Today is Saturday, March 25, 2017.
|Saturday, March 25, 2017|
|National Basketball Assoc.|
|Knicks||vs.||Spurs||8:30 (EDT) Preview|
Aldridge, Spurs look to avenge earlier loss to Knicks
Friday, March 24 at 4:43 PM (EDT)
SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs will host the second in a series of games against teams they've lost to this season when the New York Knicks hit the Alamo City for a contest on Saturday at the AT&T Center.
The game is the second of a four-game homestand for San Antonio. In the first, the Spurs (55-16) finally found a way to beat Memphis after losing to the Grizzlies twice this season in Memphis, securing a 97-90 win with clutch play in the final minutes.
"Memphis is physical and they are really aggressive defensively," Spurs reserve guard Patty Mills said. "The game was a good preparation for us for the playoffs because that's how everyone plays."
With the victory, the Spurs crept back to within two games of idle Golden State for the best record in the NBA and the Western Conference.
The play of LaMarcus Aldridge was a key to the win on Thursday as he poured in 23 points and was a reliable scoring option for San Antonio to help offset the attention Memphis placed on slowing Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs' leading scorer.
Aldridge has been more aggressive with the ball in his five games back since he missed two contests with a minor heart arrhythmia. He has led the team in scoring in the Spurs' past two outings -- both of them wins.
"I'm just playing basketball and trying to be more dominant out there and taking my shots," Aldridge said. "I'm playing in the flow. I'm not being as passive as I was earlier in the year, and it's working out for me. I'm finding my rhythm out there, and my teammates are finding me."
The Knicks beat San Antonio 94-90 on Feb. 12 at Madison Square Garden. New York shot 64.3 percent from 3-point range (a Spurs' opponent season-best) in the win while holding San Antonio to 20.7 shooting from beyond the arc.
New York comes to south Texas off a 110-95 loss at Portland in which the Knicks never led.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 18 points for the Knicks, who played without Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, both of whom were in action the night before in a loss at Utah. New York was playing its third game in four nights.
Porzingis missed his first five shots from the field and ended up 8-for-21 overall, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
"The attention was more on me tonight," Porzingis said. "I had a lot of good looks and some open 3s, and I was disappointed to miss them all. I missed a lot of good shots, and (making them) would have changed the whole game for us."
The Knicks (27-45) closed to within 10 points late in the fourth quarter before Portland used a 10-0 run to put the verdict on ice.
New York coach Jeff Hornacek was encouraged by the second-half effort.
"It was about just playing hard, getting after it," Hornacek said. "You're going to make mistakes as a young player, but if you play hard, sometimes those are hidden. The guys did a better job in the second half of getting the ball in to (teammates) when they had the advantage."
|Raptors||vs.||Mavericks||8:30 (EDT) Preview|
Raptors end brief road trip by visiting Mavericks
Friday, March 24 at 6:53 PM (EDT)
DALLAS -- With his team's playoff odds shrinking, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is quickly transitioning into experimentation mode with a young and fluid roster to get a head start on next season.
He put together a starting lineup Thursday night that included deadline acquisition Nerlens Noel at center and Seth Curry, who earned his way into the starting lineup as a shooting guard, at point guard. The lineup paid immediate dividends in a 97-95 victory over a Los Angeles Clippers team that had plenty to play for as it tries to catch the No. 4-seed Utah Jazz.
Curry led all scorers with 23 points and Noel had eight points and 12 rebounds matched against Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.
Afterward, Carlisle said he plans to give Curry, the younger brother of Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry, an extended look at point guard, where undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell had unseated veteran Deron Williams. It's likely Noel could also remain in the starting lineup Saturday night when the Mavericks (31-40) face the Toronto Raptors' big front line in the third game of a four-game homestand.
"We're going to give this a look. I don't know how many games it's going to be. It may be the rest of the year, it may not. It may be a couple -- we'll see," Carlisle told reporters. "There's a certain aptitude and understanding of the game that goes with being a point guard. He's demonstrated those abilities on a lot of occasions, but until we put the ball in his hands and really take a look at it, we're not going to know for sure. Now is the time to do it."
Meanwhile, Ferrell, who has quickly become a fan favorite, found himself moved to the bench on the night he was awarded the NBA's Rookie of the Month award for February. Carlisle said he sees Ferrell as a great "utility" player and joked about Ferrell's demotion coming at the same time he received his award: "No good deed goes unpunished in this league."
The Raptors (43-29) will be looking to punish the Mavs the way they did in a 100-78 victory just a couple weeks ago in Toronto. The win kicked off a stretch of five wins in six games, including four consecutive victories entering Saturday's game.
A win over Dallas to end a quick two-game road trip would set up the Raptors for a four-game homestand against all Eastern Conference competition, and just one playoff team, Indiana.
Dallas will be searching for a way to slow Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who is coming off consecutive 40-point games, and blitzed the Mavs for 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in the first matchup earlier this month.
The Raptors came from 15 points down to beat the Heat on Thursday, something that seemed to please coach Dwane Casey.
"It talks about toughness, heart," Casey told reporters after the game. "Our give-a-crap level is pretty high, and it's one of those things where when you count us out, we find a way. My thing is just find five men who are going to play hard."
|Timberwolves||vs.||Trail Blazers||10:00 (EDT)|
|Wizards||vs.||Cavaliers||7:30 (EDT) Preview|
James questionable for Cavs game against Wizards
Saturday, March 25 at 2:03 AM (EDT)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea in his right eye in a win Friday over Charlotte and hinted he might not be available to play against the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
"If coach decides to give me a game off, it's not because I'm resting," James said. "It's because I'm banged up."
James suffered the injury with 31.2 seconds left in the third quarter when Jeremy Lamb poked him in the eye on his way to a layup. James stayed in the game and scored 32 points, but he complained of blurred vision and couldn't keep his right eye open after the game.
James also fell hard on his lower back in the fourth quarter but stayed in the game.
It was last Saturday when the Cavs caused quite a stir in the NBA by resting James, Irving, and Kevin Love against the Clippers.
The Wizards' primary star, John Wall, is also battling a health issue. He played Friday and scored 22 points with nine assists in a 129-108 win over Brooklyn with a migraine headache. He said his head was still hurting after the game.
"It's not as bad as it was this morning," Wall said. "Trying to do as much treatment as I can and prepare myself for (Saturday)."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he thought it was a good thing that the Boston Celtics were so close to his team in the Eastern standings.
"I think they definitely have our attention," Lue said, after the Cavs beat Charlotte 112-105. "Whatever happens, happens."
What's this got to do with the Washington Wizards? They trail Cleveland by 3.5 games in the East and are 2.5 games behind the Celtics for second place.
Which means a Wizards win over the Cavs at The Q on Saturday night would not only bring them a game closer to catching Cleveland, but would drop LeBron and Co. into a virtual tie with Boston.
"Obviously, you have to pay attention to what's going on out there, especially in the standings, but our focus has always been internally, and what we have to fix internally," said Kyrie Irving, who scored 26 points against the Hornets. "No disrespect to any other team in the league, but when we're playing at a high level, when we're focused and we're dialed in, we're a tough team to beat."
The Cavs are just 6-7 in March and finished a four-game road trip that took them to both coasts Friday in Charlotte. Cleveland went 2-2 on the trip and is just 19-17 on the road this season.
The last time the Cavs and Wizards met, Cleveland pulled out a 140-135 win in overtime in what was one of the best games of the regular season in the NBA.
James banked in a 3-pointer with .9 seconds remaining to tie the score and send that game into overtime, and then the Cavs won without him after he fouled out early in the extra session.
"Oh yeah," Irving said, when asked about the next Cavs-Wizards matchup. "They played extremely well (Friday). Both teams coming off the back to back, great competitive basketball tomorrow."
|Friday, March 24, 2017|
|National Basketball Assoc.|
76ers end dry spell in Chicago with win
Saturday, March 25 at 12:10 AM (EDT)
CHICAGO -- The Philadelphia 76ers didn't have their top two big men, only had 10 players and still managed to end a 12-game losing streak against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.
Led by Dario Saric, who had a career-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, the Sixers ended a two-game losing streak with a 117-107 win, after losing to the Bulls the previous nine times they played in Chicago.
"Today we were so good offensively," said Saric, who logged his 10th double-double of the season. "We got some energy in transition. In (defensive) transition, we were good there, and the better team won today. We controlled the game for like 45 minutes maybe, and we deserved this win."
Philadelphia didn't have center Jahlil Okafor, who's from Chicago. Okafor sat out with left knee soreness, while rookie center Joel Embid underwent minor knee surgery Friday that ended his season. Despite lacking that size in the lineup, the Sixers (27-45) outscored the Bulls (34-39) by a 70-30 margin in the paint.
Jimmy Butler had 36 points and 11 assists to lead the Bulls (34-39), who trail the Miami Heat by 1 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Bobby Portis had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago, which is 3-9 in its last 12 games.
Afterward, it was another bitter pill to swallow in the Bulls locker room, knowing a chance to move past the Heat, based on a tie-breaker, slipped through their fingers.
"We do enough talking around here as it is," said Butler, who was asked if the veterans need to have a talk with some of the young players. "I think everybody knows where we stand right now, on the outside looking in. Everybody knows where we want to be. Ain't too much to say. Nine more (games left). We got to have them, as we said before the game, as we will say (Saturday), and the day after that, and probably the day after that. We got to have them."
Trailing 93-71 to start the fourth quarter, the Bulls rallied to briefly make things interesting. They put together a 21-7 run in the first 4:46 to close within 100-92 on a jumper by Portis, but couldn't pull any closer.
Shawn Long had 18 points and Sergio Rodriguez added 12 points and seven assists for the Sixers, with both coming off the bench. Gerald Henderson, inactive the previous two games, chipped in 14 points and T.J. McConnell had 10.
Nikola Mirotic had 15 points and Anthony Morrow added 10 for Chicago.
The Bulls got off to a good start and used a 9-0 run in the first quarter to build a 28-24 lead. Mirotic (10 points) and Butler (11 points) led the way, looking like they did in leading the Bulls to a 117-95 win against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
The good feeling didn't last long.
