Rockets 135, Clippers 103
The NBA playoffs are still days away. Tell that to the Houston Rockets, who have their postseason mentality locked in.
James Harden scored 31 points, Chris Paul added 29, and the Rockets routed the Clippers on Wednesday night in a potential playoff preview.
"(Chris) is dialed in, and James, too," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "When they play like that, it's pretty tough to lose. We played unbelievably."
Clint Capela had 24 points and 15 rebounds to help the Rockets win their fourth in a row. They showed little fatigue in cruising past the NBA's hottest team while playing their last back-to-back of the season.
"It's the best we've played and it's the right time," Harden said.
The Rockets currently own the third seed in the Western Conference and the Clippers are sixth, which would pair them in the first round.
"It'd be a tough series," Paul said. "They're very disciplined."
Asked how the Clippers would match up, coach Doc Rivers said, "If we go by tonight, not very well. But we're a much better team than we showed."
Paul stunned the crowd by hitting a deep 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to end the third, in which the Rockets outscored the Clippers 34-20.
Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Clippers with 20 points and Danilo Gallinari added 16. They had won an NBA-best 13 of 15 coming in, but lost for the first time in three meetings with Houston this season.
"Every once in a while, you get the (expletive) kicked out of you," said Lou Williams, who had 14 points off the bench. "We hadn't had one of these in three, four months, so we were due."
The Rockets set the tone early, shooting 64% in the first quarter.
Houston stretched its lead to 22 in the second before the Clippers closed on a 9-2 run to trail 68-53 at halftime.
Harden and Paul dominated the third. First, Paul ran off six straight points and later Harden scored eight in a row. Paul's back-to-back 3-pointers sent the Rockets into the final quarter leading 102-73.
"We only got, what, three more games now? Four? To get ready for the great grind of the playoffs," Paul said. "Everybody's just trying to get going."
Raptors 115, Nets 105
Fighting desperately to get back in the game, the Brooklyn Nets kept going smaller and smaller until they essentially had four perimeter players on the floor.
Good luck stopping Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka with that.
Siakam had 28 points and 10 rebounds, Leonard added 26 points and nine boards and the Toronto Raptors beat the Nets for their fifth straight victory.
Ibaka finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors (56-23), who need to win their final three games to match last season's franchise record for victories. Their victory prevented the Milwaukee Bucks from clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"They were the better team. I don't know how else to say it," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "They were better from start to finish. You have to give them credit. They're a team that's going to compete for a championship. We were not up to those standards that you have to be almost perfect and we weren't. I would say we were average and that's not good enough to beat that team."
D'Angelo Russell had 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Nets, who fell to 39-40 and missed another chance to improve their playoff situation. They could have moved ahead of Detroit after the Pistons lost to Indiana, but instead are now tied for seventh with the Orlando Magic.
Brooklyn has lost four of five.
The Nets had cut the deficit to five early in the third quarter before Siakam made a pair of baskets around Marc Gasol's 3-pointer to make it 66-54. Toronto would get the lead as high as 14 points in the quarter and led 90-78 entering the fourth.
Russell tried to jump-start a rally early in the fourth, scoring seven straight Brooklyn points to trim it to 92-87. He scored 18 in the final period, taking advantage of the space the Nets created with their small lineup. But they got punished on the other end trying to match up with Toronto's versatile forwards, all 6-foot-7 or taller.
"We obviously said there's some size advantages out there," Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. "When you get some mismatches and you get a small guy on you, start roaming around in the paint and try to get some putbacks."
Siakam, Ibaka and Kyle Lowry made 3-pointers over a span of 1:40, before two free throws by Ibaka and another by Siakam pushed it back to 108-96 with 3:15 to play.
Russell had one more flurry, making three 3-pointers to cut it to 110-105 with 1:24 left. But Ibaka scored on a follow shot and the Nets couldn't get anything else to fall.
"They're a good, veteran ballclub," Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. "Every time we were able to close the gap they tightened the screws on their end. They got the big stop or made the big shot. That was the difference."
Siakam scored 18 points after halftime.
"I kind of got thrown off like at the beginning of the game just seeing the way they were guarding me and I got a little excited," Siakam said. "I just had to calm down a little bit and let the game come to me."
Nuggets 113, Spurs 85
Nikola Jokic scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out nine of Denver's season-high 41 assists as the Nuggets routed the Spurs in a game in which San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was ejected after just 63 seconds.
Jamal Murray added 14 points and 11 assists for a Nuggets team that's currently holding down the No. 2 seed in the West with four games remaining.
An irate Popovich was given two quick technicals and was sent to the locker room at 10:57 of the opening quarter. The last time a coach was ejected within the first 2 minutes of a game was Washington's Flip Saunders on January 2, 2012, at Boston, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Saunders was ejected 1:46 into that game.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Lonnie Walker IV each had 16 points for the Spurs, who slipped into the eighth spot with the loss.
Bulls 115, Wizards 114
Walt Lemon Jr. scored a career-high 24 points, including two free throws with 1.8 seconds to play, to help Chicago snap a five-game losing streak.
Lemon, in just his third game with Chicago, was one of seven Bulls in double figures in the matchup of teams whose seasons will end without a playoff appearance. JaKarr Sampson added 18 points for the Bulls.
Thomas Bryant scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Washington. Bobby Portis had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Bradley Beal added 19 points. The Wizards played their first game since Ernie Grunfeld was fired as team president after 16 seasons on Tuesday.
New London's Kris Dunn (back) was out for the fifth straight game for Chicago. Coach Jim Boylen hopes Dunn can stay healthy for the 2019-20 season. "Next year starts today," Boylen has told Dunn and the other players. "It doesn't start next year."
Jazz 118, Suns 97
Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points, leading playoff-bound Utah past the Suns.
Phoenix lost star guard Devin Booker with 4:28 left in the first quarter when he landed awkwardly on his left ankle while jumping to receive a pass. Booker sprained his left ankle and left the game with eight points.
Joe Ingles scored 15 of his 27 points in the second quarter, and Rudy Gobert had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Jazz, who remained in fifth place in the Western Conference and have won 11 of 12.
Richaun Holmes' 16 points and nine rebounds led the Suns, who have lost seven of eight.
Hornets 115, Pelicans 109
Kemba Walker scored 21 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, and the Charlotte Hornets kept alive their slim playoff hopes with a victory over the Pelicans.
The Hornets trailed by five in the middle of the fourth when Walker's 3 ignited a 14-6 run that put Charlotte in front for good. He hit a pair of driving layups and a second 3 during the decisive spurt.
Frank Kaminsky added 21 points and rookie Devonte Graham scored a career-high 13 points for the Hornets (36-42), who, with four games to play, sit 2½ games behind Orlando (39-40) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Julius Randle had 34 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has dropped five of six games.
Hawks 130, 76ers 122
Trae Young had 33 points and 12 assists, John Collins added 25 points, and the Hawks handed the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers their second straight loss.
The Sixers began the night needing one victory and a loss by Boston to secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have dropped four of six, a stretch that began with a last-second setback at Atlanta 10 days ago.
Coming off a lackluster loss at Dallas two nights ago, the Sixers were without star center Joel Embiid for the third straight game. Forward Jimmy Butler returned from a one-game absence with back tightness and finished with 16 points.
Philadelphia, which missed 16 of 38 free throws, got 30 points from J.J. Redick and 21 from Tobias Harris. After 27 lead changes and 13 ties in the first three quarters, the Sixers never led in the fourth.
Timberwolves 110, Mavericks 108
Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points and 13 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins hit the go-ahead bucket in the final minute and the Minnesota Timberwolves turned back a fourth-quarter rally by the Mavericks.
Dallas rookie sensation Luka Doncic scored 27 points, but passed up a potential winning 3-pointer on another cold night from long range. Jalen Brunson took the pass and missed from 3 at the buzzer on a shot that would have required a replay to see if the fellow rookie got it off in time.
Dirk Nowitzki, who has just two home games remaining in what is expected to be the 40-year-old's final season, scored nine points. The Mavericks were coming off their first two-game winning streak since early February.
Pacers 108, Pistons 89
Thaddeus Young scored 21 points, and Indiana took advantage of Blake Griffin's absence, beating the Pistons.
Griffin missed a third straight game for the Pistons, who are in the middle of a tight race for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The star forward has been dealing with left knee soreness.
Detroit came into the night in sixth place in the East, but just 1 ½ games ahead of ninth-place Orlando. The Magic gained ground with a win over New York on Wednesday.
The Pacers snapped a 10-game losing streak on the road, and they won for just the third time in their last 10 games. Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner scored 17 points apiece, and Domantas Sabonis added 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Andre Drummond had 28 points and 19 rebounds for the Pistons, and Wayne Ellington scored 24 points.
Trail Blazers 116, Grizzlies 89
Evan Turner had 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists off the bench for his second consecutive triple-double and the Trail Blazers reached 50 wins.
Damian Lillard came close to a triple-double, too, with 20 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, but he sat for the final quarter. Enes Kanter had 21 points and 15 rebounds for his third straight double-double.
The Blazers, now 50-28, continue to jockey for home-court advantage in the playoffs as the season winds to a close. Going into the game, Portland was holding on to fourth in the standings, two games up on the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference.
Chandler Parsons had 16 points off the bench to lead the Grizzlies (31-47), who have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
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