By: Rob Bishop
Back again, and in a potential first-round playoff preview, the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the surging New Orleans Pelicans. LeBron James was without an equal during the game, going for 40 points while propelling L.A. to a sixth straight victory. Anthony Davis didn’t have the greatest of games in support against his former team, but James’s excellence lifted his teammate. The Lakers hold a five-game lead over the Nuggets in the standings, while New Orleans currently sits 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for control of the final playoff spot in the West.
Bradley Beal’s individual exploits continued on Monday night as the Wizards guard went for a career-best 55 points in an eventual loss. Beal had 22 points in the fourth quarter alone, capping off a brilliant encore showing to his 53-point effort on Sunday. Unfortunately, Beal and the Wizards lost both games, and Washington’s baffling push to make the Eastern Conference playoffs continues to be an uphill climb. The Wizards have lost three straight to drop to 20-36 on the season.
Without Ben Simmons (back), Joel Embiid was the focal point of Philadelphia’s offense against the Hawks, and the All-Star big man had his way against Atlanta’s hapless frontcourt defense. Embiid posted a career-best 49 points on 17-of-24 shooting, pushing Philadelphia to the win following a late charge by the Hawks. The offense for the 76ers remains in flux without Simmons, though fill-in point guard Shake Milton was solid in this one. Embiid will likely feast again tonight in a match-up against the lowly Cavaliers, especially given his personal rivalry with Cleveland big man Andre Drummond.
Orlando and Brooklyn are fighting for the right not to face Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs, and the Magic notched a vital head-to-head win on Monday. Leading the Magic was Aaron Gordon, who stuffed the stat sheet with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds. After being in a funk for much of the season, Gordon has been turning it on as of late, shining as a playmaker while also playing solid defense. Gordon’s brilliance allowed Orlando to erase a 19-point deficit in this one, and the Magic enter Wednesday 1.5 games behind the Nets in the standings.
Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio has been on a tear for the Suns, and he put up a superstar performance in a win over the Jazz on Monday. Rubio scored 22 points, handed out 11 assists, and racked up an improbable seven steals. Rubio is proving to be a perfect complementary piece to Devin Booker, and he is thriving within Phoenix’s offense alongside second-year big man DeAndre Ayton. The Suns are a solid off-season away from being a playoff contender as early as next season.
In a match-up between the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors and the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks, it was Milwaukee that emerged with an impressive victory on Tuesday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s quest for a second consecutive MVP Award featured a 19-point, 19-rebound double-double, and Khris Middleton followed his 40-point effort over the weekend with 22 points. The Bucks have now won 18 of 20 games to improve to 50-8 on the season. Though discouraging, the loss does nothing to affect Toronto’s place in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. The Raptors remain in second place and in solid position to challenge the Celtics for a rematch against Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals in May.
Moving to baseball, awful news came on Tuesday as Yankees right-hander Luis Severino will require season-ending elbow surgery. Viewed as a co-ace alongside winter addition Gerrit Cole for the World Series-hopeful Yankees, Severino will instead miss all of the 2020 season, a massive disappointment considering injuries limited him to a grand sum of 20.1 innings a year ago. Paired with the injury already suffered by James Paxton, Severino’s loss will be nearly impossible for New York to replace. Of course, New York’s lineup is absolutely loaded, setting the Yankees up to remain a viable championship contender, albeit by winning plenty of shootouts and fewer pitching duels. The regular season remains a few weeks away. Sigh.