Philadelphia outscored Chicago 35-18 in the second quarter, including 31-14 over the final 10:01. Rodriguez, Long and Saric spearheaded the outburst, with the trio combining for 29 points -- including nine points, six assists and three rebounds by Rodriguez.
The Sixers outscored the Bulls 40-16 in the paint in the first half, outrebounded them 22-11 and shot 57.8 percent from the field (26-of-45).
"It was our energy," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes, it's hard to start the game. They started very strong. They are playing to get into the playoffs, and for us it was a little too much at the beginning. But we solved the problem and the next three quarters we were great."
Philadelphia led 59-46 at the half and continued the onslaught in the third, when the Sixers opened the quarter with an 8-1 to build a 67-47 lead in less than two minutes. The margin got as high as 26 points before Chicago made its comeback bid.
"In the second quarter, they just completely took control of the game," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Looking at the points in the paint, 70-30, that tells you everything you need to know about tonight's game. For us to come out with that lack of effort at this point in the season is maddening. We finally showed up to the fight in the fourth quarter, but it was too late."
NOTES: Bulls C Robin Lopez returned to the starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension for a fight against Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka on Tuesday. ... Chicago F Cristiano Felicio (lower back contusion) is showing progress, but missed his second straight game. ... Philadelphia only dressed 10 players against the Bulls after C Jahlil Okafor (sore right knee) joined four injured teammates on the sidelines. Okafor, who had a knee-to-knee collision with Oklahoma City Thunder G Victor Oladipo on Wednesday, received treatments during the game. The Sixers are already missing G Jerryd Bayless (left wrist surgery), C Joel Embiid (left knee), F Ben Simmons (fracture right foot) and F/C Tiago Splitter (right calf strain). "We have 10 guys," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "We've had lots of practice at this." ... Embiid underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee and is out for the rest of the season.
Antetokounmpo fuels Bucks past Hawks
Saturday, March 25 at 12:14 AM (EDT)
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo has become one of the hottest young stars in the NBA because of his ability to do just about everything on the basketball court.
And Friday night, he did.
Antetokounmpo slammed home a thundering windmill dunk early, finished with 34 points and capped his night with a game-saving interception of an errant outlet pass from the sideline that ultimately locked down the Milwaukee Bucks' 100-97 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at the Bradley Center.
"Giannis is selfless," said Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who had 14 points and seven assists. "That's why this team has been able to come together and make the run we're making. We follow his lead every night. It speaks to his character and his leadership."
Antetokounmpo paced Milwaukee's offense with another monster game. He hit 13 of 22 shots from the field and added 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocked shots in 35 minutes.
That output, along with a double-double off the bench from Greg Monroe with 14 points and Tony Snell with 13, helped make up for a rare off night by Khris Middleton, who went 1 of 13 from the field, missed all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with just six points.
"This team is deep," Brogdon said. "That's one of our biggest strengths. ... Khris isn't going to be able to give us 20 every single night. He's going to have off nights. He's going to be back next game, back to his regular self."
Three players scored at least 20 points for the Hawks, who saw their losing streak stretch to six games.
Dennis Schroder led the way, hitting 11 of 25 shots for 28 points with seven rebounds and seven assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 and Dwight Howard notched his 47th double-double of the year with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
But the Hawks (37-35) shot just 41 percent from the floor and gave up 23 points on 17 turnovers.
"We just have to make a few more winning plays," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Still, they had a chance to win it at the end.
After trailing by five with five minutes to go, Atlanta took a 92-90 lead on Hardaway's driving layup with 2:41 left. But the Hawks gpt only one more field goal after that.
"Bonehead plays at the end of the game," Hardaway said. "We've just got to come down. We'll be fine. As long as we're out competing for the full 48 (minutes), one or two plays here or there, we'll be able to pull some of these wins out."
Antetokounmpo got Milwaukee off to a strong start with 17 points in the first quarter.
The Hawks shot 33 percent from the field in the first quarter but went 10 of 18 in the second quarter and the Bucks missed seven of their eight 3-point attempts to make it 45-43 at halftime.
A back-and-forth third quarter saw the Hawks go two heading into the fourth quarter, but the Bucks answered with a 16-5 run that gave them an 88-84 lead with 5:53 to play.
After Atlanta rallied to go back in front, Brogdon tied the score with a floater and Antetokounmpo put the Bucks ahead with a finger roll.
Hardaway tied the score again on two free throws with 1:16 left and then stuffed Middleton at the other end, setting the stage for Antetokounmpo's big moment.
Hardaway tipped the ball to Howard, who attempted to throw it up the court. But it was deflected toward the Bucks' bench and Antetokounmpo charged, leaping to knock it back into play.
The ball landed in the hands of Brogdon, who found Monroe down low for a layup that put Milwaukee up 96-94 with 40 seconds left.
"Go-go gadget," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "A lot of guys couldn't do what he did, but he used his length very well and gave us another offensive opportunity."
Schroder tied the score once more with Atlanta's last field goal, but another Monroe layup put the Bucks in front for good and Middleton closed it out with two free throws.
NOTES: The victory moved Milwaukee into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, though the Hawks, by virtue of a 3-1 record in the season series, hold the tie-breaker. But the Bucks did gain ground on Indiana and Detroit, the East's seventh and eighth-place squads. ... F Paul Millsap and SG Kent Bazemore were unavailable for the Hawks. Millsap has missed the last five games and Bazemore the last three, both with knee injuries. ... Bucks F John Henson was unavailable due to a wrist injury but Michael Beasley, out with a hyperextended left knee, could return next week, Bucks coach Jason Kidd said.
Harden's 38 points help Rockets beat Pelicans
Saturday, March 25 at 12:22 AM (EDT)
HOUSTON -- Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni almost sensed the potential for something unseemly before the tipoff, wondering aloud what might come after he gave his team two days off following their home victory on Monday night.
Trailing by virtue of their own issues with ball security, the Houston Rockets rallied for a 117-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night at Toyota Center behind another scintillating showcase from All-Star guard James Harden.
Harden paired 38 points with a career-high-tying 17 assists and played integral roles in a pair of 3-pointers that broke the Pelicans in the fourth quarter. Harden drilled a 3 with 69 seconds left to extend the lead to eight points before assisting on a corner trey by Patrick Beverley that gave Houston its lone double-digit lead.
The Rockets (50-22) committed a whopping 16 first-half turnovers, a byproduct of their brief layoff. With their game settled and their angst wrangled, they were guilty of just three turnovers in the second half and tallied 68 points post break.
"I thought in the first half we had two days off and it showed," D'Antoni said. "I thought that we tried things that were uncharacteristic. We were trying to drive and post up and shot the 2s, and we were sped up just because I think their energy and they were trying to play. But we buckled down in the second half."
The Pelicans (30-42) engaged in a spirited back-and-forth in an attempt to extend their three-game winning streak, succumbing only after the Rockets sank 7 of 12 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Beverley hit three 3s in the final period while Eric Gordon sank two to help the Rockets shake free.
"In the first half we were sloppy with the basketball," Harden said. "We tightened that up and we got stops when we needed to. We scored when we needed to and we put the game away."
Beverley scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth while Gordon added 14 points, five rebounds and four assists off the bench. Six Rockets scored in double figures and Houston needed that production to counter the Pelicans' tandem of Anthony Davis (33 points, 16 rebounds) and DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 5 of 9 on treys).
"I thought we played well but once again you're playing against a great team with a great player, arguably the MVP of the league," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Harden. "He made plays down the stretch and we weren't able to make them, and that's what it came down to."
Fueled by the Rockets' avalanche of turnovers, the Pelicans erased an early eight-point deficit with a 17-2 run. Cousins was the catalyst with two 3-pointers and a three-point play, and when he sank a trey through a foul and added the subsequent free throw, the Pelicans led 25-18. Suddenly, Harden got going.
Harden closed the first period with eight consecutive points after opening it with four quick assists. He returned from the bench midway through the second quarter and added a pair of free throws and a step-back jumper to cut the deficit to 46-45 and later lifted Houston to the lead in the third before Davis went wild.
With Houston leading 62-59, Davis scored 17 consecutive points for the Pelicans, dragging them to a 76-74 lead before Harden answered with a 3 that put the Rockets back in front. Davis posted 19 points and four rebounds in the period. When Cousins added 15 points in the fourth, it was just enough to keep it close.
"We're not up because we hung with the team," Cousins said. "We feel we have the ability to beat any team, and it's just how we go out and play.
"I don't think we're up for hanging around. We think a little more highly of ourselves than that."
NOTES: With their 14 3-pointers, the Rockets increased their season total to 1,050 and closed to within 28 of surpassing the NBA record of 1,077 set by the Golden State Warriors last season. ... Rockets G James Harden recorded his fourth consecutive 30-point, 10-assist game, the longest such streak in the NBA since Bulls G Michael Jordan did so in five consecutive games from April 4-12, 1989. Harden has three four-game streaks this season. ... Pelicans G Tim Frazier made his third consecutive start and finished with three assists against one turnover. Over his last seven games, Frazier owns a 34-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Green, Curry provide assistance in Warriors' sixth straight win
Saturday, March 25 at 2:24 AM (EDT)
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors are the NBA's best in several categories this season.
On Friday night, they put their unmatched passing game on display.
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green combined for 50 points and 20 of Golden State's 37 assists as the Warriors extended the NBA's longest active winning streak to six games with a 114-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
"That's when we're at our best -- when the ball's hopping and everybody's a threat to score," noted Curry, the game's leading scorer with 27 points. "Thirty-seven assists -- that's crazy when we missed 21 (3-pointers)."
Curry completed a double-double with a game-high 12 assists and Green complemented 23 points with eight assists for the Warriors (58-14), who moved 2 1/2 games ahead of San Antonio (55-16) for the best record in the league and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Rookie Buddy Hield had 22 points for the Kings, who lost their eighth consecutive game in Oakland.
"We showed signs that we could play with those guys," Hield insisted after the Kings led by as many as five points early on and hung within single digits into the third quarter. "We pushed them to the max. Once we get all the young guys playing together with our vets, I think we can do something special."
