If the Cleveland Cavaliers can pull themselves together to repeat as champions after all the March badness they've endured, it'll truly be an NBA first.
Our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau have passed along that no team in league history that has ever lost 10 or more games in March -- none of the previous 347 -- has bounced back to win it all. The record high for March losses for an eventual champion, Elias says, is eight.
While the Golden State Warriors have been cementing their position as title favorites and essentially wrapping up the top spot for the season in ESPN.com's weekly Power Rankings, Cleveland continues to leave your humble Committee (of One) with no choice.
How can we place the Cavs any higher than sixth in our ladder -- even if you still believe they're headed to a third straight NBA Finals -- when they've essentially been a .500 team for the past 40 games? (See the Cavs' comment for more.)
Meet us back here next Monday for the final edition of these rankings until late September. And don't forget to tune into the overnight edition of SportsCenter that airs Tuesday at 1 a.m. ET for the weekly video feature that accompanies our 1-to-30 power poll.
Many thanks, as always, go to ESPN Stats & Information and Elias -- with ESPN research ace Micah Adams running the point -- for all the background data they supply to assist the Committee's efforts to arrange things here properly.
Steve Kerr never expected that resting his stars for one night in San Antonio would lead to an 11-game winning streak that all but clinches home-court advantage for the Warriors throughout the playoffs. But Stephen Curry acknowledged last week that he benefited from the one-night break mentally as much as anything; Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have all played their best ball of the season since the night to spark this run. The Warriors sport the league's best offensive and defensive efficiency ratings over the course of the streak (115.2 points scored per 100 possessions; 97.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). And Golden State's next victory will break a tie with Michael Jordan's Bulls (second three-peat) for the most regular-season W's (204) over any three-season span in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, while also matching the club's longest winning streak (12) of the season to date (Nov. 7-28). Curry is up to 302 3-pointers for the season, Green has hiked his career record to 19-0 when recording a triple-double and, as a bonus, Golden State has registered 18 games with 10 or more blocked shots after all the fretting about how little rim protection it has. The Knicks are the next closest with just seven such games.
How are the Spurs doing in their first season post-Tim Duncan? Stung as they were to suffer last Wednesday's fall-from-ahead loss to Golden State after running up a 22-point lead on their foremost rivals, know this: One more win will enable Gregg Popovich to achieve something he and Duncan amazingly never managed together ... consecutive 60-win seasons. The Spurs won a franchise-record 67 games in Duncan's farewell season in 2015-16 and will join the Warriors on this season's short list of 60-win teams if they can beat their likely first-round opponent (Memphis) at home Tuesday night. In yet another tribute to Pop's coaching acumen, we came across this doozy last week: San Antonio has only three players on its active roster selected within the top 20 picks in the NBA draft (former No. 2 overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge, former No. 3 pick Pau Gasol and former No. 15 Kawhi Leonard.) That's tied for the fewest on any roster this season with Brooklyn and New Orleans.
In securing the club's first 50-win season since 2010-11 and the 32nd in franchise history, tying the Lakers for the all-time league record, Boston did not need to play four of its five starters in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win at Madison Square Garden. The Celts also get the next two days off before playing host to the Cavs in Wednesday night's ESPN showcase game, which also happens to be Cleveland's third game in four nights. The Celts, in other words, might really be in pole position to secure the East's top seed ... as long as they fashion the win over Cleveland that evens the season series at 2-2. This is already as late in a season as the Celts have held the No. 1 seed since 2007-08, when Boston last won it all. Things certainly aren't perfect if Jae Crowder, after a strong finish to his March, needs an MRI on his "tingling" left elbow, but Brad Stevens' late surge into Coach of the Year consideration is only getting more serious.
James Harden probably can't win no matter what he does with that banged-up left wrist. If he keeps playing hurt, there's a good chance he dings his MVP résumé. If he sits, critics will inevitably surface with claims that he's looking to protect his stats more than anything. The view here, then, is that how the wrist impacts Houston's playoff hopes should be the only consideration. If playing on doesn't put Harden at risk for hurting it worse, then let him go. But the flu-like symptoms that knocked him out of Sunday's visit to Phoenix might not have been the worst thing; perhaps the enforced rest will recharge Harden after a rough shooting week lowlighted by Houston's first three-game losing streak of the season. Friday night's loss at Golden State brought a halt to Houston's record run of 61 consecutive games with at least 100 points, but that's not the real team stat of note with these guys. File this one away: Houston is 34-4 this season when it splashes 15 3s ... but only 18-21 when it falls short. Can the Rockets splash with something approaching that sort of regularity when it matters most and things tighten up in the playoffs?
