New Orleans Pelicans vs. Sacramento Kings
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans won a gritty game against the Memphis Grizzlies who are in control of the 8th seed for now. The Pelicans were looking to get a victory over the 12th ranked Kings, and move up towards the coveted 8th spot. In their way was a red hot Kings team that was clicking on all cylinders.
The Kings were red hot and the Pels could not answer
The Sacramento Kings were red hot all night. After a three pointer from Bogdan Bogdonavic to start the game, the Kings never looked back. The Pelicans had no answer on defense for a team that was raining three pointers, and getting to the bucket easily. To add to their problems, was De’Aaron Fox and his array of jump shots and drives that kept the whole defense off balance. In the end the Pels had up 140 points, and an offensive onslaught that saw no resistance from the Pelicans. While this performance is unusual for a team like the Kings, the Pelicans need to be able to get stops and slow down offenses that are rolling. If the Pels want any chance at competing for the 8th seed, they will need to play much tighter on defense, especially against teams like the Grizzlies or Blazers who they may face in a battle for the 8th seed.
Williamson and Ingram had another great game
One of the few constants on the Pelicans team, is the production of both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Both of these guys have been scoring in double figures from the beginning of the bubble. Against the Kings, Ingram and Williamson both had 24 points to lead the Pels in scoring. Both of these young stars are the cornerstones of the Pelicans franchise and with consistent and productive games in the bubble, Pelicans fans will be very excited for what the future holds.
The Pelicans are playing the Washington Wizards in their next matchup. Sitting at 13th in the West is not what the Pels had in mind when they got to the bubble, and if they want to make a late run for the playoffs they will need to start winning games.
After getting off to an 0-3 start, the Kings desperately needed a win, not just to avoid an 0-4 spot, but to keep their chances at a playoff berth alive. Sacramento went up against the young New Orleans Pelicans. We saw a lot of unexpected things, like a very consistent offense, and a new Bogdan Bogdanovic.
This Kings offense showed a lot of potential.
Going up against a tough team defensively, the Kings really needed multiple guys to step up. Players like Bogdan Boganovic and Harrison Barnes gave the team the boost they needed. Sacramento got off to a very quick start, scoring 49 points in the first quarter, while making the hole deeper for the Pels. Although they couldn’t contain Zion as well as they had hoped, they made sure to force turnovers, and capitalize off of them. New Orleans had a total of 17 turnovers, giving the Kings another edge in this win. Sacramento ended up shooting 46% from the three point line, and 54% from the field. This was a great day in which Sactown showed a lot of improvement, and shook off some rust from the first few games.
Bogdan Bogdanovic completely flipped the switch.
In the game against the Mavericks, Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 3 points, and went 1-15 from the field. In this next game, he scored a career high 35 points. Bogdanovic got off to a quick start in the first quarter, knocking down 5 3’s, and missed just one shot. It was important for him to have this kind of game so that the Kings know that the rust won’t last long.
After a huge win against the Pels, Sacramento has the Brooklyn Nets coming up. The key for this game is to find easy shots along the perimeter.
Final Score: NOP 125, SAC 140
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks came into their game against the Heat with one goal in mind, to clinch the number one seed. Not only did the Bucks clinch the one seed, but they did it in great fashion with a second half comeback led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Miami Heat were leading by 21 in the second quarter, and were red hot. Duncan Robinson was leading the charge with tough three pointers, and great spacing. When the lead finally got into the twenties, it seemed as though the Bucks were done messing around. With much tighter defense and an attacking Antetokounmpo surrounded by shooters, the Bucks were able to cut the lead down to 14 by half. In the third quarter a run to tie up the score was led by a couple of timely buckets by Wesley Matthews, and defense that was suffocating the rim. As the game started getting closer, the Heat started picking up offensively and making their threes. Once the Heat had pulled the lead out to eight in the fourth quarter, the Bucks pulled the game within one lead by Middleton while Antetokounmpo was on the bench. Once the Bucks had taken a three point lead, Antetokounmpo was brought back into the game to finish what Middleton had started. This was an impressive team effort, and coach Bud should be very proud of his team that clawed back from a 23 point deficit to win the game.
Khris Middleton played like a second star
One of the biggest concerns around the Bucks is their supporting cast. Against the Heat Middleton came up big with 33 points, matching Antetokounmpo for the team high. This was quite impressive for Middleton, and very encouraging come playoff time. When the Bucks face tougher opponents that are playing harder and faster, they will need a second scorer when everyone is keying on to Antetokounmpo. Middleton has shown consistently that he can be that second scorer, and this is very encouraging for the Bucks.
