Chicago Bulls vs. Houston Rockets (7pm ET Thursday, TNT)
The Bulls got a much needed 98-96 win Tuesday over the Indiana Pacers, thanks to a Jimmy Butler go-ahead jumper with 3.7 seconds to play. Butler had an unremarkable night, making six of 10 for 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, but he came up big when it mattered most. Pau Gasol contributed 10 points, 11 boards, seven assists, and four blocks, but he did commit seven turnovers. It was Nikola Mirotic who led the way for the Bulls with 28 points and 10 boards. The Bulls are now 37-37, two games behind the Pistons in the quest for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East.
Trailing by 13 heading into the fourth quarter against the LeBron-less Cavaliers, the Houston Rockets’ James Harden went off, single-handedly outscoring the Cavs 18-16 down the stretch to lead his team to a 106-100 victory. Harden finished the night with 27 points, six rebounds and eight assists while Michael Beasley contributed some quality minutes off the bench hitting on eight of 15 for 17 points and pulling down eight rebounds. The win lifted the Rockets’ record to 37-38, and moved them ahead of the Dallas Mavericks into eighth place, at least for the time being.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (9:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
On Monday, the Clippers handily defeated the Celtics 114-90 as LA outscored Boston in every quarter. The Clips got 67 points from the bench, including double figures from four reserves, as Coach Doc Rivers looks to limit his starters’ minutes ahead of the playoffs. Despite the big contributions from the backups, it was still Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan who did the heavy lifting as Paul scored 13 points with 14 assists and Jordan had 15 points and 13 rebounds. LA is in second place in the Pacific, trailing the Warriors by 20 games and are all but locked in to start the playoffs at home – probably against Memphis – as the fourth seed in the West. No one will be better rested for the playoffs than the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, who has finally been declared healthy and is serving a four-game suspension with an eye toward returning to action early next week.
Having all but locked up the three seed in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder saw fit to give Kevin Durant a night off on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, his absence was felt in the final score: an 88-82 defeat at the hands of the Pistons. OKC came out of the locker room at halftime with a two-point lead, but made just three of 20 shots in the third quarter as Detroit built a 14-point lead that would prove to be more than enough. The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook had a rough night despite scoring 24 points, as he made just eight of 28 from the floor, including going zero-for-five in the third. Still, the Thunder are 52-23, and are in third place in the West with the Clips a good five games back.