By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and in a matchup of teams likely headed to the Eastern Conference play-in, the surging Atlanta Hawks easily defeated the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks have been boosted by a string of solid games for Kevin Huerter, who scored 23 points in the win to give him 20+ points in four straight games, all Atlanta wins. The Cavaliers have now lost two straight and are struggling without the duo of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt. On the plus side, Mobley is expected to return from a sprained ankle soon, possibly as early as Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. On the downside, Mobley or not, the Cavaliers look destined for a play-in matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
As for the Nets, Brooklyn dropped an epic meeting against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, falling in overtime after Giannis Antetokounmpo put forth an MVP effort, complete with a clutch three-pointer and a pair of late free throws in overtime. Antetokounmpo finished the game with 44 points, 14 boards, and six dimes, embarrassing Brooklyn’s defense multiple times. The victory keeps Milwaukee a half-game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight’s showdown against Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers. With the loss, the Nets are now 40-37, tied with the Charlotte Hornets and the aforementioned Hawks within the East’s play-in bracket. Brooklyn will travel to Atlanta for a potential play-in preview against the Hawks on Saturday night.
Toronto’s red-hot play of late will likely keep the play-in field set as currently constructed, with the Raptors winning four straight and eight of ten to move to 44-32, good for sixth place in the East. On Wednesday night, it was once again Pascal Siakam leading the team to victory with a triple-double (12 points, ten boards, 13 dimes). Siakam was unjustly left off the East All-Star team, but like fellow snub Jrue Holiday, he’s likely looking at a spot on the more exclusive All-NBA team as a consolation prize. Toronto enters Friday a half-game behind the Bulls for fifth place in the standings, and with a date against the tanking Magic on Friday night, the Raptors could tie the Bulls as soon as tonight.
Utah entered last night desperate for a victory. Thankfully for the Jazz, the Lakers were up on the schedule, and Utah managed to win, snapping a five-game losing streak. Rudy Gobert was huge for the Jazz, overmatching L.A.’s frontcourt to the tune of 25 points and 17 rebounds while operating as a one-man defense. The Jazz have fallen on hard times of late and are facing an uphill battle to make noise in the postseason, but Gobert is hardly at fault despite the defensive superstar shouldering a fair share of criticism for the team’s recent struggles. Gobert and the Jazz will look to keep up the winning ways tomorrow night in a potential playoff preview against the Golden State Warriors.
While the Wizards were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Thursday night with Atlanta’s win, Washington has to be encouraged with its recent stretch of play. Integral to the team’s performance has been Kristaps Porzingis, who appears rejuvenated following the deadline deal from the Mavericks. On Wednesday night, Porzingis had his best game of the season, scoring 35 points, grabbing eight boards, and blocking a pair of shots in only 29 minutes of action. Porzingis also shows chemistry within the frontcourt rotation alongside Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija. Washington is shaping up to be an exciting team this offseason, with Bradley Beal arguably the NBA’s most significant trade chip or an interesting pairing alongside Porzingis.