NBA 2016: This Week In Hoops 3/13, Part 1

(originally written 3/13/16)

The NBA season is 80% complete; loads went down these past seven days. Here’s what you need to know—and I promise you’ll want to know some of this:

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION (Raptors 44-20, Celtics 39-27, Knicks 27-40, Nets 18-47, 76ers 9-57)

The struggling Knicks demolished the Suns 3/9, doing so behind Sasha Vujecic of all people. Subbing for injured Arron Afflalo, the ex-Laker sank six threes to give New York wins in two of three after losing 16 of 20. Rookie Krystaps Porzingis is struggling with his shot since returning from a leg contusion (combined 11-for-38 FG past three games), though his 23 points led NY in a close loss to the Clippers 3/11...Winners of five straight entering the week, Boston recovered from a loss at Cleveland to defeat the Randolph/Gasol-less Grizzlies 3/9. No sympathy from the C's—already down C Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) indefinitely, fellow big Jared Sullinger was hospitalized with a skin infection, but missed no games and is not expected to. However, in a 3/11 loss to Houston, Jae Crowder sprained an ankle and could be out awhile. Click here to attend Jordan Mickey's Wednesday Night Block Party...

Philadelphia's 11-game slide extended to 13 when Miami took both ends of a home-and-away, though Philly actually led late in Miami. The skid ended with a 95-89 win over the Nets 3/11, but even then, smiles were few—a wild fall/collision left forwards Jerami Grant and Robert Covington concussed; the latter was even hospitalized. In addition, prized Sixers center Jahili Okafor is now officially out for the year (knee). The team finally played Elton Brand after two months of inactivity. Signed largely to mentor the young Sixer bigs, "largely" had seemingly become "solely" for Brand until this week...Toronto continues to rack up W's (5-1) on its current homestand despite some dips in play. Houston erased an 18-point 2Q lead to upset the Raptors 3/6, then they dug a 16-point halftime hole vs. the lowly Nets ("fueled by" a 14-point 2Q).

 

Reportedly, Toronto coach Dwane Casey had choice words for his team; they responded with a very strong second half and eventual win...With a 3/11 loss at Philly, those Nets fell to 3-5 since cutting Joe Johnson; rookie guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who started 14 games before breaking his ankle in a December practice, is doing drills and inching toward a return. Brook Lopez put in 35 in Brooklyn's midweek loss to Toronto; of his five career games of exactly 35 points, three are against the Raptors.

CENTRAL DIVISION (Cavaliers 46-18, Pacers 35-30, Pistons 34-32, Bulls 32-32, Bucks 28-38)

Bucks G O.J. Mayo continues to make news for non-basketball reasons. This time, while already out with a stomach virus, Mayo broke his ankle stumbling on his stairs at home; he's done for the season—as is G Michael Carter-Williams, who underwent hip surgery. Even with Mayo, Milwaukee opened the week with execution issues; in losses to OKC and CHI, they failed to put up 20 points in three of eight quarters, but did end the week with victories over Miami and New Orleans.
Chicago seemed doomed to be without its starting backcourt this week after Derrick Rose took a hard fall 3/5, but Rose only sat 3/11 with an unrelated groin strain. Unfortunately, Jimmy Butler (sore knee) didn't improve and visited Dr. James Andrews—which usually means very bad news. But no major damage was found and the Bulls hope Butler can return soon. The Bulls dropped to .500 with losses to the Spurs and Heat; Miami blew open a close game with a 22-2 4Q run...Cleveland somehow lost to a seriously-depleted Grizzlies team to open the week, but followed with wins against the Kings and Lakers (the latter game minus F Kevin Love; deadline acquisition Channing Frye's 21 exceeded his point total for the previous five games). The Cavs now stand at 16-7 under Tyronn Lue...

After closing last week by stealing a win late at Washington, Indiana signed free-agent G Ty Lawson Monday, then snapped the visiting Spurs' eight-game win streak (although it cost them Lawson, who left with a foot injury). The Pacers, "rewarded with" the next four days off, then outlasted the Mavs in a 3/12 matinee. C.J. Miles returned for that game, going 1-for-5 with three points after a nine-game layoff (calf). The Pacers, Pistons and Bulls are within 2.5 games of each other in the standings, all three clubs vying for the final two EC playoff spots. Detroit's Reggie Jackson entered their decisive 3/6 home win over Portland a combined 7-of-30 FG in his two preceding games. Jackson busted out for 30 against the Blazers...then went 4 for 13 on 3/9 (although the visiting Pistons still beat Dallas.) On a more positive note, veteran guard Jodie Meeks (October foot surgery) finally suited up that night, though he was a DNP-CD. Remember, just two years ago Meeks started 70 times for the Lakers (by default, but still) and averaged just under 16 PPG—he's shot 38% from distance the past five years, which can only help a Detroit team ranked 22nd in that category.

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION (Heat 38-28, Hornets 37-28, Hawks 37-29, Wizards 30-35, Magic 28-37)

The Heat hadn't lost since signing Joe Johnson (5-0) until falling to the Bucks 3/9, although two of those wins came against depleted Philadelphia. Hassan Whiteside continued to fill up the statsheet, crucial to a team still without Chris Bosh's 19 PPG. Bosh publicly denied more blood clots as the medical condition sidelining him, but says he's improved and has begun working out—though no timetable exists for his return. Miami closed the week splitting a back-to-back at Chicago and Toronto.
The Magic, playing without C Nikola Vucevic, suffered successive road losses to the Warriors and Lakers (though they did make Golden State sweat at the end). They got a break when Kings star DeMarcus Cousins was suspended for their 3/11 visit to Sacramento; Orlando raced to a 16-2 lead and never let it go, then took on a ticked-off Blazers team fresh off a blowout loss to the Warriors. Now also minus guards Elfrid Payton and Brandon Jennings, it wasn't pretty for the Magic—during the 37-point massacre, C Jason Smith's rough play earned a stern lecture from Blazers G Damien Lillard and, later, a whack to the nose by Blazers F Ed Davis.

Atlanta is mastering the art of digging sizable holes, then digging all the way back out and more. One week after the team roared back from 21 down to take a late lead on the juggernaut Warriors (before ultimately losing), both the Clippers and Jazz held early double-digit leads over them—only to both fall. But just when it seemed the Hawks had the tactic mastered, Toronto fended them off 3/10; Mike Scott missed the game to attend the birth of his child.

Taking advantage of a spate of home games, the surging Hornets extended their win streak to seven this week with wins over Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit and Houston. Against the first three, Charlotte led by at least 15 in the third quarter before allowing their opponents to get nervously close; the trend reversed against Houston. PG Kemba Walker has been on fire, averaging 31 PPG and shooting 51% from distance during the first five of the streak, then dropping 26 on the Rockets 3/12...Slumping Washington closed the week 3.5 games out of the eighth spot in the EC; an OT loss at Portland and blowout in Utah—both minus G Bradley Beal (pelvis)—marked four defeats in a row. Wizards F Alan Anderson was ejected in the 1Q at Portland for elbowing Gerald Henderson, but avoided further penalty. The team signed G Marcus Thornton to replace injured G Gary Neal, who was waived. Thornton suited up for his sixth team since February 2014.

(If this hasn’t put you to sleep yet, continue to Part 2: Western Conference.)