Turns out Toronto did not forfeit its shot at a second successive 50-win season when it lost Kyle Lowry to a wrist injury. The details surrounding Lowry's return remain unknown -- specifically whether it can happen before the end of the regular season and with precisely how much practice time attached -- but the Raps have zoomed to a surprising mark of 15-6 without their All-Star point guard. A 3-2 finish, then, would cement another 50-win campaign for a group that has won eight of its past nine by stepping up its ball movement in Lowry's absence to support its eighth-ranked team defense. We're down to three teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the season: Golden State, San Antonio ... and these Raps.
At the end of February, ESPN's Basketball Power Index rated the Cavs' chances of clinching the No. 1 seed in the East at 89 percent. Coming out of March, that figure was down to (yikes) 53 percent. The Cavs' 7-10 record in March saddled LeBron James with his first month to feature a double-digit loss total since his first full month in the NBA, when Cleveland went 4-11 in 2003. The malaise runs even if deeper if you rewind to the morning of Jan. 10, when Cleveland led Boston by a whopping 5½ games. Since then? LeBron & Co. are 21-19. And going to double overtime Sunday night to turn back Indiana was obviously the last thing the Cavs needed, right at the start of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that will end with a visit to Boston. The playoffs can't get here soon enough for the champs, who will need to reset even if they find a way to dig out the East's top seed. A ray of hope: Since 2011, when he made his first of six successive trips to the NBA Finals, James' teams have lost only two first-round games in 18 outings. So there's that.
Quin Snyder's Coach of the Year odds probably aren't great, thanks to a typically stacked race that also features the likes of Mike D'Antoni, Scotty Brooks and Erik Spoelstra, but he probably should be getting more COY pub than he actually has given all the lineup juggling that injuries have forced him to oversee. Utah doesn't have a single fivesome that has played more than 22 games (Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, George Hill and Joe Ingles) or more than 151 minutes together (Derrick Favors, Gobert, Hayward, Hill and Rodney Hood) this season. And Utah, amid a rough closing schedule, has lost Hill (groin) to injury yet again. The Jazz are 31-16 with Hill in the lineup, but only 16-14 without him as they battle to hold off the Clippers for the West's No. 4 seed. Also troubling: Hayward has been held below 20 points in six of his past eight games. Thanks to the recent surges by Golden State and Portland at the top and bottom of the West, all of this is happening in what has emerged as the fiercest playoff battle in the conference.
In our formative years as an NBA fan, when we were falling in love with this game and this league in the 1970s, Washington actually went to the Finals three times in a five-season span. That's the hoop standard you associated with the nation's capital, which must be hard to believe for younger fans who've only lived through the Wizards era. The Southeast Division title that the Wiz just snared is the first for the franchise since Jimmy Carter was president; Washington's Atlantic Division crown in 1978-79 was secured five months and change before ESPN made its debut as a network. The Wiz will have to manufacture a 4-1 finish to clinch their first 50-win season since the '78-79 campaign, but kudos to John Wall no matter what. Thanks to Wall's best-ever season individually, this is the first season in NBA history in which three players (Russell Westbrook and James Harden are the others) are averaging 20-plus points and 10-plus assists.
From the high of joining Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the short list of players to post at least 30 points and 15 boards in his first-ever game against his former team -- in a game with such huge playoff implications to boot -- Jusuf Nurkic didn't even have 72 hours to enjoy the damage he inflicted upon the Nuggets' playoff hopes. A fractured leg will cost Nurkic the rest of the regular season and presumably rule him out of the Blazers' expected first-round series against Golden State, further weakening a frontcourt rotation that already had lost big men Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli to season-ending surgeries. But let's put Portland's panic that inevitably stems from losing Nurkic on hold. The Blazers have to find a way to enjoy what they've achieved amid the injuries, hauling themselves all the way back to .500 after falling to 24-35 at their worst, with Damian Lillard leading the way in March (29.1 PPG). For the second successive season, this has been a different team in the season's second half. Portland is 35-47 in the first half of the past two seasons, compared 47-29 thereafter.
