OKC Thunder vs. Phoenix Suns
The Suns have had a sunny restart, winning 6 straight games to keep themselves in a slim playoff chance.
The Suns surge in offense continues through this game with 128 points and a game average of 120 points. The Suns bested the Thunders in every paper statistic. They scored more buckets on fewer shots, out rebounded, had more assists, and had fewer turnovers than the Thunder. Deandre Ayton proved his prowess when his team was down in the 1st and came off of the bench in the second to help his team dominate the rest of the game.
Devin Booker had another incredible game, dropping 35 points and 4 dimes in the dominant victory. He shot 50% from the field with 9 field goals and 3 three-pointers. He is a great natural scorer that the Suns need to lean on to keep this success going to give them a shot at the playoffs.
The Suns next scheduled game is against a strong Sixers team that will most certainly challenge the success that the suns have had up until this point.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder came into this game banged up, and Coach Billy Donovan made a business move before this game making sure to give his players some rest. Most of the starting lineup was out of the game, the only concerning one was Steven Adams who has missed two straight.
Not really that many teams get some attention for their depth, but OKC is one of the teams that should. They are constantly having their younger players step into bigger roles when they need them to. In this one OKC was without 4 of their 5 best scorers on the team, yet every new person in the starting lineup had a double digit scoring night. Mike Muscala had 11, Abdel Nader had 14, and Darius Bazley had 22 in the loss. Bazley led the team in scoring and added 10 rebounds to the statline, he could be another young player that OKC develops into a star.
I am not saying that these injuries are fake or that the player isn’t sore or tired. I am just saying these injuries are nothing to worry about and will not affect the player at all minus Steven Adams and Noel’s. Adams has missed two games in a row and they have called it a bruised left leg, it is still a reason for Thunder fans to be concerned. He should be fine but missing two games from a bruise is a bit surprising. The most positive thing from all these players being out for OKC, is that the team is getting rest that they will need as they head into the playoffs. Shai was out with a bruised right calf, Danilo Gallinari had left ankle maintenance, and Nerlans Noel sprained his right ankle.
OKC take on the Heat on Wednesday and every OKC fan should be watching to see who plays and who doesn’t. Not to mention OKC needs to end with at least one win to stay above the 5 seed.
Final Score: OKC 128 PHX 101
Dallas Mavericks vs. Utah Jazz
After a thrilling win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas decided to bench 3 starters in their game against the Jazz. No Luka, KP, or Dorian Finey-Smith. Utah would be playing without Donovan Mitchell, but they still had other starters to go to.
Rick Carlisle got more bench players involved.
Rick Carlisle tried out a lot of new rotations, and got some bench players involved more. We saw players like Josh Reaves, Antonius Cleveland, and J.J. Barea find more action. Barea scored 18 points, along with 8 assists and two rebounds. Boban Marjonavic also found his way into the starting lineup, dropping 20 points of his own while grabbing 9 boards. The problem was that as a team, Dallas couldn’t defend Utah when they shot a three pointer. These young guys were unable to get a good position coming off of screens, and therefore gave up unnecessary shots. Trey Burke made some tough shots throughout the game, as his veteran presence helped the young players settle in. Going down the stretch, Carlisle now knows which players he should count on, and which ones need more game time to improve.
Kleber, Hardaway Jr, and Curry all stepped up.
The Mavs were down by 19 points in the third quarter, and they counted on their remaining starters to complete the comeback. Curry, THJ, and Maxi Kleber completed the biggest comeback for Dallas since 2016, and they did it all in the 4th. Seth Curry was able to knock down a few threes at the end to seal the comeback. Maxi Kleber started the comeback by getting into the lane, and getting tough buckets. Kleber is a versatile player, who showed yesterday that he can do a lot of things. Hardaway worked the mid-range as well to get the Mavs going. The bench didn’t do a great job on defense, but these three guys cleaned it up. Hardaway had 27 points, Curry had 22, and Kleber had 11. Dallas also allowed just 14 points in the 4th, compared to 34 themselves.
In order to get the six seed, Dallas needs to win out. Next up is Portland, so the key for this game is to contain Dame from the three point line. Easy to say, not so easy to do. Help defense needs to be a focal point this game.
