It was a painful night for the Portland Trail Blazers, despite extending their winning streak to four games and clinching a playoff berth, outlasting the Brooklyn Nets 148-144 in double overtime.
The sad story centers on the loss of Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic, who crumpled to the floor with a gruesome season-ending left leg injury early in the second overtime. It’s a severe setback for the Trail Blazers’ chances to advance in the playoffs, which start in less than a month, and devastating for the 7-foot Nurkic, who was having a career season with averages of 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
Nurkic’s stat line for the night highlights his two-way presence in the paint: He had four blocks in addition to 32 points, 16 rebounds and five assists before being carted off on a gurney. NBA TV analyst David Griffin points out that Nurkic’s defensive ability is what the Blazers will miss most, with backup center Enes Kanter lacking in that area.
The Blazers already are dealing with the temporary loss of CJ McCollum, who is recovering from a left knee injury and will not accompany the team on its upcoming four-game road trip.
Point guard and team leader Damian Lillard was blunt about the impact of Nurkic’s loss.
“It’s tough, man,” Lillard said. “We fight so hard all season long and our starting center, one of our main guys, goes down. On a big night for us, going into the postseason, it looked bad. It’s kind of discouraging to see that. Especially with CJ [McCollum] being out, it’s just another thing. More adversity, it seems like, at the wrong time.”
Booker catches fire, gets no help
Until Devin Booker heated up in the third quarter, the highlight for the Phoenix Suns was Jimmer Fredette getting a standing ovation from Utah Jazz fans upon his pregame introduction.
But that quickly changed as Booker poured in 59 points, including 20 in the third quarter, to make it somewhat interesting even as the Jazz cruised to a 125-92 victory over the Suns. With the win, the Jazz moved into a tie with the Clippers for fifth place in the West.
It was the most points scored by any player in Utah, either for the Jazz or a visiting team. With his points total, Booker joins James Harden and Kemba Walker as the players with the most points in a game this season. Harden has scored 61 twice and Kemba Walker dropped 60 on the Sixers back in November.
In an attempt to keep Booker from scoring 60-plus, the Jazz triple-teamed Booker during the final minutes and fouled another player with 18.6 seconds left so Booker wouldn’t get another shot attempt. After the play, Booker looked at the Utah bench with a smirk as he walked down the court.
The Jazz intentionally fouled so Booker couldn’t get another bucket 😬 pic.twitter.com/7xgGjTbfN1
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 26, 2019
It’s not exactly news that Booker needs help if the woeful Suns are going to improve. After Booker, the next-highest scorer for Phoenix was rookie Deandre Ayton with … nine points.
Booker scored 64.1 percent of the Suns’ 92 points. Per Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the fifth-highest percentage of a team’s total points in NBA history. Three of the others were recorded by George Mikan in the early ’50s, prior to the shot-clock era; the remaining one was Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game vs. the Raptors in 2006, when he scored 66.4 percent of the Lakers’ 122 points.
The scoring disparity was readily apparent in the Suns’ halftime box score.
Get Devin Booker some help pic.twitter.com/PcWgnUAZXi
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) March 26, 2019
Magic’s playoff run
Shades of Dwight Howard: Don’t look now, but the Orlando Magic are making a playoff run. The Magic, 9th in the Eastern Conference standings and only a half-game behind the eighth-seed Heat, completed an unblemished five-game home stand with a convincing 119-98 win over the Phliadelphia 76ers.
With a big matchup with the Miami looming Tuesday night, the Magic will be looking to extend their winning streak to six games and get solidly into the playoff mix. Only two games in the loss column separate the Nets, Pistons, Heat and Magic for the sixth through eight spots, with eight games to play for Orlando.
“Fan are getting behind us, and we’re fighting,” said game-high scorer Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds. “Getting into the playoffs would be a huge achievement for us.”
The Magic haven’t made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season, when they lost 4-1 in the first round to the Indiana Pacers.
On the losing side of the ledger, the already playoff-bound Sixers looked lackluster. In fairness, they were playing without Ben Simmons, who sat out with a stomach virus. After surging the past couple of weeks, Philadelphia — No. 3 in the East — has hit a little rough patch, losing to two teams that they should have handled, the Hawks in a tough one on Saturday night and Monday night’s debacle. It illustrates how hard it is to win on the road in the NBA.
The Sixers were in the game at halftime, but went without a field goal over a 12-minute stretch in the second half and never recovered.
Jonathan Isaac helped get the Magic flowing in the first quarter with this nice transition dunk:
Bravo for Bruno
NBA G League standout Bruno Caboclo turned in an NBA career-high 24-point performance as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-103, playing spoiler to a playoff team.
The skidding Thunder have lost five of their last six and are in a battle to avoid the No. 8 seed in the West and a first-round matchup with the Warriors or Nuggets.
Slam dunk for Gobert
Easy to overlook in the Suns-Jazz tilt was the fact that center Rudy Gobert passed the aforementioned Dwight Howard for the single-season record for most dunks.
Gobert slammed home six on the night and moved to 274 on the season.
Little man with the dime
This pint-sized fan got a thrill — the chance to assist the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell in pregame warm-up.
The most adorable assist ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/fMO7vWXCJX
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 26, 2019