VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Spurs handle Blazers, start prepping for Warriors — The San Antonio Spurs surged past the Portland Trail Blazers last night en route to a 118-110 win thanks in large part to a 39-point third quarter. The victory marked San Antonio’s 43rd straight at home as a showdown with the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand in San Antonio last night for the win and reports on how the Spurs are officially gearing up for their big showdown:
It would have been understandable for the Spurs to look past the Portland Trail Blazers, who they trounced 118-110 on Thursday, with an eye toward Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. Even in the visiting locker room prior to Thursday’s game, a couple of Trail Blazers dressing for warm-ups figured San Antonio would overlook them in anticipation of the clash against Golden State.
Starting with the team’s 109-101 triumph March 10 over the Chicago Bulls, a victory that kicked off its current five-game homestand, and leading into Saturday’s rematch against Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be as healthy and locked in as the unit has been this season.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure of it, calling back-to-back timeouts with a little more than four minutes remaining and his team up 15 points on Portland.
“Stay focused, stay focused,” said point guard Tony Parker, who finished with 18 points and 16 assists. “Pop’s always been like that. It’s a 48-minute game. He was trying to prepare us for Saturday because, on Saturday, if you rest one minute [Golden State] can go up 15-0 real quick in a minute. That’s why he was like that.”
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs a 66 percent chance of beating the Warriors, based on a variety of reasons. The Spurs lead the NBA in scoring margin, which historically has been more predictive of future success than a team’s win-loss record. Coming off a full day’s rest, as there’s no practice scheduled for Friday, San Antonio will host a Warriors team fresh off an outing the night before in Dallas. The Spurs are 34-0 this season in the AT&T Center.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, meanwhile, finally have emerged as San Antonio’s top scoring threats. Popovich believes Tim Duncan’s eight-game absence — starting with the Jan. 25 meeting against the Warriors and ending on Feb. 10 — sped up the development of chemistry between Aldridge and Leonard.
They scored 22 points apiece and combined for four blocks against the Trail Blazers.
“[Aldridge] and Kawhi both, I think they were trying to fit in, trying to see where things are, and they’ve gotten to the point where they’re taking over,” Duncan said. “They understand that we’re going to ride them, and that builds their confidence.”
Chemistry also seems to be peaking between Aldridge and Parker over the past several games. Seven of Parker’s assists against the Trail Blazers flew Aldridge’s way.
“Love playing with him,” Parker said of Aldridge. “I know exactly where he’s going to be. It’s funny because even if he hits five shots in a row, they’re still staying with me, and I’m like, ‘Go to LaMarcus. Go guard him.’ They still give him that wide-open shot. He got a lot of shots tonight, and he’s been knocking them down. I feel like L.A. is feeling more comfortable with the system. He’s playing great.”
“It’s going to be a big one. Obviously, they beat us pretty bad in the first one,” Parker said. “So it’s our second time playing them. It’s going to be a good test. The whole stretch these last four games, all of them were great tests for us.
“They’re the defending champs, and they’ve been playing unbelievable this year. We’ve been playing great too. So we get another shot at it.”
Duncan initially tried to take a measured approach in expressing his thoughts about Saturday’s matchup, but excitement ultimately won out.
“We’re going to show up for the game and we’re going to play it. It’s not going to change our season or anything else,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a great matchup for us, two of the best records in the league, and they’re playing exceptionally well. So it’s a good test for us; a playoff type of atmosphere, playoff type of intensity, a good experience for us. But I’ll leave it at that.
“We’re sitting in a great position right now. On top of that, we’re healthy, which is a big part of it. But to have someone like [Golden State] to continue to put the pressure on us, it’s great. It’s great for our focus. It’s great to have games like this. It’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re excited about it.”
No. 2: Knee surgery delayed for Sixers’ Okafor — As our own Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out in this week’s Kia Rookie Ladder, the Philadelphia 76ers have a pretty good indication of what rookie Jahlil Okafor can do in the NBA. They also have a lot of questions to address about him as well. Still, Okafor’s season is over after it was revealed he needs surgery on a torn meniscus in his knee. According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Okafor’s surgery will happen, just not when originally planned:
Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., but it was delayed. The procedure originally was scheduled for Wednesday.
This begs the question: Is the power forward’s knee worse than originally thought?
“No,” coach Brett Brown said Thursday. “There’s no sort of conspiracy theories going on. It’s more just trying to get a collaborative effort. It happened with Joel [Embiid] and, I think, with Nerlens [Noel].
