Breakfast Special: Denver’s Impending Second-Round Exit

The Houston Rockets continue to round into form as the second half of the season looms, and their 125-113 win over the Nuggets Monday night was exactly the sort of performance we’re likely to see repeated if the Nugs are the 1 or the 2 and Houston’s between 3 and 5 and they somehow manage to meet in the second round of the playoffs.

The Nuggets remind the viewer of nothing so much as those Seattle teams in the 1990s that were heavy on regular-season highlights and, except for one run in 1996 when they put it together in the playoffs and even gave Michael Jordan‘s greatest-ever Bulls team a run for its money in the Finals, light on performances worth talking about in the springtime.

After all, we’re positing a second-round playoff run for the Nuggets but it is far from a lead-pipe cinch that they’ll even get past the likes of the Spurs or Lakers or whoever in the first round, again mirroring those mid-90s Sonics, who famously lost on their own floor to none other than the Nuggets in 1994.

James Harden shook Jamal Murray out of his shoes all night to the tune of 32 points. Clint Capela abused Nikola Jokic for 31 points and a rock-solid plus-26. P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green added 21 each. And the Rockets, now fifth in the West, continue their climb toward possibly seizing a home playoff series not just in the first round, but in this wide-open conference possibly the second round as well.

Denver? Sure, they’re 16-3 at home and 26-12 overall, and 10-9 on the road’s still winning more than you lose, but it doesn’t look like a team built to grab control in the playoffs.

Oh, and Houston shot 22-of-47 from three in this one while attempting just 29 two-point shots, because Rockets.

But 31 points for Capela? Take a bow, big fella!

Milwaukee, Two Points at a…Wait, What?

The Bucks shot 71 two-pointers and 25 three-pointers and won, coach Mike Budenholzer relying on the beautiful efficiency of basketball played close to the rim, heedless and fearless of Rudy Gobert.

Which may serve to explain as well as anything how Giannis Antetokounmpo ended up 13-of-30 to get his 30 points, as Milwaukee disposed of the Utah Jazz 114-102 at home.

Donovan Mitchell was his usual Dark Ages gunner self for Utah, scoring 26 points on 8-of-24 shooting, the Jazz overall shot just 41.9 percent from the field, and the Bucks handily won the turnover battle 15-10 to seal the win.

Ten steals is a fine way to create ten good scoring opportunity possessions, and that’ll kill you when you’re on the receiving end of that kind of running-off-the-floor.

Greekazoid gets it done on his way to the double-double with 10 rebounds to go with those 30 points:

Lonzo Ball, Volume Scorer?!

The Lakers are putrid without LeBron James in the lineup.

But a 107-97 win over the otherwise unbeatable-at-home (15-4) Mavericks, where Ball shot 8-of-15 from the field, 4-of-8 from three, and…1-of-4 from the line…

Heh. That’s our Lonzo, all right. But 21 points is still impressive.

Luka Doncic, meanwhile, had another one of those inefficient games where he puts up huge counting stats but contributes more to the other team’s winning effort than to his own. Doncic had 27 points but needed 23 attempts (10-of-23) to get them.

Meanwhile, let’s call out Kyle Kuzma, because that 4-of-20 shooting performance (2-of-10 from both two and three-point range) was one of the worst performances you’ll see from anyone on the Lakers all year.

But the real star here? How about Brandon Ingram, who shot 12-of-21 and led the way with 29 points, six assists, and a plus-14 on the floor?

Yeah, he’ll do. Welcome to Man of the Match City, Brandon, enjoy your stay.

Lightning Round!

Scoring 107 points when the other team scores 97, as the Lakers did, is good.

Scoring 107 when the other team scores 119? That’s not so good, but 119-107 was the final score at the Hot N’ Ready as Detroit lost to San Antonio.

DeMar DeRozan led the way with 26 points to go with seven boards and nine assists, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 25 and the Spurs made two fewer threes (9-7) on twelve less attempts (32-20.)

The Spurs’ gruesome twosome share match honors:

The Celtics completely muzzled the Nets in a 116-95 win in Boston that keeps the C’s as the East’s solid anchor at the dividing line between the five teams with a chance at the Finals and the other ten who can finish no better than sixth unless the world explodes.

Brooklyn shot 11-of-42 from three, hit just 40.5 percent overall from the field, and would’ve lost by a lot more than 21 had they not made 20-of-22 from the free throw line.

Boston, meanwhile, shot 50.5 percent from the field, made one more three on ten fewer attempts (12-of-32), and had eight players in double figures led by Kyrie Irving‘s 17 and Jayson Tatum‘s 16 points.

Irving’s your man of the match:

It was only a matter of time before Memphis regressed. It is always only a matter of time before the Grizzlies regress.

This time it was the Pelicans administering the medicine, winning at home in New Orleans 114-95.

Anthony Davis had 36 points and 13 rebounds for the 19-22 Pellies, who have picked up a couple of wins and look to continue that whole bounce-off-the-floor thing that West 14 seeds have been doing all season.

There are certain teams in this league who exist primarily to get whipped by the good teams, who then prop up their record by winning those gimme games.

To wit, Portland beat the Knicks 111-101 Monday night as New York shot 40.4 percent from the field and a putrid 7-of-23 from three (30.4 percent and not nearly enough tries.)

Jusuf Nurkic actually led the Blazers in scoring with 20 points; the backcourt combo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum only notched 17 each.

Nurkic leading the scoring charge and doing it on an efficient, Borg-like 7-of-9? Hello, highlight reel!

And finally, the Kings smacked the Magic in Sacramento 111-95 in a game that wasn’t that close; it was effectively over after three quarters (Sacramento led 90-62) and the Magic pulled some points back in garbage time.

De’Aaron Fox was the leader in this one, scoring 20 points, playing the “Swipa” role to perfection with five steals, and hitting 9-of-10 on two-pointers (he missed all four of his threes.)

Meanwhile, Justin Jackson had a fun double-double off the bench; 11 points, 10 rebounds, and a game-high-by-a-mile plus-28.

Give it up for the high-flying Namesake:

Pacers Tuesday coming later today. Working title: “The Pacers Haven’t Beaten Anyone, They Say”. Stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading!