Starting 5, March 12: Nuggets and Suns rally; Luka Doncic keeps rolling

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Starting 5

It’s been 14 days since Luka Doncic has missed getting a triple-double.

It’s been 9 days since Daniel Gafford has missed a shot, hitting all 28.

It’s been 1 day since the last Starting 5 … and the last 24 hours saw wild comebacks, history from Jokic and one of the year’s most viral dunks.

Let’s catch you up.


THE LINEUP 🏀

  1. 📈 Nuggets, Suns rally for wins
  2. 🌪️ Roundup: Luka keeps rollin
  3. 💪 Waiting for reinforcements
  4. 🔥 Wolves, Clippers look to reheat
  5. 🔜 Get ready for the week ahead

📺 Sixers-Knicks (7:30 ET) and Wolves-Clippers (10 ET) meet on TNT tonight … Pacers-Thunder (8 ET) and Bucks-Kings (10 ET) highlight five more games in the NBA App.


1. JOKER & KD LEAD COMEBACK WINS

Nikola Jokic racked up 35 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in the Nuggets’ comeback win vs. the Raptors on Monday.

Nuggets rally from 22 down, win 3rd straight: Trailing by as many as 22 points late in the first half, the Nuggets outscored the Raptors 74-51 in the second half to come away with a 125-119 win behind Nikola Jokic’s 21st triple-double of the season.

  • Party of 3: Jokic (35 pts, 17 reb, 12 ast, 6 stl, 14-26 FG) became the third player to put up 35+ points, 15+ rebounds, 10+ assists, 5+ steals, on 50%+ shooting in a game, joining Terry Cummings (Jan. 16, 1987) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Nov. 2, 1973)
  • Perfect dozen: The Nuggets have won 12 straight games when Jokic records a triple-double. Denver is 16-5 this season when Jokic posts a triple-double and 101-25 for his career
  • Best since the break: Denver improved to a league-best 9-1 since the All-Star break

  • Brotherly love: Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. and Toronto’s Jontay Porter exchanged jerseys after their first game against one another in nearly three years (Apr. 26, 2021)
  • MPJ on their relationship:Growing up me and Jontay were best friends
  • Playoff Race (Nuggets ↔️): The Nuggets remain at No. 2, but move to within a half-game of West-leading OKC

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal combine for 88 points in a 19-point comeback win over the Cavaliers.

KD leads Suns back from 19 down: Kevin Durant scored 19 of his game-high 37 points in the third to ignite a Suns’ 54-41 second half to come all the way back for a 117-111 win in Cleveland.

  • KD chasing Shaq: Durant needs 53 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for eighth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. More on KD’s chase in Section 5
  • The Big 3 is back: In addition to KD’s 37, the Suns got a combined 51 from Devin Booker (27 pts, 7 ast in his first game back after missing four with an ankle sprain) and Bradley Beal (24 pts, 5 reb)

  • Garland leads Cavs: Darius Garland splashed seven 3s, scored a team-high 30 points and dished out five assists, including this side-eye dime to Damian Jones for the slam
  • Playoff Race (PHX ↔️): The Suns remain sixth in the West, increasing their lead over the Kings and Mavs to a full game as they look to stay out of the Play-In

2. LUKA ROLLING, WARRIORS WIN WITHOUT STEPH, CELTICS HIT 50

Luka Doncic shoots only 9-for-23 against the Bulls, but easily notches a 7th straight triple-double by working at his own pace.

Doncic, Gafford keep Mavs rolling: Luka Doncic (27 pts, 12 reb, 14 ast) saw his record-run of 30+ point triple-doubles end at six, but extended his overall triple-double streak to seven to lead the Mavs to a 127-92 win over the Bulls for their third-straight win.

  • Luka for 3: With six 3s on Monday, Luka passed Jason Terry (1,140) for 2nd all-time in 3-pointers made as a Maverick, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki (1,982)
  • Can’t miss: Daniel Gafford finished with 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting, his fourth straight game shooting 100% from the field. He’s made 28 consecutive field goals over that four-game span, the most in the play-by-play era (since 1997-98)
  • Play-In Race (DAL ↔️): The Mavs remain No. 8 in the West, in a virtual tie with the No. 7 Kings (SAC up by .002 in win percentage) and a game behind the No. 6 Suns

Kuminga & Klay show: With Steph out, Klay Thompson returned to the starting lineup and put up 21 points and four 3s, while Jonathan Kuminga added 22 to lead the Warriors to a 112-102 win over the Spurs despite Wemby’s do-it-all game (27 pts, 14 reb, 3 ast, 2 blk, 3 3s).

