Toronto, Boston and Houston all secured playoff places last week. There was more tussling for seeding position in both the East and West with only 3.5 games separating Portland in third from the Jazz in 10th.
The Rockets’ 17-game winning streak finally came to an end at the hands of the Raptors on Friday night. Playing a third road game in four days meant the trip north of the border was their greatest challenge of the season, but they fell just three points short despite a 40-point effort from MVP James Harden.
That victory at Air Canada Centre extended the Raptors’ winning streak to seven games. A win over the Knicks the following night made it eight as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continue to dominate at both ends of the court. DeRozan hit 42 in an overtime win against Detroit during the week, but it was Jonas Valanciunas who top scored with 17 against New York. That reflects the versatility of this Toronto roster.
Sunday’s defeat to the Lakers saw LeBron James’ Cavs fall to fourth in the East. The early bounce from the trade deadline activity seems to have worn off. The Clippers also beat Cleveland last week despite 25 points from Jordan Clarkson.
The Trail Blazers extended their winning streak to nine with victory over the Warriors on Friday. Damian Lillard scored 104 points in three games as Portland aim to build up a cushion between to fourth. That defeat was Golden State’s first of two to end the week, which saw them beaten by Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.
The win kept the Wolves level with the Thunder and Pelicans just a couple of games behind Portland and was an impressive follow-up to their Celtics defeat.
Oklahoma City added to the pressure on the San Antonio Spurs to keep track in the West. The 104-94 victory on Sunday evening edged the thunder a game ahead of Gregg Popovich’s side, who are increasingly desperate for the return of Kawhi Leonard. Luckily the small forward is due to return this week for the home showdown with Anthony Davis’ Pelicans.
Memphis continue to look favourites to win the tank race. The Grizzlies scored only 80 points in their blowout defeat to Dallas at the weekend to make it 17 straight losses. A pair of defeats to OKC and Charlotte for Phoenix kept them level with the plummeting Memphis, despite Devin Booker hitting 30 points against Westbrook and co.
Matches take on increased importance as we edge closer to the playoffs. A good week can be a leap forward, while even a short losing run could be dangerous (particularly for teams in the West).
It’s not quite make or break, but this is a massive week for a lot of NBA teams…