1. Hedo to the rescue
Kevin Garnett strained an abdominal muscle during his reunion with the Timberwolves on Friday night and on Sunday the Orlando Magic took advantage of the injury. The Big Ticket missed his first contest as a Celtic, giving the Magic a perfect opportunity to beat Boston for the second time this season; which they did thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu. Orlando survived a fourth quarter Celtic rally to escape with a 96-93 victory on their home court. Turkoglu led all scorers with 27 points while Dwight Howard finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. With K.G. sidelined, Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points and nine rebounds. Ray Allen scored 17 as Boston suffered its second loss in three games, bringing their once insurmountable lead over the rest of the league down to just 3 ½ games.
2. When All-Stars collide
When it comes to scoring, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the absolute best the NBA has to offer and the duo didn’t disappoint under the Staples Center lights on Sunday afternoon. LeBron James, the league’s top scorer, finished with 41 points, including 14 in the fourth, to lead Cleveland past the Lakers 98-95. Kobe Bryant, No. 2 in points per game, scored 33 points to go with 12 rebounds and six assists, but the Lakers fumbled away an opportunity to tie the game as they failed to get up a shot following a timeout. After briefly grabbing the top record in the Western Conference, the Lakers fell into a tailspin, losing their third consecutive game and four of their last five games. The Cavs, on the other hand, are rolling, winning 10 out of 12 games.
3. Unfamiliar positions
Before the season, somebody would have slapped you silly if you said Utah and Houston would be on the outside of the playoff race looking in when the end of January rolled around. Nonetheless, that’s where the two clubs are currently sitting. When they hooked up on Sunday, Utah took advantage of Yao Ming’s absence (upper respiratory infection), beating the Rockets 97-89 to win their eighth game in nine tries and taking one more step toward entering into the postseason picture. Carlos Boozer (13 pts, 10 reb) and Deron Williams (17 pts, 12 ast) both finished with a double-double while Andrei Kirilenko finished with 17 points. Tracy McGrady looked like an All-Star even though the fans left him off the Western Conference’s starting five, scoring 21 points to go with nine assists and six rebounds.
Sunday’s Player of the Day: Al Jefferson vs. New Jersey 42 min, 40 pts (FG: 13-21, FT: 14-17), 19 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk
Monday’s Game to Watch: Denver (26-17) @ New Orleans (26-17)
Nobody is playing better right now than the Hornets and point guard Chris Paul is starting to get some serious MVP love because of it. The Bugs’ biggest win of the season came on Saturday night when they destroyed the Spurs by 24 points, 102-78, in San Antonio. The victory further solidified the Hornets as the best in the West, giving Nawlins its eighth consecutive. Since Dec. 19, they are on a 16-2 roll with Chris Paul averaging 20.6 points, 10.5 assists and 2.59 steals for the season. The Nuggets are still without Carmelo Anthony (sprained left ankle), but have played extremely well without their superstar. Before losing to the Mavericks by five points on Sunday, Denver won two straight without Anthony. Losing Melo is huge, but the Nuggets are stacked with talent and if Allen Iverson starts rolling, they can hang with anyone in the league.
Buzzer Beater: The Timberwolves were one of the laughingstocks of the NBA just a few weeks ago. How quickly things can change. On the ever growing shoulders of Al Jefferson, the T-Wolves took another step toward respectability with a 98-95 win over New Jersey. Jefferson recorded a career-high 40 points to go with 19 rebounds and suddenly Minnesota is on a mini hot streak, winning three of their last four. Minny might technically hold the worst record in the league (8-35), but there is no way anyone can argue they are currently worse than doormats like the Heat (losers of 14 out of 15) and the Sonics (lost 14 straight).