Winning 50 games would have pretty much clinched it. Had OKC been able to close with a 7-0 flourish, you might as well have handed the MVP trophy to Russell Westbrook, because there would no longer be a team-success case to make against his candidacy. But the 50-win plateau is out of reach now for the Thunder, after they followed those ridiculous Houdini-esque escapes that Westbrook & Co. pulled off in Dallas and Orlando with that home collapse against San Antonio from 21 points up in the third quarter, as well as Sunday's humbling home defeat to Charlotte. Just 11 more rebounds and 29 more assists will clinch a triple-double average for the season for Westbrook, but expect the MVP debate to carry into the playoffs with Harden's Rockets and Westbrook's Thunder looking increasingly likely to clash in the opening round of the playoffs. Related remarkable aspect of Angry Russ' season: No OKC opponent, nor any Thunder teammate, has managed a triple-double this season while Westbrook has racked up 40 in 76 games. The Thunder are down to 31-9 when he gets one, compared to 12-24 when he doesn't.
The second-to-last Rankings Monday of the season finds Giannis Antetokounmpo ranked 13th in the league in points per game (23.2), 14th in rebounds per game (8.7), 21st in assists per game (5.4), sixth in steals per game (1.7) and fifth in blocks per game (1.9). If he can pick up the dimeage here in the stretch run, The Greek Freak can become the first player in league history to place in the top 20 at season's end in all five categories ... and inflict further agony on conflicted voters like yours who truly have no idea how we're going to pick between Giannis and Nikola Jokic for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. Despite its deflating home loss Sunday to Dallas, meanwhile, Milwaukee is 18-8 since losing Jabari Parker, thanks to a 14-4 March that featured Rookie of the Year aspirant Malcolm Brogdon beating Boston in Boston with this dagger.
We could talk about how L.A. became the fastest team to score 100 points in a game this season in last week's home win over Washington -- reaching triple digits with 5:43 to go in the third quarter -- but we prefer to go big picture here. The Clippers, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, have only a 25 percent chance to wrest the West's No. 4 seed away from Utah as the regular season winds down. The ever-trusty BPI says that the Clips, as of Monday morning, were 69 percent likely to wind up seeded fifth, with just a 6 percent chance of slipping down to No. 6. Don't you wonder, though, whether they'd be better off in the No. 6 slot, thereby ensuring they avoid Golden State until the conference finals at the earliest? Upsetting Houston and San Antonio to get there certainly wouldn't be easy, but don't the Clips want to steer clear of Golden State for as long as they can given how the teams' past 10 regular-season meetings have turned out? (L.A. has indeed lost all 10.)
You'd like to think that the Heat, even without the still-sidelined Dion Waiters, could sweep a crucial home-and-home with the Knicks given everything else they've pulled off since that dreadful 11-30 start. But they couldn't. Miami lost the home leg to the Knicks on Friday night after conquering Madison Square Garden, then fell at home Sunday night to Denver despite the Nuggets' own three-game skid coming in that was thought to have crushed Denver's spirit. If not for a left-handed Hassan Whiteside tip-in at the buzzer in Detroit, Miami would be in the midst of a 1-5 funk -- on the heels of a 24-6 joyride -- at the worst possible time. Waiters is out of his walking boot but has only just begun conditioning drills, so it remains to be seen how soon he'll actually return to the lineup. Goran Dragic, Whiteside and both Johnsons (James and Tyler) have all had strong seasons, but the Heat are 10-21 without Waiters. They'd obviously love to get something from him at some point during the last five games, which aren't exactly appetizing when you scan through them.
If the Bulls don't make the playoffs now, even when you acknowledge their famously undependable ways this season, something is really wrong. Chicago's five remaining opponents (Knicks, Sixers, Nets, Magic and Nets) have a combined winning percentage of .331. Do we even have to list which of those games are at home and which are away when it's that low? You couldn't dream up a much more favorable schedule at this point in the season after Jimmy Butler sealed Saturday night's win over visiting Atlanta with his go-ahead free throws. Up there on the amazing scale with the Bulls' 19 successive home wins on TNT Thursdays and their 4-0 season sweep of the Cavs: Butler is now 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line on potential go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds for his career. As for that TNT streak: 15 of the 19 victories, including the past 11, have come against teams with winning records.
