antonio's offense is humming and its defense is suffocating, which is the kind of thing that can make a No. 6 seed look an awful lot like the team to beat. The Warriors likely won't panic much about Sunday's whitewashing: "This is the first time I think since Christmas that we haven't really been in a game," Curry said, according to Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press . For his part, Kerr intimated after the game that Golden State will have some different looks to offer San Antonio should these two teams meet in the postseason and Pop decides to once again sic Kawhi on Curry. Even so, after seeing San Antonio short-circuit his squad — making the Spurs the only team to have beaten the Warriors twice this season (Golden State also beat San Antonio right after the All-Star break ) — you wouldn't blame Kerr if he'd just as soon not see No. 2 in black and silver again come playoff time. “Kawhi was phenomenal,” Kerr said after the game, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News . “He was the best player on the floor.” Which helped serve notice that, on any given Sunday, the Spurs can still be the best team on the floor, too. Star Wars: Sunday's marquee matinee matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder largely lived up to its billing, with MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook matching big shots in trying to propel their teams to a much-needed victory in their respective tight playoff fights. But despite a league-leading 11th triple-double — 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — for the Thunder star ... ... it was his hirsute former teammate who'd carry the day: [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr:   The best slams from all of basketball] Harden scored a game-high 41 points on 12-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point land) to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes to push the Rockets to a 115-112 win . It was the league-leading 10th 40-plus-point performance for Harden this season. He cranked up the heat late, scoring eight points in a 70-second span to break a 100-all tie, to quell a comeback that had seen the Thunder rise up after trailing by as many as 13, and give the Rockets just enough breathing room to finish the game at the foul line. And I mean just enough — Oklahoma City had a chance to tie it up in the closing seconds, but Westbrook's 3-point try came up short , thanks in part to a close contest by Rockets wing Corey Brewer. It was a little too close of a contest for Russell's liking, actually: Westbrook on if he was anticipating a foul from Brewer on the last play: "He did. He did actually." — Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 5, 2015 Be that as it may, it was lacking defense on the interior (54 points in the paint for the Rockets, including 22 in 23 minutes from Dwight Howard) and in transition (26 fast-break points or Houston) that did Oklahoma City in far more than a swallowed whistle. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary battled foul trouble throughout, and Enes Kanter continued to put up big numbers (21 points, 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass) while giving just about all of it back on the other end. It's bad enough that Oklahoma City has given up 106.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, a bottom-five mark over that period. But during the 1-5 skid that's put their playoff hopes in jeopardy , that's dropped to 112.7 points-per-100 allowed, barely above the defensive efficiency marks of league lowlights like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. With no Kevin Durant , with  no Serge Ibaka and with San Antonio coming to town Tuesday, the 42-35 Thunder must stop the bleeding immediately if they're to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit a half-game behind OKC in the race for the eighth playoff spot out West. Houston, on the other hand, has now won three in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 to improve to 53-24. The Rockets now have a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the race for the No. 2 spot in the West and seem to be weathering their recent rash of injuries well, thanks to both the depth provided by general manager Daryl Morey and the irrepressible offensive orchestration of their bearded wonder. Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher: When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers met on Sunday, the result — as has tended to be the case over these past couple of "Freaky Friday" seasons — was  demolition . There were flashy, thunderous dunks: And there was Chris Paul dribbling the ball through Carlos Boozer's legs at midcourt in a moment that neatly encapsulated just how vastly the fortunes of the two Staples Center tenants vary right now: The Clippers won, 106-78 , and the game wasn't that close. Well, that's not entirely true. This was a seven-point game after 12 minutes, a 13-point game at halftime, and a 13-point game midway through the third. But then the floodgates opened, with the Clippers ripping off a 22-5 run that got the lead to 29 after three, followed promptly by a 16-2 burst to open the fourth that pushed the advantage to its high-water mark of 43 points with 8:09 remaining in the game. It's the second one that likely really hurt Lakers fans. I mean, at least the first came primarily with stars Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor. The 16-2 spurt was produced entirely by the Clippers' threadbare second unit — Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes and recent addition Lester Hudson. That's the kind of thing that'll make Byron Scott fold his arms in a huff on the Laker sideline. Then again, so is literally everything. The Clippers, who boast the NBA's top offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions) and second-best efficiency differential (+6.9 points-per-100, behind only the Warriors) this season, have now won 10 of their last 11 to keep pace in the pack behind Golden State in the West's second tier. Doc Rivers' club sits just a half-game below No. 3 Memphis and, just as importantly, a full game above the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers. (That's a weird thing that we'll discuss in some more detail later.) With injured sixth man Jamal Crawford expected to return this coming week , everything seems to be going the Clips' way right about now ... including the schedule, which matches them up with these very same Lakers again on Tuesday night . Quick, somebody find the Pharrell hat : Yeah, his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the division-rival Chicago Bulls to win for the 31st time in their last 38 games, but LeBron James didn't seem too happy afterward, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin : With two weeks until the NBA playoffs open up and fewer and fewer dress rehearsals remaining for James to direct his group into postseason form, he saw Sunday's win as somewhat hollow because of the shoddy way the Cavs closed things out. Cleveland was ahead by 13 with 9:59 remaining, but ended up winning by just five as the Cavs had as many turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) as they had in the first three quarters combined and also attempted 12 of their 15 shots as a team from outside the paint. "I think we turned the ball over and we got out of attack mode," James said. "I think we settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter. And those are things that we, as a young team, will have to just learn from and get better with it the next time. So, we controlled the game, but we allowed them to get back in the game because of what we did offensively and that's a very good team. You know a Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) team is never going to give up and we have to understand every single possession means everything and we can't take one off." Despite not quite sticking the landing, Cleveland won its 50th game of the year behind an all-around effort from James, who chipped in 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block for his first triple-double of the season. LeBron did a bit of tone-setting, too. In the early going, he took Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler into the post for several scores just to prove he's too strong for the Chicago defensive ace down there. Later, he locked up power forward Nikola Mirotic just to show the Bulls rookie sensation that, when he puts his mind to it, he can