CHA @ CHI: It wasn’t easy, but the Bulls got the job done. Luol Deng had 12 points in 31 minutes after missing five games with a sore hamstring, and as expected, his understudy Jimmy Butler (19 PTS, 6 REB in 31 minutes) has carved out a larger rotation spot. Butler took over from ineffective Richard Hamilton (2 PTS in 15 minutes) and was the game’s high scorer. Joakim Noah (13 PTS, 17 REB, 7 AST, 5 BLK) was simply tremendous, so Carlos Boozer (13 PTS, 4 REB) didn’t need to do much. For Charlotte, Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon each scored 18; Jeff Adrien had a double-double (14 & 10) in his first start at PF. Excuse me while I go add him in my 20-team leagues.
IND @ DEN: What a game. The Pacers staged a furious late rally to erase most a 14-point deficit and Denver needed a last-minute steal and a last-second free throw by Andre Igoudala (13 PTS, 10 REB, 7 AST) to hang on. Paul George (23 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL) committed both the turnover and the foul that allowed Iggy to win it. David West (17 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST) and Lance Stephenson (20 PTS, 8 REB, 4 AST) also played well for Indiana, while Danilo Gallinari (27 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST) and Ty Lawson (18 PTS, 7 AST, 4 REB, 5 STL) led the Nuggets. JaVale McGee is getting an MRI on a leg injury; Timofey Mozgov (10 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST) filled in capably.
ORL @ BRK: We predicted this one would be no contest, as the Magic are on a six-game slide and beginning a long road trip. Deron Williams (20 PTS, 9 AST, 3 REB) and Brook Lopez (16 PTS, 5 REB) were well on their way to bigger numbers, but the fourth quarter was garbage time. Both Orlando guards were off-form; Jameer Nelson (9 PTS) and J.J. Redick (5) shot a combined 5-25. Hedo Turkoglu (4 PTS in 12 minutes) returned after missing nine games, but had zero impact.
HOU @ UTA: That “never” happens. Normally staunch defenders of their home court, the Jazz stunk. Al Jefferson (10 PTS, 8 REB, 2 BLK) was quiet and Paul Millsap (4 PTS in 21 minutes) did a complete vanishing act. Gordon Hayward (shoulder) didn’t play, and nobody stepped up in his absence. James Harden (25 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST) did his damage in just 27:40, Omer Asik grabbed 19 rebounds in 26 minutes and both teams played everyone but the trainers in the meaningless final quarter.