The Warriors led just 62-55 in the third minute of the third quarter before Green contributed eight points, including two 3-pointers, to a 15-5 burst that opened a 17-point advantage. Curry had two hoops and Klay Thompson a 3-pointer in the run.
Green added a third 3-pointer late in the quarter, helping Golden State extend the margin to 92-72 by the end of the quarter.
The Warriors had 10 assists in the third quarter alone. The league leaders in assists per game finished with more than 30 for the 44th time this season, breaking the franchise record.
"It's contagious," Green said. "It's definitely a lot of fun when guys are really moving the ball like that. Even when you're not shooting the ball, just moving it along. It makes us successful."
Green's 23 points came on 8-of-17 shooting from the floor. His first of three 3-pointers pushed him ahead of Monta Ellis (351) and into 10th place on the Warriors' career list.
Curry also moved up the franchise charts with his five 3-pointers. He now has 277 for the year, the third most by a Warriors player in a season.
Thompson had 276 3-pointers last season.
The Warriors made just 10 of 31 3-pointers in the game.
"We didn't have the 3-point game going tonight, but I liked the fact that everybody was sharing," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We just have a lot of guys who can make plays and they are sharing the ball and doing a nice job."
Hield's 22 points came on 7-of-14 shooting that included four 3-pointers. He also found time for eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
Ty Lawson had two 3-pointers in a 20-point night. Willie Cauley-Stein (12 points), Ben McLemore (11) and Skal Labissiere (10) also scored in double figures for the Kings, who have lost four in a row and 12 of their last 14.
Labissiere narrowly missed a triple-double, complementing his 10 points with a game-high-tying 10 rebounds and team-high eight assists.
"We've got to play through him," said Kings coach Dave Joerger, believing his team had underutilized the rookie big man. "We chuck up a lot of shots, and he went three, four, five minutes without touching the ball. He's a very willing passer."
Sacramento (27-45) was playing the opener of a three-day, two-game trip that continues Sunday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
NOTES: Despite the fact SF Kevin Durant (sprained knee) participated in non-contact drills at practice on Thursday and was energetically enjoying Friday's win from the sideline, the Warriors announced before the game that their leading scorer remains on schedule to be examined next Wednesday before any escalation in his on-court activity is considered. ... With a back-to-back coming up Sunday and Monday, the Kings elected to rest veterans PG Darren Collison and SG Tyreke Evans. ... Asked before the game about his appearance at his alma mater's NCAA Tournament game Thursday night in San Jose, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a former University of Arizona standout, admitted, "Not what I was hoping for. I had to pay my debt to (Xavier alum) PF David West this morning." ... Kerr had another famous coach as his guest Friday night: Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Lakers defeat Timberwolves in OT to end skid
Saturday, March 25 at 3:00 AM (EDT)
LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal was the center of attention before the Los Angeles Lakers ended a six-game slide on Friday night. Afterward, Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns was the focus after a spat late in the game with Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau.
Jordan Clarkson scored a career-high 35 points, helping the Lakers earn a 130-119 overtime victory over the Timberwolves at Staples Center.
Clarkson converted a career-best eight 3-pointers, missing just two attempts, and made 13 of 20 shots from the floor. Julius Randle had 23 points and 12 rebounds, D'Angelo Russell added 15 points and six assists and Larry Nance Jr. chipped in 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists as seven Lakers reached double figures.
With O'Neal sitting courtside after having his statue unveiled at Staples before the game, the Lakers streamed some of the feel-good vibes generated by the Hall of Famer into a rare win.
"I think there was better energy in the building because of Shaq and what happened today," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "We didn't get to channel that until the second half and mainly when that second unit came on the floor and started defending. Once we started doing that, the building became electric."
Andrew Wiggins scored 36 points to lead the Timberwolves (28-43), who lost their fifth in a row, before fouling out with 1:16 left in the extra session. Towns had 25 points and 13 rebounds before sitting out the final 1:23 of overtime after he and Thibodeau had a heated exchange during a timeout. Thibodeau immediately benched Towns.
"I just didn't like his defense," Thibodeau said.
Towns said Thibodeau never gave him a reason for the benching, but it was clear the Timberwolves' leading scorer wasn't pleased. However, he took the high road.
"Like I said, you move on and we've got a game tomorrow in Portland. You just move on," said Towns, who converted 11 of 19 shots from the field and had four assists.
Ricky Rubio had 19 points and 15 assists, and Gorgui Deng had 14 points.
The Timberwolves lost despite shooting 52.3 percent from the field to 48.4 percent for the Lakers. Minnesota also managed 14 turnovers (resulting in 16 points) to 20 miscues (21 points) for Los Angeles.
However, with Clarkson leading the way, the Lakers connected on 14 of 23 3-pointers (60.9 percent) compared with 7 of 21 (33.3 percent) for the Timberwolves.
"We turned up the intensity (in the second half) because we gave up a lot of points in the first half," said Clarkson, who logged 47:14. "It's good we got the win."
Clarkson's 3-pointer with 3:31 remaining in overtime lifted Los Angeles to a 114-109 lead. A free throw by David Nwaba and a layup by Clarkson with 2:48 left pushed the margin to eight.
The Lakers increased their lead to 121-112 after a Randle jam. The Timberwolves never got any closer than six the rest of the way.
The Lakers trailed 108-100 after two foul shots by Rubio with 2:25 left in regulation. A four-point play by Clarkson pulled the Lakers, who trailed by as many as 15, within 108-107 with 1:42 remaining before Randle's bucket boosted Los Angeles to a 109-108 edge 42 seconds later.
Wiggins hit one of two free throws with 45 seconds remaining to tie the score, but neither team scored again in regulation. Deng air-balled a corner shot just before the horn, forcing overtime.
In the extra period, Minnesota was outscored 21-10. However, Thibodeau said he believed his club lost before then.
"We got the 13-point lead and then we got loose," Thibodeau said. "We had an offensive (goaltending), we had some hero shots, we had some poor decisions on the type of passes we were making.
"So when you get up 13 like that and you're on the road, you have to play tough with the lead. You can't get loose and you have to have discipline. If you don't have discipline, that's what happens."
NOTES: Several Lakers greats attended the statue unveiling ceremony for Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal, an analyst for the NBA on TNT, played eight seasons with the Lakers, guiding them to three straight titles in 2000 through 2002. Among the sports personalities in attendance: Kobe Bryant; Lakers president Jeanie Buss; Jerry West; Phil Jackson; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Elgin Baylor; James Worthy; Alonzo Mourning; Robert Horry; Derek Fisher; and Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played a season with O'Neal as rookie during the 2003-04 campaign. ... The Timberwolves visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. The Lakers host the Trail Blazers on Sunday.
James leads Cavaliers past Hornets
Friday, March 24 at 11:02 PM (EDT)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- LeBron James challenged the Cleveland Cavaliers to play with more toughness after their loss on Wednesday night at Denver.
His teammates responded emphatically Friday night and the result was a 112-105 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
James narrowly missed a triple-double with 32 points, 11 asssists and nine rebounds, and the others in the Big Three also had big nights as Kyrie Irving scored 26 points and Kevin Love finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
But the thing that pleased James the most was the intensity and the defensive effort. The Cavs held the Hornets to 42.2 percent shooting from the field.
"I liked our disposition tonight," James said. "We came in with a physical mindset and basically that helped us win the game because it was physical from the start right down to the finish."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said it was a big improvement over the 126-113 loss at Denver on Wednesday.
"The effort was definitely there," Lue said. "The guys took the challenge. We helped, got back out. That team shot 42 percent from the field. So the effort was great. That's how we've got to play. That's who we are."
The Cavs (47-24) wound up clinching the Central Division with the victory, coupled with Indiana's loss. The Cavs retained a one-game lead over Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
They led by as many as 12 in the first half, then never trailed in the second half. The Hornets got as close as 100-99, but the Cavs responded with a 7-0 run as J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer, Love made a 20-footer and James hit a layup on a feed from Love. That made it 107-99 and the Hornets never got closer than five again.
James said he liked the combination that was on the court in crunch time, with the Big Three joined by Smith and Kyle Korver.
"I think coach did a great job of pushing the right buttons tonight," James said. "Every lineup that he had out there did a good job of trying to play the way we want to play. The lineup at the end is going to be a very good lineup if we can continue to get stops and be physical defensively and rebound the ball. If we can do that, we'll be pretty good."
James was 9 of 14 from the field and 14 of 16 from the free-throw line on a night when the Cavs finished at 55.4 percent from the field and 21 of 24 from the line.
The Hornets (32-40) had a three-game winning streak snapped and lost vital ground as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. They remain 11th in the Eastern Conference and are now three full games behind No. 8 Miami.
"We didn't really shoot the ball that well, but offensively we did some good things," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "Defensively, we just made too many mistakes. That's it. Period.
"Rotations, mistakes and things that you have to be able to do to beat a team like that. The effort was there, obviously. We had plays we had to make there at the end and we didn't make them. They did. At the end of the day, to win these games, we've got to be better defensively. We've got to be smarter."
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 28 points and five 3-pointers. Marco Belinelli came off the bench for 22 points. Nicolas Batum scored 19, Cody Zeller had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Marvin Williams had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"They're an explosive team and they make you pay for any mistakes you make," Zeller said. "Like coach said, there was too many mistakes."
NOTES: The win gave the Cavs a four-game season sweep of the Hornets. They have now won six straight in the series during the last two seasons. ... The Hornets were without F Johnny O'Bryant (ankle) and G Ramon Sessions (knee), but C Miles Plumlee (calf) was active after missing the previous 16 games. ... The Hornets announced their 13th sellout of the season at the Spectrum Center. ... The Cavs were closing out a four-game road trip that started with two games in Los Angeles. ... The Cavs hit nine 3-pointers, giving them 929 for the season. They have already set a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season and are fourth on the NBA's all-time list, four 3-pointers out of third. ... The Hornets are 12-37 this season when giving up 100 or more points. ... The Cavs will return home to face Washington on Saturday. The Hornets were opening a three-game homestand that continues Sunday against Phoenix.
Wall, Beal propel Wizards in season sweep of Nets
Friday, March 24 at 11:07 PM (EDT)
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards are back in the postseason after a one-year absence.
They also appear back in the groove that helped them overcome a dismal start and become a true contender in the Eastern Conference.
John Wall scored 22 points and Bradley Beal had 19 as the Washington Wizards defeated the Brooklyn Nets 129-108 Friday night and clinched a playoff berth.
Brandon Jennings had 18 points and nine assists off the bench for the Wizards (44-28), who shot 50.5 percent from the field, made 21 of 22 free throws and led by as many as 28 points. Washington, which swept the four-game season series from Brooklyn, has won two in a row after losing four of five.
The latest victory, combined with losses by the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, put Washington back into the postseason for the third time in four seasons. Last season they finished 41-41, but came up just short in pursuit of another playoff appearance. Losing eight of 10 at the start of this campaign brought hints of another missed opportunity, but the Wizards rebounded.
"It's great," Wall said. "The way we dealt with last year wasn't good for us. We wanted to go to the playoffs. We fell short of that. The way we started the season wasn't the way we wanted. ... We all stayed together as a team. That's the most important thing."
The Wizards moved one game ahead of the idle Toronto Raptors for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The loss snapped Brooklyn's first two-game winning streak of the season. Justin Hamilton scored 20 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 19 and Jeremy Lin had 14 for the Nets (15-57).
Brooklyn led 21-20, but never again after Washington's 31-8 run in the first half put the Wizards comfortably ahead.
"We could not get over the hump," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "Credit to (the Wizards). They are playing well.
Bojan Bogdanovic, acquired by the Wizards from the Nets in February before the NBA's trading deadline, scored 17 points. Ian Mahinmi had 11 of his 16 points in the first half as the Wizards led 63-42.
Owners of the league's worst record, the Nets had not won back-to-back games all season before this week. After knocking off the Detroit Pistons 98-96, Brooklyn throttled the Phoenix Suns 126-98 on Thursday as six reserves scored in double figures. Friday's slow start doomed hopes of a three-peat.
"I think we might have been a step slow," Lin said.
The Nets scored 39 points and shot 16 of 22 from the field in the third quarter, but the margin never dipped below 15 points in the second half.
Defensive woes hampered Washington during its recent dip, but Brooklyn only shot 38.1 percent from the field in the first half before finishing at 52.4.
"I feel like we did a better job (after halftime), but then they kind of got a little away from us," Hollis-Jefferson said.
Washington's starters sat out the fourth quarter.
Wall's status was unclear prior to the game as the All-Star skipped morning shootaround because of a migraine. He had nine assists in 24 minutes. Wall also said he still had a headache postgame.
"It's not as bad as it was this morning," Wall said. "Trying to do as much treatment as I can and prepare myself for (Saturday)."
Jennings revved up the offense in the second and fourth quarters. His two free throws gave the Wizards their largest lead at 59-31 and he scored 11 in the final period. Providing the roster with another push-the-pace option besides Wall is what Washington hoped for when he signed as a free agent by Washington on March 1.
"Not a lot of teams can have nine (assists) from your starter and backup," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
Washington opens a daunting five-game road trip Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers before heading west.
The road trip, Washington's second five-game stretch in March, includes matchups against several Western Conference contenders and ends April 2 at Golden State.
"We knew March was going to be pretty demanding, challenging," Brooks said after Washington improved to 9-5 this month. "We were hoping we were playing well at that time. We're not playing bad."
NOTES: The Wizards only committed 10 turnovers. ... Brooklyn's 39 points in the third quarter were the most allowed by Washington in any period this season. ... Washington is 0-2 against Cleveland this season, including a memorable 140-135 overtime home loss on Feb. 6. Cavaliers star LeBron James forced the extra session by banking a wild 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in regulation. ... The Nets play at the Atlanta Hawks Sunday afternoon.
Nuggets continue to dominate Pacers
Friday, March 24 at 11:10 PM (EDT)
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Denver Nuggets are making a late-season playoff run, and they have 22-year-old Serbian center Nikola Jokic to thank for it.
Jokic had 30 points and 17 rebounds, and Wilson Chandler added 24 points on Friday night, leading Denver to a 125-117 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
"(Aggressively) is how we play, to be honest," said Jokic, who made 12 of 18 field goal attempts and also handed out five assists. "When they don't score on us, we just rebound and go. We have so many good offensive players that we just need to go out and play.
"If we control the rebounds, we have a pretty good chance to win the game. I am all about rebounding, setting screens, scoring ... whatever it takes."
The Nuggets (35-37), who made 40 of 43 free throws, had to withstand a furious Indiana fourth-quarter comeback. Denver's 40-8 advantage in made free throws is the 13th largest differential in NBA history.
A Jeff Teague 3-pointer with 3:17 remaining pulled the Pacers within 111-103, prompting a Denver timeout. Teague scored again with 2:04 left to cut the deficit to six.
After two Denver free throws, Paul George sank a 3-pointer to pull Indiana within 113-108. But Jokic answered with a 3-pointer with 1:28 to play.
"I think that kid is the best passer right now at the five in the league," Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. "His basketball IQ seems to be just off the chart. We've compared him to Bill Walton back in the day. They are doing a good job playing off that."
George led the Pacers with 27 points, Teague added 21 and Myles Turner had 20. Monta Ellis came off the bench to score 17 points.
"You have to start the game with that aggressive play that we played with in the fourth quarter," McMillan said.
Denver has won nine of its past 13 contests and swept the two-game series from Indiana (36-36), which has lost two in a row and 10 of its 12 most recent games with the Nuggets.
"It's almost like you want to see what he does next," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of rising star Jokic. "The guy is just a treat to watch, fun to play with and the scary thing is that he is only going to get better.
"For him to be playing at such a high level is a credit to him and his work ethic and the fact his teammates always are moving, allowing him to make those type plays."
Danilo Gallinari added 21 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, which outrebounded Indiana 46-39.
The Nuggets, who defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 126-113 on Wednesday night in Denver, continued to attack the struggling Pacers in the third quarter, increasing its 11-point halftime lead to 94-75 through three quarters.
Chandler had a 10-point third quarter and the Nuggets were 14 of 15 from the free throw line in extending their advantage to 19 points. Indiana was only 8 of 22 (36.4 percent) from the field in the third quarter.
The Nuggets shot 58.1 percent from the field (25 of 43) during the first half, getting 21 points and 12 rebounds from Jokic, who was 9 of 11 from the field and 3 of 3 from the free throw line in the opening 24 minutes while building a 64-53 lead.
Chandler had 12 first-half points for Denver and Gary Harris scored eight.
George led Indiana with 11 points and Ellis scored nine for the Pacers, who shot 48.1 percent from the field (25 of 52) in the first two quarters.
NOTES: Indiana was without F/G Glenn Robinson III (sore left calf), which gave extra playing time to G Rodney Stuckey. ... Denver G Gary Harris is a Fishers, Ind., native and a former Indiana Mr. Basketball from Hamilton Southeastern High School. ... The Nuggets scored a season-high 140 points in a Jan. 12 victory over the Pacers in a game played in London. ... While Denver's first half was impressive with 64 points, that effort was 15 points shy of the 79 they scored on Feb. 13 against Golden State. ... This was the first of a three-game homestand for Indiana, which hosts Philadelphia on Sunday and Minnesota on Tuesday. ... Denver came in leading the NBA in rebounding at 46.3 per game.
Payton's triple-double leads Magic past Pistons
Friday, March 24 at 11:13 PM (EDT)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Detroit Pistons have given up on the Eastern Conference playoff race. At least, it looked that way Friday night.
The Pistons played lethargically for the second consecutive game, continuing their downward slide in an embarrassing, 115-87 loss to the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center.
The Pistons, who were in the No. 7 playoff spot with a .500 record just two weeks ago, lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, leaving coach Stan Van Gundy just shaking his head.
"I don't know. I have no idea," he said when asked to explain what happened Friday night. "You have to ask them (players)."
The Pistons (34-39) have nine games remaining and trail the No. 8 seed Miami Heat by a game-and-a-half, with the Chicago Bulls between them. The Pistons looked Friday like they had no interest in catching anyone.
"This is upsetting, and disappointing," said Pistons forward Tobias Harris, who scored 11 points and was the only starter to reach double-figures. "We have to figure this out. We don't have the energy out there right now. Everyone knows what's at stake. Collectively, we have to look at ourselves."
The Pistons return to action Monday night in New York.
The Magic (27-46), who have struggled throughout the season, had little trouble dominating the hapless Pistons Friday night.
Point guard Elfrid Payton had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists -- his fourth triple-double of the month.
All Magic starters reached double figures before the third period ended. None played in the fourth. Terrence Ross hit 5 of 6 3-pointers and scored 18 points. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon each scored 16 points. Evan Fournier had 15 points. Reserve Jodie Meeks added 15 points.
Reserve Jon Leuer led the Pistons with 16 points. Reggie Jackson, who lost his starting role earlier this week, had 11 points as a reserve. Boban Marjanovic, who only played in the fourth quarter, had 15 points.
"To have performances like we've had the last two games, it's gut-check time," said Leuer. "We're in a fight for our (playoff) lives. We know what we need to do, but it's not happening on the court. We have to compete harder."
The Pistons never seriously challenged in the second half. They shot just 35.4 percent from the field (34 of 96) and made only 2 of 22 shots from 3-point range. The Magic established control late in the second quarter and never let Detroit back into the game.
The Magic scored 50 points from inside the lane. They also shot 51.6 percent from the field (47 of 91) and made 12 of 26 3-pointers.
"Our best ball movement game of the year," Magic coach Frank Vogel said. "We really had a competitive spirit throughout the game. I thought it was great. This was our best game of the year, our most complete game."
The Magic jumped to a 79-52 lead midway in third quarter, prompting Van Gundy to call a timeout and pull his entire starting lineup. Ross hit a pair of 3-pointers and Payton secured his triple-double during that early second-half stretch.
"I think this game says a lot about us," Payton said. "I think we kind of threw the first punch tonight, and they weren't able to recover."
The Magic hit eight of their last nine shots in the consecutive points -- including a four-point play -- midway in the second period.
Fournier had 13 points and Vucevic 12 at intermission. Payton had eight assists and six rebounds. The Magic outshot the Pistons 51 percent to 30.8 percent in the first half. Orlando scored 32 points from inside the lane.
Van Gundy showed his displeasure early by calling a timeout just 31 seconds after the second quarter began. It didn't help, though, as the Magic did as they pleased.
NOTES: Pistons G Ish Smith remained in the starting lineup Friday for the second consecutive game as coach Stan Van Gundy searched for a way to stop the late-season slide. It didn't work. On Wednesday, Smith replaced Reggie Jackson, who had started 50 games after returning from a knee injury. "It's not a permanent thing," Van Gundy said before the game. "We're just trying to find a way to get more energy at the beginning of games." ... Van Gundy, who coached the Magic for five seasons, received considerable applause during pregame introductions. He said before the game, he thought the Pistons had to win seven or eight of their final 10 games to reach the playoffs. ... Magic F Jeff Green missed his second consecutive game with lower back spasms. F Mario Hezonja moved into Green's spot in the playing rotation. ... The two teams play again in Orlando on the final day (April 12) of the regular season.
Suns' Booker scores 70, but Celtics prevail
Friday, March 24 at 11:56 PM (EDT)
BOSTON -- The outcome was clearly not in doubt, so it was OK for the TD Garden crowd to be cheering for someone on the other team.
Devin Booker did not disappoint.
The Boston Celtics won the game 130-120 over the Phoenix Suns on Friday, but no one seemed to notice.
The 20-year-old super kid from Kentucky scored 28 of his 70 points in the fourth quarter, 18 in the final 3:46 as his team called timeouts and committed fouls to stop the clock.
"It's a zone. It's kind of hard to explain," Booker said. "I've been in those zones before, but never to this extent. It's hard to explain."
It was the most points ever scored against the Celtics, the most points ever scored in either of the Boston side-by-side buildings and tied for the 10th-most points in NBA history. He joined Wilt Chamberlain (six times), Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor, and David Robinson as the only 70-point scorers in league history -- and he shattered Tom Chambers' 27-year-old (to the day) club record of 60.
Booker, whose previous career high was 39, went 21 of 40 from the floor, 4 of 11 from 3-point range, canned 24 of his 26 free throws and also had eight rebounds and six assists.
"When you're in the gym alone and you're taking shots, you're making them consecutively," he said. "That's what it started feeling like. I felt comfortable. I was at my home gym training. It started getting easier and easier. Shots just kept falling -- tough shots, too."
He said he once scored 56 points in a high school game, "but not anything close since then."
Isaiah Thomas scored 34 points, handed out seven assists and wasn't thrilled about what Suns coach Earl Watson did at the end of the game.
"It was weird what they were doing," he said. "I've never seen anything like that. It is what it is. I don't think anybody has ever seen that; continuing to call timeouts, continuing to foul when we were up 15, but I mean it was obvious what they were trying to do."
Said Watson: "Calling timeouts at the end kept the game close. It's basketball. I'm not coming to any arena to be liked. If people don't like us while we build ... so what, do something about it."
Thomas, a former Sun, said he didn't "want to get into" any possible disrespect for the game, but added, "We're worried about the playoffs, they're worried about the lottery."
As far as getting cheered away from home, Booker said, "That meant a lot, especially here in Boston. I know how rowdy they can be on opponents sometimes. I respect that. That's how it should be.
"It's a night I'm going to remember the rest of my life."
"Obviously, he got it going," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who was coaching his players hard on defense down the stretch. "And he's a really good player. I thought no matter who we tried on him, what we tried on him, he was in one of those zones in a rhythm."
The undermanned Suns lost their seventh in a row and their ninth in 10 games since beating the Celtics in dramatic fashion in Phoenix March 5.
Al Horford added 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, Jae Crowder had 13 points and 10 boards and Kelly Olynyk scored 13 points for Boston.
Alan Williams had nine points and 14 rebounds for the Suns.
The win, the Celtics' third straight in the first three games of a six-game homestand, was their 13th in their last 14 home games and the fifth win in their last six games overall.
It also kept the Celtics one game behind (two in the loss column) of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference lead and 2 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Washington Wizards.
The Celtics (47-26) held the Suns (22-51) without a field goal for the first 7:15, building a 22-3 lead before settling for a 13-point advantage after the first quarter. They never trailed.
NOTES: Celtics G Avery Bradley was hospitalized with a stomach bug to receive fluids and missed the game. ... The Suns were without F T.J. Warren (wrist). G Eric Bledsoe, G Brandon Knight and C Tyson Chandler were all "resting." ... It was the second straight night the Suns fashioned the youngest starting lineup in NBA history, a group younger that seven of the eight NCAA starting lineups from Thursday night. ... F Marquese Chriss and G Tyler Ulis became the first Phoenix rookie pair with double-doubles in the same game since 1991 in the loss at Brooklyn on Thursday night. ... G Isaiah Thomas extended his club record with a 3-pointer in his 47th straight game. ... The Celtics are 21-0 when leading after three quarters at home. ... The Suns visit Charlotte and the Celtics host Miami on Sunday. ... Suns coach Earl Watson said he had wagers between himself and four Kentucky players for the Kentucky-UCLA Sweet 16 game.
|Saturday, March 25, 2017|
|Men's College Basketball|
|Oregon||vs.||Kansas||8:49 (EDT) Preview|
Home fans will boost Kansas in battle with Oregon
Friday, March 24 at 1:34 AM (EDT)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- En route to the Elite Eight, Kansas won its three NCAA Tournament games by an average of 30 points, averaging 96 points in that span.
Slowing down the top-seeded Jayhawks will be the task for third-seeded Oregon in the Midwest Regional final Saturday (8:49 p.m. EDT) at Sprint Center. To make it a little more of a challenge, the Ducks must do it in a hostile environment.
Sprint Center is less than an hour's drive from Lawrence, Kan., the home of the Jayhawks, so the arena will be filled with Kansas fans.
"We look forward to the challenge. It's an opportunity to play," Oregon coach Dana Altman said before Kansas easily dispatched Purdue 98-66. "Kansas is Kansas. Obviously look out there. There is a little green section and a dark blue section. Royal blue filled everything else. It will be a tough ballgame because it's a road game."
Kansas' players know the advantage of having most of the 18,000-plus fans behind them.
"Playing here in K.C. is great," Kansas guard Devonte' Graham said. "The crowd (is) behind us and they give us so much momentum and energy throughout the game. It's just great to be here."
Oregon is a good matchup for Kansas because of similar styles. Kansas relies on four guards in their starting lineup, while Oregon plays small with the loss of 6-10 forward Chris Boucher to injury late in the season.
"(I have a) ton of respect (for Oregon)," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "(They're) unbelievably athletic. They're like us, they're going to play small a lot of the time because they will play Dillon (Brooks) at the 4 like we play Josh and then play the best defender in the Pac-12, Defensive Player of the Year around the middle, kind of like we do Landen (Lucas). So I think it will be two teams that at least match up with each other pretty well."
Kansas is led by national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III. He was averaging 20.8 points per game coming into the NCAA Tournament. He scored 26 points against Purdue. He can drive to the basket, shoot from the outside (he was 4-of-5 from 3-point range against the Boilermakers and shoots 47.2 percent on the season), and he loves to pass, averaging 5.2 assists per game.
Oregon's go-to player is Brooks, who leads the Ducks with 16.4 points per game. He can bring the ball up court, though he plays the power-forward position for the Ducks with the absence of Boucher.
Altman and Oregon are back in the Elite Eight for the second straight year. They lost to Big 12 opponent Oklahoma with a spot in last year's Final Four. If they accomplish their goal Saturday, it will be the Ducks' first Final Four since the very first NCAA Tournament in 1939, when the Ducks won their only title.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Altman said. "I owe these guys (his players) so much, for putting us in this position. As a coach, you always dream of playing in the Final Four and winning a national title. I feel really fortunate to have really good players who have put us in that position."
|Saint Peter's||vs.||Texas State||5:00 (EDT)|
|Xavier||vs.||Gonzaga||6:09 (EDT) Preview|
Gonzaga, Xavier both aim for first Final Four
Friday, March 24 at 3:52 AM (EDT)
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- One team will make history in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional final Saturday.
Either top-seed Gonzaga or 11th-seeded Xavier will make its first Final Four.
A one-time Cinderella, Gonzaga (35-1) ranked among the top tier of title contenders all season, as the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the AP poll for nearly two months while winning their first 29 games. They are big, quick, deep and talented.
Arguably a 2017 Cinderella, Xavier (24-13) went through a six-game losing streak after star point guard Edmond Sumner sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 29, with only two of the losses to ranked teams. The Musketeers, however, regained their stride.
Xavier, the lowest seed remaining in the NCAA field, advanced through the West by handling No. 6 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 2 seed Arizona.
"Losing Ed was tough because he was a key part to our team," said guard Trevon Bluiett, who scored 25 points and had an assist on the winning basket when Xavier beat Arizona 73-71 Thursday.
"You know, I feel like the 'click' was always there. We just had to learn how to play a full 40 minutes."
Musketeers forward J.P. Macura had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Wildcats.
"We're all tough guys," Macura said. "We stuck together, and we're not really backing down from anybody. If you have that mentality, you can beat an awful lot of teams."
Gonzaga, whose only loss came to BYU on Feb. 25, got a go-ahead 3-pointer from Jordan Mathews in the final minute to beat West Virginia 61-58 in the West's other Sweet 16 match.
The Bulldogs' 7-foot, 300-pound center, Przemek Karnowski, will be the biggest man on the floor Saturday and will be the toughest matchup for smaller Xavier. Both he and athletic 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams had 13 points against West Virginia.
Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss leads Gonzaga with a 16.7 scoring average, one of four players in double figures. He was held to 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting and committed five turnovers against West Virginia.
