NBA 2016: This Week In Hoops 3/13, Part 2
(originally written 3/13/16)
NORTHWEST DIVISION (Thunder 44-22, Trail Blazers 35-32, Jazz 30-35, Nuggets 28-38, Timberwolves 21-45)
Still grieving the recent sudden deaths of assistant coach Monty Williams' wife as well as a part-owner, the Oklahoma City organization mourned the loss of guard Dion Waiters' younger brother this week. News was better on the court—on March 9, Russ Westbrook had a game for the ages...or at least, the past 28 years. He put up 25 points, 20 assists and 11 boards in a 3/9 win over the Clippers; no one's matched that statline since Magic Johnson did so on 11/28/1988—16 days after Westbrook's birth!!! OKC had lost six of eight entering the week, but behind consecutive triple-doubles from Westbrook, went 2-2 this week—though they came thisclose to blowing a 21-point lead at Milwaukee 3/7 and one loss was administered by the last-place Timberwolves.
Weren't the Blazers supposed to suck this year after losing all starters not named Damien Lillard (plus many key reserves)? Despite a slow start to the month, road-weary Portland's comeback OT win hosting Washington 3/9 coupled with a Dallas slump vaulted the team into sixth place in the Western Conference! But Lillard—coming off 41 against the Wizards and 51 last month against the Warriors—was stifled at Golden State 3/11; most of his 17 points came well after GS seized control of an eventual 20-point trouncing, one in which the two teams set an NBA record for combined triples (37). Speaking of treys, 13-year veteran C Chris Kaman nailed his first career three-pointer during the week for Portland, who bounced back from the Warriors loss with a 37-point annihilation of Orlando the next night.
Utah retains playoff hopes (2.5 games back of the WC eighth seed), although temporarily losing F Rodney Hood to back problems this week didn't help a club that hadn't been scoring a whole lot even with him. In fact, after two 15-point quarters against Atlanta 3/8, Quin Snyder was so desperate for O that he actually gave G Trey Burke 22 minutes against Golden State the next night after consecutive DNP-CD's. Utah had one 100-point game in their past eight—which doubled as their sole victory in that span—before beating Washington 3/11.
Minnesota failed to carry over the momentum of a 69% FG, 132-point explosion vs. Brooklyn last week, losing two straight to open this week—one to San Antonio, where Spurs G and recent Wolves buyout Andre Miller helped do his old team in—before a late Ricky Rubio three secured victory at OKC 3/11. Also, no real change in the injury status of big men Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett, the latter of whom isn't likely to return this year or maybe ever...With help from an untimely Dallas turnover, the Nuggets knocked off four straight opponents this week despite the continued absence of leading scorer Danilo Gallinari. Rookie PG Emmanuel Mudiay dropped a career-high 30 in their 3/10 win over Phoenix, and C Jusuf Nurkic got run after a long stint on the bench; his 17 helped Denver close the week victorious over ice-cold Washington.
PACIFIC DIVISION (Warriors 57-10, Clippers 42-22, Kings 25-39, Suns 17-49, Lakers 14-52)
The 12-win Lakers began the week by stunning the 55-win Warriors 3/6; Golden State recovered with a turnover-laden, closer-than-it-should-have-been defeat of Orlando (playing without leading scorer Nikola Vucevic) and a more decisive W over visiting Utah aided by another Stephen Curry half-court buzzer beater 3/9. Two days later GS rode an 81-point first half to avenge last month's blowout loss at Portland, but F Andre Iguodala—in his second game back from hamstring issues—suffered a freak ankle sprain that'll sideline him anywhere from two weeks to the season...LA also triumphed over Orlando but fell to Cleveland, as Kobe Bryant (shoulder) moves in and out of the lineup; Kobe scored 26 on 11-of-16 FG at Cleveland...Blake Griffin's broken hand is set to be re-evaluated soon; his Clippers stand at 42-22 and were 2-1 this week. J.J. Redick has 20+ points in all three games.
Sacramento suspended C DeMarcus Cousins a game for conduct detrimental to the team 3/10; he mixed it up with coach George Karl in the previous night's loss to Cleveland. The Kings—who lost to Orlando without Cousins 3/11—also blew a 17-point second-half lead in losing to New Orleans 3/7, wasting a 40/16 Cousins effort. Furthermore, we had a Caron Butler sighting! With three King guards unavailable—Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli and Seth Curry are all day-to day—the long-benched veteran received minutes against Cleveland....Break up the Suns! After a season rife with bad basketball and internal strife, Phoenix had suddenly won three of their past five games after beating Memphis 3/6, allowing just 35% and 40% shooting in the most recent two victories. Though losses to the Knicks, Nuggets and Warriors followed, Brandon Knight and his 20 PPG finally returned 3/10 (groin; out since late January). Knight put up 30 at GS 3/12, while teenage SG Devin Booker scored 94 points over three games.
SOUTHWEST DIVISION (Spurs 56-10, Grizzlies 39-27, Mavericks 33-33, Rockets 33-33, Pelicans 24-41)
What to make of the Grizz? They up-ended first-place, full-squad Cleveland on 3/7 without the services of four starters (all but SF Tony Allen, whose 26 points were a five-year high and his third-most ever), then topped the Pelicans while still shorthanded (though less so with Matt Barnes back). However, in Boston 3/9 they lost both the game and G Mario Chalmers on a non-contact Achilles injury; he'd be soon cut. After entering March in an awful shooting slump, SG Vince Carter drilled eight of 14 threes this week before injury struck 3/11; G Mike Conley's Achilles will keep him out into April. Through all the aches, Memphis stands at 39-27...As if they weren't stricken enough, New Orleans' week kicked off with news that Eric Gordon (broken finger) won't return this year; F Luke Babbitt (shin splints) and G Norris Cole (back) also missed time this week. Still, the Pelicans mounted a 17-point comeback win against Sacramento 3/7 before losing at Charlotte 3/9 (despite a combined 78 points from Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday) at Memphis 3/11 and at Milwaukee 3/12.
Controversy arose in Dallas 3/9 when coach Rick Carlisle accused a ref of interrupting a huddle and baiting G Deron Williams into a technical foul. Carlisle later apologized, but will likely pony up some cash anyway. (Williams remained silent on the matter.) The Mavs are 0-4 this week, giving away victory with a late turnover at Denver 3/6, going 0-for-17 from distance in a home loss to the Clippers 24 hours later, and dropping winnable, evenly played (except free throws) home games to the Pistons 3/9 and Pacers 3/11...Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (personal) missed two road games at week's begin; in the first, SA put up season-low FG% (35) and single quarter point (13) totals in a loss to Indiana before crushing Minnesota.
Pop's return helped SA maintain its perfect (32-0) home record against Chicago (3/10) and OKC (3/12). Center Tim Duncan become the sixth member of the 15,000-rebound club vs the Bulls...It's been an overall disappointing Rockets season, but they opened this week with a late comeback win at Toronto—where they'd last won in '07; ensuing triumphs at Philadelphia and Boston preceded a loss to the scalding Hornets. Though allegedly not healthy enough to be traded three weeks ago, F Donatas Motiejunas has been starting for the Rockets this month. That includes the 76er and Hornet matchups in which he—despite no injury reported and manageable foul situations—curiously totaled just 12 minutes. Even Michael Beasley (yes, that Michael Beasley), signed out of China last week, played more.
Contrary to popular assumption, I did not personally view all 80 NBA games this week—help was needed putting this together. Thanks to ESPN, Basketballreference.com, Rotoworld.com, the NBA Network, and various local publications for your respective assists.