By: Rob Bishop
Back again, and Portland notched a tough win on Sunday night without Damian Lillard. C.J. McCollum continued to operate as the team’s go-to scorer, and the veteran guard rewarded Portland with a season-high 41 points and a career-best 12 dimes. Carmelo Anthony shined as well, going for a season-best 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting. The Blazers remain three games back of a playoff spot in the West heading into a road trip featuring a few Eastern Conference playoff teams (Boston, Indiana, Orlando). Lillard remains without a definitive timetable to return.
Memphis is currently working to hold on to a playoff spot at the back-end of the West, and the effort became much more difficult on Sunday with news that big man Jaren Jackson Jr. would be sidelined for the next two-plus weeks. Diagnosed with a sprained knee, Jackson Jr. will be forced into the role of spectator as rookie Brandon Clarke will assume a larger role in his absence. The Grizzlies will be overly cautious with Jackson given his importance to the franchise’s future, and it would not be a surprise for him to end up missing a large chunk of Memphis’ remaining regular season schedule.
All Star Ben Simmons missed Saturday’s ugly loss to the Bucks, and now Philadelphia’s floor general is facing an uncertain injury situation. Battling a lower back injury, Simmons is expected to undergo further testing today, which isn’t exactly encouraging for his short-term prospects. The 76ers will be without Simmons tonight against Atlanta, and depending on how things develop, Philadelphia could be without him for longer. This is a tough blow to the 76ers as the team lacks competent ball-handling depth behind Simmons, something that could force off-guard Josh Richardson into a larger role within the team’s offense.
Since embracing a small-ball philosophy, Houston improved to 7-2 with a win over the Jazz on Saturday night. Working against Utah could have presented a mismatch issue given Rudy Gobert’s presence, but the Rockets fared well thanks to solid offensive showings from James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The pair combined for a whopping 72 points and 11 dimes. Westbrook in particular has thrived of late, shooting over 50% from the field during the month of February. It’s easy to question Houston in a potential match-up against Nikola Jokic or Anthony Davis in the playoffs, but right now, everything is clicking for the Rockets. Houston will look to keep things rolling tonight against the lowly New York Knicks.
With Kemba Walker out, the Boston Celtics managed to push the Los Angeles Lakers into a battle, ultimately losing in the closing seconds. LeBron James knocked down a tough fall-away jumper during the final minute that served as the decisive basket, though some questionable officiating didn’t help Boston’s case. For Boston, Jayson Tatum put up a career-best 41 points in the defeat. These two storied rivals have now split their season series, with only a third contest between the two possible in the NBA Finals. Given the quality of the two teams, that remains a possibility.
Zion Williamson’s assault on the rest of the NBA continued with a dominant showing on Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors. Williamson put up 28 points while proving to be a physical nightmare against the Warriors. His free-throw shooting needs to improve, and he remains too prone to turnovers, but Williamson has been a game-changing presence since debuting earlier this month. The Pelicans have won two straight heading into tomorrow night’s must-watch tilt against the aforementioned—and Western Conference-leading—Los Angeles Lakers.