About Last Night

About Last Night: East playoff races tighten up

Orlando leapfrogs Miami, a Kia MVP showdown in Milwaukee and much more

While the top of the Eastern Conference is firming up, things are heating up in the race for the final spots.

The Heat entered the night with a 1/2-game lead on the Magic, and two games up on the Hornets.

They ended the night on the outside looking in. The Magic, one of the hottest teams in the East, beat Miami 104-99 to leapfrog the Heat and take over the No. 8 seed. Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds; all five players scored in double-digits as Orlando won its sixth-straight game, the team’s longest streak since January 2011.

“It’s really encouraging. It’s fun,” said Aaron Gordon, who chipped in 14 points and 10 rebounds. “There’s an energy, there’s a buzz in the gym when we come in, and it’s just a beautiful thing.”

Charlotte, meanwhile, took care of business at home, beating San Antonio 125-116 in OT behind a monster game from Kemba Walker. The Hornets point guard scored 38 points (11 in OT) to go along with nine rebounds and 11 assists to spark Charlotte to its fourth straight win, the team’s longest winning streak this season.

“Guys are locked in right now,” Walker said. “Anything is possible.”

Indeed, anything is possible, especially in the crowded East.

The Brooklyn Nets, at 38-37, are currently sixth in the East, but only 2 1/2 games separate them and Charlotte, who sit in 10th. The Pistons fell, 95-92, in Denver on Tuesday to slip to 37-37 on the season, but kept their grip on the seventh spot in the standings.

With two weeks left in the season, these five teams are fighting for the final three spots in the East. Here’s how the schedules shake out for the stretch run, with what looks like two intriguing matchups on the final night of the season: Nets vs. Heat, and Hornets vs. Magic.


MVP showdown in Milwaukee

P.J. Tucker arrived to Tuesday’s matchup in Milwaukee with a message:

But the Bucks left the arena with a win and their Twitter folks responded with some expert Photoshop work.

In the final matchup of Kia MVP frontrunners Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, “The Greek Freak” came out on top, with some help from Eric Bledsoe.

Giannis finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but Bledsoe scored 23 points and scored 16 in a key third-quarter stretch that propelled the Bucks to a 108-94 win over the Rockets.

More importantly, he helped stifle Harden, holding the NBA’s leading scorer to 23 points on 9-for-26 shooting (1-for-9 on 3s).

With a national TV audience watching, neither player put up monster numbers, but Giannis got the win to help Milwaukee improve to a league-best 56-19, which might be enough to inch him ahead of Harden in the race for the Kia MVP.

Bosh’s big night

Chris Bosh, who helped lead the Miami Heat to back-to-back championships in 2012 and ’13, saw his jersey raised to the rafters Tuesday night in Miami.

The 6-foot-11 forward, who had his career cut short due to blood clots in his legs, was a key figure in the Heat’s Big Three — alongside LeBron James and Dwyane wade — and drew big cheers Tuesday night as his No. 1 was immortalized in Miami.

A picture’s worth 1,000 words

With a 122-111 win in Minnesota, the Clippers clinched a playoff spot in a season many thought Doc Rivers’ team might flounder in the West.

”I’m just really happy for our guys,” Rivers said. ”Before the year, we went through all the articles about us and how bad we were going to be. I just told them, they don’t know us.”

The Clippers have won six straight, and with seven games to play can still earn home-court advantage in the first round.

Minnesota’s interim coach Ryan Saunders sees a dangerous team in the Clippers.

”They might be playing the best basketball out of anybody in the league right now,” Saunders said.

In case the picture didn’t tell the whole story, the video should do the trick.

Nutmeg of the Year?

Kyle Lowry dropped one of the best dimes of the season, fooling Chicago’s Ryan Arcidiacono with the nutmeg dish to find OG Anunoby for the easy layup.

Lowry’s expression after the slick dime says it all:

Juke of the Night

Chris Paul sent Milwaukee’s D.J. Wilson flying down the lane with this sick crossover, step-back 3-pointer.

On second thought …

OK, Chris Paul’s juke was nice, but Lance Stephenson’s move had it all.

1. Lance Stephenson not only sends Jeff Green flying with a crossover (and a slyly placed foot on Green’s), behind-the-back dribble, but he hits the shot, too.

2. The bench reacts with quite possibly the best bench reaction ever. Rajon Rondo nearly takes out an official with a double-towel wave before finally collapsing on the sideline. JaVale McGee, for his part, is left stunned, holding his head in his hands.

3. Lance caps it all off with a shimmy dance like no other.

Dunk of the Night

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr., runner-up in the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest, threw down a monster jam over Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic.

Down to the wire

Luka Doncic and Trae Young are both finishing the season strong in their push to take home the Kia Rookie of the Year hardware.

Doncic has been consistent from Day One with his seasoned play, but the Hawks’ Young is making a late push with a flurry of huge games and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, the only rookie to score the honor this season.

Tonight, both rookies put up big numbers to back up their cases.

Young went for 33 points and 12 assists to help Atlanta beat New Orleans, 130-120 for a third straight win. He was 5-for-13 on 3s, which gave him four games of at least 30 points, 10 assists and five 3s. That’s his fourth game this season of 30 and 10 with five 3s, pushing him past Stephen Curry, who had three in 2009-10.

Doncic, though, isn’t backing down with Young breathing down his neck. The Mavs’ phenom tallied his seventh triple-double of the season, tying Magic Johnson for third-most by a rookie. Doncic finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, but also missed all nine 3-pointers in Dallas’ 125-121 loss to the Kings.

If the playoffs started today …

After tonight’s action, here’s how the matchups would break down: