Ty Lawson (DEN) — 25 pts, 8/13 FGs
Kevin Durant (OKC) — 34 pts, 7 rebs, 5 assts
Denver Nuggets (46-22) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-17)
The top two teams in the Western Conference right now might be meeting in Oklahoma City tonight. And not even the allure of NCAA Tournament games should be able to draw basketball fans away.
Kevin Durant. Andre Iguodala. Russell Westbrook. Ty Lawson. Danilo Gallinari. Serge Ibaka. And the immortal JaVale McGee.
That is exciting on name power alone. Then you look at what the teams have accomplished.
Oklahoma City is second in the Western Conference and a game behind San Antonio for the best record in the West. The Nuggets are quickly coming on their tail. Denver has won 12 games in a row — which normally would get lots of press except for that little win streak in Miami — and continues to impress with the team's all out offensive attack.
The Nuggets are dangerous because so many different guys can beat you on any given night. They really do not have a set formula. But this one is the big test for Denver.
Denver is getting some momentum as the dark horse in the West to reach the Finals. It certainly feels possible with the way they move the ball and especially their dominance at home. However, a Playoff team's mettle is determined against the best on the road. This is not a game that will sink Denver's championship hopes, but it would make a lot more believers if the team could find a way to win at Oklahoma City.
Other Storylines to Watch
-It started off as an off-color Nike campaign. Kevin Durant being accused indirectly of a vicious dunking. Of course, Durant couldn't do it?! He is the nicest guy in the league. Believe it though with the technical fouls and the new killer instinct, Kevin Durant is not nice. Just ask Ty Lawson who said he has noticed a mean streak in Durant as he hungers for his first championship.
-The Nuggets and the Thunder have a nice rivalry developing and it should last for a long time. Both Durant and Lawson are locked in with their teams for the foreseeable future and both have teams capable of winning.
Tonight's Other Games
Maurice Harkless (ORL) — 10 pts, 8 rebs, 4 stls
Tyler Hansbrough (IND) — 14 pts, 14 rebs, 9 off. rebs
Orlando Magic (18-49) vs. Indiana Pacers (41-26)
Rookie Magic general manager Rob Hennigan was roundly criticized when he traded Dwight Howard to the Lakers and opted not to get Andrew Bynum in return. It complicated the deal, requiring four teams to be involved to get the deal done. Eventually Bynum ended up in Philadelphia. Now that Bynum is out for the year, Hennigan might have a smirk on his face and thoughts of "I told you so." Orlando is struggling record-wise but have a nice center prospect in second-year pro Nikola Vucevic.
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) — 21 pts, 15 rebs
Monta Ellis (MIL) — 21 pts, 8 rebs, 9 assts
Portland Trail Blazers (31-35) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (33-32)
LaMarcus Aldridge's big day was kind of ruined. He was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday and proceeded to lead his Blazers on a big comeback against the Sixers on the road. When push came to shove at the end, Aldridge could not get the final tip in to go and the Sixers escaped with the win. All the congratulations had to stop for a while.
Blake Griffin (LAC) — 20 pts, 8/11 FGs
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) — 17 pts, 8 rebs
Los Angeles Clippers (46-21) vs. Sacramento Kings (23-44)
The Clippers have the luxury of having two really strong point guards in Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. As the Playoffs come closer, Vinny Del Negro will have to figure out the most efficient way to employ his two guards. Billups wants the ball in his hands and his seasoned enough to get the Clippers into the right sets and find the right guys. Chris Paul is also Chris Paul. Either way, it does not seem Los Angeles could lose.
Atlanta Hawks (34-28) vs. Miami Heat (47-14)
How does 19 wins sound? It sounds good to Juwan Howard. He signed another 10-day contract and seems to be in for a second championship run. It is good to be Juwan Howard right now. Howard signed that big contract in Washington and had those opportunities missed in college with Michigan. Back-to-back championships sounds nice for the veteran forward.
