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Wednesday NBA Roundup: Warriors' Latest Escape Keeps Wins Record Within Reach

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 31, 2016

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Currycelebrates during overtime in the team's NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Warriors won 103-96. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors have made it their business this year to win games they have no business winning, and Wednesday's 103-96 overtime escape against the Utah Jazz was the latest example.

You don't get to a mark of 68-7 without stealing a few improbable games here and there, but this one stood out. And in taking a contest against a quality opponent playing well, on the second end of a back-to-back, with the pressure of NBA history weighing down on them, the Warriors got a step closer to doing the impossible.

A record of (at least) 73-9 now feels likely.

We can worry about the cost of exertion later, especially as the San Antonio Spurs rest starters and coast so leisurely toward the postseason. And we can fret about Golden State's seemingly shortsighted, potentially counterproductive, borderline crazy pursuit of regular-season dominance another time—even if it feels urgent now, per Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group:

Marcus Thompson @ThompsonScribe

Warriors are maniacal about wins. No explanation for why they played so hard to get that other than stubbornness

For now, let's just marvel, as Warriors color commentator Jim Barnett did:

Jim Barnett @uograd66

This is a huge statement win for the Warriors! Down throughout most of the second half they win in OT. #NoQuit #68-7

Up front: The Warriors shouldn't have beaten the Jazz. Not just because of the reasons already mentioned, but because Utah flat outplayed them for the majority of the contest. Golden State was customarily sloppy, turning the ball over 18 times. And the absences of Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli meant the Dubs had to lean on the likes of Ian Clark and Anderson Varejao.

At the same time, the Jazz let the Warriors off the hook. Utah shot a shocking 13-of-29 from the foul line and made a couple of key gaffes late—the biggest: losing track of Klay Thompson for not one, but two game-tying attempts in the final seconds of regulation. He made the second.

Those mistakes still might not have mattered if Stephen Curry hadn't been up to his usual silliness throughout:

The soon-to-be two-time MVP converted some brutally tough finishes in traffic and concluded what felt like an off night with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 11-of-23 shooting. His teammate, Draymond Green, made an even bigger impact.

Green, finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks—a stat line that singled out his season as one of the most remarkable in league history:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Draymond Green does something that no player in NBA history has ever done in a single season 💯 https://t.co/nAKEDXrWwU

Defensively, he assumed control of the game in the final minutes. Whether switching onto Shelvin Mack and swatting his potential game-winner or battling Rudy Gobert for critical rebounds, Green, more than anyone else on the Warriors roster, was unwilling to accept defeat. You hear about players willing their teams to victory sometimes, and it almost always feels like a cliche.

Almost always.

There was no shortage of praise for Green after the fact. Here's some from NBA analyst Nate Duncan and The Ringer's Jason Concepcion:

Nate Duncan @NateDuncanNBA

Another unbelievable Dray possession on D, followed by the board.

☕netw3rk @netw3rk

Draymond may refuel and fly the team plane after this

Just the usual reaction to a player and team continuing to make the surreal mundane. Speaking of which, a look ahead at the Warriors' remaining schedule shows a seemingly unbreakable record is primed to fall.

The Warriors have seven games left, just two of which come on the road. They'll see the Spurs twice in their final four contests, but it's tough to imagine San Antonio playing its full roster in one of those matchups, let alone both. The Warriors also shouldn't have any trouble in the four-game homestand that starts Friday against the Boston Celtics, seeing as they haven't lost in Oakland all year. With two dates against the banged-up, reeling Memphis Grizzlies in the final week, it's almost impossible to see the three losses Golden State would need to fall short of 73-9.

And as Wednesday's result against the Jazz proved, even the games that look like sure losses almost always morph into wins by the time the buzzer sounds.

The Raptors Can Take a Hit

Losers in three of their last four and maybe (just maybe) starting to think a little bit about last season's epic late-stage collapse, the Toronto Raptors needed to show some resilience Monday. With the scorching Atlanta Hawks visiting, that seemed like a big ask.

But when DeMar DeRozan hopped off the floor after Kris Humphries leveled him with a first-quarter flagrant foul, it was clear the Raps were ready to fight. Toronto battled to a 105-97 win.

Kyle Lowry was resourceful, working around ongoing shooting struggles (likely caused by a sore elbow that required draining before the game) by facilitating. He spoon-fed Jonas Valanciunas for early buckets and continually penetrated to set up three-point shots. He converted just four of his 19 shots but finished with a game-high 11 assists.

It worked out well Monday, but Eric Koreen of SportsNet in Toronto raised a worrisome issue as the playoffs approach:

(((Eric Koreen))) @ekoreen

Will be interesting to see if teams start going under on Kyle. He was just very short on a wide-open long two.