The Hornets entered Sunday's play as one of two teams on the league map, along with Chicago, to have never surrendered a triple-double to Russell Westbrook. Losing that status, mind you, was a small sacrifice for Charlotte to make in exchange for an emphatic road win on Westbrook's floor that made it seven victories out of nine and hiked the Hornets to within a game and a half of the eighth spot in the East. Frank Kaminsky's return has bolstered a bench that frankly needed the boost in support of Kemba Walker, who followed his up his 14th 30-point game of the season -- good for a new career high -- with 29 points in the OKC win. Walker has averaged 27.3 PPG over Charlotte's past six games, offsetting the preceding four-game stretch in which he only averaged 15.3 PPG. Only five games separate the fifth-seeded Bucks and the 11th-seeded Pistons, but Charlotte is suddenly playing as well as anyone in that seven-team scrum.
Fair play to the Blazers. They've earned every ounce of their increasingly strong hold on the West's final playoff spot with a brilliant 14-3 surge, but there would have been zero protest here had the Nuggets found a way to bring a halt to their three-season playoff drought. As much as Portland ranks as one of the Committee's favorite cities -- get ready for us, Shalom Y'All and Stumptown Coffee -- we have to admit that part of us was already imagining that train ride into town from DIA and the beautifully appointed Union Station that greets you at the end of the ride. Four or five extra games of Nikola Jokic obviously wouldn't have been bad, either. Sadly, though, all that will have to wait until next season. Not even a Jokic triple-double guarantees victory any longer; Denver fell to 5-1 in those games with Friday night's loss at Charlotte in spite of The Joker's 26 points, 13 boards and 10 dimes. Although it's the smallest of consolations, Jokic's six triple-doubles (all since Feb. 3) have established a new single-season record for NBA players born outside the United States, one ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo's five last season.
If the Grizzlies weren't already getting used to the idea of another playoff encounter with their old friends from San Antonio, Sunday's scores have to lead them in that direction, after Memphis failed to capitalize on an unexpected Thunder loss at home to Charlotte by falling at Staples Center to the Lakers. After a super-streaky March, David Fizdale's priority at this point has to be hoping Marc Gasol can shake the foot injury that has cost him the Grizzlies' past five games if they hope to have any shot at hanging with the mighty Spurs. Assuming we indeed get San Antonio-Memphis in the 2-versus-7 matchup, it'll be the fourth playoff meeting for these teams since the 2010-11 season. The Grizz won the first of the three previous encounters in six games, but the Spurs have swept the past two series, including a meeting in the 2013 Western Conference finals. (A quick Mike Conley update: Conley averaged 28.8 PPG and 7.0 APG in the first four games Gasol missed before Sunday's woes at Staples.)
Something tells us that the feel-good factor spawned by the Lance Stephenson re-signing isn't going to last long. Not if the Pacers continue to unravel at their current rate; four consecutive defeats have dropped them to ninth in the East after this team had been considered a playoff shoo-in for much of the season. Assuming that the Cavs can find their way back to the No. 1 spot in the conference standings by season's end, one can also safely assume that Cleveland would love to see Indy in Round 1 as opposed to Chicago or Miami, no matter how good Paul George looked in Sunday's nervy double-overtime duel. (The Bulls and Heat, remember, are a combined 6-1 against the reigning champs this season.) The Pacers had won 33 consecutive home games when entering the fourth quarter with a lead before last Tuesday's contentious 115-114 defeat to the visiting Timberwolves and now find themselves facing the real prospect of a trip to the lottery and an All-NBA snub for George. Please re-read this Zach Lowe opus for a refresher on how costly that could be.
Anthony Davis suffered an ankle sprain Sunday night, but he played through it and wound up totaling 30 points and 11 boards in a loss to the Bulls, which is hardly insignificant given the durability concerns that plagued The Brow throughout his first four NBA seasons. For the first time in his career, in fact, Davis has crossed the 70-game threshold for the season and has done so without much fanfare, delivering night after night after night for a team that, despite its recent (and unexpected) 8-4 uptick that realistically came too late, will be officially eliminated from playoff contention if Portland can win in Minnesota on Monday night. What the future holds in New Orleans for DeMarcus Cousins, for Jrue Holiday, for Alvin Gentry ... all unknowns. Yet I think it's safe to say that the guy who scored 52 points in the All-Star Game couldn't have done much more for his team (or his city) in 2016-17.
