Nothing will be decided on Friday night with another five days of games still to go, but there are two enormous games on the slate. The Spurs will try to take the season series from the Rockets and edge past them in the standings in the process and the Grizzlies open a stretch of three games in four nights, all on the road, beginning tonight in Utah against a much improved young team.
Also the Thunder and Pelicans are both at home continuing their battle for the eighth seed.
Last night: Warriors 116, Blazers 105
A big fourth quarter, helped the Warriors took care of the Blazers, a team they might face in the second round of the playoffs. The game featured huge swings with the Blazers leading by 13 midway through the second quarter, but the Warriors went on a 31-7 run to take an 11-point lead early in the second half. It was a 1-point game, 104-103, with the Warriors out front with under two and a half minutes remaining. Then Steph Curry scored the final 10 points of his 45-point night, as the Warriors closed with a 12-2 finishing kick. It marked the eighth time this season a player had scored 40 or points against the Blazers, both James Harden and Russell Westbrook have done it twice. No other team in the league has allowed more than four 40-point performances.
Curry was pure smoke, making all seven of his shots in the fourth quarter for 19 points and 17-23 overall from the floor. Eight of those buckets were 3-pointers as he broke his own record for most 3-pointers in a season. He also had 10 assists. The game had little bearing on the standings, but it was the Warriors 20th straight home win against a western conference opponent and their 8th win in their last ten meetings with the Blazers.
Of great significance for Portland is the arm injury suffered by Arron Afflalo, he left the game in the third quarter and he did not return. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI Friday in Portland. The Blazers are already playing without a pair of wings, Wesley Matthews (Achilles-out for season) and Dorell Wright (hand).
Tonight: Spurs at Rockets; Suns at Pelicans; Kings at Thunder; Mavericks at Nuggets; Grizzlies at Jazz
The games tonight should provide at least a tiny bit of clarity in the western conference, but not much. Houston needs a win over San Antonio to prevent a slide into the six spot in the conference. Houston would lose the season series with a loss and that would obviously give the tiebreaker to San Antonio. In a three-way tie for the division crown, Houston would lose that tiebreaker as well.
A win by the Rockets, though, would go a long way towards getting game one of Houston’s playoff series at home. Houston would not clinch the tiebreaker over San Antonio, but would earn it with an additional win over either New Orleans or Utah. If the Rockets are the five seed, they would have homecourt advantage against 4th-seeded Portland, if they have a better record than the Blazers.
Houston beat San Antonio 98-81 in Houston in the first week of the regular season and has won four straight against San Antonio in Houston and seven of the last eight.
Following Rockets practice on Thursday, players said they just needed to play harder and do the little things better, as San Antonio had done to them on Wednesday. “We just have to play better, We had guys on the floor that just didn’t play well,” head coach Kevin McHale said. “If you’re on the floor you have to play well. If you don’t play well, you’re not going to win. I wish I give could give you guys more, but that’s what it is.”
Jason Terry said the game was a wake-up call for what playoff basketball is all about and how hard this team must play to get wins. “If there’s a ball on the floor, you have to have 3 or four guys on the floor to get that ball,” he said. “If they’ve got one, we’ve got two. If they’ve got two, we’ve got three. We have to fight for every single possession.
The perception was, if you had watched us the last two weeks, (you’d think) ‘these guys are in playoff mode, guys are getting healthy and it looks good.’ It looks good until you go against the champs and they show you something different. Now that we know what that looks like and feels like, we’ll be ready.”
A Rockets win coupled with a Grizzlies loss at Utah Friday night, would put the Rockets in position to win the division and claim the division title. Houston would control it’s own destiny and would be the two seed if they went on to win their final three games. Memphis has only beaten Utah once in three meetings this season, but that win was in Utah.
However, that win came before Enes Kanter was traded away by Utah, paving the way for Rudy Gobert to become the starter and helping propel the Jazz to among the elite defensive teams in the league. In Gobert’s only start against the Grizzlies just over a month ago, he grabbed a career high 24 rebounds and scored 15 points to help the Jazz win by 11 in Memphis, 93-82.
Among the top eight western conference teams, only Dallas (11-12) has been worse than Memphis (14-11) since the all-star break. Utah is 17-8, tied with Houston for fifth-best mark in the league since the break.
Here’s the look at the west standings and the remaining schedule. Click the graphic to enlarge.
Click here for tiebreaking procedures
NBA Vine of the Night – Former Rocket Tracy McGrady has spent a couple nights sitting in with the TNT Inside the NBA crew. He gets Ernie Johnson with the curve right here.
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