The Bucks are going to be playing the Dallas Mavericks, and have nothing on the line. Both teams have locked up their playoff spot, and it does not look like their spot will be changing anytime soon.
The Heat are coming off a huge win against Boston and looking to carry its momentum into a matchup against the Bucks. A win would be a huge boost for them in the fight for a top 4 seed in the East.
3 point shooting
Miami is the best three point shooting team in the league currently, making 38% of their shots. On the other side the Bucks let up the most threes in the league and focus on protecting the rim on defense. This matchup is made perfectly for Miami and it showed early in the game. The Heat started the game making 18 of their 34 attempts from beyond the arc. That is over 50%! Although afterwards the Bucks made some adjustments and the Heat ended the game making 21 of their 46 attempts from 3. While that ratio of shots made and attempted is really good, it just wasn’t enough for the Heat and a lot of those missed shots got the Bucks right back in this one.
Miami put up quite a fight in this one and it took a comeback from Giannis and the Bucks to get back in this one. The biggest thing for Miami during the bubble has been injuries. Jimmy Butler has been out for back to back games in the bubble and is likely out against the Suns in their next game. Not only that but the Heat were also missing Dragic in the contest today with a sprained ankle. Dragic has been great and the bubble and put up back to back games with 20 plus points before getting injured. Butler the leader of this team and is missed every time he isn’t on the court. Both need to get healthy before playoff times as they will be instrumental in any sort of run from the Heat.
The Heat take on the red hot Phoenix Suns on Saturday at 7:30 ET. Biggest question mark for Miami is whether Dragic will play, and if he doesn’t can the Heat step up together to pull out a win against the undefeated Suns.
Final Score: MIL 130 MIA 116
Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers
After an incredible win against the L.A. Clippers, the Suns were going up against another 3-0 team in the Indiana Pacers. This game was different from others. It wasn’t Devin Booker carrying most of the load. The entire team contributed a lot to get this dominant victory, and Phoenix improved to 4-0.
Phoenix took advantage of bad play.
When looking at the statline, you can see that nobody scored over 23 points. Devin Booker scored 20 points, and DeAndre Ayton led the team with 23. The key here was that the Suns took advantage of the Pacers turnovers, and they were great in transition. Phoenix scored 18 points off of turnovers, off of 15 turnovers by Indiana. They also scored 18 fast break points in the contest, making sure Indiana couldn’t catch up. The Suns were able to keep the game fast-paced, and the problem for Indiana was that they couldn’t catch up. Phoenix has been able to surprise a lot of people in the bubble, and they will continue to do so when they take advantage of the small things like they did against the Pacers.
The defense played a major role in the victory.
In the first three games in Orlando, the Pacers were able to score 110+ points in each contest. Phoenix quickly ended that streak, and they also limited T.J. Warren. The Suns defense was too much for Indiana, as the Pacers scored just 99 points in the loss. Warren was able to score 16, despite averaging 39.7 the past three games. The Suns are flat out playing better basketball, and their grit is paying. They are big underdogs in the, and it’s their defense winning the games for them. Phoenix outrebounded Indiana by 18, and they also played great D on the perimeter. With this kind of hard, intense, play, the Suns may be able to do something very special.
The Suns will try to improve to 5-0 in the bubble against the Miami Heat. The Heat are coming off of a 116-130 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The key to success in this game is to set the tone early, just like they did against the Pacers.
After beating the Magic 120-109, Indiana went on to face the Phoenix Suns. Both of these teams were undefeated heading into the game, but the Pacers would get Victor Oladipo back. The first quarter set the tone for the entire game, as the Suns were able to get on a 21-0 run. After that, the Pacers would make a few runs, but they couldn’t catch up after the third quarter.
Malcolm Brogdon was able to work his creativity well.
Brogdon was the leading scorer for Indiana, giving them 25 points on 56% shooting. He did a very good job of driving into the lane, and using his strength to find an easy layup. He also found good shots from the perimeter, making four 3 balls on 7 attempts. Brodgon is a very underrated player on this Pacers squad, and it’s going to be exciting to see how much more he can give come playoff time. Although this ended in a loss, there were definitely some pluses watching Brogdon.
The mid-range and paint defense need to be worked on.
