Monday night in the NBA featured 11 games, just a few of which actually mattered with only two nights left in the regular season. So in case you were resting your NBA-watching just like most coaches rested their starters, here's a roundup of Monday night's action, including a must-win game from Utah, a near-record set by Stephen Curry, and a game-winner -- ! -- with playoff implications -- !!!
Jazz 96, Timberwolves 80
The fight for the Western Conference's final playoff spot will come down to the season's final night. Utah needed a win to stay mathematically alive for the eighth seed, and the Timberwolves didn't provide much resistance. The Jazz led by eight at the half -- more due to poor Timberwolves' shooting than anything -- and have now won nine of their last 11 games.
With Nikola Pekovic out -- you know, in addition to all the other Utah Jazz players that were already out -- Al Jefferson feasted against his former team, who ran out a front line of Greg Stiemsma, Chris Johnson, and Dante Cunningham. Jefferson had 22 points and eight rebounds, including six unanswered when the Wolves cut the lead to three in the third quarter. Mo Williams had 15 points and seven assists, while Derrick Williams led Minnesota with 18 points.
Utah will play Memphis Wednesday night to keep its playoff hopes alive once more. If it wins, it will make the playoffs with a loss by the Lakers in their nightcap against Houston. Should be an exciting night of basketball.
Warriors 116, Spurs 106
The Warriors don't have a playoff spot to worry about, or even seeding, but history's on the line for them as they close out the year. Stephen Curry is within one shot of tying Ray Allen's 2005-06 record for three-pointers made in a season after a 7-for-13 performance from downtown that shot Golden State easily past the sub-unit that San Antonio ran out.
Curry's shooting season has been ridiculous. Not only is he hitting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc, he's doing it on more than seven attempts a game, and when everybody knows it's coming. He's now hit 268 in 81 games, and with one left, he has a pretty strong shot at breaking the record. He'd have to perform worse than his season average to fail to pick it up.
San Antonio put up a fight despite a group of resting or injured players that reads like its actual starting lineup -- Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Boris Diaw. Gary Neal and Patty Mills took advantage of green lights with 25 and 23 points -- Mills doing his best Curry impression with five threes on eight attempts. But after tying the game up at 84, a Curry-fueled run, including a 19-0 stretch, saw Golden State push this one out of reach, and Mark Jackson took out Curry despite a shot at tying the record.
Ellis was hot all night, finishing with 38 points and six threes. But his sixth was the biggest: he was supposedly fouled by Evan Fournier on his rip-through move, which would have put him at the line to tie the game even if his shot had clanged away. But he ripped nylon and put Milwaukee up 111-110 -- not bad for a guy who missed the morning shootaround with illness.
But Lawson torched Ellis on the ensuing possession, zooming forward, then watching Ellis fly by as he pulled up with a slick behind-the-back dribble. His virtually uncontested seven-footer in the lane went through, and the Nuggets ensured they'd play a home game against either the Rockets or Nuggets to open the playoffs this weekend. The Bucks, on the other hand, have lost five straight as they prepare to be sacrificial lambs against the Heat in the opening round.
Makes sense, right? Kemba Walker had 23 points and 13 assists while the Bobcats coasted over a Carmelo-less Knicks squad. Some props go to "Knicks starting center" Chris Copeland, who had 32 points, but Charlotte was up double-digits after the first quarter and would keep it that way for most of the game.
Heat 96, Cavs 95
Again, a scoreline that looks pretty confusing. This matchup has typically been a LeBron James-centric showdown, but with James out, the star making his homecoming was Norris Cole, who played at Cleveland State in case you didn't watch a lot of Horizon League basketball. Cole had 16 points, 11 rebounds despite being 6'2 -- 6'0 probably if you don't count the flat top -- and nine assists to finish one short of the triple-double, and stripped Kyrie Irving cleanly as last year's rookie of the year tried to go for a game-winner.
The win was meaningless for Chicago, but the players on the floor weren't. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were able to play without issue after Noah had missed four games and Gibson eight. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng led the way, Boozer with 22 points and Deng with 18 on 11 shots.
Pistons, 109, Sixers, 101
Pretty impressive, NBA: 11 games, and only one with two lottery teams? Greg Monroe was the star in the NBA's lowlight Monday night, with 27 points and 16 boards.
Washington jumped out quickly to a double-digit lead, but the Nets' bench crew -- and we don't mean their usual bench players thrust into starting roles, we mean the people on the bench behind those guys -- led the way in a comeback. Mirza Teletovic and Tyshawn Taylor had 14 apiece, Tornike Shengelia had a double-double, and John Wall's 18-point, 12-assist night was for naught.
Grizzlies 103, Mavs 97
Keyon Dooling wasn't even on Memphis two weeks ago, but the 13-year veteran drilled four of five threes to push his relatively new squad to a win. The Grizzlies are still fighting for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while the Mavs were probably just happy to finally be shaved after getting to .500 at long last. It wouldn't last long, though -- they're back to 40-41, after giving up 35 points in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder scored the game's first eight points and didn't look back, not resting their starters as they sealed the Western Conference's No. 1 seed. Kevin Durant had 29 points; Russell Westbrook had 21 and got ejected from a game his team led by as much as 24. Tyreke Evans went down with a scary looking knee injury, but it seems to be a quad injury, not a torn ligament, so hopefully it just ends his season and doesn't push over into next year.
Suns 119, Rockets 112
The Suns actually played the part of spoiler, as the Rockets could have remained tied with the Golden State Warriors in the race for the sixth spot. Instead, Goran Dragic had 21 points and 14 assists, Luis Scola had 26 points and 15 rebounds, and Phoenix held on for a win after a 39-point first quarter. Dragic's might have been the most impressive performance, considering he did it with his eye partially covered by a bandage for a cut on his face. Carlos Delfino did his part with six threes on nine attempts, but James Harden missed all seven he took in a dismal outing.