Wolves-Thunder gives NBA its own March Madness

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Who has time for the NBA during the NCAA Tournament?

We do. And on Friday night, you should have made time, too.

From John Rohde of the Daily Oklahoman: “Inside one locker room sat a player who had just set a single-game franchise record for points scored, while four chairs away sat a teammate who had collected his first career triple-double with 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. And this was on the losing team. Inside the victorious locker room across the hallway were teammates who scored 40-plus points in the same game for the second time this season — a feat that had never happened before in NBA history. There’s really no way to sufficiently detail the Thunder’s heart-thumping 149-140 double-overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, so players became members of the mutual admiration society.”

Here’s some mind-boggling numbers:

  • Kevin Love set a franchise record with 51 points. He became just the third player to eclipse 50 points this season, joining Deron Williams (57) and Kevin Durant.
  • J.J. Barea had his first career triple-double with 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
  • Anthony Tolliver, recently pressed into serious duty because Nikola Pekovic is hurt and Darko Milicic stinks, scored a season-high 23 points.
  • Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 45 points. His previous high of 43 also came in an overtime game last season at Indiana.
  • Durant had a career-high 17 rebounds.
  • Durant also scored 40 points, marking the second time this season he and Westbrook have each scored 40 points in the same game. They are the first pair of teammates to do it twice in one season.
  • Durant played 52 minutes, Westbrook 50, Love 49 and Luke Ridnour 48. Off the bench, Barea played 47, Tolliver played 44 and James Harden played 43.

While the Wolves are struggling to stay afloat because they are missing injured key pieces Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Michael Beasley, the Thunder have hit a lull. OKC has won consecutive games for the first time since March 5-7 and is just 5-4 in its last nine games, with three home losses during that span.

And one observer believes the Thunder shouldn’t have beaten the Wolves, either.

From Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman: “Scotty Brooks tried to give it away. Tried to give away a game in the name of stubbornness or the Derek Fisher welcome wagon or good old-fashioned mercy on Faith Night at Chesapeake Arena. But Foreman Scotty’s stars wouldn’t let him. Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 45 points, and Kevin Durant hit two monster shots en route to 40 as the Thunder beat the road-weary Minnesota Timberwolves 149-140 in two overtimes. Despite their coach. This was not Brooks’ finest hour. Early, he stuck with a big lineup, asking Kendrick Perkins to chase Kevin Love around the perimeter and igniting Love on a 3-point barrage that eventually led to a career-high 51 points. Late, he stuck with Fisher, who in his second Thunder game played all but one second of the final 26 minutes, 18 seconds. Fisher was not effective; the Thunder wasn’t stopping Minnesota, and Fisher missed his first eight shots, including his first four 3-point attempts until a meaningless make with 28 seconds left in the second overtime.”

Sorry, NCAA fans, but this game was waaaaay more exciting than anything March Madness had to offer on Friday night. It also was much more exciting than the developments in the Eastern Conference playoff race, better known as March Mediocrity.

The Boston Celtics don’t visit Philadelphia any more this season, and that should be just fine with them. For the second time this month, the Celtics arrived in the City of Brotherly Love with a chance to overtake the 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division. And for the second time, they laid an egg.

Playing the finale of a brutal eight-game road trip, the Celtics gave away an early double-digit lead, lost two players to injury and played terrible perimeter defense in the second half of a 99-86 loss to the Sixers.

It wasn’t as bad as last time, a 103-71 loss on March 7 that was the worst beating Boston has taken since the formation of the “Big Three” in 2007. But it wasn’t good, either, for a number of reasons.

From Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: “The Celtics came into last night’s game focused on the fact that first place in the Atlantic Division was on the line. They left knowing there was something far more important at stake. Mickael Pietrus was taken from the arena on a stretcher after crashing to the court with 5:08 left in the second quarter of a 99-86 loss to the 76ers. He was taken to the hospital with what was termed a “closed head injury.” “He’s already had an X-ray (and) CT (scan). He’s doing an MRI right now,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said a few minutes after the game ended. “So that’s all we know. They’re going to hold him overnight, but that’s all I can give you right now.” The team later said Pietrus was not admitted to the hospital, but did stay in Philadelphia overnight. He will be re-evaluated today. Pietrus was pulled backward by Lou Williams as he put up a drive from high in the lane. He did not appear to hit his head on the court, but there was a severe jolt and he immediately reached for that part of his body. He remained on the floor for several minutes as physicians attended to him. Pietrus, who started in place of guard Ray Allen (right ankle), was immobilized before being put onto the stretcher.”

The Celtics are running out of players. In addition to Pietrus, guard Avery Bradley departed with a sprained ankle. They have already lost three big men for the season, and judging by Ryan Hollins’ debut in the green and white, he is not the answer.

Hollins was the nominee of Sixers coach Doug Collins to shoot the free throws for Pietrus. He made 1-of-2, then over the next three-plus minutes picked up a technical foul for an elbow, missed two more free throws and fouled Lou Williams as he made a layup. The 7-footer grabbed no rebounds and blocked no shots.

From Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: “It’s hard to imagine what more these Celtics team can endure. Having already lost two players to heart ailments this season (Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox) and recently losing Jermaine O’Neal (left wrist injury), the team endured the loss of Pietrus and the very frighteningly possibility that his injury is serious. All this a little more than a year after Marquis Daniels suffered a scary spine injury that ended his season (ironically, Daniels will be thrust into a larger role now because of the uncertainty around Pietrus). As for Friday’s game, the 76ers secured the tie-breaker having won the first two of three meetings with the Celtics, putting them in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic Division.”

So the Sixers maintained their hold on first place, which they have done since Dec. 28. And in the Atlantic, first place is really important, because it gives Philly a top-four seed it really doesn’t deserve based on record. But they will take it.

From John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Daily News: “The Sixers are by no means out of the woods in the Atlantic Division. Everybody knows the difference between winning the division and not winning, could mean facing a team such as Miami and Chicago in the first round. … Both Brand and Collins acknowledged that the Sixers got a scheduling break. In both wins over visiting Boston, the Celtics played the night before while the Sixers had the night before the game off. … Yet while the Sixers got the scheduling break, they also took advantage of it. Throughout this shortened season, teams will get breaks schedule-wise against certain opponents. One senses that the Sixers not only held back Boston and lead by 1.5 games in the Atlantic Division, but they also gained some needed confidence.”

Behind Philly and Boston in the Atlantic are the New York Knicks, who have seen both Linsanity and Winsanity reach a fever pitch before fading. Linsanity lasted about a month, ending during a six-game slide that got coach Mike D’Antoni fired. Winsanity may have ended Friday night, when Mike Woodson suffered his first loss in six games since replacing D’Antoni, a 96-79 loss at Toronto that looked somewhat familiar.

From Howard Beck of the New York Times: “For eight days, across five games and three cities, the Knicks scrambled and scrapped, chasing after their own lost identity in the wake of a debilitating losing streak and the stunning resignation of their coach. They got grittier, redoubled their dedication to defense and strung together a series of victories, both large and small. But desperation could carry the Knicks only so far, and on Friday they finally seemed to run out of anxious energy in a humiliating 96-79 rout by the Toronto Raptors. The Knicks were stymied by a steady dose of zone defense and overpowered by the dynamism of DeMar DeRozan, who scored 30 points while showing off his ample dunking skills. No one, from Carmelo Anthony to Amar’e Stoudemire to Jeremy Lin, could match the effort as the Knicks trailed from wire to wire as their five-game winning streak ended with a thud. As the final seconds wound down, Mike Woodson stood on the sideline, arms crossed, having absorbed his first defeat in six games since taking the coaching reins from Mike D’Antoni 10 days ago. In his exasperation, Woodson looked much like the man he replaced. “I just didn’t see energy tonight,” Woodson said. “We were a step slow from the very beginning. We bobbled balls and we looked tired.” Those were observations made often by D’Antoni in the six straight defeats that hastened his resignation, but the Knicks had rallied since then, finding a collective spirit and a defensive conscience that carried them for a time.”

Linsanity and Winsanity both benefited from a somewhat soft schedule. The Knicks host Detroit on Saturday in a cannot-lose-that-one affair before the schedule gets tougher again. Seven of the next eight games will be vs. current playoff teams or Milwaukee, which bounced back from Thursday’s home loss to Boston with a 112-92 road win over Charlotte, every team’s favorite elixir.

Milwaukee is one-half game behind New York, which is 2 1/2 games behind Boston, which is 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia. Collectively, they are a grand total of four games over .500. It’s a turtle race.

Elsewhere …

  • The Heat raced to a 23-point halftime lead and cruised to an 88-73 win at Detroit. Earlier in the day, the entire team posed for a photo wearing hoodies to call attention to the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin of Sanford, Fla. If you’ve been living in an igloo for the last month or so, Martin was shot by a so-called neighboord crime watch volunteer who used a racial epithet to describe the youngster during a 911 call and ignored orders not to pursue him but has not been arrested. Martin was wearing a hoodie and armed with Skittles and an iced tea. It would be utterly fantastic if the entire NBA cultivated a singular, powerful voice on this travesty. And Sanford is 21 miles north of Orlando. How about something from the Magic?
  • Speaking of the Magic, they notched a 93-80 home win over the Cavaliers, who are done. Dwight Howard had 16 points and 13 rebounds for his 40th double-double. He also hadd four missed free throws (in six attempts) and has missed 268 free throws this season, which is more than all but nine players have attempted. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving had 15 points and six assists on his 20th birthday and remains stuck on one double-double.
  • The Suns got a win on their road trip, holding on for a 113-111 victory over the Pacers as Steve Nash matched a season high with 17 assists. Phoenix heads to Cleveland, where it can complete a 2-2 trek with a win and stay in the Western Conference playoff race. Indiana coach Frank Vogel was ejected for arguing with 1:55 to go and Nash made the free throw. That point might have come in handy down the stretch for the Pacers, don’t you think?
  • The Lakers never trailed in a 103-96 home win over the Blazers, who are also done. Ramon Sessions got his first start and collected 20 points and 11 assists, becoming the first LA point guard since Jan. 11, 2009 to post a double-double.
  • The Mavericks sure look like a first-round out, don’t they? In a 104-87 loss at San Antonio, Dallas fell behind early, fought back to take a five-point lead, then collapsed under the weight of a 22-2 run by the Spurs, who were without Tony Parker. Dallas is 3-8 with zero road wins vs. division leaders San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. Boris Diaw wasted no time trading in his orange basketball prison jumpsuit Bobcats uniform for Spurs gear and played 16 minutes.
  • The Nets lost their fifth straight game, dropping a 93-84 decision at Atlanta with another fourth-quarter disappearing act. New Jersey was outscored 31-15 in the final period and during it slide has been outscored 130-80 in the fourth quarter. Atlanta’s Josh Smith had 30 points and 12 boards, just missing his third 30-15 game. Only Kevin Love (eight) has more, and no one else has more than one.
  • The Nuggets began a seven-game road trip by getting spanked by Utah, 121-102. They should go 3-4 on the trip – and they have to, if they want to stay in the West playoff race. Utah won its sixth straight game and caught Denver in the standings. The Jazz, Houston Rockets and Nuggets are all 26-22 and sit 7-8-9 in the West, one-half game behind Dallas.
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  1. Talking up Durant and Westbrooks’ record is pretty silly. It’s a “record” they got for not playing well enough at the defensive end, in a game where they conceded 140 points. If either one of them gets one more stop at the defensive end during regular time, they get “regular” scores and no-one blinks. They (and media guys like you) should be out there saying that this “record” is a badge of shame for Durant and Westbrook because they only got it because they didn’t play hard enough at the defensive end. Any “record” you wouldn’t have got if you’d made more defensive stops and which requires you to concede 140 points in a game is not a record to celebrate. It’s not like Minnesota without Rubio, Pekovic and Beasley are exactly the Heat or the Bulls or the Spurs, either.

    • Ok, so based on your logic, we shouldn’t celebrate Kobe’s 81 (against a beaten down Raptors team) or Wilts 100 (against a team of 6’6″ smurfs, their only guy over 6’10″ didnt make the game due to a hangover)… Your logic is flawed. (I”m thinking you must be a Heat fan…. ) You play the players/teams you come up against, and that is it. THere are no *’s in record books when Boise State doenst lose a conf game in over 3 years, because their conf. is a joke.

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