On Selection Sunday in the college game -- also known as March 12 -- Atlanta was 37-29 and just a game behind Toronto for the No. 4 spot in the East. The Hawks have gone just 2-9 since and also have lost to the Nets on back-to-back Sundays, including a 91-82 defeat within the past 24 hours in Paul Millsap's return from an eight-game injury absence. We said so last week and have to say it louder this week even though the Hawks managed to eke out victories over Phoenix (home) and Philadelphia (road) while waiting for Millsap's knee to heal: Missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons is an increasingly legit possibility. Brooklyn, after all, had lost 22 times in a row on the second half of a back-to-back set before spoiling Millsap's comeback.
The Mavericks finished 40-42 in Mark Cuban's first season of ownership back in 1999-2000, but he was only in place for the final 51 games of that campaign, during which Dallas went 31-20 in a prelude to a run of 11 consecutive 50-win seasons. This season, then, is truly the first losing campaign of the Cuban era, which will be a bigger shock to the system for longtime club officials than missing the playoffs, which they endured in 2012-13 despite going 41-41. It has proved to be a rather scrappy group under the direction of Rick Carlisle, as evidenced yet again Sunday night in Milwaukee when Harrison Barnes pumped in 25 points in the second half to lead the Mavs to a nice road win after Dirk Nowitzki's injury exit, but starting the season in a 2-13 hole left too much ground to make up. (Nowitzki, incidentally, will move to sixth all time in games played -- passing longtime rival Tim Duncan and former teammate Jason Kidd -- if he appears in three of the Mavs' last six games.)
The one-point home win over Brooklyn that brought a halt to Detroit's longest losing streak of the campaign was only its first win in three tries against the Nets this season. An OT defeat in Milwaukee the next night, furthermore, made it nine losses in 11 games for the reeling Pistons, who also find themselves dealing with unflattering Kentavious Caldwell-Pope headlines amid all the losing. Detroit was gifted four full days off to start the month of April, but we'll see how refreshed this beleaguered group actually looks Wednesday night when it returns to work by playing host to Toronto. It has been a long, disappointing season, which makes you think it's going to be a long (and stressful) summer for everyone associated with the club -- starting with coach/team president Stan Van Gundy.
For all the kudos they rightfully won during a 7-10 March, leave it to the heartless Committee to point out that the Nets' next defeat will clinch consecutive 60-loss seasons for the first time in franchise history. Yet it's also true that Brooklyn has been playing well enough lately to be justifiably miffed by the manner of last week's losses to Philadelphia (home) and Detroit (road) by a combined six points. What's left for the Nets to chase in their final five games? Avoiding the league's worst record -- if only to slightly reduce Boston's odds of coming away with the No. 1 overall pick in June -- remains a tall order with four of those five games to come on the road. But the guys over at @NetsDaily came up with a potentially more feasible pursuit: Brook Lopez is just 22 3-pointers shy of besting fellow 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki's highest single-season total (151).
Knicks Karma is so off-key at the moment that simply dodging a deadline-day trade to New York appears to have ushered Ricky Rubio into the zone of his life. With Rubio averaging 16.4 PPG and 10.7 APG since the All-Star break in support of the relentless Karl-Anthony Towns -- who's averaging nearly 25 PPG to go with his 12.1 RPG at the tender age of 21 -- Minnesota has quietly positioned itself to finish in the league's top 10 in offensive efficiency in Tom Thibodeau's first season in charge. The Wolves are right at No. 10 in that race entering the final 10 days of the 82-game schedule, providing some much-needed flickers of positivity to offset the harsh reality that finds the Wolves at No. 25 in the DE standings and officially bound now for a league-high 13th straight spring with no playoff games.
MVP. Coach of the Year. Most Improved Player. Agonizing choices are everywhere you look this awards season in the NBA. But Rookie of the Year might be as tough as any on the board, all because of the games-played conundrum spawned by Joel Embiid's candidacy and the corresponding lack of appetizing alternatives. Embiid played in only 31 games this season -- as you've surely heard 31,000 times already from us alone -- but he averaged 28.7 points per 36 minutes when he was on the floor. The only rookie in NBA history with a gaudier scoring average than that is a certain Wilt Chamberlain: 29.2 points per 36 minutes in 1959-60. We bring this up now, despite the fact that Embiid hasn't been seen in uniform since Jan. 27, because we're still struggling big-time with this. I enjoy watching Malcolm Brogdon, Willy Hernangomez and Embiid's teammate Dario Saric. But I still haven't convinced myself that I should bestow my ROY vote on any of them. You're well within your rights to focus on all the time Embiid has missed this season. Just as I'm well within mine to savor the historic stuff we did see in those 31 games from Embiid.
