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NBA ICYMI: Maybe It’s Time to Trust the Favorites

The Cavs and Warriors both handled business against potential playoff matchups. Plus, Philly stays coasting, a block books the Heat’s postseason ticket, and everything else you may have missed from Tuesday’s action.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

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

The Takeaway: Familiarity Breeds Content

We’re so used to Cavs-Warriors come June that this season has been an 82-game exercise in positing who can beat either one of them once the playoffs arrive. Tuesday showed us exactly why the only reason we try to doubt the incumbents is, well, we have a lot of time to kill.

Since beating the Rockets by three just over three weeks ago, Toronto is 2-5 against teams in the playoffs or in the hunt. Two of those losses have come against the Cavs, who won 112-106 on Tuesday. For a team as easy to doubt as the Raptors, having Jose Calderon—who is 23-9 as the Cavs’ starting point guard—drop 19 points on Kyle Lowry while LeBron records a near-triple-double is probably not a good look.

The Cavs put together the type of game that is example A, B, and C of why when push comes to the shove in the postseason, it’s a lot easier to trust LeBron and whatever ragtag unit he has around him than a revamped Raptors team that has yet to prove it can get over the Cleveland-sized hump.

In Oklahoma City, no Steph was no problem for the lackadaisical Warriors, who handled the Thunder 111-107 thanks to Kevin Durant’s effortless 34 points and, yes, crunch-time minutes from Quinn Cook and Damian Jones. It was again a dark game for Carmelo Anthony, who shot 4-of-16 from the field and had only 12 points despite playing the same number of minutes (36) as Durant.

Russell Westbrook had to exert himself to the limit Tuesday, scoring 44 points to keep OKC in it, aaaaaand it wasn’t sufficient. Even though Paul George added 20 points, it was almost like déjà vu to last season when the Thunder had to be carried by Westbrook, only to be outlasted by a better, deeper, more well-put-together team. This time, it was a Warriors team that was missing one of its MVPs. It’s now April, and the Thunder continue to look deadly on paper and inconsistent on the court.

The Cheat Sheet

  • You can’t kill the Clippers. Two games back with five games left and down 19 to the Spurs at one point during Tuesday’s matchup, the Clippers looked dead in the water. Instead, they mounted a comeback on the back of Lou Williams, who scored 22 points off the bench, to beat the Spurs, 113-110. The ripple effect? San Antonio, now in the fifth seed, won’t win 50 games this season, the first time that’s happened since the lockout season in 1999. The Jazz are now in fourth place in the West, while the Clippers are only one and a half games behind the Pelicans for the 8-seed.
  • This is the only thing you need to see to know how Wizards-Rockets went.

James Harden finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Washington shot 48 percent from 3 and 53 percent from the field … and still lost by 16 points, 120-104.

  • Why are the Blazers losing? Why are the Mavs winning? In a game that made neither party look good, kind of like the 2016 election (I’m sorry), Dallas beat Portland 115-109. For the Blazers, the loss was their second to a sub-.500 team in the past seven days and puts their 3-seed in danger in the final few games. Also: It appears Damian Lillard may have hurt his ankle. For the Mavs, who are supposed to be tanking—well, at least they got this out of it:
  • The Jazz are sticking. The Nuggets are coming. Can I interest you in a 31-point, four-3s performance from Ricky Rubio? (Yes, your answer should be yes.) Utah beat the Lakers 117-110, and now have home-court advantage after the Spurs’ loss. Denver, meanwhile, handled the Eastern 5-seed, the Pacers, 107-104 on Tuesday as Will Barton and Nikola Jokic combined for 56 points. Because the Pelicans did not play Tuesday, the Nuggets are now just a half-game behind New Orleans for the oh-so-coveted 8-seed in the West. (New Orleans has five games left, while Denver has just four.) Buckle up.
  • Giannis puts the nail in the coffin.

The Celtics are scraping the barrel for players, but are still staying in games. Boston started the 53rd overall pick in last year’s draft, Kadeem Allen, at point guard. Jayson Tatum had some highlight moments, and while Jaylen Brown led the team with 24 points, he couldn’t get the above layup that would have made it a three-point game with less than a minute left. Giannis’s giant hand decided the game with one slap and the Bucks (8-seed) grabbed a game they needed to keep pace with the Heat. Speaking of …

  • How to nearly throw away a guaranteed win, by the Miami Heat. The Heat were down 98-90 with just over three minutes left in their game … against the 22-55 Hawks. But by God, they snatched what would have been the season’s worst loss out of the jaws of defeat. Miami went on an 11-0 run down the stretch and won, 101-98, thanks in part to Josh Richardson’s block, which also clinched Miami’s playoff berth.

The Heat hold the tiebreaker over both the Bucks and Wizards, so the win placed them in the 6-seed.

  • Philly stays coasting. The basketball gods may have taken away Joel Embiid for a (hopefully) quick minute, but they did provide the Sixers with a Staples “easy button” schedule for the final portion of the season. Tuesday, they faced the Nets and waxed them, 121-95. Ben Simmons posted a 15-12-6, the Sixers bench added a whopping 60 (including 10 points from Markelle Fultz), and they won their 11th straight in a single season for the first time since 1990.
  • This is the only important thing from Magic-Knicks. Two words: Frankie Smokes.

As fellow Ringer employee Nicole Bae, who was at the game on Tuesday, put it: Watching Frankie live is [insert chef’s kiss here]. Orlando won 97-73. Long live the tank.

Play of the Night: You Just Got Monk’d

(The Bulls beat the Hornets 120-114).

Quote of the Night: Noted Weatherman Hassan Whiteside

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Ben Simmons had a triple-double on Tuesday.