make just about any scorer's life miserable on the defensive end. While LeBron was out here handing down life lessons , his teammates were bombing awary from deep. Like, really deep: J.R. Smith went 8-for-17 from 3-point land — no, he did not attempt a 2, and yes, that is a record — for 24 points. Kyrie Irving added a game-high 27 on 8-for-19 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from downtown, as the Cavs extended their lead over Chicago both in the Central Division and for the No. 2 seed in the East to four games. And yet, despite the absence of guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls wound up playing Cleveland close enough that Smith and Irving's circus shots — "three heaves that went in," as Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau called them — constituted the difference. That didn't exactly rattle the veteran Bulls' confidence that they could hang with a Cavs squad that's been arguably the best team in basketball since mid-January. "It would be great to play them in the playoffs," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss, which cut Chicago's lead over the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East to just one game. "That would be very, very exciting. That's something I really hope happens." We're with him. Your dreams were your ticket out: Welcome back , Paul George: Our man Jeff Eisenberg has your full on-the-scene story from Paul George's first game back after breaking his right leg last August, so I'll go with the broad strokes. The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 112-89 , behind 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench from Luis Scola and a somewhat un-Pacer-y 14-for-30 mark from 3-point land, with wings Solomon Hill and C.J. Miles combining for eight triples in 15 tries. Indy pulled even with the Heat at 34-43, but nudged ahead of Miami in the standings by virtue of a 3-1 season-series win over Erik Spoelstra's club. The Pacers now sit in ninth place in the East, one game behind the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics (to whom they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 1 1/2 games back of the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (ditto). The Heat won their season series with both Brooklyn and Boston, but in order to cash them in, they'll need to stop their current four-game skid and get back on the good foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Monday's Most Important Games Only Game Knowing the eyes of the basketball-watching world will be focused on the NCAA championship game , the NBA's scheduling wizards decided to go light on Monday, slating just one game. (Actually, there weren't supposed to be any, but a January snowstorm interceded, so here we are.) Blazers at Nets , 7 p.m. ET: The Nets have been a tough squad to draw a bead on over the past three weeks. Lionel Hollins' crew has won 10 of its last 13 games, but has operated in feast-or-famine fashion, amassing both gut-it-out victories with boat-race beatdowns : In last 13 games, Brooklyn is 10-3 & a minus-8. Avg. margin of victory: 6.8 Avg, margin of defeat: 25.3 http://t.co/qceh9kkxys — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 5, 2015 Sitting in seventh place in the East at 35-41, just a half-game ahead of a Celtics squad that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets, Brooklyn could surely use the former on Monday. The Blazers seem to have made the Nets' job a bit easier by deciding to keep three key contributors — All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, starting swingman Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman — back in the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, it's a bit of a surprise that the Blazers would leave three major rotation players at home while still in the midst of a tough race for home-court advantage in the West playoffs. While Portland's guaranteed a top-four seed after locking up the Northwest Division title on Friday night , the Blazers head into Monday's game at 50-26. The fifth-seeded Clippers now sit at 52-26; the sixth-seeded Spurs are 51-26. If whoever finishes fifth ends the season with a better record than Portland, the Blazers will open the playoffs on the road, so it'd seem to be in their best interest to go after every win they can. Then again, all three players are dealing with injuries — torn thumb ligaments for Aldridge and Kaman , a lower back injury for Batum — and played heavy minutes to help Portland seal up the Northwest. With three more road trips on the way before the end of the regular season, the Blazers' brass seems to have decided that it just made more sense to let the wounded rest rather than flying them across the country for one measly game before flying 'em back for Wednesday's home game against the Timberwolves. While several Blazers didn't make the trip, center Robin Lopez did, meaning we'll get yet another installment in his ongoing rivalry with his twin brother, Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn big man sounds ready for battle, according to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily : "Ah," Lopez said, laughing. "Same old same old. I hate that guy and we'll probably hopefully destroy him." That probably wouldn't make the rest of the Lopez family too happy, but it'd be just fine for Nets fans eager to see their club get a bit more breathing room. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

NBA Playoff Picture Update: The Spurs send the Warriors, and everyone else, a message (Ball

With just about two weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. The NBA Playoff Picture Update keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds. [DraftKings: FREE entry to huge cash Fantasy Basketball Contest with first deposit ] Spurs of the moment: Another Sunday, another statement game from the San Antonio Spurs. After dismantling the East-leading Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and hammering a potential Round 1 opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, on March 29 , the Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors — winners of 12 straight, owners of the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs  — and mopped the floor with 'em. The 107-92 final's impressive enough — it's the largest margin of defeat the Warriors have tasted during this season for the ages — but it scarcely tells the story. Golden State never led, trailed by as many as 28 and finished the third quarter down 22 before turning the final frame over to the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli. San Antonio blitzed Steve Kerr's crew from the opening tip. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard keyed both a game-opening 8-1 run (six points of his own, plus an assist on a Tim Duncan jumper) and a 14-3 mid-quarter jolt that knocked the 63-win Dubs on their heels and gave the Spurs a 15-point lead less than eight minutes into the contest. The Spurs' ball movement had the Warriors' league-best defense scrambling early ... ... and often, as San Antonio logged 27 direct assists on 44 made field goals. The Spurs beat the Warriors with backdoor cuts in the half-court, with alley-oops on the break, with long-distance bounce passes in transition, and with just about every other weapon Pop and company could muster. San Antonio's most dangerous weapon, once again, was Leonard, who served as the tip of the spear that punctured the Warriors' free-flowing offense: The quick-as-a-cat perimeter mauler with the massive hands snared a career-high seven steals on Sunday. He opened the game by making life miserable for Harrison Barnes (fourpoints on 2-for-7 shooting) and later switched assignments to cool down a Stephen Curry early third-quarter explosion. The MVP candidate scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just under two minutes to cut the Warriors' deficit to 14; Popovich called a timeout and put Leonard on Curry; Curry didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs ripped off six straight to rebuild the lead. Leonard's offense might never impress quite as much as his masterful defense, but his ascent into something like San Antonio's primary scorer continues. The 23-year-old tied a regular-season career-high with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in just 24 minutes, topping the 20-point mark for the 12th time in his last 19 games. He showed his combination of improving handle, increased confidence and strength against contact