Game of the Night – Philadelphia at Washington, ESPN, 8:05 ET
Beyond Boston and Toronto, teams that have built up a cushion likely to keep them in place as the Eastern Conference’s top two seeds once the regular season comes to an end, four of the next five spots are held by teams that enter Sunday’s action with 25 losses.
Cleveland has a slight lead on that pack and would be the No. 3 seed if the playoffs began today, so the remaining teams could very well be vying for the final spot commanding a homecourt advantage in the first round.
The Southeast Division-leading Wizards are looking to remain in the mix until John Wall returns and have done a nice job thus far, coming in 8-4 since their All-Star point guard opted to fix a season-long issue via knee surgery. He revealed that he’s off crutches, so the Wizards realistically will only have to kill another month before bringing him back to get reacclimated.
Bradley Beal has had the ball in his hands more, but lately, Washington’s success can be attributed to them sharing the ball more and finding the open man. Tomas Satoransky had 11 assists in a win over the Knicks just before the All-Star break and came out of it with eight more while shooting 6-for-7 to key a road upset of Cleveland.
The Wizards didn’t look like they had legs the next night in a 122-105 loss to Charlotte, so they’ll be out to avoid a losing streak here. Satoransky and Kelly Oubre will attempt to continue making teams pay for shadowing coverages to get the ball out of Beal’s hands, which will be the key to avoiding a second loss this month against the visiting 76ers.
Philadelphia largely controlled last night’s 116-105 win over Orlando, and even though the Magic trimmed a large deficit down to nine points in the final minutes, head coach Brett Brown stuck to his objective of keeping starters on the bench down the stretch. He was mindful of how big a game this is for his group, which is just starting to learn how to win and has to prove they can elevate their level when games begin to matter more.
Joel Embiid delivered 28 points and 14 rebounds and is expected to play in what will be his third back-to-back situation of his career, all of which have come this month. He also played in the Rising Stars Challenge and the All-Star Game in addition to the marathon of media responsibilities, so we’ll see whether fatigue plays any factor here.
He dominated in a 115-102 win over Washington on March 6, finishing with 27 points and 13 rebounds, which are roughly his averages on the second night of a back-to-back thus far. The 76ers are 1-1 in those games, losing at Indiana and beating the Clippers at home.
The Wizards have scored over 100 points in 12 straight games, so the over is 8-4 in that stretch. The 76ers have played in three straight games that have topped the posted total and have topped the century mark in seven straight. The first three meetings between these teams have all gone ‘over,’ with the last two totals set in the same ballpark as tonight’s number (212.5).
Washington will be looking to split the season series with a victory here after dropping the last two meetings, both of which were played without Wall.
Houston at Denver, Altitude, 8:05
The Rockets own the NBA’s current longest winning streak (11) and begin a run of road games at three Western Conference playoff contenders over the next four nights. With Trevor Ariza having returned, the Rockets are close to full strength again, although standout sixth man Eric Gordon remains doubtful with an illness that kept him out on Friday night.
Denver opened action after the break with a win over San Antonio, riding Nikola Jokic’s third straight triple-double. Although the Spurs came in short-handed, they still hung around and forced Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray to make big plays down the stretch. Their growth is essential if the Nuggets are to flourish over the season’s last six weeks.
Denver has won seven of eight outright, the last six of which have all come in games that eclipsed the posted total. There have been at least 223 combined points scored in each of the Nuggets’ last eight contests, a run which includes a 130-104 loss in Houston on Feb. 9. The Rockets also won at home 125-95 on Nov. 22, but should find this first venture into the Mile-High city this season to be far more challenging.
Bookmakers opened this total at 228, but the number came down to 227 in the early morning despite public betting hammering the high side.
San Antonio at Cleveland, ABC, 3:35
The Sunday afternoon showcase is back regularly again, providing an interesting matchup with the Spurs visiting new-look Cleveland. Kawhi Leonard remains out indefinitely and may not be back all season, but Gregg Popovich will have guard Danny Green back after he fell ill before the Nuggets game.
Rudy Gay has also returned to help Kyle Anderson fill in for Leonard, so San Antonio will be deeper than they have been in recent weeks if Manu Ginobili is cleared to play after suffering a chest injury.
On Thursday, the Cavs lost for the first time since moving Isaiah Thomas and five others out of town in a reshuffling of the deck after a brutal run before the trade deadline. Washington took advantage of porous defense with great ball movement, so it will be interesting to see whether San Antonio can similarly execute.
Neither George Hill nor Rodney Hood has excelled the way Jordan Clarkson has thus far, but there does appear to be a different energy with the group. We’ll see whether that continues.
LeBron James has shot 36-for-61 since picking up a batch of new teammates, so he’s clearly been re-energized, averaging 31 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists. He’s averaging a triple-double thus far this month.
San Antonio won the first meeting between these teams 114-102 on Jan. 23 despite 28-9-7 from James. Not only did Leonard miss that game, but Pau Gasol, Ginobili and Gay also sat..