"Karnowski is a problem inside," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team lost to Gonzaga 69-62 on Dec. 3. "He can do it rebounding. He can do it in the post. He can do it by passing. And Gonzaga is very underrated defensively."
The Bulldogs held the Mountaineers to 26.7 percent shooting (16 of 60).
Gonzaga, long removed from being a college-basketball upstart, is playing in its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have made only two other appearances in the Elite Eight, losing to eventual champion Connecticut in 1999 and falling to eventual champion Duke in 2015.
"All year we've been banking on our defense, our defense, our defense," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We're 40 minutes away from a Final Four, which was something we set our sights on at the start of the year."
Xavier has made two previous Elite Eight appearances, the last coming in 2008, when Miller was the head coach and Chris Mack was one of his assistants. The Musketeers lost to a UCLA team led by Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
|Friday, March 24, 2017|
|Men's College Basketball|
Kentucky takes out UCLA
Saturday, March 25 at 1:32 AM (EDT)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- John Calipari stood in front of his Kentucky team at halftime Friday night and made an announcement.
"We're going to play through De'Aaron Fox," he said. "The rest of you, take a back seat."
Calipari said the Wildcats cheered after those words. When the game was over, so were their thousands of fans that turned FedEx Forum into Rupp Arena Southwest.
Saving his best game for the biggest stage, Fox poured in a career-high 39 points as second-seeded Kentucky avenged a December loss to third-seeded UCLA with an 86-75 decision in the South Regional semifinals.
Fox, who sank 13-of-20 field goals and 13-of-15 free throws as the Bruins couldn't keep him from getting to the bucket, said his teammates and coaches put him in position to score.
"Since the postseason started, I've been in attack mode," he said. "I just made shots today."
Backcourt mate Malik Monk added 21 for the Wildcats (32-5), which will take on top-seeded North Carolina Sunday for a trip to next weekend's Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. Guard Dominique Hawkins came off the bench to score 11 points.
But the biggest difference in Kentucky's 97-92 defeat in December against UCLA and the rematch was on the defensive end. Although the Bruins canned 52.7 percent of their field-goal tries, including a scalding 63 percent after halftime, they were held 15 points under their season average as the Wildcats contained their transition game.
UCLA (31-5) managed just nine fast-break points, a pittance for a team that has destroyed opponents all season with NBA-bound Lonzo Ball leading the break, and also committed 13 turnovers that led to 14 points. In wins over Kent State and Cincinnati, the Bruins coughed it up a combined nine times.
"Sixteen assists and 13 turnovers isn't characteristic of us," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "This was a really tough draw. We knew that someone really good wasn't going to win this game."
That someone turned out to be the guys from Westwood, who went from a sub-.500 record to a championship contender with the addition of Ball, the 6-6 freshman who combines Jason Kidd's passing ability with a more refined jumper.
But Ball, who announced after the game that he would declare for the NBA Draft, couldn't quite find the range with his 3-pointer. Ball was just 1-of-6 from distance and 4-of-10 overall, finishing with 10 points and eight assists.
T.J. Leaf, who could also follow Ball as a one-and-done, and Isaac Hamilton each tallied 17 points for the Bruins. Bryce Alford added 13, but it wasn't enough for a team whose occasional problems at the defensive end cropped up at the worst possible time.
Fox announced his presence with authority right away, scoring Kentucky's first eight points. He finished the half with 15 as the Wildcats rallied late to gain a 36-33 edge prior to Calipari's pronouncement.
"He kept scoring, we gave him the ball," Monk said.
In front of a crowd of 17,532 that included Magic Johnson, the president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers who had a front-row seat for this one, Fox continued his bold forays to the cup. He got early second half help from Monk, who lit it up for eight quick points inside the first four minutes.
The duo scored at will against a UCLA defense which gave up 49.2 percent field goal shooting, plus 10-of-23 accuracy from the 3-point line. What's more, Kentucky earned extra possessions in the second half with a handful of offensive boards that led to 13 second-chance points.
When Fox drained two foul shots with 5:58 left, the Wildcats earned their largest lead of the night at 69-58. That was a death sentence of sorts for the Bruins as Calipari-coached teams at Kentucky entered the game 213-4 when establishing a 10-point edge.
Thanks largely to Fox, make that 214-4.
"So proud of him," Calipari said of Fox. "He's learned to play physical. If he's open, the ball is going down. He's learned to play through contact."
NOTES: Kentucky's first 3-pointer Friday night extended its NCAA-record streak of making at least one in 1,012 consecutive games. ... UCLA entered the game leading Division I in five offensive categories, including assists, as it averaged a whopping 21.6 per game. ... Bruins C Thomas Welsh played just 18 minutes before fouling out with 5:58 remaining, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.
Florida beats Wisconsin on Chiozza's 3-pointer at OT buzzer
Saturday, March 25 at 2:48 AM (EDT)
NEW YORK -- It was Chris Chiozza's breakneck speed leading to his 3-point buzzer-beater that impressed his coach in Florida's dramatic 84-83 overtime win over Wisconsin in the NCAA East Regional semifinal on Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
The junior guard raced three-quarters of the court to the top of the key, then let it fly as he was soaring just outside the arc.
"For Chris to have the wherewithal to know that he can get all the way the length of the court in four seconds. He obviously utilized his speed and quickness and had tremendous composure, of course," Florida coach Mike White said.
"Canyon Barry had a huge block in overtime. That put us in that position as well. KeVaughn Allen was unbelievable all game."
Chiozza's game-winner sent the fourth-seeded Gators (27-8) into Sunday's final against seventh-seeded South Carolina in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup.
"I just knew I had four seconds and I was trying to get down the court as fast as I could and if somebody was open I was going to pass it," Chiozza explained. "But I was really trying to get to the rim, but they did a good job of bumping me and slowing me down and that was the only shot I had, so I had to take that one."
Chiozza's burst didn't surprise Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig.
"He's (Chiozza) extremely quick, we knew that coming in," Koenig said. "One of the quicker guys we have faced all year, so not really surprised that he got to the other end of the floor in the time that was left."
Allen poured in 35 points, the most by a Florida player in an NCAA Tournament game. The sophomore guard also established his career high.
Nigel Hayes hit two free throws to provide eighth-seeded Wisconsin (27-10) with an 83-81 lead with four seconds to play before Chiozza's game-winner. Hayes led the Badgers with 22 points but was 7 of 14 from the line. Ethan Happ added 21 points for Wisconsin.
A layup from Allen had sliced the Badgers' lead to 80-77 with 47 seconds left and two free throws from Barry and a layup by Chiozza with 24 seconds left in overtime tied it for Florida at 81-81.
The Badgers had to rally late in the second half to force the game into overtime. The Badgers were down 68-56 with 5:23 to play.
"This is a tough way for them (seniors) to go out," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "And how they battled back, came from 12 down, it's kind of a microcosm of how they have navigated through the program. They have fought back at adverse times and tonight was a great testament to their will and never-give-up attitude."
A 3-pointer from Bronson Koenig cut the Florida lead to 72-67 with 1:30 to go and a layup from Happ got the Badgers within 72-69 with 44 seconds left.
Zak Showalter's running 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.9 seconds left in regulation knotted it at 72-72. The Badgers scored eight straight points in the final 1:49 of regulation to tie it.
Earlier, Happ was forced to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with the Badgers trailing 58-53. Happ's return didn't slow the Gators down. Florida used a 10-3 blitz to expand its lead to 68-56 with 5:23 left, with Allen accounting for five points.
After being down 51-41, Wisconsin went on a 12-1 scoring spree to move ahead 53-52 with 10:21 remaining.
With the scored tied at 34 early in the second half, Florida outscored the Badgers 13-5 to move ahead 47-39 with 15:37 to play.
After a quiet first portion of the opening half, Allen came alive to score 12 of Florida's final 15 points in just over six minutes, helping the Gators to a 34-32 edge at the half.
The Badgers led 27-18 before Allen took over.
NOTES: Sunday will mark the fifth time that a No. 4 seed and a No. 7 seed match up in a regional final. ... Wisconsin and Florida both played at Madison Square Garden during the regular season. The Badgers defeated Rutgers 61-54 in overtime in January and the Gators lost 84-74 to Duke in the Jimmy V Classic in December. ... Wisconsin advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year. ... Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig rank first and second, respectively, among active players in NCAA Tournament points. ... Florida has made 10 appearances in the Sweet 16. ... Florida coach Mike White's father is the athletic director at Duke.
|Butler||80||vs.||92||North Carolina||Final Recap|
North Carolina handles Butler to reach Elite Eight
Friday, March 24 at 10:59 PM (EDT)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Part of winning championships in March is getting an unexpected great game from a role player.
North Carolina got just that Friday night from reserve forward Luke Maye.
Playing the best game of his career, the sophomore achieved his first double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds as the top-seeded Tar Heels rolled into the South Region championship game with a 92-80 beating of fourth-seeded Butler at FedEx Forum.
Joel Berry led all scorers with 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24 points, five rebounds and five assists in a smooth all-around effort as North Carolina (30-7) assured itself of a spot in Sunday's regional final opposite either UCLA or Kentucky.
But the story was Maye, who entered the game averaging a modest 5.1 ppg and 3.8 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. He'd shown flashes of excellence with four double-figure scoring efforts and 15 rebounds in a January win over Florida State, but no one, except perhaps for coach Roy Williams, could have expected what Maye delivered.
By halftime, Maye already scored a career-high 14 points while adding nine boards -- just two fewer than the physical Bulldogs (25-9) managed as a team.
"We see this from him in practice all the time," Williams said. "He lights up the (starters) all the time and has a smile on his face while doing it. He could play better on defense, and he put up a jump hook one time with Kennedy Meeks wide open under the basket.
"So he could see his teammates better, but I'm telling you, you haven't seen the best of him yet at North Carolina."
Maye is a legacy recruit of sorts, as his father Mark played quarterback for the Tar Heels about 30 years ago. Williams noted that the son had other Atlantic Coast Conference schools which offered him, as well as Bob McKillop's Davidson.
