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NBA ICYMI: The Bottom Half of the West Comes Out on Top

Saturday’s games saw all four playoff-contending teams in the West grind out important wins, while the Bucks grabbed the upper hand on the East’s 7-seed. Plus, the plays of the night come from the former and future MVPs.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Photo by Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

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

The Takeaway: The Playoff Status Quo Holds

For a quick second on Saturday night, we were in a simulation that resembled March Madness more so than the vagaries of meaningless, late-season NBA basketball. Thunder-Rockets, Blazers-Spurs, and Pelicans-Warriors were all single-digit games at the same time, all with the electric energy of do-or-die matchups. But instead of getting chaos, OKC, New Orleans, and San Antonio all won, keeping the standings as they are—with Minnesota in eighth place, Denver in ninth, and the aforementioned three all sandwiched in between them and the 4-seed Jazz who are half a game above the mess. It’s going to come down to the last two games of the season. Here’s the recap:

New Orleans went into Oracle Arena and emerged battered, bruised, and out-of-breath, but with a monstrous 126-120 win that puts them one win away from clinching a playoff spot. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Nikola Mirotic combined for 87 points, but it was Rajon Rondo that had the key steal off Kevin Durant down the stretch that sealed the win.

OKC battled in Houston and ended the Rockets’ 20-game home winning streak with a 108-102 victory to put themselves just one win away from a playoff berth. Houston could only score 12 points in the final frame, and the Thunder were led by 24 points apiece from Paul George and Russell Westbrook, plus 22 from Carmelo Anthony, who had 14 in the first quarter and a semi-clutch block in the fourth. Defense!

In San Antonio, the Spurs outlasted the Blazers—who are still fighting for the 3-seed and home-court advantage in the first round—116-105 behind 28 points from LaMarcus Aldridge against his former team, and a vintage 17 off the bench from Manu Ginobli. Gregg Popovich’s Kawhi-less brigade also needs just one more win to clinch a playoff spot.

Saturday’s results were all good news for teams in the hunt, except for one which got a big win but didn’t make up any ground (more on them in a bit). But as far as seedings go, it’s all up in the air still with a lot of permutations that have the 2-seed Warriors with up to six different possibilities for their first-round opponent. Mike D’Antoni is all of us trying to figure it out:

The Cheat Sheet

  • The Clippers get Will Barton’d out of playoff contention. Saturday’s matinee matchup featured the Clippers fighting for the last grasps of their playoff lives while the Nuggets needed to win to maintain their own. Denver, led by Will Barton’s 31 points, proceeded to break the #LANightlife curse by having one of its best offensive games of the season. The Nuggets shot 62.4 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3 leading to a 134-115 final—their fourth-highest scoring game this season. The win was enough to keep Denver’s playoff destiny in their hands—they will need to win their next game and beat the Wolves on the final night of the season to make it—and enough to fuel some petty spice on their Twitter account:

Maybe hold on to that one until you make the playoffs.

  • The Bucks are aiming for the 7-seed. A matchup between Milwaukee and the Kyrie-less Celtics in the first round of the playoffs is one step closer to happening. The Bucks beat the Knicks 115-102 on Latvian Heritage Night at MSG. They’re now one game up on the Wizards, and both teams have two more games to play. Even though they have that advantage, the Bucks’ season finale against Philly will likely decide who they play in Round 1 given that, if they lose that game, they don’t hold the tiebreaker over Washington.
  • The Brooklyn N333333333333333333333333ts. Count the 3s. That’s 24, for how many the Nets made on Saturday night against the Bulls, whom they beat 124-96. The double dozen is a Nets’ franchise record and just one away from tying the Cavs for the most 3-point shots in a single game.

Play(s) of the Night

Harden and Russ making ridiculous …

… mind-bending shots:

And a Jarrett Allen slam because non-playoff teams deserve some love too: