Phoenix, Utah and Milwaukee all have playoff hopes dampened

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Usually, the winners make the headlines.

In today’s roundup, however, the losers were the story of Saturday night as a handful of teams fighting to make the playoffs came up short.

With three different teams — Milwaukee, Utah and Phoenix — still within reach of the eighth and final playoff seed in their respective Conferences, how many of them came out with a victory?

None.

Starting with the most inexplicable blowout of the night – the only game on national television – the Spurs got out to a 17-point lead to begin the game, and the Suns mailed it in from there.

The Suns’ starters scored 20 total points.

To add insult to injury, the team lost Steve Nash due to a pre-existing injury he tried to play through, to no avail. He hopes to play Monday night to begin a critical four-game homestand.

From Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “A 21-4 Spurs start to their 105-91 victory at AT&T Center revealed more than San Antonio’s home prowess (25-5) and Phoenix’s tired legs (eighth game in 12 days in eight cities). It disclosed a Nash right-hip strain that he suffered in Wednesday’s loss at Memphis and “struggled” through in Friday night’s win at Houston… ”It was going downhill every step I took,” Nash said. “It was a situation where, one, I wasn’t going to be effective and, two, I didn’t want to miss the last six games. I was lucky to get out when I did. ”I got in bed in Houston that night after the (Memphis) game and, all of a sudden, my hip is killing me. We worked at it for two days to get ready to play in Houston. (Head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson and strength and conditioning coach Mike Elliott) did a great job just to get me on the court, but it took a lot out of me. (It is an) irritated and inflamed hip socket.” Nash said he hopes treatment and medicine will allow him to move freely Monday night at home against Portland. He was unable to stop, twist or turn to react like he wanted Saturday night.”

The Suns will play five of their remaining six games against teams over .500. They trail eighth-seeded Denver and Houston by 1 1/2 games.

San Antonio, on the other hand, continues to click on all cylinders, winning 16 of its last 19 games.

Tim Duncan once again led the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and the fast start gave  the team a chance to rest its starters without having to completely sit them out.

It also gave the “Red Rocket” a chance to shine as the team clinched the Southwest Division and stayed within one game of the Thunder for the best record in the Western Conference, not that they care.

From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News: “The Red Sea opened up for the Red Rocket in the second quarter Saturday against Phoenix, and Matt Bonner suddenly found himself contemplating options he should never be permitted to contemplate. “I couldn’t decide between the windmill or the 360,” Bonner said after the Spurs’ easy-does-it 105-91 victory over the erstwhile surging Suns. “I ended up going with the one-handed power slam.” As a dunker, it turns out, Bonner remains a pretty good 3-point shooter. Despite Bonner’s postgame protests to the contrary — “I bruised my elbow on the rim!” — certain KIA-hopping All-Stars needn’t lose sleep. Bonner’s jam won’t be soon showing up on best-selling NBA posters, or a national car commercial, any time soon. “There’s Blake Griffin,” Tim Duncan deapanned. “And then there’s Matt Bonner.” The Spurs’ chase for the top seed in the Western Conference rolled on Saturday, with a resounding victory over a Suns team scrapping for its playoff life that was rarely as close as the final score showed.”

Unfortunately for Al Jefferson and Utah, the Jazz could not take advantage of Phoenix’s loss despite playing a much closer game against Memphis, and stayed 1/2 game behind the Suns.

Jefferson, who has yet to make it back to the playoffs since his rookie season in 2004-2005 with Boston, was distraught over the team’s recent woes.

From Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: “Al Jefferson has been near-silent after the Jazz’s last two losses. He dresses slowly, speaks softly and limits his answers to a few words before quietly exiting Utah’s locker room. Jefferson doesn’t need to talk. He knows exactly what’s happening. The Jazz’s season is becoming harder to save at the same time Utah’s running out of games. Utah fell 103-98 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday at FedEx Forum. The Jazz have only five contests left to keep Jefferson’s vision alive. Since training camp for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign started, all Utah’s starting center has wanted to do is make the playoffs. “Of course it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating losing, regardless,” said Jefferson, who scored a co-team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He added: “We’re playing well; we’ve just got to finish games off. It doesn’t matter how well we play if we don’t win.”

Utah will play four of its remaining five games at home. They may also catch a break along the way, playing Orlando without Dwight Howard and Portland twice without LaMarcus Aldridge.

Memphis remained 1 1/2 games behind the Clippers thanks to O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay’s performances.

From Nikki Boertman of The Commercial Appeal: “Mayo scored 17 of his 20 points in the fourth. Gay grabbed clutch rebounds and made key stops in an all-around performance that led to 26 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. The Griz extended their home winning streak to seven games and won for the 10th time in 13 outings overall. “We made stops,” Gay said. “That’s all it is. We limited them to tough shots.”… The defensive stance was critical given the Jazz shot 53 percent and played even with the Griz on the boards through three quarters. Then, Mayo provided much needed firepower late. He scored 10 straight points early in the fourth, including back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Griz an 82-80 lead. Mayo’s fourth 3-pointer of the quarter all but sealed the win as the Griz took a 98-94 advantage with 45 seconds left. There was no doubt about who would shoot, either. The Griz kept feeding Mayo the ball.”

Back in the East, Milwaukee blew yet another chance to move closer to the eighth seed despite playing at home, falling 2 1/2 games behind Philadelphia and New York in the standings.

The team had no answers for the size of Roy Hibbert and the Pacers, who built a 2 1/2 game lead over the Hawks for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

From Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: “Size and strength helped the Indiana Pacers build a lead, and they held off the Milwaukee Bucks in a tense finish Saturday night at the Bradley Center. The Bucks came up empty on six possessions late in the game, missing five shots and a pair of free throws as they suffered a costly 105-99 loss that dampened their playoff hopes… The Bucks have just six games remaining, three at home and three on the road. Pacers center Roy Hibbert proved tough for the smaller Bucks to handle as the 7-foot-2 all-star finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds. He sank six free throws in the final 1:14 to help Indiana (38-22) secure the victory. ”We had our opportunities to really get it close,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “But we’ve been missing our free throws in the fourth quarter lately, and that hurt us again tonight.” The Bucks were just 16-of -26 at the foul line (0-for-5 in the fourth quarter) while the Pacers went 24-of-26 on their free throw attempts. And Indiana had a 54-43 rebounding advantage… Seven Indiana players scored in double figures, including all five starters.”

And finally, the non-contending Minnesota played another excitable game against the Thunder despite playing without Kevin Love, who scored 51 points the last time these teams met.

Ultimately, the Timberwolves lost once again, for the ninth consecutive game. Somehow, the team has lost 24 consecutive games in April, dating back to April 8, 2009 against the Warriors.

From John Rohde of The Oklahoman: “The Thunder hung on for a 110-105 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,552 at the Target Center, which kept alive yet another negative for Minnesota. The Timberwolves have now lost 12 straight against OKC. It took heroic performances from All-Stars Kevin Durant (43 points; seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (35 points; eight assists; two steals) for the Thunder to avoid what would have been an unacceptable loss to a team without three of its top five scorers because of injuries… ”They played well,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “They shot the ball well (50 percent). They moved the ball and they really did a good job offensively. We didn’t play well, but you give them credit. … They didn’t back down with all their injuries.” The biggest thorn in the Thunder’s side on Saturday was the smallest guy on the court in point guard J.J. Barea, who is generously listed at 6-foot and is no stranger to OKC… Reserves Michael Beasley (26 points; six rebounds) and Anthony Tolliver Randolph (22 points; 11 rebounds) kept the Wolves in the game, as did starting center Nikola Pekovic (14 points; 13 rebounds). Barea hit a late 3-pointer to finish with 24 points and was 9-for-16 from the field.

Elsewhere…

  • The L.A. Clippers defeated the Warriors 112-104 to move within one game of the idle L.A. Lakers. Chris Paul dominated with 28 points – including 12 points in the final period – and 13 assists, while Blake Griffin added 20 points and nine rebounds. The team has now won 11 of its last 13 games. The Warriors lost for the fourth straight time despite having four players score 20 points or more, led by Nate Robinson’s 28 points and eight assists.
  • The Celtics built further cushion for the Atlantic Division lead as they bested the Nets 94-82. Kevin Garnett led all scorers with 21 points while grabbing 12 rebounds, Brandon Bass had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Avery Bradley added 18 points. Despite suffering some embarrassment, Rajon Rondo had 15 assists to run his streak of double-digit assist games to 21. Deron Williams had 12 points and 14 assists in the losing cause in what seemed like a road game.
  • Behind Luke Harangody’s 16 points and 10 rebounds, the Cavaliers beat the Wizards 98-89. Harangody was called up from the D-League in order to rest Antawn Jamison in the midst of three games in three nights, and will return to the D-League despite the stellar performance. Anthony Parker led five other scorers in double figures with 15 points. John Wall had 19 points and nine assists in the loss, but he did not play with the smartest of guys.

James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter @nbatupark.

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