LA Clippers 96, Portland 83: Still no Chris Paul, but this time it didn’t matter because Blake Griffin (23 points, nine rebounds) got help from the bench (36 points) and the Paper Clips crept within 1.5 games of the Thunder for the 2nd spot in the West. Quietly, San Antonio has surged ahead of both of them, though nobody fears the Spurs in the postseason.
Detroit 104, Orlando 102: If you’re the Magic, how thrilled are you with Nikola Vucevic, whom you acquired in the Dwight Howard trade? The former USC center is now 3rd in the NBA in rebounding, and went for 12 points and 17 rebounds against the Pistons. He’s one of the best bargains in the league ($1.7 million this year; $1.8 next year, then a team option). JJ Redick and his $6 million expiring deal has to be the most enticing player as we approach the trade deadline. Redick scored 31 in the loss, and in a contract year, is playing way above the rim. The Magic have lost 16 of 18.
New York 106, Atlanta 104: Melo dropped 42 (on 28 shots), JR Smith and Amare each added 18, and Raymond Felton played much better in his second game back (12 points, 10 assists) as the Knicks closed within 1.5 games of Miami in the East.
Dallas 110, Phoenix 95: Remember how OJ Mayo was tearing it up in November for the lottery-bound Mavericks, shooting 50 percent from deep? Reality has set in: 31 percent from beyond-the-arc this month. They’re hurtling inexorably toward the 35 wins I predicted in July.
New Orleans 91, Memphis 83: How do you collapse, at home, against the lowly Pelicans? Mike Conley’s ankle injury didn’t help. But go ahead and fire up those Rudy Gay-for-Paul Pierce trade talks. You know you want to. Remember Washington guard Tony Wroten? We loved his potential back before the draft and here he is splitting the defense and dropping a no-look pass to Darrell Arthur. Wouldn’t surprise me if Wroten turned into a valuable Eric Bledsoe-type contributor in the postseason.
LA Lakers 105, Oklahoma City 96: Unselfish Kobe put on a show – 21 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds – and the Lakers won their second in a row. Dwight Howard only shot 2-of-10 from the line, but Metta World Peace (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (16 points) had solid games supporting Kobe. This was one of those games that you watched and thought, “of course the Lakers can win the title!” Reminder: They’re 19-25. Futuristic Russell Westbrook scored 17 points, had 13 assists and nine rebounds … but shot 6-for-22. Also, he didn’t like it when Kobe pushed him.