  • Must-see dunks: Wemby turned defense into offense as he rocked the rim in transition. Trayce Jackson-Davis got the and-1 poster dunk over Wemby with a strong drive down the lane
  • TJD on his dunk: “I saw that he overplayed it to my right. I’m left-handed, so I spun and got to my left hand and I had a step on him so I tried him. I told [Kevon Looney] before the game that if I got the chance to try him I would. But at the end of the day, sometimes you dunk on people, some days you get dunked on, so it’s just a basketball play.”
  • Play-In Race (GSW ↔️): The Warriors remain 10th in the West, moving a game back of the idle Lakers for 9th

Boston first to 50 wins: Jaylen Brown (27 pts, 6 reb) and Jayson Tatum (26 pts, 8 ast) combined for 53 points – and connected on this must-see play when Brown dropped a dime to Tatum for the slam – to lead the Celtics to a 121-99 win over the Blazers.

  • Playoff Race (BOS ↔️): Boston increased its massive lead in the East to 8.5 games over Milwaukee and 9.5 over Cleveland

Pistons get largest win of season: Cade Cunningham (22 pts, 8 ast) and Jalen Duren (20 pts, 10 reb) combined for 42 points to lead the Pistons to a 114-97 win over the Hornets. James Wiseman had 10 points, nine boards and one poster off the bench for Detroit.

  • Cade 🤝 Isiah: With his third point, Cade reached 1,200 points and 400 assists in 54 games this season, the fastest to reach those marks since Isiah Thomas did it in 55 games in 1984-85

3. SIXERS, KNICKS WAITING FOR REINFORCEMENTS

The Knicks and Sixers enter tonight’s matchup at Madison Square Garden (7:30 ET, TNT) ranked fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Why is that significant? The No. 6 seed is the final guaranteed playoff berth that does not require going through the SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament. Staying above the line that separates No. 6 and 7 is critical as the regular season approaches its final month.

Similar predicaments: The Knicks and Sixers have both lost an All-Star big man – Julius Randle for NY, Joel Embiid for Philly – as well as other key players due to injury and have had to scratch and claw to hold their position.

Holding on: The Knicks have held tight to the No. 4 seed since late January, with just a few days outside of it. The Sixers dipped to No. 7 briefly, but are back in the top six with a half-game lead over Indy.

  • Finding ways to win: These teams played the lowest scoring game of the season – by 20 combined points – in the first of this two-game set in NYC with Philly getting the 79-73 win
  • How rare is that final score? The Sixers (48) and Knicks (43) have a combined 91 games when they’ve surpassed 80 points through third quarters this season
  • Philly coach Nick Nurse on the win: “We were physical, we were doing everything we were supposed to do.  We turned them over 20+ times, we were fighting like heck for rebounds … basically just fighting and executing the schemes really well.”

Help is on the way: Sixers All-Star Tyrese Maxey has been in concussion protocol since Mar. 3, but is not listed on Philly’s injury report headed into tonight.

  • Knicks All-Defensive Team wing OG Anunoby is listed as questionable for Tuesday as he ramps up after missing six weeks following elbow surgery. Anunoby’s arrival in a trade from Toronto sparked a defensive turnaround for NY, and his return should have a similar impact, while also adding another deep threat
  • The Sixers are still without DeAnthony Melton (back) and Robert Covington (knee), while the Knicks await the return of Randle (shoulder) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle)

Can they hold on long enough? The No. 4-8 seeds in the East – New York, Orlando, Philly, Indiana and Miami – are currently separated by just two games as they battle for three guaranteed playoff spots and two spots in the Play-In.

Games like tonight are important not just for movement in the standings, but securing tiebreakers should they be needed. NY can win the season series 3-1 or Philly can even it at 2-2 with a win tonight.


4. WOLVES, CLIPPERS LOOKING FOR A REHEAT

From Dec. 2 to Feb. 5, no NBA team was hotter than the Clippers as they went 26-5 (.839) to climb from 11th to 3rd in the West, putting them in the middle of a four-game battle with the Wolves, Thunder and Nuggets for conference superiority.

  • While that near 84% win percentage was unlikely to hold all season, the Clippers have played .500 ball (7-7) since Feb. 6. They are still within striking distance of the top three, but not as close as they once were

The Wolves’ early ascent: While the Clippers were still trying to integrate James Harden into their lineup two weeks into the season, the Wolves jumped to the front of the pack through 12 games and held the No. 1 spot for months.

  • After going 24-7 (.774) through the end of the 2023 calendar year, the Wolves are 20-14 (.588) since and sit third in the West – 1.5 games back of No. 1 OKC, a game back from No. 2 Denver and just two games up on the Clippers entering tonight’s matchup
  • To make matters more challenging, the Wolves will be without All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) for the rest of the regular season and face the ninth-toughest schedule down the stretch

When two teams are locked in such a tight playoff race, head-to-head matchups become more important. A win not only means you gain a full game on your opponent (your win +0.5 games, their loss -0.5 games), it can also help determine potential tiebreakers.

  • The Clippers own zero head-to-head tiebreakers over the rest of the top 3 – lost 1-2 to OKC, trail Denver 1-2 and trail Minnesota 1-2. A win tonight would even the series and force a different tiebreaker, the winner of their respective divisions, in which case the Clippers would get the edge
  • LA is 22-9 at home this season, while the Wolves bring a league-leading 21 road wins into Crypto.com Arena tonight

Both of these teams have shown how hot they can get this season, but are each just 5-5 over their past 10 games. Can tonight’s game light a spark for either team to carry over the final 33 days of the regular season?


5. THE WEEK AHEAD: MARK YOUR CALENDARS

The final five weeks of the regular season will be chock full of games with Playoff and Play-In implications, players putting the final touches on award-winning seasons, and some major milestones on the horizon.

The Starting 5 wants to make sure you don’t miss a thing as we lay out what to watch for over the rest of this week.

Milestone watch

  • KD needs 53 points to pass Shaq for 8th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Based on his scoring average (28.5 ppg, 4th in NBA), Durant’s on pace to get there in two games (Suns at Hornets: Friday, 7 ET, NBA TV)
  • James Harden needs 20 points to enter the top 20, passing Vince Carter and joining KD and LeBron as the only active players in the top 20 all-time. Averaging 17.5 ppg, Harden could do this today against the Wolves (10 ET, TNT) or against the Bulls on Thursday (8 ET, NBA App)

Tuesday

  • In addition to the TNT doubleheader, West-leading OKC will host Indiana (8 ET) and East-leading Boston will wrap a five-game road trip in Utah (9 ET), both on the NBA App

Wednesday

  • Play-In Night, Pt. 1: All 4 West Play-In Teams will be in action with the No. 8 Mavs hosting the No. 10 Warriors (8:30 ET, NBA App), and the No. 7 Kings hosting the No. 9 Lakers (10 ET, ESPN)
  • Play-In Night, Pt. 2: The No. 7 Pacers host the No. 9 Bulls for East Play-In position (7:30 ET, NBA App), with the winner taking a 2-1 head-to-head lead with one game to play
  • Finals rematch: The Nuggets and Heat meet in Miami (7:30 ET, ESPN), where Denver won Games 3-4 last June to seize control of the 1-1 series

Thursday

  • Suns visit Boston: The Suns face some tough competition as they look to maintain their grip on a guaranteed playoff berth (7:30 ET, TNT)
  • Luka vs. Shai: The league’s top two scorers face off for the first of two meetings down the stretch (10 ET TNT). Can OKC be the first team to slow down Luka as they look to stay atop the West?

Friday

  • Don’t sleep on NOLA: The Pelicans hold the longest active win streak in the league (four games) and will take on the Clippers seeking a top four spot in the West (8 ET, NBA App)

Saturday

  • Play-In preview? If the season ended today, this Lakers vs. Warriors matchup (8:30 ET, ABC) would be the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game in the Play-In, with the loser going home and the winner moving on to face a second win-or-go home game

Sunday

  • Here come the champs: Denver has caught fire since All-Star and sits just a half-game back from reclaiming the top spot in the West. How will they handle a challenge from Luka and the Mavs (3:30 ET, ABC)?

 



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