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NBA ICYMI: The Rockets Owe the Blazers a Valentine

Damian Lillard outduels KD, pushing the Warriors into second place in the West. Plus, the Marco Belinelli–Philly love affair continues, another heartbreaker for Miami, and everything else you need to know about Wednesday’s Valentine’s Day slate of games.

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

All the need-to-know info from the Valentine’s Day slate.


The Blazers Won the Dame vs. KD Battle, but So Did Houston

Kevin Durant drained and drove his way into 50 points Wednesday, the most he’s ever scored in a Warriors uniform, and still lost to the Blazers.

Steph Curry had an off shooting night; none of KD’s teammates broke 18 points. But the 123-117 win was about Damian Lillard, who always goes into something-to-prove mode as the All-Star Game creeps closer. Last Friday, he dropped 50 on the Kings. Sunday, he gave the Jazz 39. Wednesday, he went shot-for-shot with Durant. He finished with six fewer points (44) on 14-for-25 shooting and added eight assists.

Dame vs. Durant felt like a special reward for those who stayed up late. The latter almost got the win out of the shooting showcase, draining a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left in the fourth while trailing 121-117. But his foot hovered out of bounds, not even touching the ground (in my opinion!) before the release.

It was the fifth time in KD’s career that he hit 50 points. And as LaVar Ball–y as it sounds, after watching such an automatic, unguardable, complete scoring performance Wednesday, it almost seems like that’s too few for the 29-year-old’s career.

But back to Damian Lillard and what he took part in by taking down Golden State: The Warriors are now in second place in the West, behind the 44-13 Rockets by half a game. (Houston, 2-1 against the Warriors this season, holds the tiebreaker.)

The dub made one non-Portland GM stoked:

And finally, credit to Portland for holding onto the win. Lillard’s last field goal came with just under four minutes remaining; his teammates made sure the 44 weren’t for nothing. C.J. McCollum, who finished with 29 points of his own, hit a triple, while Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu both sank their pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds.

I’m not sure how much, or even if, the Warriors are concerned with their slight drop-off entering the All-Star break. But I will tell you this: Steve Kerr did not hand over that clipboard Wednesday.

Marco Belinelli Is Already a Sixers Hero

Belinelli was adored right away in Philadelphia; after the Sixers announced they had signed the 31-year-old guard, he said he chose the franchise over Oklahoma City, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Portland because he believes in their playoff push.

In Wednesday’s 104-102 win over Miami—during which, without Joel Embiid, Philly overcame an early-third-quarter 24-point deficit—Belinelli went 7-of-12 off the bench, contributing 17 points and three 3-pointers.

Taking It Easy Before All-Star? Never Heard of It.

Miami Needs a Closer

I wrote in Tuesday’s ICYMI about the Heat’s tendency to keep a game exciting until the end: “70 percent of Miami’s games have been within five points in the last five minutes.” After the loss in Philly, that number separates itself even further from the rest of the league; 41 of the Heat’s 58 games have been that close.

Miami was on the second night of a back-to-back, which should be noted. But it also blew the aforementioned 24-point lead and lost to the Embiid-less Sixers. After capitalizing on his absence in the paint early on, they lost all advantage; both teams ended with an even 42 points there in the game.

It’s understandable to be tired after a grueling loss the night before. It’s a trend when Miami’s last five “clutch” games (that down five points within five minutes qualifier) have all ended as losses.

This week is ideal timing for a team in need of tweaking and rest. Miami needs to regroup, and find its go-to man for the end of games. Kenley Jansen isn’t walking through that door.

TFW You’re Traded for a Second-Round Pick

Elfrid Payton finished with a 13-point, 12-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in his third game with the Suns. It was Phoenix’s first all season.

So, About Rookie of the Year ...

Donovan Mitchell is the first rookie ever to be his team’s leading scorer over an 11-game win streak. This dazzling 3—one of the four he sank against the Suns—pushed Utah’s lead to 105-97 with just under a minute left.

Mitchell finished with 24 points, the fewest in his last four games.

In Today’s Isaiah Thomas Drama …

“You Kept the Right One” —DeAndre Jordan

The big man hit 30 points for the first time in his 10-season career in the Clippers’ 129-119 win over the Celtics. He also finished with 13 boards, three assists, and four steals. (DAJ also went 8-for-9 from the charity stripe. Good things happen when those go in!)

Luke Walton Wishes the Ref a Very Happy Valentine’s Day

Share the love!

De’Aaron Fox Leaves the Game Late in the Fourth

The organization has since announced that Fox is getting stitches above his right eye and on his chin.

Atlanta’s New Hawk Leads the (Very Bad) Cast

Meet Andrew White III. The former Syracuse guard played his first-ever NBA game Wednesday, a 104-98 loss to the Pistons that moved the Hawks to 18-41, tied for last in the league with the Suns. Andrew White III finished with a team-high 15 points in 17 minutes, going 6-for-11 and hitting three triples.

Andrew White III is the best player on the Hawks.

OK, so Dennis Schröder (lower-back tightness), Kent Bazemore (rest), and Ersan Ilyasova (right shoulder sprain) did not play. Sure. Context. I get it. But no other Hawk joined White in double figures until rookie John Collins hit a free throw with 3:16 left in the fourth (the fourth!) quarter.

We get it, Atlanta. You’re tanking.

At Least You Tried

Kris Dunn, Welcome Back!

Chicago stunk up Dunn’s return with a 122-98 loss, but seeing him back on the court was the night’s moral win. He missed the Bulls’ last 11 games with concussion-like symptoms after a terrifying fall under the basket on January 17.

The lengthy absence at least signaled that the team (i.e., the sport) was taking his concussion seriously, but it’s such a relief to see him back and well. Fred Hoiberg put Dunn on a minutes limit, yanking him after 20; he finished with a rusty eight points, going 3-for-9 from the field, and added three rebounds and three assists.

Everything Is Not Bigger in Texas

Joe Johnson hit that 3-pointer but went 1-for-5 overall. He shot 27.4 percent from deep on the season with the Jazz, his worst since 2002.

New York Has Now Lost Eight in a Row

February 14, 2018, Wizards-Knicks.

By the half, Tim Hardaway Jr. had scored 32 points, New York was up by 21, and the team was hitting half of its 3-pointers.

By the end, Hardaway had taken 10 more shots and sank only two, Bradley Beal’s 23 second-half points pushed his total to 36, and New York had blown its fourth game this season when leading by 21 or more points. (The Knicks led by as many as 27 at one point.)

February 14, 2018, Wizards-Knicks, 118-113.

Happy Valentine’s Day.