The Jazz faced off against a Mavericks team without Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic. They had a 22 point in the 2nd half but then a huge surge resulted in a shocking 122-114 point loss.
The Jazz scored a measly 28 points to the Mavericks 58 inside the paint. This means that the Jazz are taking more difficult mid-range and 3 point shots than scoring around the basket. If the Jazz improved getting into the paint and getting the ball to Gobert, the Jazz can generate more easy buckets and outscore high octane offenses like the Mavericks. This is now the third straight loss for the Jazz in their grand total of 5 losses in 7 games. They showed that great 3 point shooting, going 21 for 46 as a team. Adding a post and driving game will keep the deep ball open while getting easy points closer to the basket.
Quin Snyder gave most of the minutes to his bench players to rest his starters. Snyder commented that he wants to see who he can rely on when the playoffs roll around. With such a mix of performances off of the bench, it will be interesting to see who Snyder deems beneficial to the team when important games and the playoffs come. Considering the streak and recent lack of success, Snyder needs to figure out who he’s gonna play in big moments.
The Jazz will play the Spurs on Thursday
Final Score: PHX 128 OKC 101
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
After the Raptors successfully won a few games and locked up the 2nd seed in the East, they were well aware that they would be able to rest until the playoffs
While the Raptors claimed all their players that did not play were injured, at most they were a little sore from all the games they have played. They are resting and it is well deserved for a team that was just played fantastically in the bubble. Those missing from the game included Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet. While the other starters played minutes they weren’t playing hard minutes. What I mean by that is they were not trying to be extra, or really giving the extra effort they were on cruise control for the game and that is completely ok with me.
Boucher said he has been waiting for this moment since the season started and knew his day would eventually come. Today was the day for Chris as he was absolutely fantastic and led the Raptors to the win. He had 25 points going 9-15 from the field and he had himself a day on the glass as well. He grabbed 11 boards, 5 of them while the Raps were on offense. A positive plus minus added to his career day, I would love to see if Boucher can make this happen again.
The Raptors take on the 76ers on Wednesday and have one more game after that, I would expect light minutes for the Raptors here unless they are trying to get Philly a lower seed.
The Bucks were playing a game against their top rival to the Eastern conference throne, but instead of a great game key players from both teams sat out and had rest days.
Great shooting night from Korver and no one else
The Milwaukee Bucks are known to use their three point shooting to open up the floor, and open buckets. For this strategy to work, the Bucks need to make their threes. Against the Raptors,who have great team defense, the Bucks 12 for 40 from three. Kyle Korver shot 5 of the threes for the Bucks, and led the team with 19 points. This is quite impressive for Korver, and good to see that he still has his shooting stroke at 39 years. For the rest of the team though going for 7 for 34,without the added boost of Korver, is not going to cut it in the playoffs. Even though Giannis, who isn’t a big three point shooter anyways, was not playing, the Bucks still had quality shooters in Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton missing against the Raptors.
The Bucks defense could not stop Chris Boucher
The Raptors may have been out with Kyle Lowry and other key players, but the Raptors power forward Chris Boucher stepped in. Boucher dropped 25 points and 11 rebounds on the Bucks, and this was not the type of defense that the Bucks wanted to show during this game. By allowing 46 points in the paint to the Raptors, the Bucks showed weakness in their usually strong interior defense. While Giannis was resting for this game, the Bucks should not have their defense relying on one player.
In a game against the eliminated Wizards, the Bucks should find no opposition to a win against Washington.
Final Score: TOR 114 MIL 106
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
While the 3 seed looks out of reach for the Heat they still have to defend the four seed. They played an important game against the Pacers and the return of Butler vs Warren occurred. No scuffle this time and Jimmy definitely got the best of this one.
Everyone in the bubble knows that TJ Warren has been absolutely fantastic in the bubble and although teams have tried, know one has been able to stop him. The rivalry between Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren was also back after a long awaited return. Even though there was a hyped up return not much happened, besides the Heat shutting Warren down. He was 5-14 from the field and only got 2 threes to go down. He would end up being held to only 12 points which compared to other nights in the bubble, it just wasn’t great. Butler had a big part of that with his defensive presence and it’s good to see him back.