with plays like this drive and finish right through Andre Iguodala: Duncan (19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds) and Danny Green (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, great defense on the Warriors' Klay Thompson) also turned in great games for the Spurs, who have now won seven straight, 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 20 overall. During that stretch, San Antonio's outscoring its opposition by 15.2 points per 100 possessions — the best net rating in the league over that span, head-and-shoulders above even the league-best Warriors' historic full-season mark . There remain bits of disharmony in the system that keep the Spurs from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that overwhelmed the Miami Heat last June — Tony Parker (eight points on nine shots in 23 minutes) still seems to look more like a caretaker than a gamebreaker, the "Foreign Legion" shot a combined 6-for-22, etc. But as the regular season draws to a close, San Antonio's offense is humming and its defense is suffocating, which is the kind of thing that can make a No. 6 seed look an awful lot like the team to beat. The Warriors likely won't panic much about Sunday's whitewashing: "This is the first time I think since Christmas that we haven't really been in a game," Curry said, according to Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press . For his part, Kerr intimated after the game that Golden State will have some different looks to offer San Antonio should these two teams meet in the postseason and Pop decides to once again sic Kawhi on Curry. Even so, after seeing San Antonio short-circuit his squad — making the Spurs the only team to have beaten the Warriors twice this season (Golden State also beat San Antonio right after the All-Star break ) — you wouldn't blame Kerr if he'd just as soon not see No. 2 in black and silver again come playoff time. “Kawhi was phenomenal,” Kerr said after the game, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News . “He was the best player on the floor.” Which helped serve notice that, on any given Sunday, the Spurs can still be the best team on the floor, too. Star Wars: Sunday's marquee matinee matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder largely lived up to its billing, with MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook matching big shots in trying to propel their teams to a much-needed victory in their respective tight playoff fights. But despite a league-leading 11th triple-double — 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — for the Thunder star ... ... it was his hirsute former teammate who'd carry the day: [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr:   The best slams from all of basketball] Harden scored a game-high 41 points on 12-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point land) to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes to push the Rockets to a 115-112 win . It was the league-leading 10th 40-plus-point performance for Harden this season. He cranked up the heat late, scoring eight points in a 70-second span to break a 100-all tie, to quell a comeback that had seen the Thunder rise up after trailing by as many as 13, and give the Rockets just enough breathing room to finish the game at the foul line. And I mean just enough — Oklahoma City had a chance to tie it up in the closing seconds, but Westbrook's 3-point try came up short , thanks in part to a close contest by Rockets wing Corey Brewer. It was a little too close of a contest for Russell's liking, actually: Westbrook on if he was anticipating a foul from Brewer on the last play: "He did. He did actually." — Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 5, 2015 Be that as it may, it was lacking defense on the interior (54 points in the paint for the Rockets, including 22 in 23 minutes from Dwight Howard) and in transition (26 fast-break points or Houston) that did Oklahoma City in far more than a swallowed whistle. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary battled foul trouble throughout, and Enes Kanter continued to put up big numbers (21 points, 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass) while giving just about all of it back on the other end. It's bad enough that Oklahoma City has given up 106.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, a bottom-five mark over that period. But during the 1-5 skid that's put their playoff hopes in jeopardy , that's dropped to 112.7 points-per-100 allowed, barely above the defensive efficiency marks of league lowlights like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. With no Kevin Durant , with  no Serge Ibaka and with San Antonio coming to town Tuesday, the 42-35 Thunder must stop the bleeding immediately if they're to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit a half-game behind OKC in the race for the eighth playoff spot out West. Houston, on the other hand, has now won three in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 to improve to 53-24. The Rockets now have a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the race for the No. 2 spot in the West and seem to be weathering their recent rash of injuries well, thanks to both the depth provided by general manager Daryl Morey and the irrepressible offensive orchestration of their bearded wonder. Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher: When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers met on Sunday, the result — as has tended to be the case over these past couple of "Freaky Friday" seasons — was  demolition . There were flashy, thunderous dunks: And there was Chris Paul dribbling the ball through Carlos Boozer's legs at midcourt in a moment that neatly encapsulated just how vastly the fortunes of the two Staples Center tenants vary right now: The Clippers won, 106-78 , and the game wasn't that close. Well, that's not entirely true. This was a seven-point game after 12 minutes, a 13-point game at halftime, and a 13-point game midway through the third. But then the floodgates opened, with the Clippers ripping off a 22-5 run that got the lead to 29 after three, followed promptly by a 16-2 burst to open the fourth that pushed the advantage to its high-water mark of 43 points with 8:09 remaining in the game. It's the second one that likely really hurt Lakers fans. I mean, at least the first came primarily with stars Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor. The 16-2 spurt was produced entirely by the Clippers' threadbare second unit — Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes and recent addition Lester Hudson. That's the kind of thing that'll make Byron Scott fold his arms in a huff on the Laker sideline. Then again, so is literally everything. The Clippers, who boast the NBA's top offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions) and second-best efficiency differential (+6.9 points-per-100, behind only the Warriors) this season, have now won 10 of their last 11 to keep pace in the pack behind Golden State in the West's second tier. Doc Rivers' club sits just a half-game below No. 3 Memphis and, just as importantly, a full game above the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers. (That's a weird thing that we'll discuss in some more detail later.) With injured sixth man Jamal Crawford expected to return this coming week , everything seems to be going the Clips' way right about now ... including the schedule, which matches them up with these very same Lakers again on Tuesday night . Quick, somebody find the Pharrell hat : Yeah, his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the division-rival Chicago Bulls to win for the 31st time in their last 38 games, but LeBron James didn't seem too happy afterward, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin : With two weeks until the NBA playoffs open up and fewer and fewer dress rehearsals remaining for James to direct his group into postseason form, he saw Sunday's win as somewhat hollow because of the shoddy way the Cavs closed things out. Cleveland was ahead by 13 with 9:59 remaining, but ended up winning by just five as the Cavs had as many turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) as they had in the first three quarters combined and also attempted 12 of their 15 shots as a team from outside the paint. "I think we turned the ball over and we got out of attack mode," James said. "I think we settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter. And those are things that