The Suns were able to find easy shots from the paint and mid-range all game long. Indiana fell for too many pump fakes, and couldn’t chase their matchup down. Players like DeAndre Ayton and Ricky Rubio found easy shots to give the Suns the edge. The Pacers allowed a total of 52 paint points, almost half of the Suns total score. The bad defense turned into bad offense, and it just wasn’t a great game overall for the Pacers.
Indiana will try and bounce back against the Los Angeles Lakers. The key for this game is to find good shots, and have a consistent offense. The Lakers will be moving at a fast pace, so it’s important for Indiana to keep up consistently.
Final Score: IND 99, PHX 114
L.A Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks
After getting their first win in overtime, the Mavs had to face their biggest challenge yet. Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. Dallas got back into a groove with the three ball, but came up short because of the lack of defense. This is likely going to be their first round matchup, so a plus is that they know what to look out for.
Dallas finally got their three ball improved, near the range of where it used to be.
In the two games before the Clippers, the Mavericks were shooting near 20% from the arc. Because of this, they couldn’t buy a late game bucket against the Suns, and were trailing the Kings for most of the game. But, in their latest game, they shot 35% as a team. Doncic went 6-13, and made a couple of tough stepbacks to keep them in this game. The Clippers are a great defensive team, and they kept Dallas in check at the end. Other than that, Dallas should be happy with their performance throughout the game, as they were able to overcome something that gave them problems the last couple of games.
Too many easy buckets were allowed.
From wide open Paul George 3’s, to Ivica Zubac dunking consistently, the Mavs were giving up way too many easy shots. Luckily, the Clippers didn’t make those shots in the first half, but they sure did come alive after the half. PG-13 was easily able to work the pick and roll game with Ivica Zubac, and either option was open for most of the game. Dallas let L.A. shoot 45% from the three point line, and 54% overall. Against a top 5 team, this defense won’t work. The best players will find a way to get a bucket, but if the opposing team doesn’t contest a shot, they will take it. And that is exactly what happened in this game.
Dallas is now 1-3, not the start they were hoping to get off to. They now will face the Milwaukee Bucks, who are coming off of a 14 point victory on the Miami Heat. In the Clippers game, the paint defense was awful. Dallas will now face a beast in the paint, in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The key in this game is to drive him into traps, and not let him get into the paint as easily as he does.
Los Angeles Clippers
After a buzzer beater loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Clips were not ready to lose two straight. L.A. went to face the Dallas Mavericks for the third time this season, and they completed the sweep. We saw some outstanding performances from Ivica Zubac and Kawhi Leonard, not to mention Paul George.
Ivica Zubac made a case to Doc Rivers to give him more playing time.
Montrezl Harrell is not in the bubble currently, and therefore center Ivica Zubac would get the start once again for the Clips. Zubac gave Dallas all he had, going 10/10 from the field and dropping 21 points. He also grabbed 15 boards, sealing the double-double. Zubac was able to create easy shots, whether it was from the pick and roll, or from just being in the paint. While Harrell is out, the Clippers know that Ivica Zubac is a very good replacement. Even when Montrezl comes back, Zubac may get more playing time.
Lou Williams is still rusty.
Lou Williams has only played two games in the bubble, and they haven’t gone too well. In the game against Dallas, he scored just 6 points on 3-9 shooting. He did not make a 3 pointer either. Yes, it is his first time playing basketball in a while, but L.A. really needs his 18 points a game to come back, especially down the stretch. He hasn’t made much of an impact yet, and he needs to when Patrick Beverly is out. Once he gets his shot back, the Clippers will be in better shape as a whole to make the finals, and maybe even win it all.
The Clippers will try and get two in a row against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are coming off of a huge win against the Denver Nuggets. The key for this game is to keep the offensive pace fast. This will slow down the Blazers offense, and limit Damian Lillard getting pull up 3’s.
Final Score: LAC 126 DAL 111
Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets
Portland Trail Blazers
After losing one game to the Boston Celtics, we saw a bounce back performance against the Houston Rockets resulting in a win. As the Blazers closed in on the eight seed, they faced a tough team in the Denver Nuggets and were able to show that they belong in the playoffs.
Lillard was on fire
At the beginning of the game, Damian Lillard was knocking down threes and no one could stop him. He continued until the whistle blew, and he had 45 points on 11-18 from three. After a couple of mediocre starts in Lillard standards and poor shooting nights against the Rockets and Celtics, Lillard seems to be finding his groove. Lillard was already a productive player in the bubble and now that his unlimited range three pointers are going in, teams will have a hard time stopping Lillard and the Blazers. All Blazers fans will be comforted to know that Lillard can still take over games in the bubble and even though his team is strong, there are still nights when the Blazers need Lillard to take over.
