While each conference’s top seed have had sizable leads at the time of their playoff-spot clinching wins, we’re nearing the point in the season where every night has someone punching their ticket. However, Thursday gave us just our second clinching of the season to this point.
I have no frame of reference for this whatsoever, but one thing that really feels weird about the night in the Association is that only one winning team had their respective game’s leading scorer, and that’s Nikola Jokic putting up 30 as Denver clinched the West’s first playoff spot. Here’s how he and the Nuggets got it done:
Denver pulls away late in Detroit, 119-100, clinching a playoff spot
The Nuggets lost four in a row coming into this one with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. If any team is good at giving chances for opponents to get right, it’s Detroit, who’s lost 12 of their last 13. However, the Pistons had no interest in making this easy for the Nuggets. Back and forth the two squads went over the first 39 minutes, tied at 91 with nine minutes remaining.
Nuggets locked in for the stretch run, closing the game on a 28-9 run. Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for 17 points in the fourth while Jokic and Jamal Murray got it going for their teammates, combining for eight assists in the frame.
Denver has clinched both a playoff spot and their division title, with a top seed clinched not too far off, now 4.5 games ahead of the Kings with 12 games to go. Pistons missed a chance to secure their 10th home win of the season, but they’re still in the driver’s seat for the Wembanyama sweepstakes, so who’s the real winner here?
Kings clinch winning season with 101-96 road win over Nets
Sacramento got out to a freezing cold start, especially by their own high-octane standards, scoring just 10 points over the first seven minutes and change, but once they got going, there wasn’t much the Nets could do to limit them. Sacramento’s 13-point halftime lead was the biggest lead of the game, controlling the whole second half with Brooklyn never coming within one possession.
Domantas Sabonis (24 points) and De’Aaron Fox (18) once again led the Kings in scoring while five other Kings joined them in double-figures, but they lost starting shooting guard Kevin Huerter to a hamstring injury which will receive further testing on Friday.
Raptors separate late in 128-111 win over Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 29, but the Thunder couldn’t find more than 15 from anyone else; Toronto had six different players with more than 15, including all five starters led by Pascal Siakam’s 25. The Raptors used a 23-13 run in the fourth quarter to get optimal separation for the win.
Indiana’s offense fires on all cylinders in 139-123 road win over Milwaukee
The 139 points that the Pacers hung on the Bucks is the second-most Milwaukee has allowed this season and it’s the most over the last three months. Indiana shot 54-97 (55.7%) from the floor and 22-46 (47.8%) from three, which ties their second-highest made threes mark of the season. They also dished out a season-high 36 assists with just eight turnovers.
Three different Pacers scored 20+ points, led by Andrew Nembhard’s 24, while five others joined them in double-figures. They had more to play for than Milwaukee, who was the first team to clinch a playoff spot; the win puts the Pacers a half game behind the Wizards for the final play-in spot.
Suns snap skid with 116-113 win over Magic
Phoenix came into the night on a three-game losing streak and needed to right the ship with Kevin Durant still expected to miss another week or two at least. They were able to maintain their one-game lead over the Clippers for #4 in the West after former Orlando bench scorer Terrence Ross made late free throws to ice the win.
Markelle Fultz, who finished with a stellar 25/7/9 night, was the game’s only 20-point performer, but five Suns finished with at least 15. Cam Payne scored 18 off the Phoenix bench for his highest-scoring night of this calendar year so far.