Rough week on the nostalgia front for the Kings, who got shredded by DeMarcus Cousins' 37 points and 13 boards in the first-ever Boogie Revenge Game, then awoke to the news on the morning after that Chris Webber will not be part of the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2017. Webber supporters will undoubtedly point to the fact that their guy nearly averaged 21 and 10 over a 15-season career and took part in seven playoff series wins, five of them in Sacramento. Consecutive nail-biter victories over the Clippers and Grizzlies, followed by a win road at Minnesota, also were upsetting for some Kings fans, who are understandably conflicted about any W these days when Sacramento has to finish in the top 10 of the lottery to avoid sending its own first-round pick in June to Chicago. The one-point wins over the Clips and Grizz, incidentally, marked the first back-to-back victories by a single point for this franchise since Kansas City pulled off that double in November 1983. The Elias Sports Bureau, which furnished that research, also says Cousins just joined Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Dominique Wilkins and Charles Barkley on the short list of players to post 35 and 10 in their first game against a former team.
As they honored their 1999 NBA Finals team Sunday afternoon, you inevitably found yourself asking: How much positive karma did the Knicks expend when they made it to those Finals as a No. 8 seed? Since the 2000-01 campaign, New York has won exactly one playoff series, which is tied with New Orleans for the fewest for any franchise in the league in that span. (The Wolves, Blazers, Hornets, Nuggets and Bucks have all won two starting with the 2001 postseason.) The steady stream of dispiriting back-page headlines, meanwhile, shows no sign of letting up, with Derrick Rose's season-ending meniscus tear only the latest in a string of calamities that includes Joakim Noah's 20-game suspension, Phil Jackson's unhappy third anniversary as team president, Charles Oakley vs. James Dolan, Rose's one-day disappearance from the team in January and, of course, New York's many Melodramas over the past six months. Perhaps the Knicks needed more games in Florida; they went 2-0 in both Miami and Orlando this season amid all the chaos.
We get this question a lot: Why are you so hung up on triple-doubles? The Committee's general stance, in response, is that (A) we can't resist when this is the season of the triple-double and (B) triple-doubles are too fun to downplay anyway. Maybe we're a touch too focused on the phenomenon. Maybe we are guilty of writing about triple-doubles too much in these rankings. But we're not apologizing. It strikes us as notable, late in another lost season for the Magic, that Elfrid Payton just joined Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier and Magic Johnson as the only players 23 or younger to record five triple-doubles in a calendar month. Are we blowing that out of proportion given that one could argue Payton's March stats were on the empty side based on where Orlando is in the standings? Our counter: Is there really something else happening with the Magic at the minute that deserves our attention? (To be fair, Orlando is sure to be in the news Tuesday night, when we find out whether LeBron James plays or rests on the eve of Cleveland's final regular-season showdown with Boston. The Cavs are 0-6 this season without James in uniform.)
How unexpected was the Lakers' matinee victory Sunday over visiting Memphis? Marc Gasol's absence for a fifth straight game (strained left foot) was obviously a factor, as was the rest day 40-year-old Vince Carter earned by playing in 50 of the Grizzlies' previous 51 games, but L.A. had won just two games since Valentine's Day coming in and is not-so-secretly tanking in its quest to ensure a top-three lottery finish. Yet the 108-103 success also ranks as the Lakers' second win this season over the Grizz, which has to dull at least some of the shine from Memphis' four combined wins this season over the Spurs and Warriors heading into Memphis' Tuesday visit to San Antonio. The Lakers' Jan. 2 triumph over Grizz and Sunday's W, for the record, account for L.A.'s only victories in 2017 over a team with a winning record.
All eyes will be on the Valley of the Sun on Friday night, when Russell Westbrook -- unless he goes on an assist flurry in his first two games this week -- appears most likely to clinch his triple-double average for the season. Doing it on the road wouldn't be as memorable as doing it at home, obviously, but Phoenix would be a rather fitting venue given that Angry Russ has averaged 41.7 PPG, 13.7 APG and 13.7 RPG in the teams' first three meetings this season. No other player in NBA history, according to Elias, has averaged 40, 10 and 10 against one team over the course of a single season (with a minimum three games). The Suns had a warm-up opportunity in the national spotlight Sunday night but, despite a career-high 34 points from Tyler Ulis, couldn't quite nudge past the Rockets in the first game all season that James Harden had to miss (due to illness).