Not everything was in the Chicago Bulls' favor heading into Monday night's game against the Toronto Raptors. They were without Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol and had lost six of their last eight games to fall behind the Detroit Pistons in the race for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
By the end of the night, however, everything was coming up roses for the Bulls: They held on for a 109-107 win over the Raptors and the Pistons were blown out by the Wizards. If the season ended today, the Bulls (33-32) would be the eighth seed in the playoffs over the Pistons (34-33) -- the Bulls have a better win percentage, but have played two fewer games than Detroit. The Wizards, meanwhile, are lurking just 2.5 games behind after dominating a must-win game over Detroit.
It wasn't a pretty night for the teams fighting for the eighth spot, but the Bulls got a big night from Doug McDermott and held off a furious fourth-quarter rally to get their playoff hopes trending in the right direction. McDermott had 29 points, and his fellow reserves stepped up with Gasol, Rose and Mike Dunleavy sitting out. Nikola Mirotic and E'Twaun Moore each added 17 points in starting roles as the Bulls took advantage of a lackadaisical Raptors team.
The win put them back on track in the race for the final playoff spot in the East -- a spot the Pistons could have put a stranglehold on with a win over the Wizards that would have kept their cushion over the Bulls at one dropped Washington to 3.5 games out. Instead, the Pistons had one of their worst, and most uninspired, outings of the season in a 124-81 loss to the Wizards. They were miserable from the start, scoring only 15 points in the first quarter as they went on to shoot 3-of-23 from behind the three-point line with only two Pistons scoring in double figures.
John Wall had 15 points and 12 assists in the win, and they'll get a shot to close the gap even more with a game against the Bulls on Wednesday. The Wizards had lost five in a row, but at least came up with a win when they needed it most.
The race for the eighth playoff spot in the East is between three incredibly inconsistent teams. The Bulls have struggled through injury woes while the Pistons and Wizards have shown flashes of brilliance followed by bouts of incompetence. With less than 20 games remaining, whichever team can find any semblance of steady play will be postseason bound.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are pretty set in their spot at No. 2 in the East. But one problem could arise in that seed: they are 0-4 against the Bulls this season and have lost nine straight to Chicago. They need to hope the Bulls either fall out of the playoffs or hang on for the eighth spot -- they're only a 1.5 games behind the Pacers for the seventh seed. If they ended up there, they'd get the Raptors in Round 1.
3 other things
The Golden State Warriors are 60-6. Sixty. And. Six.
The New Orleans Pelicans kept it close for a half, kind of -- they only trailed by nine after 24 minutes. But on Stephen Curry's 28th birthday, the Warriors made it look easy as they became the fastest team to reach 60 wins in a season. There are some tough games remaining -- they have the Spurs three times -- but 72 wins is looking more and more realistic by the day. Curry had 27 points and Draymond Green added 14 points and 12 rebounds and Curry amazed like he always does -- this time by getting a shot off quicker than what was thought of as humanly possible.
The road trip finally caught up with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving had to be tired. He has been playing great basketball as of late, averaging more than 24 points per game in March. But he was 7-of-23 from the field and 1-of-9 from deep on his way to 15 points as the Cavaliers lost, 94-85, to the Utah Jazz to end their four-game road trip. This isn't the kind of loss that should have the Cavaliers worried, but it did show how much they're relying on the three. While it led them to a big win over the Clippers on Sunday, their 10-for-42 performance on tired legs left them no chance against the Jazz -- who have won three straight and are still fighting for their playoff lives, just two games behind the Mavericks.
Blowouts are in high demand
Monday's schedule looked like it would shape up for a nice slate of games, but it got ugly quick. Three games were won by more than 30 points. The Wizards dominated the Pistons. The Houston Rockets did exactly what they were supposed to do against the very undermanned Memphis Grizzlies squad on Monday, coasting to a 130-81 win. And the Thunder coasted to an easy 128-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers behind yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double -- his 12th of the season. He had 17 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds in a game during which the Thunder once again looked capable of beating anyone. They're still missing a signature win, but they remain a scary team for anyone to face.
Play of the night
Russ on D in the first half.... https://t.co/XgVoiISiqS— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 15, 2016
Westbrook blocked this shot with the force of the hammer of Thor. It's really not that fair.