DeRozan, for his part, led both teams with 26 points.

This was a game Toronto badly needed—not necessarily for seeding, as it's all but locked into the No. 2 spot now, but for emotional well-being. The Raptors know the pain of letting a great season go to waste. And now that they've reached the 50-win mark for the first time in franchise history, the stakes are even higher.

Based on what we saw from DeRozan and Lowry, the Raptors aren't going to let the past or this recently ended rough patch keep them down.

There Are Always Reasons to Watch Bad Teams

Neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Milwaukee Bucks feature in the playoff chase, but their get-together Wednesday provided entertainment enough for the half-dozen or so fans watching.

Ronnie Price did this:

Alex Len posted 17 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, and Giannis Antetokounmpo played in an NBA basketball game, so you know he had at least one highlight:

The Bucks earned the 105-94 victory, but I think we can all agree we're the real winners*. The NBA: It's fantastic!

*The prize will be not seeing either of these teams mentioned much over the season's final few days. That's a Roundup promise, friends.

The Clippers Having Cake, Eating It Too

Sometimes, the "Chris Paul could beat the Minnesota Timberwolves with one hand tied behind his back" jokes make themselves too obvious to forgo. CP3's creativity aside, the real story was the efficiency with which the Los Angeles Clippers salted the 99-79 away.

Paul produced 20 points 16 assists and eight rebounds in only 31 minutes. On the season, he's now averaging a career-low 33 minutes per game. Considering the added responsibilities he's shouldered during Blake Griffin's prolonged absence, it's remarkable the Clippers have found ways to keep his workload so low.

Games like Wednesday's help, as none of the Clippers starters got off the bench in the fourth quarter. The win clinches at least the No. 5 spot in the West for L.A., and Griffin is eligible to return from his suspension Sunday.

None of this stuff—Paul's brilliance, ample rest or Griffin's return—makes the Clippers more than the fringiest of fringe contenders. But it's still impressive they've positioned themselves this well considering the hurdles they've faced all season.

Father Time Is A Real Jerk

LM Otero/Associated Press

On some nights this year, Dirk Nowitzki has looked every bit the team-carrying superstar—like when he hung 40 points on the Portland Trail Blazers on March 20. On others, he simply can't move.

Wednesday was one of those others, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:

Tim MacMahon @espn_macmahon

It's like Dirk aged a decade over the weekend.

Nowitzki creaked and rattled his way to 11 points on 5-of-23 shooting, clanking an alarming number of open looks in the process. Remarkably, the Dallas Mavericks won anyway, using a 24-15 fourth-quarter surge to steal a season-saving 91-89 result from the New York Knicks.

Ironically, J.J. Barea, the guy recently benched for Justin Anderson, provided a team-high 26 points to compensate for Nowitzki's cold night. And rest assured, the Mavs are a team that desperately wants to succeed on behalf of their future Hall of Famer, per MacMahon:

Dallas is clinging to life, tied with the Houston Rockets and Jazz in the fight for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West, but struggling to survive against weak opponents like New York. With six of their final seven games against playoff-bound opponents, the Mavs' fate may well depend on which version of Nowitkzi—young or old—shows up more often.

The Spurs Do Not Feel Your Pain

Bahram Mark Sobhani/Associated Press

Luxuriating in the certainty of their No. 2 seed and pleasantly unbothered by the struggles of others, the San Antonio Spurs picked Wednesday to put the heavy artillery back into the arsenal.

And they did it against the New Orleans Pelicans, a club so beset by injury and stripped so thin on the bench that head coach Alvin Gentry is looking to hire a voodoo consultant to investigate the team-wide hex.

Predictably, San Antonio won by a final of 100-92 that was nowhere near as close as the score indicates.

The Spurs, as they do, had been resting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili et al. for the past two games, but those poor Pellies had to tangle with the full complement of San Antonio personnel. The game was over after three quarters, of course, which is what happens when Toney Douglas, Jordan Hamilton, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca start against Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan.

San Antonio didn't do this on purpose. Machines don't control their own programming. Think of it as regularly scheduled maintenance.

Or chalk it up to more bad luck for the Pelicans, I guess.

Kobe Bryant Probably Didn’t Expect This

Apply that speculative heading to anything about the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Miami Heat 102-100 in overtime Wednesday, and it feels correct.

D’Angelo Russell recording his way to exile?

Marcelo Huertas becoming the first player to ever hide behind an opposing coach?

Kobe's final meeting with Dwyane Wade ending after nine minutes because of general soreness?

Julius Randle hitting a game-winner?

It works for everything. Things are weird for Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a win on one of the most tumultuous days of a chaotic season has to feel pretty good.

Feeling pretty good? For the Lakers, very unexpected.

Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.

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