1. Movin’ on up
The Rockets took another jab at their critics on Monday night by extending their win streak to 19 games with a 91-73 thumping of New Jersey. Tracy McGrady scored 19 points as he continues to pilot his team toward the playoffs despite flying without a co-captain on the floor. Houston is now just one victory away from tying the 1970-71 Bucks for the second-longest all-time win streak and they tied an NBA record with their 10th consecutive win by at least 10 points. You have to figure that at some point the loss of Yao Ming is going to kick in and send Houston tumbling down the West standings, but as of now, they are just a mere game behind Los Angeles and San Antonio for best conference record. And frankly, after winning 28-of-31 games, they deserve to momentarily sit atop the fiercest postseason-positioning battle we’ve ever seen.
They’ve been beating teams to the punch all year long and Monday night was no different for Boston. With a 100-86 victory over the streaking 76ers, the Celtics became the first team in the league to reach 50 wins for the season. Philadelphia immediately fell into 15-point deficit, going scoreless for almost the entire first five minutes of the game. After that, it was an uphill battle for the Sixers who were on a four-game winning streak overall with an eight-game home winning streak. The nagging abdominal injury responsible for keeping Kevin Garnett sidelined during All-Star weekend appears to be fully recovered. The Big Ticket scored a game-high 26 points to go with 12 rebounds while Ray Allen added 21 points. Sam Cassell made his debut in the contest, but all did not go according plan for the new backup point guard who picked up four fouls in five minutes of work.
3. Torching the Blaze
The Cavaliers got off to a bumpy start against Portland on Monday, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, LeBron James had his 17th career triple-double and his team was 10 games over .500 for the first time this year. The Blazers were up 25-14 after the first quarter before James rallied his team to an 88-80 victory by scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out 11 assists. The triple-dip is the seventh on the season for James who recorded his 100th double-double in the win while also extending his streak of 20-plus point outings to 41 consecutive games. It was a big win for Cleveland (37-27) as they try to chase down Orlando for the third seed in the East; however, for Portland the defeat was crushing. The team that showed so much promise earlier in the year is now seven games outside the playoff picture with only 19 opponents left on the schedule.
Monday’s Player of the Day: Hedo Turkoglu vs. Atlanta 38 min, 23 pts (FG: 9-17, 3FG: 3-6, FT: 2-2), 10 reb, 13 ast
Tuesday’s Game to Watch: Toronto (34-28) @ Los Angeles Lakers (44-19)
It’s Kobe Bryant versus the Raptors and we really shouldn’t have to say much more than that. Over his career, Bryant lights-up Toronto to the tune of 28.0 points per game, including his 81-point explosion back in 2006. Earlier this season, the Lakers MVP candidate converted 19 of his 28 attempts, clocking in 46 points during the 20-point pounding. Making things worse for Toronto is that All-Star Chris Bosh’s status is still uncertain as he tends to an injured knee.
Buzzer Beater: Hedo Turkoglu wasn’t the only player lighting it up for the Magic as they reeled off 74 points in the first half en route to a 123-112 win over Atlanta. Dwight Howard finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds, giving him 20 25-point, 15-rebound games in three years. Nobody else in the league can claim to match that stat. Next in line is Kevin Garnett with 17 followed by the injured Yao Ming (15) and Utah forward Carlos Boozer (14).