we, as a young team, will have to just learn from and get better with it the next time. So, we controlled the game, but we allowed them to get back in the game because of what we did offensively and that's a very good team. You know a Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) team is never going to give up and we have to understand every single possession means everything and we can't take one off." Despite not quite sticking the landing, Cleveland won its 50th game of the year behind an all-around effort from James, who chipped in 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block for his first triple-double of the season. LeBron did a bit of tone-setting, too. In the early going, he took Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler into the post for several scores just to prove he's too strong for the Chicago defensive ace down there. Later, he locked up power forward Nikola Mirotic just to show the Bulls rookie sensation that, when he puts his mind to it, he can make just about any scorer's life miserable on the defensive end. While LeBron was out here handing down life lessons , his teammates were bombing awary from deep. Like, really deep: J.R. Smith went 8-for-17 from 3-point land — no, he did not attempt a 2, and yes, that is a record — for 24 points. Kyrie Irving added a game-high 27 on 8-for-19 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from downtown, as the Cavs extended their lead over Chicago both in the Central Division and for the No. 2 seed in the East to four games. And yet, despite the absence of guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls wound up playing Cleveland close enough that Smith and Irving's circus shots — "three heaves that went in," as Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau called them — constituted the difference. That didn't exactly rattle the veteran Bulls' confidence that they could hang with a Cavs squad that's been arguably the best team in basketball since mid-January. "It would be great to play them in the playoffs," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss, which cut Chicago's lead over the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East to just one game. "That would be very, very exciting. That's something I really hope happens." We're with him. Your dreams were your ticket out: Welcome back , Paul George: Our man Jeff Eisenberg has your full on-the-scene story from Paul George's first game back after breaking his right leg last August, so I'll go with the broad strokes. The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 112-89 , behind 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench from Luis Scola and a somewhat un-Pacer-y 14-for-30 mark from 3-point land, with wings Solomon Hill and C.J. Miles combining for eight triples in 15 tries. Indy pulled even with the Heat at 34-43, but nudged ahead of Miami in the standings by virtue of a 3-1 season-series win over Erik Spoelstra's club. The Pacers now sit in ninth place in the East, one game behind the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics (to whom they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 1 1/2 games back of the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (ditto). The Heat won their season series with both Brooklyn and Boston, but in order to cash them in, they'll need to stop their current four-game skid and get back on the good foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Monday's Most Important Games Only Game Knowing the eyes of the basketball-watching world will be focused on the NCAA championship game , the NBA's scheduling wizards decided to go light on Monday, slating just one game. (Actually, there weren't supposed to be any, but a January snowstorm interceded, so here we are.) Blazers at Nets , 7 p.m. ET: The Nets have been a tough squad to draw a bead on over the past three weeks. Lionel Hollins' crew has won 10 of its last 13 games, but has operated in feast-or-famine fashion, amassing both gut-it-out victories with boat-race beatdowns : In last 13 games, Brooklyn is 10-3 & a minus-8. Avg. margin of victory: 6.8 Avg, margin of defeat: 25.3 http://t.co/qceh9kkxys — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 5, 2015 Sitting in seventh place in the East at 35-41, just a half-game ahead of a Celtics squad that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets, Brooklyn could surely use the former on Monday. The Blazers seem to have made the Nets' job a bit easier by deciding to keep three key contributors — All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, starting swingman Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman — back in the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, it's a bit of a surprise that the Blazers would leave three major rotation players at home while still in the midst of a tough race for home-court advantage in the West playoffs. While Portland's guaranteed a top-four seed after locking up the Northwest Division title on Friday night , the Blazers head into Monday's game at 50-26. The fifth-seeded Clippers now sit at 52-26; the sixth-seeded Spurs are 51-26. If whoever finishes fifth ends the season with a better record than Portland, the Blazers will open the playoffs on the road, so it'd seem to be in their best interest to go after every win they can. Then again, all three players are dealing with injuries — torn thumb ligaments for Aldridge and Kaman , a lower back injury for Batum — and played heavy minutes to help Portland seal up the Northwest. With three more road trips on the way before the end of the regular season, the Blazers' brass seems to have decided that it just made more sense to let the wounded rest rather than flying them across the country for one measly game before flying 'em back for Wednesday's home game against the Timberwolves. While several Blazers didn't make the trip, center Robin Lopez did, meaning we'll get yet another installment in his ongoing rivalry with his twin brother, Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn big man sounds ready for battle, according to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily : "Ah," Lopez said, laughing. "Same old same old. I hate that guy and we'll probably hopefully destroy him." That probably wouldn't make the rest of the Lopez family too happy, but it'd be just fine for Nets fans eager to see their club get a bit more breathing room. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

NBA Playoff Picture Update: The Spurs send the Warriors, and everyone else, a message (Ball

With just about two weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. The NBA Playoff Picture Update keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds. [DraftKings: FREE entry to huge cash Fantasy Basketball Contest with first deposit ] Spurs of the moment: Another Sunday, another statement game from the San Antonio Spurs. After dismantling the East-leading Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and hammering a potential Round 1 opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, on March 29 , the Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors — winners of 12 straight, owners of the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs  — and mopped the floor with 'em. The 107-92 final's impressive enough — it's the largest margin of defeat the Warriors have tasted during this season for the ages — but it scarcely tells the story. Golden State never led, trailed by as many as 28 and finished the third quarter down 22 before turning the final frame over to the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli. San Antonio blitzed Steve Kerr's crew from the opening tip. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard keyed both a game-opening 8-1 run (six points of his own, plus an assist on a Tim Duncan jumper) and a 14-3 mid-quarter jolt that knocked the 63-win Dubs on their heels and gave the Spurs a 15-point lead less than eight minutes into the contest. The Spurs' ball movement had the Warriors' league-best defense scrambling early ... ... and often, as San Antonio logged 27 direct assists on 44 made field goals. The Spurs beat the Warriors with backdoor cuts in the half-court, with alley-oops on the break, with long-distance bounce passes in transition, and with just about every other weapon Pop and company could muster. San Antonio's most dangerous weapon, once again, was Leonard, who served as the tip of the spear that punctured the Warriors' free-flowing offense: The quick-as-a-cat perimeter mauler with the massive hands snared a career-high seven steals on Sunday. He opened the game by making life miserable for Harrison Barnes (four points on 2-for-7 shooting) and later switched assignments to cool down a Stephen Curry early third-quarter explosion. The MVP candidate scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just under two minutes to cut the Warriors' deficit to 14; Popovich called a timeout and put Leonard on Curry; Curry didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs ripped off six straight to rebuild the lead. Leonard's offense might never impress quite as much as his masterful defense, but his ascent into something like San Antonio's primary scorer continues. The 23-year-old tied a regular-season career-high with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in just 24 minutes, topping the 20-point mark for the 12th time in his last 19 games. He showed his combination of improving handle, increased confidence and strength against contact with plays like this drive and finish right through Andre Iguodala: Duncan (19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds) and Danny Green (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, great defense on the Warriors' Klay Thompson) also turned in great games for the Spurs, who have now won seven straight, 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 20 overall. During that stretch, San Antonio's outscoring its opposition by 15.2 points per 100 possessions — the best net rating in the league over that span, head-and-shoulders above even the league-best Warriors' historic full-season mark . There remain bits of disharmony in the system that keep the Spurs from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that overwhelmed the Miami Heat last June — Tony Parker (eight points on nine shots in 23 minutes) still seems to look more like a caretaker than a gamebreaker, the "Foreign Legion" shot a combined 6-for-22, etc. But as the regular season draws to a close, San Antonio's offense is humming and its defense is suffocating, which is the kind of thing that can make a No. 6 seed look an awful lot like the team to beat. The Warriors likely won't panic much about Sunday's whitewashing: "This is the first time I think since Christmas that we haven't really been in a game," Curry said, according to Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press . For his part, Kerr intimated after the game that Golden State will have some different looks to offer San Antonio should these two teams meet in the postseason and Pop decides to once again sic Kawhi on Curry. Even so, after seeing San Antonio short-circuit his squad — making the Spurs the only team to have beaten the Warriors twice this season (Golden State also beat San Antonio right after the All-Star break ) — you wouldn't blame Kerr if he'd just as soon not see No. 2 in black and silver again come playoff time. “Kawhi was phenomenal,” Kerr said after the game, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News . “He was the best player on the floor.” Which helped serve notice that, on any given Sunday, the Spurs can still be the best team on the floor, too. Star Wars: Sunday's marquee matinee matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder largely lived up to its billing, with MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook matching big shots in trying to propel their teams to a much-needed victory in their respective tight playoff fights. But despite a league-leading 11th triple-double — 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — for the Thunder star ... ... it was his hirsute former teammate who'd carry the day: [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr:   The best slams from all of basketball] Harden scored a game-high 41 points on 12-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point land) to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes to push the Rockets to a 115-112 win . It was the league-leading 10th 40-plus-point performance for Harden this season. He cranked up the heat late, scoring eight points in a 70-second span to break a 100-all tie, to quell a comeback that had seen the Thunder rise up after trailing by as many as 13, and give the Rockets just enough breathing room to finish the game at the foul line. And I mean just enough — Oklahoma City had a chance to tie it up in the closing seconds, but Westbrook's 3-point try came up short , thanks in part to a close contest by Rockets wing Corey Brewer. It was a little too close of a contest for Russell's liking, actually: Westbrook on if he was anticipating a foul from Brewer on the last play: "He did. He did actually." — Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 5, 2015 Be that as it may, it was lacking defense on the interior (54 points in the paint for the Rockets, including 22 in 23 minutes from Dwight Howard) and in transition (26 fast-break points or Houston) that did Oklahoma City in far more than a swallowed whistle. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary battled foul trouble throughout, and Enes Kanter continued to put up big numbers (21 points, 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass) while giving just about all of it back on the other end. It's bad enough that Oklahoma City has given up 106.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, a bottom-five mark over that period. But during the 1-5 skid that's put their playoff hopes in jeopardy , that's dropped to 112.7 points-per-100 allowed, barely above the defensive efficiency marks of league lowlights like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. With no Kevin Durant , with  no Serge Ibaka and with San Antonio coming to town Tuesday, the 42-35 Thunder must stop the bleeding immediately if they're to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit a half-game behind OKC in the race for the eighth playoff spot out West. Houston, on the other hand, has now won three in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 to improve to 53-24. The Rockets now have a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the race for the No. 2 spot in the West and seem to be weathering their recent rash of injuries well, thanks to both the depth provided by general manager Daryl Morey and the irrepressible offensive orchestration of their bearded wonder. Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher: When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers met on Sunday, the result — as has tended to be the case over these past couple of "Freaky Friday" seasons — was  demolition . There were flashy, thunderous dunks: And there was Chris Paul dribbling the ball through Carlos Boozer's legs at midcourt in a moment that neatly encapsulated just how vastly the fortunes of the two Staples Center tenants vary right now: The Clippers won, 106-78 , and the game wasn't that close. Well, that's not entirely true. This was a seven-point game after 12 minutes, a 13-point game at halftime, and a 13-point game midway through the third. But then the floodgates opened, with the Clippers ripping off a 22-5 run that got the lead to 29 after three, followed promptly by a 16-2 burst to open the fourth that pushed the advantage to its high-water mark of 43 points with 8:09 remaining in the game. It's the second one that likely really hurt Lakers fans. I mean, at least the first came primarily with stars Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor. The 16-2 spurt was produced entirely by the Clippers' threadbare second unit — Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes and recent addition Lester Hudson. That's the kind of thing that'll make Byron Scott fold his arms in a huff on the Laker sideline. Then again, so is literally everything. The Clippers, who boast the NBA's top offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions) and second-best efficiency differential (+6.9 points-per-100, behind only the Warriors) this season, have now won 10 of their last 11 to keep pace in the pack behind Golden State in the West's second tier. Doc Rivers' club sits just a half-game below No. 3 Memphis and, just as importantly, a full game above the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers. (That's a weird thing that we'll discuss in some more detail later.) With injured sixth man Jamal Crawford expected to return this coming week , everything seems to be going the Clips' way right about now ... including the schedule, which matches them up with these very same Lakers again on