3 point game was on point
The Portland Trail Blazers could always count on Damian Lillard for a bucket, but there were also a bunch of other players who helped raise the three point count to 23. When the Nuggets were making late pushes and tying the game, both CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. came up big from behind the arc. Both McCollum and Trent have proven that they are reliable three point shooters, and the Blazers need every shooter they can get to help open the floor for Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard.
One of the biggest tests of the Trail Blazers will be against the Clippers on Saturday. The Blazers will be facing one of the top teams in the west, and for the Blazers to make the 8th seed they will need to continue winning and beating top tier teams such as the Clippers.
The Nuggets were able to squeeze out a win against the San Antonio Spurs, and they now faced the Portland Trail Blazers. This game was intense, but the Nuggets couldn’t control Dame Lillard at the end, and therefore lost the game.
Even though the Joker was held to 8 points, he still found a way to contribute.
The Blazers did a great job of giving Nikola Jokic a hard time, but he was still able to dish the ball to his teammates for an easy shot. Jokic had 13 assists, and for a big man, that’s a lot. The Joker couldn’t get in a rhythm, and therefore made a smarter decision in giving an easy bucket to someone else. If Jokic was able to get buckets, maybe the nuggets could’ve been closer at the end.
MPJ continues to stay hot.
Michael Porter Jr has been on a roll lately, and he didn’t stop against the Blazers. His mid-range game was heated, and he was also efficient from beyond the arc. Porter Jr ended up with 27 points, and 12 rebounds. His third straight game with a double double. Once the Nuggets get Jamal Murray and Gary Harris back, they will be even more dangerous now that they have an improved MPJ. A good game for him, just not for the Nuggets as a team.
Denver will look to get it together next against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are coming off of a loss to the Spurs, and this will be a close one. The key to success for this game is to have good paint defense. Rudy Gobert has had his way in the paint, and it will take some good defense from Mason Plumlee, Bol Bol, or even Nikola Jokic to stop Utah from getting second chance points.
Final Score: POR 125, DEN 115
L.A Lakers vs Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have had multiple close games with high tier opponents, and it has been a mixed bag of results. The game against the Lakers was supposed to be a prime time game, but both Westbrook and Lebron James had a rest day.
Another good game by Harden
After two twenty point games that were tight games until the end. Against the Lakers, Harden had himself a nice game. Posting 39 points and 12 assists, Harden put the Rockets on his back in a relatively easy win over the Lakers. Harden was the focal point of the Rockets offense and even when he was getting double teamed, he found a way to get to the bucket. This is very encouraging for Mike D’Antoni, knowing that his number one star is ready to go.
Limited Anthony Davis
With the transition to small ball, Houston has had a hard time stopping opposing bigs. Against a Lakers team without Lebron James many people expected Anthony Davis to take advantage of the undersized Rockets. Houston and PJ Tucker had something to say about this, limiting Davis to 17 points and forcing 7 turnovers on him alone. This is really surprising considering the advantage that Davis had, and if the Rockets can limit someone of Davis’s caliber then it only boosts confidence in the small ball system.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have already clinched the one seed in the West and don’t really have much to play for. Their new mindset is filling in some offensive problems and getting their rotations ready for what should be a long playoff run.
The Lakers although without Lebron and still struggling to shoot the ball. It may cause some worry, but James should be able to help. It is no secret the Lakers have been struggling from 3 ever since they entered the bubble. Although when you look closer at the problem it may not be the 3’s made but rather the 3’s attempted. The Lakers rank 22nd in the NBA in 3-point attempts this year and in the game tonight they only attempted 19. The Rockets on the other hand made 21, that is definitely a problem. The Lakers obviously need to find a fix for this problem because 3-pointers are going to be something they need in the playoffs.
The Lakers had both Lebron James and Alex Caruso out in today’s game and most people came into this game knowing the Lakers would not win. Despite this Anothony Davis played a lot of unnecessary minutes even when the game was out of reach. Losing AD would be the end of the season for LA, and that would put a lot of heat on Vogel. I don’t expect to see much out of LA for the rest of the regular season and would be surprised to see any large minutes for the superstars.
The Lakers take on the Indiania Pacers on Saturday at 6 PM ET. Indiana is still fighting for their playoff seed and should win this one, the biggest thing to watch for LA is to see if they can knock down some threes.
Final Score: HOU 113 LAL 97
Top Photo: Kim Klement-Pool/ Getty Images