Although Jimmy Butler has been out a few games in a row, as soon as he entered back into the lineup the Heat played well with him. He was moving the ball well, playing great defense, and getting the ball in the net. Overall it felt like Jimmy just never left the lineup and he was always with the team. Huge boost for the team come playoff time as they knocked the socks off their likely playoff opponent.
The Heat take on the Thunder on Wednesday at 7 PM. OKC is still fighting for seeding and with no home court advantage Miami has little to worry about because they get to play the Pacers again to end the restart.
The T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler battle was finally here, and based on Warren’s bubble play, people expected Indiana to pick up a W here. Butler had different plans, and gave Warren something he hasn’t had in the bubble. As a team, the Pacers weren’t able to get anything going, but Miami was.
The struggling offense really hurts this team.
When T.J. Warren was on fire, the Pacers followed. But against Miami, Warren had an off day, and the team repeated. No player scored more than 14 points, and the Pacers were held to just 92 points. This game will likely be a first round matchup, so Indiana needs to find the weak spots in the Heat offense, and take advantage of them. The Pacers shot below 30% from beyond the arc, and that was that. Just because T.J. Warren doesn’t have a good night, doesn’t mean that the Pacers should as well. This game was a big one regarding momentum for when these teams meet next week.
Free throw shooting needs to be addressed.
Indiana did not have a good night at the free throw line, and shot 64% as a team. They went 16-25. If Indiana was able to knock down those free throws, getting the lead down to single digits wouldn’t have been in issue. In a tight playoff game, missing free throws is something they just can’t afford to do.
The Pacers will next face the Houston Rockets. In this game, the defensive effort needs to be multiplied by three times. The Rockets have had their way on offense, and the Pacers need to do a good job of stopping it.
Final Score: MIA 114 IND 92
Denver Nuggets vs. L.A Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers
Will Frank Vogel finally figure out his rotation and will the Lakers be a giant mess heading into the playoffs.
Yes it is as dramatic as I made it seem up above. A different rotation heading into the playoffs can lead to a lot of confusion between the players. It also disrupts Chemistry with a different guy coming in every other play. It’s not going to be a good situation because once again Frank Vogel switched his rotation again. In this game he saw 0 minutes from Quinn Cook in the game today, when he dropped 21 against the Pacers in the game before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers drop some games in the playoffs because of straight up rotation issues.
Kyle Kuzma has come alive in the bubble having double digit scoring games in 5 out of the 6 games the Lakers have played. Last night was his best night so far dropping 25 against the Nuggets including the game winning three with .4 seconds to go. Down the stretch he started hitting shots and making moves and the Lakers just started getting closer and closer until they took it at the end. Kyle being that good in games deep in the playoffs will be huge getting the Laker to the Championship. If Kuzma continues to play like there is no telling how powerful the Lakers are.
The Lakers play the Kings on Thursday and once again have nothing to play for. Honestly I think everyone will still play and hopefully Vogel can get a consistent rotation.
The Nuggets went on to face the one seed in the West, and hung on until the last second. It was a tight game, and Denver did a good job of not letting go. The whole team did a good job of scoring, and being efficient.
All players contributed on offense.
Against a team like the Lakers, most teams like to have one player dominate, and do his thing. Denver played it out a little differently, by giving each player a chance to show their skills. Eight players scored in double digits, and two scored over 15 points. Although the result isn’t what Denver wanted, the offense was as efficient as ever. This kind of play will eventually get them wins, and get them farther into the playoffs. Michael Porter Jr did not miss a shot. He was 6-6 from the field, and 3-3 from the three point line.
Defense got out of hand.
One thing that was noticeable was that Denver let the same 3 players dominate. The Nuggets couldn’t control Kyle Kuzma, Anthony Davis, or LeBron. The perimeter defense could’ve been better, as L.A. was able to find easy shots. Denver had a combined 8 blocks and steals, in which that number needs to be higher. The Nuggets may be playing another duo-lead team, so they need to make sure and do a good job in keeping the stars under control.
Denver will be playing the other L.A. team next. As I stated earlier, the Nuggets need to control the star players.
Final Score: LAL 124 DEN 121
Top Photo: bleacherreport.com