Jimmy Butler, man.
I’m not quite sure anyone actually “enjoys” people rooting against them, but if anyone embraces it more than Jimmy Butler … I’ve yet to see it outside the squared circle.
The trade demand. The third-team-vs.-the-starters practice. Joining a “Big Three” that’s now a “Big Four.” Absolutely rocking the Timberwolves in round one.
And then, the return.
Outfitted with custom kicks quoting The Dark Night while the Minnesota PA blared Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Butler brought on the boos with his mere presence. And oh, was he ready.
I mean, look at this:
From there, the Sixers’ jumped out to a 21-point lead. The Timberwolves’ reserves gradually cut it all the way down to three with just over five minutes to play, but Minnesota never truly threatened. Butler, though he shot 4-of-17, finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals in a 118-109 victory.
“I’m glad we came in here and did what we were supposed to do to get a rhythm moving forward,” Butler said. “Home, away, whoever it’s against, I’m solid. I’m cool.”
Minnesota is out of the playoffs. Philadelphia is likely locked into the East’s No. 3 seed. Butler seems to have acclimated. The playoffs are where we see if Butler hits his winning window. And then the summer, when there’s the chance for the financial payoff, likely dependent on that playoff performance. As with everything Butler, it’s only going to be interesting.
Harden. History. Ho-Hum.
James Harden is spoiling us. Seriously.
In Saturday’s victory over the Kings, one that sent Sacramento fishing and clinched playoff spots for the Thunder and Spurs, James Harden dropped a 50-point triple-double. For the second time this season. For the fifth time in his career.
That cements Harden as the all-time leader in that specific category, ahead of Russell Westbrook (3), as well as Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain (2).
It was the ninth 50-pointer of Harden’s season — just one off Kobe’s post-merger record from 2006-07 — and 18th of his career. His scoring average is up to 36.4. Ridiculous that he’s still nodding this thing north.
“It’s remarkable what he does, and he does it every night,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “I keep thinking: ‘Gosh, can he do this every game?’ And then he does it for three years.”
Action in the East
Further down the Eastern Confernce standings, a multi-team melee is in full force for the final three spots. The Nets, Pistons, Magic and Heat all won Saturday, just 1.5 games separate sixth-place Detroit from ninth-place Miami, while the Hornets loom just 2.0 games further back.
The most notable single performance was D’Angelo Russell popping off for 20 third-quarter points, turning a close game against the Celtics into a rout that could prove crucial. It also earned a shoutout from a very prominent, very enthused fan.
— Antoine Griezmann (@AntoGriezmann) March 31, 2019
“I told you, man, every [win] is going to be worth it,” Russell said. “We need it, scratching and clawing for every one of them.”
Nice team wins for Orlando (who have won 7 of 8 and are 18-8 since Jan. 31) and Detroit (13-7 since the All-Star break) as well; the former knocked off Eastern foe Indiana, the latter, inter-conference opponent Portland. Almost a bummer only three of these squads get in right as they all seem to be figuring it out.
Staring at the Suns
That’s all that separated Suns guard Devin Booker from an exclusive list after he finished Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies with 48 points, denied his third straight 50-point showing by half-court traps and diminishing returns.
Had Booker achieved the mark, it would’ve placed him alongside Chamberlain, Jordan and Kobe as the only players to have done so. Full stop. That’s a thing!
Also a thing: Losses in all three games for Phoenix, though that speaks more to a lack of help than any failing on Booker’s part; he’s shooting 54-of-92 (61.9%) while carrying a turnover ratio right in line with his season mark despite the usage spike. Small sample size theater, but in those three games, Phoenix’s offensive rating is 114.9 with Booker on the floor (Golden State’s league-leading mark is 114.7). In the 23 minutes without him, it’s 64.8. Good grief.
Also of note, 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton exited early with what the team termed a left ankle sprain. Expect an update on that one sometime Sunday.
A full field out West
As noted, now that the Kings won’t be challenging in this year’s Game of (NBA) Thrones, the Western Conference playoff field is set. Here’s a look:
There are, at this point, essentially three races:
For the No. 1 Seed
Denver and Golden State are tied, 3.0 games up on the pack;
For the No. 3-4 seed
Houston, Portland Utah and the Clippers are within 3.0 games of each other, jostling for a crucial home-court advantage with which only two will emerge;
For the chance to be fodder
One could suppose San Antonio or Oklahoma City could rise into that second tier with a few key results, but time runs short, and they’re truly playing for whichever top-of-the-table opponent they’re trying to avoid. Adjust expecations accordingly.
We’ll see how it shakes out over these final two weeks. And then? Mayhem.
Last Dance at The Garden
Dwyane Wade’s final spin through the league took its bow at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, where the fans showered one of the greats with a gracious ovation:
“As a player, this is your last time and just want to enjoy it,” Wade said. “I know the fans stayed around and that was so cool, man, to be able to have that. You expect it at home maybe your last time but on the road you don’t expect that.”
Knicks coach David Fizdale, who coached Wade as an assistant with the Heat from 2008-16, praised “one of the greatest guards that’s ever played this game” afterward, citing Wade’s loyalty and friendship above all else.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 31, 2019
That said, even this #OneLastDance has its limits, and Emmanuel Mudiay caught an unfortunate L on a last-minute request.
Mudiay asked D-Wade for the jersey after the game. Wade said: “I’m already giving it away”
You hate to see it… pic.twitter.com/MBzLIOvC12
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 31, 2019
Bad Boys Once Again
With the 30th anniversary of Detroit’s 1989 championship approaching, the Pistons marked the occasion at halftime of Saturday’s 99-90 victory over Portland.