Tuesday night . Quick, somebody find the Pharrell hat : Yeah, his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the division-rival Chicago Bulls to win for the 31st time in their last 38 games, but LeBron James didn't seem too happy afterward, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin : With two weeks until the NBA playoffs open up and fewer and fewer dress rehearsals remaining for James to direct his group into postseason form, he saw Sunday's win as somewhat hollow because of the shoddy way the Cavs closed things out. Cleveland was ahead by 13 with 9:59 remaining, but ended up winning by just five as the Cavs had as many turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) as they had in the first three quarters combined and also attempted 12 of their 15 shots as a team from outside the paint. "I think we turned the ball over and we got out of attack mode," James said. "I think we settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter. And those are things that we, as a young team, will have to just learn from and get better with it the next time. So, we controlled the game, but we allowed them to get back in the game because of what we did offensively and that's a very good team. You know a Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) team is never going to give up and we have to understand every single possession means everything and we can't take one off." Despite not quite sticking the landing, Cleveland won its 50th game of the year behind an all-around effort from James, who chipped in 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block for his first triple-double of the season. LeBron did a bit of tone-setting, too. In the early going, he took Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler into the post for several scores just to prove he's too strong for the Chicago defensive ace down there. Later, he locked up power forward Nikola Mirotic just to show the Bulls rookie sensation that, when he puts his mind to it, he can make just about any scorer's life miserable on the defensive end. While LeBron was out here handing down life lessons , his teammates were bombing awary from deep. Like, really deep: J.R. Smith went 8-for-17 from 3-point land — no, he did not attempt a 2, and yes, that is a record — for 24 points. Kyrie Irving added a game-high 27 on 8-for-19 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from downtown, as the Cavs extended their lead over Chicago both in the Central Division and for the No. 2 seed in the East to four games. And yet, despite the absence of guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls wound up playing Cleveland close enough that Smith and Irving's circus shots — "three heaves that went in," as Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau called them — constituted the difference. That didn't exactly rattle the veteran Bulls' confidence that they could hang with a Cavs squad that's been arguably the best team in basketball since mid-January. "It would be great to play them in the playoffs," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss, which cut Chicago's lead over the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East to just one game. "That would be very, very exciting. That's something I really hope happens." We're with him. Your dreams were your ticket out: Welcome back , Paul George: Our man Jeff Eisenberg has your full on-the-scene story from Paul George's first game back after breaking his right leg last August, so I'll go with the broad strokes. The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 112-89 , behind 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench from Luis Scola and a somewhat un-Pacer-y 14-for-30 mark from 3-point land, with wings Solomon Hill and C.J. Miles combining for eight triples in 15 tries. Indy pulled even with the Heat at 34-43, but nudged ahead of Miami in the standings by virtue of a 3-1 season-series win over Erik Spoelstra's club. The Pacers now sit in ninth place in the East, one game behind the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics (to whom they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 1 1/2 games back of the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (ditto). The Heat won their season series with both Brooklyn and Boston, but in order to cash them in, they'll need to stop their current four-game skid and get back on the good foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Monday's Most Important Games Only Game Knowing the eyes of the basketball-watching world will be focused on the NCAA championship game , the NBA's scheduling wizards decided to go light on Monday, slating just one game. (Actually, there weren't supposed to be any, but a January snowstorm interceded, so here we are.) Blazers at Nets , 7 p.m. ET: The Nets have been a tough squad to draw a bead on over the past three weeks. Lionel Hollins' crew has won 10 of its last 13 games, but has operated in feast-or-famine fashion, amassing both gut-it-out victories with boat-race beatdowns : In last 13 games, Brooklyn is 10-3 & a minus-8. Avg. margin of victory: 6.8 Avg, margin of defeat: 25.3 http://t.co/qceh9kkxys — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 5, 2015 Sitting in seventh place in the East at 35-41, just a half-game ahead of a Celtics squad that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets, Brooklyn could surely use the former on Monday. The Blazers seem to have made the Nets' job a bit easier by deciding to keep three key contributors — All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, starting swingman Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman — back in the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, it's a bit of a surprise that the Blazers would leave three major rotation players at home while still in the midst of a tough race for home-court advantage in the West playoffs. While Portland's guaranteed a top-four seed after locking up the Northwest Division title on Friday night , the Blazers head into Monday's game at 50-26. The fifth-seeded Clippers now sit at 52-26; the sixth-seeded Spurs are 51-26. If whoever finishes fifth ends the season with a better record than Portland, the Blazers will open the playoffs on the road, so it'd seem to be in their best interest to go after every win they can. Then again, all three players are dealing with injuries — torn thumb ligaments for Aldridge and Kaman , a lower back injury for Batum — and played heavy minutes to help Portland seal up the Northwest. With three more road trips on the way before the end of the regular season, the Blazers' brass seems to have decided that it just made more sense to let the wounded rest rather than flying them across the country for one measly game before flying 'em back for Wednesday's home game against the Timberwolves. While several Blazers didn't make the trip, center Robin Lopez did, meaning we'll get yet another installment in his ongoing rivalry with his twin brother, Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn big man sounds ready for battle, according to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily : "Ah," Lopez said, laughing. "Same old same old. I hate that guy and we'll probably hopefully destroy him." That probably wouldn't make the rest of the Lopez family too happy, but it'd be just fine for Nets fans eager to see their club get a bit more breathing room. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

NBA Playoff Picture Update: The Spurs send the Warriors, and everyone else, a message (Ball

With just about two weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. The NBA Playoff Picture Update keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds. [DraftKings: FREE entry to huge cash Fantasy Basketball Contest with first deposit ] Spurs of the moment: Another Sunday, another statement game from the San Antonio Spurs. After dismantling the East-leading Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and hammering a potential Round 1 opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, on March 29 , the Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors — winners of 12 straight, owners of the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs  — and mopped the floor with 'em. The 107-92 final's impressive enough — it's the largest margin of defeat the Warriors have tasted during this season for the ages — but it scarcely tells the story. Golden State never led, trailed by as many as 28 and finished the third quarter down 22 before turning the final frame over to the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli. San Antonio blitzed Steve Kerr's crew from the opening tip. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard keyed both a game-opening 8-1 run (six points of his own, plus an assist on a Tim Duncan jumper) and a 14-3 mid-quarter jolt that knocked the 63-win Dubs on their heels and gave the Spurs a 15-point lead less than eight minutes into the contest. The Spurs' ball movement had the Warriors' league-best defense scrambling early ... ... and often, as San Antonio logged 27 direct assists on 44 made field goals. The Spurs beat the Warriors with backdoor cuts in the half-court, with alley-oops on the break, with long-distance bounce passes in transition, and with just about every other weapon Pop and company could muster. San Antonio's most dangerous weapon, once again, was Leonard, who served as the tip of the spear that punctured the Warriors' free-flowing offense: The quick-as-a-cat perimeter mauler with the massive hands snared a career-high seven steals on Sunday. He opened the game by making life miserable for Harrison Barnes (four points on 2-for-7 shooting) and later switched assignments to cool down a Stephen Curry early third-quarter explosion. The MVP candidate scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just under two minutes to cut the Warriors' deficit to 14; Popovich called a timeout and put Leonard on Curry; Curry didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs ripped off six straight to rebuild the lead. Leonard's offense might never impress quite as much as his masterful defense, but his ascent into something like San Antonio's primary scorer continues. The 23-year-old tied a regular-season career-high with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in just 24 minutes, topping the 20-point mark for the 12th time in his last 19 games. He showed his combination of improving handle, increased confidence and strength against contact with plays like this drive and finish right through Andre Iguodala: Duncan (19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds) and Danny Green (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, great defense on the Warriors' Klay Thompson) also turned in great games for the Spurs, who have now won seven straight, 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 20 overall. During that stretch, San Antonio's outscoring its opposition by 15.2 points per 100 possessions — the best net rating in the league over that span, head-and-shoulders above even the league-best Warriors' historic full-season mark . There remain bits of disharmony in the system that keep the Spurs from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that overwhelmed the Miami Heat last June — Tony Parker (eight points on nine shots in 23 minutes) still seems to look more like a caretaker than a gamebreaker, the "Foreign Legion" shot a combined 6-for-22, etc. But as the regular season draws to a close, San Antonio's offense is humming and its defense is suffocating, which is the kind of thing that can make a No. 6 seed look an awful lot like the team to beat. The Warriors likely won't panic much about Sunday's whitewashing: "This is the first time I think since Christmas that we haven't really been in a game," Curry said, according to Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press . For his part, Kerr intimated after the game that Golden State will have some different looks to offer San Antonio should these two teams meet in the postseason and Pop decides to once again sic Kawhi on Curry. Even so, after seeing San Antonio short-circuit his squad — making the Spurs the only team to have beaten the Warriors twice this season (Golden State also beat San Antonio right after the All-Star break ) — you wouldn't blame Kerr if he'd just as soon not see No. 2 in black and silver again come playoff time. “Kawhi was phenomenal,” Kerr said after the game, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News . “He was the best player on the floor.” Which helped serve notice that, on any given Sunday, the Spurs can still be the best team on the floor, too. Star Wars: Sunday's marquee matinee matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder largely lived up to its billing, with MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook matching big shots in trying to propel their teams to a much-needed victory in their respective tight playoff fights. But despite a league-leading 11th triple-double — 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — for the Thunder star ... ... it was his hirsute former teammate who'd carry the day: [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr:   The best slams from all of basketball] Harden scored a game-high 41 points on 12-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point land) to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes to push the Rockets to a 115-112 win . It was the league-leading 10th 40-plus-point performance for Harden this season. He cranked up the heat late, scoring eight points in a 70-second spanto break a 100-all tie, to quell a comeback that had seen the Thunder rise up after trailing by as many as 13, and give the Rockets just enough breathing room to finish the game at the foul line. And I mean just enough — Oklahoma City had a chance to tie it up in the closing seconds, but Westbrook's 3-point try came up short , thanks in part to a close contest by Rockets wing Corey Brewer. It was a little too close of a contest for Russell's liking, actually: Westbrook on if he was anticipating a foul from Brewer on the last play: "He did. He did actually." — Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 5, 2015 Be that as it may, it was lacking defense on the interior (54 points in the paint for the Rockets, including 22 in 23 minutes from Dwight Howard) and in transition (26 fast-break points or Houston) that did Oklahoma City in far more than a swallowed whistle. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary battled foul trouble throughout, and Enes Kanter continued to put up big numbers (21 points, 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass) while giving just about all of it back on the other end. It's bad enough that Oklahoma City has given up 106.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, a bottom-five mark over that period. But during the 1-5 skid that's put their playoff hopes in jeopardy , that's dropped to 112.7 points-per-100 allowed, barely above the defensive efficiency marks of league lowlights like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. With no Kevin Durant , with  no Serge Ibaka and with San Antonio coming to town Tuesday, the 42-35 Thunder must stop the bleeding immediately if they're to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit a half-game behind OKC in the race for the eighth playoff spot out West. Houston, on the other hand, has now won three in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 to improve to 53-24. The Rockets now have a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the race for the No. 2 spot in the West and seem to be weathering their recent rash of injuries well, thanks to both the depth provided by general manager Daryl Morey and the irrepressible offensive orchestration of their bearded wonder. Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher: When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers met on Sunday, the result — as has tended to be the case over these past couple of "Freaky Friday" seasons — was  demolition . There were flashy, thunderous dunks: And there was Chris Paul dribbling the ball through Carlos Boozer's legs at midcourt in a moment that neatly encapsulated just how vastly the fortunes of the two Staples Center tenants vary right now: The Clippers won, 106-78 , and the game wasn't that close. Well, that's not entirely true. This was a seven-point game after 12 minutes, a 13-point game at halftime, and a 13-point game midway through the third. But then the floodgates opened, with the Clippers ripping off a 22-5 run that got the lead to 29 after three, followed promptly by a 16-2 burst to open the fourth that pushed the advantage to its high-water mark of 43 points with 8:09 remaining in the game. It's the second one that likely really hurt Lakers fans. I mean, at least the first came primarily with stars Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor. The 16-2 spurt was produced entirely by the Clippers' threadbare second unit — Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes and recent addition Lester Hudson. That's the kind of thing that'll make Byron Scott fold his arms in a huff on the Laker sideline. Then again, so is literally everything. The Clippers, who boast the NBA's top offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions) and second-best efficiency differential (+6.9 points-per-100, behind only the Warriors) this season, have now won 10 of their last 11 to keep pace in the pack behind Golden State in the West's second tier. Doc Rivers' club sits just a half-game below No. 3 Memphis and, just as importantly, a full game above the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers. (That's a weird thing that we'll discuss in some more detail later.) With injured sixth man Jamal Crawford expected to return this coming week , everything seems to be going the Clips' way right about now ... including the schedule, which matches them up with these very same Lakers again on Tuesday night . Quick, somebody find the Pharrell hat : Yeah, his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the division-rival Chicago Bulls to win for the 31st time in their last 38 games, but LeBron James didn't seem too happy afterward, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin : With two weeks until the NBA playoffs open up and fewer and fewer dress rehearsals remaining for James to direct his group into postseason form, he saw Sunday's win as somewhat hollow because of the shoddy way the Cavs closed things out. Cleveland was ahead by 13 with 9:59 remaining, but ended up winning by just five as the Cavs had as many turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) as they had in the first three quarters combined and also attempted 12 of their 15 shots as a team from outside the paint. "I think we turned the ball over and we got out of attack mode," James said. "I think we settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter. And those are things that we, as a young team, will have to just learn from and get better with it the next time. So, we controlled the game, but we allowed them to get back in the game because of what we did offensively and that's a very good team. You know a Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) team is never going to give up and we have to understand every single possession means everything and we can't take one off." Despite not quite sticking the landing, Cleveland won its 50th game of the year behind an all-around effort from James, who chipped in 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block for his first triple-double of the season. LeBron did a bit of tone-setting, too. In the early going, he took Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler into the post for several scores just to prove he's too strong for the Chicago defensive ace down there. Later, he locked up power forward Nikola Mirotic just to show the Bulls rookie sensation that, when he puts his mind to it, he can make just about any scorer's life miserable on the defensive end. While LeBron was out here handing down life lessons , his teammates were bombing awary from deep. Like, really deep: J.R. Smith went 8-for-17 from 3-point land — no, he did not attempt a 2, and yes, that is a record — for 24 points. Kyrie Irving added a game-high 27 on 8-for-19 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from downtown, as the Cavs extended their lead over Chicago both in the Central Division and for the No. 2 seed in the East to four games. And yet, despite the absence of guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls wound up playing Cleveland close enough that Smith and Irving's circus shots — "three heaves that went in," as Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau called them — constituted the difference. That didn't exactly rattle the veteran Bulls' confidence that they could hang with a Cavs squad that's been arguably the best team in basketball since mid-January. "It would be great to play them in the playoffs," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss, which cut Chicago's lead over the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East to just one game. "That would be very, very exciting. That's something I really hope happens." We're with him. Your dreams were your ticket out: Welcome back , Paul George: Our man Jeff Eisenberg has your full on-the-scene story from Paul George's first game back after breaking his right leg last August, so I'll go with the broad strokes. The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 112-89 , behind 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench from Luis Scola and a somewhat un-Pacer-y 14-for-30 mark from 3-point land, with wings Solomon Hill and C.J. Miles combining for eight triples in 15 tries. Indy pulled even with the Heat at 34-43, but nudged ahead of Miami in the standings by virtue of a 3-1 season-series win over Erik Spoelstra's club. The Pacers now sit in ninth place in the East, one game behind the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics (to whom they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 1 1/2 games back of the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (ditto). The Heat won their season series with both Brooklyn and Boston, but in order to cash them in, they'll need to stop their current four-game skid and get back on the good foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Monday's Most Important Games Only Game Knowing the eyes of the basketball-watching world will be focused on the NCAA championship game , the NBA's scheduling wizards decided to go light on Monday, slating just one game. (Actually, there weren't supposed to be any, but a January snowstorm interceded, so here we are.) Blazers at Nets , 7 p.m. ET: The Nets have been a tough squad to draw a bead on over the past three weeks. Lionel Hollins' crew has won 10 of its last 13 games, but has operated in feast-or-famine fashion, amassing both gut-it-out victories with boat-race beatdowns : In last 13 games, Brooklyn is 10-3 & a minus-8. Avg. margin of victory: 6.8 Avg, margin of defeat: 25.3 http://t.co/qceh9kkxys — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 5, 2015 Sitting in seventh place in the East at 35-41, just a half-game ahead of a Celtics squad that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets, Brooklyn could surely use the former on Monday. The Blazers seem to have made the Nets' job a bit easier by deciding to keep three key contributors — All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, starting swingman Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman — back in the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, it's a bit of a surprise that the Blazers would leave three major rotation players at home while still in the midst of a tough race for home-court advantage in the West playoffs. While Portland's guaranteed a top-four seed after locking up the Northwest Division title on Friday night , the Blazers head into Monday's game at 50-26. The fifth-seeded Clippers now sit at 52-26; the sixth-seeded Spurs are 51-26. If whoever finishes fifth ends the season with a better record than Portland, the Blazers will open the playoffs on the road, so it'd seem to be in their best interest to go after every win they can. Then again, all three players are dealing with injuries — torn thumb ligaments for Aldridge and Kaman , a lower back injury for Batum — and played heavy minutes to help Portland seal up the Northwest. With three more road trips on the way before the end of the regular season, the Blazers' brass seems to have decided that it just made more sense to let the wounded rest rather than flying them across the country for one measly game before flying 'em back for Wednesday's home game against the Timberwolves. While several Blazers didn't make the trip, center Robin Lopez did, meaning we'll get yet another installment in his ongoing rivalry with his twin brother, Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn big man sounds ready for battle, according to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily : "Ah," Lopez said, laughing. "Same old same old. I hate that guy and we'll probably hopefully destroy him." That probably wouldn't make the rest of the Lopez family too happy, but it'd be just fine for Nets fans eager to see their club get a bit more breathing room. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

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