You know, it’s funny. The NBA as a whole is funny. It manages to take on a number of lives within the same week or so. Just in the last few days, the NBA has been the offense-heavy league where defense has gone to die, with the Kings and Clippers going to overtime tied at 153, and finishing with a score of 176-175; and Damian Lillard pouring a 71-piece (in 39 minutes) on the Rockets. And then tonight rolls around, and of the eight teams that played, three scored fewer than 100 points, and seven of the eight scored fewer than 110.
Sometimes, the most beautiful things in life tend to contain multitudes. Onto the games in which those eight teams played, starting with the evening’s marquee matchup.
Knicks win sixth-straight, drop Celtics, 109-94
The Knicks can’t seem to lose. They’ve won six in a row, and though the competition hasn’t exactly been banner, per se, the Celtics should do nicely as a résumé builder for this current streak. Given the way they’ve played on this one, it’s almost sure not to be their last of the season.
Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley each scored 23 points to lead the Knicks, who jumped the Nets with this win and now own the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Jalen Brunson added 17 points for New York, which never trailed after an initial 3-0 deficit. The Knicks also held Jayson Tatum to a six-for-18 night from the field before he was ejected for the first time in his career.
And just like that, the Celtics have been unseated as the league’s top team. Though they still lead the NBA in wins with 44, the Milwaukee Bucks — still riding a 14-game win streak, by the way — lead the way in winning percentage.
Hornets beat Pistons, 117-106, lose LaMelo in the process
Just two items of note from this tilt between two stinkers. One, James Wiseman finally getting some run with Detroit has been really nice to see. No, his outings haven’t exactly been the peak of big-man efficiency, but on Monday, he poured in 23 points on nine-of-11 shooting. Still, he finished -11 as the Hornets handled the Pistons.
Meanwhile, for the Hornets… not great, Bob.
It’s a fractured ankle for Ball. We’ll have to wait for a full report to see what the timetable looks like for a return.
Big night for Banchero helps Magic hold off Pelicans, 101-93
Interesting things are happening to both of these teams, things that are causing them to travel in opposite directions. For Orlando, Paolo Banchero is playing like the potential future superstar the Magic hoped they’d be getting when they drafted him first overall in last year’s draft. He scored 29 points on Monday, with each of his three biggest buckets coming in the closing minutes. He also made the team’s final two free throws in a tight spot, no small feat for a player shooting 75 percent from the line. It was perhaps the best game of his rookie season, and was most certainly the best clutch effort he’s put forth this year.
Significant flash from Paolo Banchero to close the game tonight. He went 5/5 on his final 5 shots, and 3/3 in the fourth quarter (in the video below)
All 3 of these clutch plays that led to the win were in isolation. Just a ridiculously high upside as a first option scorer pic.twitter.com/he5ohgeAn1
— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) February 28, 2023
The Pelicans, meanwhile, can’t seem to get their star on the floor for a full season. Zion Williamson, who has now missed 25 games, recently suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury, and his absence is being felt and then some. New Orleans has lost four in a row, including all three of its post-All-Star Game outings. Sure, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and co. should be capable of steering the ship until Williamson can return. But that “until” is as big, if not bigger, than most “ifs”.
The Pelicans are sitting at 10th in the West after once, albeit briefly, owning the top seed in the conference earlier this season. With the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Oklahoma City Thunder nipping at their heels for the final play-in spot, how much farther can they afford to slip?
Heat survive Sixers behind defense, Jimmy Butler’s late-game heroics, 101-99
Put this in the Louvre.
A stunning finish from a brilliant player who seems to truly enjoy carrying out improbably beautiful crimes on innocent teams, especially some of the ones he used to play for. This Monday night, it’s the team that almost certainly wishes he still played for them. Those fools. This is what you get.
Butler finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists to lead the Heat, while the Sixers got 20-plus from Joel Embiid (27), Tyrese Maxey (23), and James Harden (20), but next to nothing from anyone else. Miami’s defense was suffocating to help the Heat get a much-needed win on the heels of a four-game losing streak. It’s’ exactly that sort of play that makes them so terrifying for teams looking ahead to the postseason. It’s a given that they’ll be there, and it’s a given that they’ll be a tough out. It’s just a matter of who will have to deal with them, and how up for the challenge they are.