NBA Scores: Nuggets, Timberwolves surge as playoff standings shape up

Nuggets top Embiid-less Sixers, 116-111

This game coulda had class. It coulda been a contenda. Instead of bein’ a bum. Which isn’t totally what this game ended up being, but considering what it would have represented had Joel Embiid been available for it, it’s ultimately a disappointment. Long-billed as the epic duel between the two MVP frontrunners, Denver’s win was overshadowed by Embiid’s absence due to a sore right calf — even with Nikola Jokic posting his 29th triple-double of the season. He scored 25 points, had 17 rebounds, and 12 assists to lead the Nuggets, while Jamal Murray (19 points), Bruce Brown (18), Michael Porter Jr. (15), and Aaron Gordon (12) all finished in double-figures. Given that James Harden was also sitting for the Sixers, Tyrese Maxey was the only real offensive spark for Philly. He poured in 29 points, 23 of which came in the first half.

The Nuggets have now won four straight, while the Sixers have lost three in a row. I have a feeling that streaks like these, especially this late in the season, will be on MVP voters’ minds as they get closer to submitting their picks at the end of the year.

Timberwolves continue winning ways, outlast Kings, 119-115

Now this is the kind of streak that can turn an entire season around. After a stretch during which Minnesota lost five of six, Anthony Edwards and co. have now won four in a row — including this one over Sacramento, which was denied the privilege of clinching a playoff spot in the loss. Jaden McDaniels scored 20 points to lead the T-Wolves, who swept two tough opponents back-to-back. First came Golden State, and now, Sacramento. With the win, Minnesota tied the Warriors for sixth place in the Western Conference standings. Remember: the top six teams avoid the play-in tournament. And though the play-in round was kind to the Timberwolves last season, there are no guarantees in a one-game, do-or-die situation.

The Kings will certainly avoid the play-in and will almost certainly have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, whenever it is that they do clinch. Games like this one from stars De’Aaron Fox (29 points and six assists) and Domantas Sabonis (24 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out) should do the trick.

Pelicans pummel Portland, 124-90

Make that five in a row for New Orleans, who remain in the eighth spot in the West with a 34-point drubbing of the Trail Blazers. Brandon Ingram led all scorers with 29.

It’s safe to say that these Blazers have seen better days.

Mavs snap four-game slide with trouncing of Pacers, 127-104

Just a few days removed from what is undoubtedly the low point of their season so far — losing four in a row, including two straight collapses against the Charlotte Hornets — it’s safe to say that this is exactly what the doctor ordered for Dallas. Luka Doncic, also days removed from saying he doesn’t feel the same joy on the court lately, put on a show to lead the way for the Mavs. He scored 25 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished six dimes, one of which is in the running for the most insane pass you’ll ever see.

Hopefully, at least for the Mavs and their fans, outings like these will become a regularity down the stretch. If they don’t, they’ll miss the play-in: Dallas is half a game back from the ninth and 10th spots in the West, trailing the Lakers and Thunder, respectively.

Knicks handle Rockets, 137-115

It was a defense-less affair, but the good news for the Knicks is that their offense has reached a point where it can occasionally be called dominant. Especially when Immanuel Quickley is doing things like he did on Monday night. He dropped a career-high 40 points to lead all scorers and help the Knicks snap a three-game losing streak. In his stead, Julius Randle had 26, while RJ Barrett added an efficient 19.

Shorthanded Bucks overpower Pistons, 126-117

Both Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) and Jrue Holiday (personal) were unavailable for Monday’s game against Detroit, clearing the way for the game Bucks fans had been waiting for all year: The Khris Middleton Game. And that’s exactly what they got, as Middleton scored a season-high 34 points to lead all scorers and help keep Milwaukee two games clear atop the Eastern Conference standings. Brook Lopez added 24 points and 14 rebounds; Bobby Portis had 21 points and 14 rebounds; and Jevon Carter scored 22. All gas, no brakes for these Bucks, who feel like they are on a collision course with their second NBA Finals trip in three seasons.

Meanwhile, the Pistons got a career-high 32 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists from Jaden Ivey, but lost their sixth game in a row. They’re also losers of 17 out of 18. The top of the 2023 NBA Draft is this team’s only hope.

Clippers drop Bulls, 124-112

Seven Clippers — SEVEN — finished in double-figures as L.A.’s better squad won their seventh out of 10 on Monday. Nicolas Batum scored 24 points, all coming from beyond the three-point arc, to lead all scorers, while Kawhi Leonard (22), Eric Gordon (22), Bones Hyland (13), Russell Westbrook (12), Ivica Zubac (11), and Mason Plumlee (10) all followed.

Even with the loss, the Bulls cling to the final play-in spot in the East. And given how poorly the Washington Wizards have performed recently, Chicago is certainly the betting favorite to hang on to it.

Suns handle sliding Jazz, 117-103

Though Phoenix remains Kevin Durant-less, Monday’s win over the Jazz was just about as complete an effort as the team has managed all season. Despite not shooting particularly well from the field (42.6 percent) or from three (30.6 percent), five players finishing in double-figures was enough to top the Jazz, who have now lost four straight. Devin Booker’s 24 points led the Suns, while Lauri Markannen scored a game-high 25 in defeat.

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