Healthy Spurs a real threat as gap closes at the top of the Western Conference.
There were just three games on the NBA schedule on Thursday night, but there were significant wins for both the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The seasoned Spurs have long insisted that the regular season means little to them, and that their season really begins when the playoffs commence regardless of their final position in the Western Conference.
However, with emotions visible following their commanding win over the Miami Heat, they are clearly back to full health, playing well and now eyeing the top seed after moving to within half-a-game of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Tim Duncan had 23 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs never trailed against the Heat, and inflicted their worst loss of the season in their first home game since their heartbreaking defeat in the NBA Finals last year.
“I’m sure this has some special meaning, to say something different would be silly,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said, “but we expect them to come out hard and play.”
Tony Parker added 17 points while Boris Diaw had 16 and Kawhi Leonard scored 11 as the Spurs have now won five straight to improve to 45-16.
As for Miami, Chris Bosh had 24 points but it was a quiet night by his high standards for LeBron James who finished with just 19, who ditched his protective mask but was hounded by Leonard to end 6-for-18 shooting.
James revealed his frustration not only with the mask but also the short-sleeved jerseys which he felt affected his game, but it was all for a losing cause as Miami slip to 43-16 and are now two games adrift of the Indiana Pacers.
Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a road loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday with Gerald Green scoring a career-high 41 points as his team erased a 16-point deficit to win.
Markieff Morris added 24 points while Goran Dragic had 22, as they were able to hold off Russell Westbrook who had a season-high 36 points while Kevin Durant added 34.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek was delighted with Green’s aggressive play as his team look to hold on to their playoff spot with pressure coming courtesy of Memphis for the last two places.
Nevertheless, with performances like these they will be confident of advancing to the post-season, while the Thunder will be looking over their shoulder for the Spurs who continue to close the gap.
In contrast, it was a miserable night for the Los Angeles Lakers who suffered a 48-point loss to city rivals the Clippers, losing another blowout and their sixth loss in the past seven meetings.
It was the biggest win from a Clippers perspective in franchise history, and the worst for the Lakers, who run the risk of finishing with their worst record since moving to L.A. in 1959.
It leaves them at 21-41 for the season and rooted to the bottom of the West, while the Clippers improve to 43-20 with Chris Paul insisting that they are focusing on themselves as opposed to proving a point in ‘Laker town’.
Blake Griffin had 20 points and 11 rebounds while Pau Gasol finished with 21 points and seven rebounds on another night to forget for the Lakers.
Miami Heat 87-111 San Antonio Spurs
Oklahoma City Thunder 122-128 Phoenix Suns
Los Angeles Clippers 142-94 Los Angeles Lakers