Breakfast Special: For the West Is Wild And No Team Shall Die Softly

Image via Bob Evans Restaurants

The Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Nuggets, and Clippers are locked in Mortal Kombat…er, mortal combat…for five spots in the playoffs available to the seven of them, even if the net result of all this is one team getting smacked by the Rockets and another by the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference just saw its five seed more or less locked in thanks to all this West madness, which brings us to our top story…

A Rivalry As Old As the ABA

The Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets met for the first time in Denver on November 12, 1967, early in the inaugural season of the ABA. Denver, then known as the Denver Rockets, won that game 110-103.

Indiana has struggled on the road in Denver ever since.

The Nuggets won Tuesday night 107-104, dropping Indiana to 11-2 in games decided by one possession, but this was no failed gut-check; the Pacers just went on a mini-run after the game had been decided; they were down nine late.

Nikola Jokic led the way with 30 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and having made Myles Turner his whipping boy; Turner had just nine points and two rebounds in 35 minutes, committing five fouls as he was completely unable to guard the Nuggets’ star.

Will Barton, who just seems to own Indiana, scored 26 points and added ten rebounds.

Indiana shot the ball well (48.8 percent from the field and 47.4 from three), but simply did not attempt enough threes (19 vs. 32 for Denver; the Nugs made 11) or grab enough rebounds (Denver won that battle 49-35) to pull this one out.

Jokic was the stat sheet stuffer supreme as the Nuggets closed to within just half a game of New Orleans for eighth:

It Takes Everything

The Clippers, with their lives on the line, played the Spurs on national television from Staples Center.

San Antonio built a 17-3 lead before the Clips had a chance to get their shoes on and led by as many as 19 in the second quarter.

The Clippers won the game 113-110.

It started in the second quarter, as down 49-30, the Clips went on a 17-2 run including 13 unanswered points to get within four right before the half.

The Spurs, up 61-51 in the third, appeared to be regaining control before another run, this one a 13-2 run capped off by an and-one by DeAndre Jordan, gave them their first lead.

Again the Spurs pushed the lead back to double digits at 83-72. And again the Clippers went on a run, 14-4 to close to within a single point.

That’s three runs totaling 44-8 in a game they won by three thanks to Lou Williams scoring four points and dishing a huge assist on Austin Rivers‘ go-ahead three-pointer with 29 seconds left. Williams canned two clutch free throws with 4.9 seconds left, Doc Rivers fouled Patty Mills to avoid a three-pointer, Tobias Harris made two more free throws, ballgame.

Normally we’re a box score stats shop around here, but this was not a game that box score stats can begin to describe. This was the best damn game of basketball played in the NBA this season.

Take 10 minutes out of your life and watch these highlights.

Take Note

Utah rose to fourth in the West with a win over the Lakers by a 117-110 count. If the season ended today, they’d get a home playoff series against the Spurs for the right to get thumped by the Rockets in Round 2.

On January 19, the Jazz lost to the Knicks as Rudy Gobert returned to the lineup from injury, dropping to 18-27, left for dead, far behind the Western Conference pack.

They are 27-6 since. Three of those losses are by five points or fewer. The Knicks loss was by two. Only four of the wins have been within five points…and since January 30, only two of their 24 wins have been that close.

If great teams win big and lose close, the Jazz—whose 27-6 record projects to 67-15 over 82 games—might just be primed to pull off the biggest upset run through the playoffs in NBA history and one of the most improbable playoff runs in all of sports.

Speaking of Gobert, he had 12 points and 16 rebounds as the Jazz overcame a white-hot shooting night by the Lakers; LA shot 48.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from three against just 48.3 and 42.4 for Utah.

The difference? Rebounding (47-39 overall, 14-7 on offensive boards.) The Jazz atttempted 15 more shots (89 to 74) than did the Lakers while allowing just nine more free throw attempts (and neither team shot the ball well from the line; Utah was 17-of-27 and the Lakers 24-of-36.)

Oh, and Ricky Rubio (31) and Donovan Mitchell (26) combined for 57 points on 20-of-37 (54.1 percent) shooting and 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) on threes. That will win you some ballgames.

Rubio’s Counting Statstravaganza earns him man of the match:

Cleveland Puts the East On Notice

The Philadelphia 76ers have won 11 in a row (more on them in a minute) as they threaten to rise all the way to third place in the East.

But the Cavs? They aren’t going anywhere; indeed, the very game they probably should’ve yielded, LeBron James scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on a hyper-efficient 8-of-14, while Kevin Love scored 18 points on just 4-of-8 (including 4-of-6 from three) and 6-of-6 from the line all while grabbing 16 boards.

Cleveland won 112-106, making Kyle Lowry look the fool as he scored just five points on 2-of-11 from the field while the guy guarding him, Jose Calderon (yes, really), scored 19 and was a mind-bending plus-27 in his 26 minutes.