The injury ultimately will cost Okafor, who hasn’t played since Feb. 28, the final 23 games of the season. A CAT scan on March 8 revealed the tear.
The 20-year-old missed two preseason games in October and two games in December because of soreness in the same knee.
No. 3: Henson, Barnes get chippy at end of game — The Milwaukee Bucks have been solid of late, winning four of their last five games, and are 5-4 overall this month after last night’s win against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have been besieged by injuries and have lost four in a row. During the waning moments of last night’s game, Bucks big man John Henson swatted a shot by the Grizzlies’ Matt Barnes and mugged for the camera afterward, which Barnes took exception to. Both players were ejected and Barnes went looking for Henson in the arena’s bowels, but nothing much came of it. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on the incident:
With 5.5 seconds left and the Bucks up by 10, one play momentarily turned the game into professional wrestling.
Henson came up from behind Matt Barnes and cleanly swatted Barnes’ shot out of bounds. Henson then got in Barnes’ face for a few tense moments and walked deep into the crowd, preening as he and Barnes were assessed technicals.
With two technicals, Henson was ejected and left the court to a standing ovation and he tossed his jersey into the crowd on his way out. Then as the teams started to get back on the court Barnes bolted for the tunnel with multiple Bucks coaches and staff members following.
Barnes was never assessed a second technical, an ejection was never announced in the arena and the ejection did not show up on the final stat sheet though it was added after the game.
The incident didn’t amount to anything outside of extra security and tension in the hallways, but it provided a strange end to a surprising performance from the Bucks’ bench.
“Just got in the heat of things man, guys going back and forth,” Henson said of his ejection. “It happens. I’m just glad it didn’t hurt my team, man.”
VIDEO: Barnes, Henson ejected
No. 4: Biyombo’s big night keeps Raptors in groove — When the Toronto Raptors signed free-agent big man Bismack Biyombo in the offseason, it was by far not the biggest player movement news in the league. But Biyombo has paid dividends for Toronto — especially during center Jonas Valanciunas‘ injury earlier in the season — and he came through last night in a 101-94 road win against the Indiana Pacers. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more on how Biyombo has impacted the Raptors’ success this season:
Dwane Casey talked about Bismack Biyombo’s spirit and his old soul Thursday morning, lauding the Toronto Raptors centre for his quiet leadership and desire to always do the right thing.
Biyombo had the greatest night of his NBA career Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, breathing some life into a corpse of a game as the Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers 101-94 in overtime to run their record to 46-21 in what could have been a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.
The 23-year-old Biyombo, who has emerged into a force off the bench for the Raptors this season and an excellent spot starter when needed, had a career- and franchise-high 25 rebounds, eclipsing the franchise record of 24 set by Donyell Marshall in 2004. Biyombo also had a career-best 16 points;
Biyombo’s previous best game was 20 rebounds, accomplished in early December against Dallas. He is the first player in franchise history to have two 20-rebound games in one season.…
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan each finished with 28 points for the Raptors while Paul George had 18 for Indiana.
Biyombo, who had 13 of his rebounds and nine of his points in the first half, provided exactly the kind of complementary play the team has come to expect.
“He’s all we thought he would be and more,” Casey said of Biyombo, who got his second straight start as Jonas Valanciunas sat out another game because of a bruised right hand. “His spirit has been so strong, his ability to talk the defence has helped everybody, it’s contagious to our other bigs.
“His presence and his physicality has really helped us, his screening has helped us. We, in the past, have been a very bad screening team and he’s really brought some of that to us.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pretty awesome stats fact — the San Antonio Spurs now have a winning all-time record against every other team in the NBA … Don’t expect a DeMarcus Cousins trade before the summer of 2017 … Washington Wizards star John Wall has two triple-doubles (and 17 turnovers) in his last two games … Tonight’s Suns-Lakers game is pretty important for 2016 Draft Lottery positioning … The Portland Trail Blazers are destroying the typical NBA rebuilding model … Breaking down how the Miami Heat are succeeding with Chris Bosh on the sidelines … Kobe Bryant‘s jersey from the 2016 All-Star Game sold for $100,000 at auction … Greivis Vasquez hopes to be back in the Milwaukee Bucks’ lineup soon … Portland Trail Blazers guard Gerald Henderson says he doesn’t trust ‘cat people’ … Who are the favorites for Coach of the Year? …