Road to 73: Warriors take down the Suns; Spurs drop the Thunder
The Warriors are still a game ahead of the Bulls' pace and the Thunder can't figure out fourth quarters.
The Golden State Warriors continued their epic march toward history Saturday night, taking down the Phoenix Suns 123-116 in Oakland. This one wasn't as easy for the Warriors as you would expect with an opponent like the Suns. The Warriors had to sweat it out and were down 95-86 going into the fourth quarter. They erased that deficit in about two minutes once the final period began, but it wasn't until a couple minutes left that the win was secure.
Stephen Curry 35 points led the way but it was Mo Speights' 25 off the bench that kept Golden State from worrying about its first home loss. The Warriors are 59-6 with 17 games left to play.
With 59 wins after 65 games, the Warriors are still one game ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls pace, as Jordan's Bulls were 58-7 at that point in '96. The Bulls would finish with an NBA-record 72 wins at 72-10. Golden State is on pace for 74 wins. Here's a look at how Golden State's pace compares with the three other best records through 65 games in league history.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday night's action around the league:
1. If you're the Oklahoma City Thunder , another bad fourth quarter, even against the San Antonio Spurs , hurts a lot
Seventeen points, 33.3 percent from the field. As many turnovers (six) as made shots. This was the fourth quarter for the Oklahoma City Thunder when they tried to topple the San Antonio Spurs. They went into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and left with another frustrating loss. It's the opposite of what you want to do when you enter Thunderdome. You don't want to be the one left for dead, and yet that's the Thunder in fourth quarters now.
They're 4-8 since the All-Star break and Russell Westbrook play over this stretch is trending toward troubling. Over his past six games (the Thunder are 2-4), Westbrook is averaging 21.8 points, 10.7 assists and 7.1 rebounds. Sounds great, right? Here's the problem when you surround those numbers with more context. They're accompanied by 40.2 percent from the field, 26.7 percent from 3-point range (on five attempts per game) and 5.8 turnovers. He's both boosting them and killing them completely right now.
We see you, David, WE SEE YOU. pic.twitter.com/8IiamILYI5— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 13, 2016
Westbrook is also shooting 26.7 percent from the field in fourth quarters over the past six games. It's one thing to run out of gas on the second night of a back-to-back against the Spurs, but when it's because you couldn't put away the Minnesota Timberwolves and lost at home the previous night, it becomes much less excusable.
Since the All-Star break, the Thunder have the second-worst fourth-quarter offensive rating in the NBA. Only the Washington Wizards are worse in this stretch. When is the time to panic?
2. Kawhi Leonard is a monster and Kyle Singler shouldn't be guarding him
There are times in which you have to sub your stars out and sub your placeholders into the lineup and hope for the best. That best is probably not going to come from Kyle Singler getting stuck guarding Kawhi Leonard. It's not just that Leonard is a former Finals MVP. He has become an absolute monster in every sense of the word and he's looking to dunk on people a lot. I don't know if Leonard has an arrogance about him, but he seems to feel the need to destroy whatever is in his path.
Saturday night, Singler was in his path. You don't leave Kawhi in Singler coverage.
Kawhi ended with 26 points (10 of 24), seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. His nine points in the fourth helped keep pace with Kevin Durant (10 in the fourth), which helped the Spurs crumble the Thunder yet again.
3. Devin Booker and Alex Len look like bright spots for the Suns
The Phoenix Suns are not good. In fact when you think about how they were 12-16 at one point and are now 17-49, it shows you how bad this thing has become. It's hard to find a lot to be excited about with the Suns, but when you look at the extended play of rookie Devin Booker and the improved play of Alex Len, you can start getting a little happy for them and their future.
Against the Warriors, Len took the challenge of being the big man who disrupts the defending champs. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against one of the five best defenses in the NBA. Over his past 11 games, he's putting up 17.8 points and 12.3 rebounds. While his 41.8 percent shooting is troubling during that time, he's getting to the charity stripe almost eight times per game and hitting 75.3 percent.
As for Booker, the youngest player in the league has been on a tear for a long time and it's continuing to happen. He had 18 points (just 7-of-19 shooting) and 11 assists with zero turnovers against the Warriors. He's averaging 17.1 points, 3.3 assists and three rebounds while shooting 42.2 percent from the field over his past 35 games.
4. The Dallas Mavericks are in some serious trouble
The Mavericks aren't done by any means but they might need some luck to stay in this playoff race. They're currently 2½ games ahead of the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed following their fifth straight loss on Saturday. They dropped a tight one to the Indiana Pacers at home, and their next six games look like a game out of the Saw movie franchise.
Those six games: at the Charlotte Hornets, at the Cleveland Cavaliers, home to the Golden State Warriors, a home-and-home with the Portland Trail Blazers, and then at Golden State. Their game April 11 against the Jazz may end up deciding their postseason fate, but as of right now, that 2½-game cushion looks very small.
5. The Charlotte Hornets are demolishing everything right now
The Hornets helped the Mavs and Jazz out a bit by defeating the Houston Rockets on Saturday. It was their seventh straight victory. Since dropping to 19-23 on the season, the Hornets have won 18 of 23 games. Only the Warriors and the Spurs have a better record than the Hornets during this stretch dating back to Jan. 22.
They've now moved themselves up to the No. 5 seed in the East and are just a half game behind the Miami Heat for No. 4 and home-court advantage in the first round. It might be time to start wondering how dangerous this Hornets team can be in the playoffs and whether or not they can even make a deep push into the East playoffs.
Charlotte has the NBA's ninth-best offense, the fourth-best defense and the fifth-best net rating over this 23-game stretch. The combination of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum can't be stopped. Six different players are averaging double figures in scoring during this run and the team is shooting almost 38 percent from 3-point range.
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