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) -- 19 pts, 11 rebs
Monta Ellis (MIL) -- 32 pts, 9 assts
Dallas Mavericks (29-33) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (32-29)
Once again, the Mavericks and Bucks are at the center of Brandon Jennings' future. Reports came out a few weeks ago that Dallas was interested in signing Jennings this summer. And the Bucks' financial future seems in a weird place with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings both potentially not hitting free agency. It is unclear whether Jennings even wants to be in Milwaukee. They apparently never started negotiating this offseason at the rumored 4-year, $40 million mark. Jennings might think he is worth more.
Cory Joseph (SAS) -- 15 pts, 5/9 FGs
Ricky Rubio (MIN) -- 21 pts, 13 rebs, 12 assts
San Antonio Spurs (49-15) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-39)
There was apparently some rumors going around that Tiago Splitter was considering heading off to Spain to play for Real Madrid and get a bigger role. But Splitter's strong play this season -- including last night's double double against the Thunder -- seems to point toward Splitter staying in the U.S. and in the NBA. Splitter has been a solid player off the bench playing behind and with Tim Duncan for this stellar team.
Zach Randolph (MEM) -- 19 pts, 10 rebs
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) -- 28 pts, 10 rebs
Memphis Grizzlies (42-19) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (29-33)
Damian Lillard turned in a stellar performance with 35 points against the Spurs on Friday. This one will be another difficult team to score points against. But Portland has to feel they need some wins to stay in the Playoff hunt. The team is not too far removed from the postseason picture.
Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) -- 25 pts, 7 rebs, 10/17 FGs
Ryan Anderson (NOH) -- 20 pts, 12 rebs, 7/11 FGs
Dallas Mavericks (24-29) vs. New Orleans Hornets (19-36)
The Mavericks made a minor move in acquiring Anthony Morrow at the trade deadline. But he comes with some big praise. Coach Rick Carlisle called Morrow the best shooter he has seen aside from Chris Mullin. That might be going a bit far perhaps. But Morrow is a strong 3-point shooter and should help spread the floor if Dallas intends on making the Playoffs this year.
|Oklahoma City||127||Pace: 102.7||123.7||63.3||25.8||16.3||26.5|
Alexey Shved (MIN) -- 17 pts, 7/12 FGs
Russell Westbrook (OKC) -- 37 pts, 7 rebs, 9 assts
Minnesota Timberwolves (20-31) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-15)
It might have been a minor move, but it will rock international basketball. After Russia's strong performance in the 2012 Olympics, they not only will lose their coach but also their best player. Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko announced his retirement from international competition, ending a very successful and decorated tenure in FIBA basketball.
Jeff Green (BOS) -- 31 pts, 7 rebs, 11/14 FGs
Goran Dragic (PHX) -- 19 pts, 10 assts
Boston Celtics (28-26) vs. Phoenix Suns (18-37)
There was definite talk that Kevin Garnett was going to get traded out west to the Clippers. That ended up not happening for a variety of reasons. One was Garnett being unwilling to waive his no trade clause. Another might have been the internal disagreements within the Clippers about the best move. In the end, Boston made a relatively minor move to bring in Jordan Crawford and inject some scoring. It will be interesting to see whether this veteran team can finish.
|L.A. Lakers||111||Pace: 104.0||106.8||50.6||25.5||13.8||40.0|
J.J. Hickson (POR) -- 22 pts, 11 rebs
Kobe Bryant (LAL) -- 40 pts, 15/23 FGs
Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (26-29)
With Mark Cuban jokingly saying the Lakers should amnesty Kobe Bryant to get away from crushing luxury tax debt, the Lakers were guaranteeing they would make the Playoffs. That is definitley the mindset Kobe Bryant has and his teammates -- particularly Dwight Howard, Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol -- concurred. So now the season starts anew... again. A big game against another Playoff-hungry team should give all the motivation necessary.--->