If this is what the Cavs are going to do come playoff time, LeBron might just play in his eighth straight NBA Finals and draw ever closer to Derek Fisher‘s career mark of 259 playoff games played (or, if you prefer, Tim Duncan‘s record of 251 playoff games started.) Bron’s on 217 games both played and started, having played in 23 games in each of Miami’s title seasons; in his run of seven straight Finals trips, he’s played 146 playoff games…nearly two full regular seasons’ worth in just seven playoffs.

Of course he’s the man of the match:

Lightning Round!

Philadelphia was 36-30 when they lost by three points to the Pacers on March 13.

Philly hasn’t lost since. And except for a home game against Cleveland, all their remaining games are against either non-playoff or fringe playoff (Milwaukee) teams. Win that Cavs game and they could finish 52-30, grab the 3 seed, and end the regular season on a 16-game winning streak.

Philly demolished Brooklyn 121-95 behind 15 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds from Ben Simmons:

Miami beat Atlanta by three points, 101-98, and look more and more like sacrificial lambs for a top four spot as their team chemistry goes out the window with a pissed-off and grossly-overpaid Hassan Whiteside whining in the media.

Whiteside did, however, have 18 points and 12 rebounds in the Heat’s win as Miami officially clinched a playoff spot. This is what great defense in the clutch looks like:

The Knicks just rolled over and played dead against the Magic, losing a disgrace of a game 97-73 at home, the team clearly ready to get the heck out of Gotham when the season officially ends next week.

Mario Hezonja led the Magic with 19 points including 5-of-8 from three, and how about Jamel Artis getting some reps with the big club after a season in Lakeland:

Boston could have pulled within a single game of Toronto for the top spot in the East, shuffling the playoff deck in a big way, but instead they ran face-first into Giannis Antetokounmpo (29 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and a Bucks team that is now just one win or a Pistons loss away from finally putting to bed this ridiculous notion that Detroit could pull off a miracle.

It was fun for awhile, wondering if the Bucks would really choke all the way out of the playoffs, but the party’s as good as over; the Sixers will see to that in Detroit in their next game.

Chicago beat Charlotte 120-114 in a meaningless game. Dwight Howard had 23 points and 17 rebounds, but the Bulls, behind 24 points from Lauri Markkanen and a 15-of-34 (44.1 percent) shooting night from three, picked up the win to go to 27-51 on the season:

Golden State may not have Stephen Curry, but they do have Kevin Durant, who scored 34 points on 9-of-25 shooting, redeeming his poor night from the field by going 14-of-14 from the line and adding ten rebounds.

Oklahoma City blew a 44-point, 16-rebound performance from Russell Westbrook by having everyone else on the team shoot a combined 29.9 percent from the field in the 111-107 loss:

Oh by the way, Westbrook has 759 rebounds in 77 games this season. If he combines for 41 rebounds in his last three games, he’ll average another triple-double.

The Rockets took care of business in Houston, smacking the Washington Wizards (who at 42-36 are now at real risk of ending up the 8 seed in the East, as they’re tied with both Miami and Milwaukee; if the season ended today they’d be 7th (MIA-WAS-MIL is the three-team tiebreaker on head-to-head) 120-104.

James Harden had 38 points on 12-of-18 shooting, the Rockets hit 16-of-46 three-pointers and 27-of-38 from two-point range, and they also won the turnover battle 17-9, overcoming a 52.8/48.0 shooting night from the Wizards:

Just when it looks like the Trail Blazers are going to pull away and clinch the 3 seed for real, they do something head-scratching. First it was a loss to the Grizzlies; now it’s a loss to the Mavericks, 115-109 in Dallas.

The Mavs won the turnover battle 13-7, hit 17-of-44 from three against the Blazers’ 10-of-40 (!), and spread the ball around with six players scoring at least a dozen points and five scoring at least 14.

Meanwhile, Dennis Smith Jr. made up for the lackluster dunk contest in the run of play:

And finally, Phoenix beat Sacramento 97-94 in Arizona, ensuring that every team wins at least 20 games in the league this season on the same day Houston clinched a record such that not every team will lose 20 games (the Rockets are 63-15 with four to play.)

Josh Jackson led the way with 28 points on 10-of-23 shooting as the Kings rolled over and shot just 37.1 percent from the field and 35.5 percent on two-point shots:

Whew. That was a long one…that day off for college didn’t make this any easier, and then the league went and gave four games in need of a full recap. Thanks for reading this far!

Tomorrow, we’ve got breakfast plus Is He Any Good (and yes, I promise it’s on Thursday this time.) Stay tuned, and thanks for being one of over 10,000 people reading this season! Yeah, we’re small-time, but 10,000 reads is nothing to sneeze at!