But Williams convinced father and son to remain patient, that there would be a spot for him in Chapel Hill. Not willing to settle for being a nice face on the end of the bench after a quiet freshman season in which he didn't play a lot, Maye pledged to Williams that no one would outwork him.
"I just wanted to play the best I can and limit my mistakes and help this team win," Maye said. "Today I got a couple of shots to fall in and I felt pretty confident, and they kept going."
Maye's early explosion presented North Carolina with a working margin it maintained for the night's remainder, even as it lost focus at times in the second half. Butler could never shave the lead under 10 points, though, as it simply couldn't stop the high-powered Tar Heels or compete with them on the glass.
The Bulldogs entered the game yielding just 68.2 points per game, but North Carolina got to 30 before the game was 10 minutes old and led 52-36 at the half, eventually finishing with a season high against its defensive-minded foe.
"We let them get into a rhythm, especially in the beginning, and when you let a team like that feel good about themselves, it's tough to get them out of that," Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz said. "They answered every run we had. Give credit where it's due; they played unbelievably tonight."
Chrabascz did his part to keep the Bulldogs in contention with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Kelan Martin added 16 points, 14 after halftime, and Kamar Baldwin scored 14.
But Butler sank just 43.5 percent of its field-goal tries and went only 8-of-28 from the 3-point line while getting drummed 38-26 on the glass. By contrast, the Tar Heels converted 54.4 percent from the field, drawing assists on 22 of their 31 field goals.
Maye's performance factored heavily into their success.
"He can shoot the ball, and he can rebound the ball," Williams said. "He's got a big role with this team and it's only going to get bigger and bigger."
NOTES: North Carolina entered the game leading Division I in offensive rebound percentage at 42.9. It's one of only three teams to collect more than 40 percent of its misses. ... Butler came into this one ninth in Division I in fewest turnovers per game at just 10.2. ... Tar Heels G Joel Berry (ankle) started despite being hobbled at times in a 72-65 win Sunday night over Arkansas.
|South Carolina||70||vs.||50||Baylor||Final Recap|
South Carolina blows out Baylor
Friday, March 24 at 11:31 PM (EDT)
NEW YORK -- Before South Carolina coach Frank Martin acknowledged his players for a terrific defensive performance in the Gamecocks' 70-50 win over Baylor in the East Regional semifinal on Friday, he paid homage to his Southeastern Conference rivals.
"I want to credit the teams in our league in the SEC for preparing us for the kind of games that you have to play at this time of year," Martin said. "Those coaches, those players that we fought against every single day got these guys prepared to harden, to understand how hard and how disciplined you have to play to have a chance to win at this time of year."
South Carolina (25-10), seeded seventh, is headed to the Elite Eight for the first time after a stellar defensive effort in front of a pro-Gamecocks crowd at Madison Square Garden. Martin's squad held Baylor to just 30 percent (17 of 56) shooting, forcing 16 turnovers and holding the Bears to a long scoring drought in the first half that they never recovered from.
It was South Carolina's second 20-point margin of victory in this tournament. The Gamecocks knocked off Marquette 93-73 in the first round.
The Gamecocks went 12-6 in the rough-and-tumble SEC, which sent five schools into the tournament.
Sindarius Thornwell, the Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, led South Carolina with 24 points. P.J. Dozier and Chris Silva added 12 points each.
Johnathan Motley paced third-seeded Baylor (27-8) with 18 points and nine rebounds.
South Carolina turned in one of its best defensive efforts of the season in the first half, leading to a 37-22 cushion. It held the Bears to just 25 percent (8 of 32) from the floor.
"We got to have guys that are going to believe in our mission, that are going to believe in what we want to do," said Martin of his team's defensive philosophy. "Once they believe, then we can teach them the technique. It all starts with our mindset. We have got guys that are completely bought into what we do."
Thornwell scored 10 points in the half and nine points with six rebounds as the Gamecocks held the lead for 16:11.
"We pride ourselves on our defense," Thornwell remarked. "We know that's our bread and butter and we know we have a good defense and we go out and guard. We know it's a 40-minute game, and we know teams are going to make runs, but we can't take our foot off the pedal, we got to keep the pressure on and keep guarding."
The Bears used a 10-0 spurt to get within 49-38 with 10:41 to play, but would get no closer the rest of the way. The Gamecocks responded with 3-pointers from Duane Notice and Thornwell within 54 seconds of each other to push the South Carolina lead to 55-38 at the 9:22 mark.
The Gamecocks extended their lead to 46-26 after a layup from Notice early in the second half.
Thornwell's 3-pointer, his fourth to that point, and a jumper from Rakym Felder, pushed the Gamecocks' lead to 63-41.
The Bears were plagued by foul trouble in the first half and South Carolina took advantage, making 9 of 12 from the line. The Gamecocks were in the double-bonus for the latter part of the half.
"It's one of the best defenses that we came across," noted Baylor guard Ishmail Wainwright, who was held scoreless and committed four turnovers. "West Virginia also has the same defense. But they (South Carolina) just executed, they double teamed, they triple teamed Mot (Johnathan Motley) and made it tough to score the ball every time we caught it.
"Every time we got a catch, there was somebody right there and, I mean, it was, Coach (Frank) Martin did a great job with the guys and they're a great defensive team."
An 18-0 run by the Gamecocks gave them a 31-15 lead with 2:50 left in the half. Baylor went 7:47 without a basket, committing four of its seven first-half turnovers in that span.
South Carolina led 37-22 at the half, tying for the least amount of points allowed this season in a half.
Baylor missed 11 of its first 14 shots, but only trailed 11-9.
NOTES: Baylor is the 17th opponent South Carolina has held to under 40 percent from the field. ... The Gamecocks entered the game ninth in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage defense. ... Baylor became the 18th opponent to shoot below 30 percent from 3-point land against the Gamecocks this season. ... Baylor and South Carolina were meeting for the seventh time, with all games occurring since 2006. Baylor leads the series 4-3. ... Baylor F Ishmail Wainright is the first player in the school's history to appear in four NCAA Tournaments. He failed to score, while committing four turnovers. ... F Johnathan Motley is the first-ever unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection for Baylor. ... The Bears were ranked No. 1 in January after winning their first 15 games of the season. ... The Gamecocks are fifth in the nation in turnovers forced. They forced 16 miscues against Baylor.
|Saturday, March 25, 2017|
|Major League Baseball|
|Blue Jays||vs.||Yankees||1:05 (EDT)|
|Phillies||vs.||Red Sox||1:05 (EDT)|
|Red Sox||vs.||Rays||1:05 (EDT)|
|White Sox||vs.||Indians||4:05 (EDT)|
|Friday, March 24, 2017|
|Major League Baseball|
|Red Sox||2||vs.||3||Blue Jays||Final|
|Saturday, March 25, 2017|
|National Hockey League|
|Avalanche||vs.||Oilers||10:00 (EDT) Preview|
Oilers vie for home-and-home sweep of Avalanche
Friday, March 24 at 8:34 PM (EDT)
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers played one of their worst games of the season on Thursday as the Colorado Avalanche easily held the balance of play for the first two periods.
Yet the Oilers posted a 7-4 win in Denver thanks to a five-goal outburst in the third period. It was an illustration of the talent gap between the two teams that the Oilers could spot the Avalanche 2-0 and 4-2 leads, lay a collective egg and still find a way to win going away.
The Oilers are in the thick of the Pacific Division race, currently holding down third place. The Avalanche, however, sport a 20-50-3 record and are 46 points behind the Oilers in the standings.
The two teams meet again on Saturday in Edmonton -- and the pressure is on the Oilers to sweep this home-and-home against the league's worst team.
The Avalanche gave up five goals in the third period Thursday, two of them into an empty net. Over their last four games, the Avalanche have given up 17, count 'em, 17 third-period goals.
"There's no reason for our team to be scared to lose," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "We've lost enough. We have nothing to lose. We should be thriving in some of those moments."
He said his team simply has to learn how to finish games.
"I think we can do something about it (Saturday) night, if we get in that situation where we're up in the third period." he said. "And as you can prove to yourself that you can do it, your short-term memory tells you that you can do it again the next night."
"I feel like it happens every game, we lead in the third period, and we just give up easy goals," said Avalanche right winger Mikko Rantanen, who scored twice in Thursday's 7-4 loss.
"It's building up for next year, that's what we're trying to do. These things can't happen."
Despite the win on Thursday, the Oilers know some worrying trends have begun to show up in their game -- and that's not good news as the team is set to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. As Edmonton enters the final push for the postseason, it needs to address issues that have cropped up in the last week.
"There are some things we've got to fix that have showed up in the last two games, in particular," coach Todd McLellan said.
The most worrying issue is the goaltending. Cam Talbot has maintained throughout the season that his workload -- the heaviest in the NHL -- was not wearing him down.
But after two troubling starts, there will be questions about Talbot; is the man who has started 67 of the Oilers 74 games this year starting to show signs of fatigue? He was pulled in each of the Oilers two recent games; he gave up four goals on just 18 shots to the Ducks, then on Thursday gave up four goals on 13 shots to the Avalanche.
It was back-up Laurent Brossoit who got credit for the win on Thursday.
So, the question remains: Is it time to give Talbot more rest, or let a player who is second in the league in wins and has posted seven shutouts this season get back on the horse?
"He's worked really hard for these opportunities," McLellan said of Brossoit. "We'll see down the stretch what we can get him."
In each of his relief opportunities, Brossoit didn't surrender a goal.
Meanwhile, Calvin Pickard is expected to return to the Colorado goal after Jeremy Smith got the loss against Edmonton.
There are some Oilers who are playing outstanding hockey. Connor McDavid, who has 87 points on the season, has 12 points in his last six games. His linemate, Leon Draisaitl, has 13 points in his last six.
But, the Oilers have given up eight goals over the last two games. McLellan shuffled the lines Thursday to try and inject life into his team. Saturday's rematch is an attempt for the Oilers to get their groove back. And to do that, they can't treat the game as two points already in the bank.
"They're not a bad hockey team over there," Oilers center Mark Letestu said of the Avalanche after Thursday's game. "They've got some talent. They come after you. We didn't win a lot of faceoffs, we were chasing the puck a lot."
|Rangers||vs.||Kings||10:30 (EDT) Preview|
Road-loving Rangers open trip against Kings
Friday, March 24 at 8:37 PM (EDT)
LOS ANGELES -- The game between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night features two struggling teams in very different circumstances. While the Rangers are trying to improve their effort with an eye on the rapidly approaching postseason, the Kings face another must-win game to prop up their flickering playoff hopes.
Safely nestled into a playoff position, the Rangers (45-25-4) are likely happy to start a three-game California road trip given their sterling 26-9-1 record away from Madison Square Garden. They enter the game riding a two-game losing streak, dropping divisional games to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders before heading west.
The New Yorkers have been mediocre down the stretch by posting 4-4-2 record over the last 10 games and short of a big finish, they will open the playoffs as the first wild-card qualifier in the Eastern Conference. Captain Ryan McDonagh is not concerned with their playoff seeding or their unusually poor home record of 19-16-3, he just needs to see more of the play that had his team close to the top of the Metropolitan Division most of the season.
"We're focused on playing good hockey, trying to win games, whether they are at home or on the road," McDonagh said. "We obviously haven't found success at home, so we've got to keep working."
Antti Raanta is scheduled to make the start on Saturday while fellow goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has missed the last seven games with a hip injury, will get the nod for Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. Lundqvist is also expected to start Tuesday's tilt versus San Jose.
The Kings (35-31-7) and their slumbering offense finally awakened Thursday in a convincing 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Their special teams were the difference, delivering three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. Los Angeles continues to perform well defensively killing off 66-of-72 penalties (91.7 percent) over its last 27 games, the best execution in the league during that span.
Adding Ben Bishop to the goaltending rotation with Jonathan Quick has provided strong netminding as the Kings enter the contest fifth overall in goals allowed per game. Despite being one of the better defensive teams in the league their consistent lack of offense has put them in a position to miss the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
Only Colorado, Vancouver, New Jersey and Arizona have scored fewer goals this season than the 180 Los Angeles has registered and their 5-4-1 record over their last 10 games. The Kings trail Nashville and St. Louis -- they must past at least one of the two teams for playoff qualification - by eight points with only nine regular season games remaining.
Kings captain Anze Kopitar knows that the odds are against his team qualifying for the playoffs but that has not stopped him from making a late-season run offensively, his goal and assist in the Winnipeg victory gives him 10 points in his last 10 contests (five goals, five assists).
"In the second and third periods, we were holding on to the puck a lot better, making the plays, just playing hockey. Reacting on the ice instead of thinking too much and being hesitant. Obviously we have to do more of the same the next coming week," Kopitar said. "We have to win our games first. Whatever happens on the other side, for the wild-card race, is going to happen. But we have to make sure we're on our game, and making sure we're getting the two points every night."
|Canucks||vs.||Wild||2:00 (EDT) Preview|
Sputtering Wild look to secure playoff berth vs. Canucks
Friday, March 24 at 8:55 PM (EDT)
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Despite finding themselves on divergent postseason paths in the season's final weeks, the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild and homeward-bound Vancouver Canucks are trending nearly identically as they head into a Saturday afternoon tilt.
Something's got to give in the rubber match between the two teams who split a pair of games in Vancouver earlier in the season.
The Wild (44-23-6), who are one win away from clinching a fifth straight playoff berth, enter the matinee matchup with just two victories in their last 10 games (2-8-0) while the Canucks (29-35-9) are just 3-5-2 over the same stretch.
Vancouver ended a six-game losing streak on Tuesday as Daniel Sedin scored the overtime winner on the road in Chicago. The Canucks appeared poised to capitalize on that momentum on Thursday in St. Louis when Henrik Sedin gave his team a 1-0 first-period lead, but the Blues rallied for a 4-1 win.
The Canucks' inability to stay healthy has been a major factor in their struggles all season, continuing a trend in recent years. Vancouver's 375 man games lost to injury leads the NHL and that total will ultimately dwarf the 321 from last season.
Minnesota, on the other hand, has lost 182 so far and Victor Bartley's 73 account for nearly half of that.
"We'll lose 400 man games this year and that's a high number," Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins told the Vancouver Sun. "Does it feel similar to last year? It does feel similar. Not the way you're thinking about, in man games.
"It feels similar in losing games. That's the tough part. Losing is just a hard thing to go through."
In contrast to the Canucks, Minnesota received good news on the injury front as defenseman Christian Folin likely will return to the lineup to face Vancouver after missing 10 games with an arm injury. Minnesota returned defenseman Gustav Oloffson to its American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
"It's going to be great to get back out there," Folin said. "It's been a tough almost three weeks now, but I'm ready to get back out there."
Boudreau said it will be nice to have Folin back.
"He's a big defenseman that can play physical when he's on top of his game and we certainly could use that," Boudreau said.
Much like the Canucks, the Wild snapped a five-game losing skid on Tuesday with a 3-2 win against visiting San Jose. But Minnesota also failed to seize the momentum from Zach Parise's early goal on Thursday in the Wild's 3-1 loss to struggling Philadelphia in St. Paul.
Boudreau is wary of facing another non-playoff team coming to town playing loose with nothing on the line.
"Where's no pressure to play, usually it's a tough game," Boudreau said. "You have to beat their will down, and if you don't do that, they usually have a chance to win."
"We're going to play some other teams like that, and really we can't get outworked by them," Parise said after the loss to the Flyers. "They're going to come, they're going to play loose, they're going to work and if you don't show up to play, it's going to be games like that for us."
Although he'd much rather be in the playoff race, Vancouver center Brandon Sutter, who leads the Canucks with four points (three goals, one assist) against Minnesota this season, embraces the spoiler role.
"For us, we just want to come in and prove we can play with these guys," he said. "I don't think there's a whole lot of difference between the good teams in the league and the teams that are out of the playoffs so every game's tight and, obviously, we want to spoil as many teams as we can."
But Desjardins knows his team can't take anything for granted.
"They're a talented group and when they're on their game, they're as good as anybody," Desjardins said. "We know that and we know they're going to be hungry (Saturday).
"We have to be ready to be moving and skating because if we aren't, they're going to make us look bad."
Minnesota has not won consecutive games since Feb. 27-28 and Boudreau says there are no simple solutions to the Wild's woes.
"There is no magical elixir," Boudreau said. "You've got to find it from your inner self. The competitive juices have got to come from inside"
On Friday, the Wild's coaching staff showed players video of a December game when the team was playing at its best.
"We looked at what we did, and how we were successful at that point in time," Boudreau said. "And, hopefully, it will transfer into (Saturday's) game.
"Coaches can yell, they can cajole, they can pat on the back, they can kick in the butt and (all) that, but in the end, we don't go out there and skate."
|Flyers||vs.||Blue Jackets||2:00 (EDT)|
|Flames||vs.||Blues||7:00 (EDT) Preview|
Streaking Blues host Flames
Friday, March 24 at 5:10 PM (EDT)
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues are dealing with a lot of late-season injuries to key offensive players, but there is a reason they have overcome those potential setbacks and kept winning.
The performance of several younger players, led by Magnus Paajarvi, Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford, has helped the Blues deal with the absence of Paul Stastny, Robby Fabbri, Jori Lehtera and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Paarjarvi, who had two goals in Thursday night's 4-1 win over Vancouver, and Barbashev spent much of this season playing in the minor leagues, as did Sanford, acquired from Washington in the February trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals.
"The guys that have come up, young guys, have been fantastic playing in all situations," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. "We need more of that. It's always good to get a little bit of youth in there, a little bit of excitement. We lost Fabbs there so you replace him with a couple other guys that are excited to be here. The maturity in their game on the ice is the thing that's pretty impressive, and to come in and play the way they have in those situations.
"I think the biggest thing is they're getting the opportunity. It's always nice as a young player to get looks. Those guys are getting looks on the power play and the penalty kill, and they're playing in all situations. When the coach shows trust in you like that it really builds you as a player."
The Blues have won four in a row and nine of their last 10 as they battle the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division. The two teams are tied, but the Blues have the tiebreaker. Each team has nine games left in the regular season, including one head-to-head matchup
Coach Mike Yeo said those young players are getting more responsibilities at a critical time of the year because they have earned it.
"It's a real good sign for our organization," Yeo said. "The injuries that we've had, a lot of teams wouldn't be able to get through a spell like this. For these guys to come up and not only not hurt you but to actually help you and produce, it's a real good sign for the future and a real big part of maintaining what we have going now."
The Flames come into Saturday night's game on a two-game losing streak as they also are fighting for playoff positioning in the Western Conference. They lost 3-1 in Nashville on Thursday night.
Coach Glen Gulutzan was upbeat despite the loss.
"There's no cause for worry," Gulutzan told the Calgary Sun. "It wasn't like we were dominated and weren't ready to play. We were ready to play. They're a good hockey club. We just have to keep doing our thing and moving forward."
One area of the Flame' game Gulutzan would like to see improve is their power play. That unit was 0-for-5 against Nashville and is now 0-for-12 in their last five games.
"We need to shoot the puck more," Gulutzan told the Sun. "I thought they did a good job of shutting us down. But we didn't execute, either. We had them in precarious positions and we didn't execute, we iced it on ourselves. We weren't good enough on the power-play and that's what cost us in an even hockey game."
|Hurricanes||vs.||Devils||7:00 (EDT) Preview|
Hurricanes cling to slim playoff hopes, visit Devils
Friday, March 24 at 7:47 PM (EDT)
The Stanley Cup will be outside the Prudential Center Saturday before the New Jersey Devils host the Carolina Hurricanes.
Unfortunately for both teams, it's likely the closest each will get to the Cup this season.
As part of the NHL Centennial Fan Arena touring exhibit, the Stanley Cup will be on display in Championship Square next to the Prudential Center on Saturday. Fans can see it ahead as the last-place Devils (27-34-12) play out the string while the Hurricanes (32-27-13) cling to remote playoff hopes.
This will be the fifth consecutive season that New Jersey fails to reach the postseason. Carolina is on the verge of an eighth straight year missing the playoffs.
However, the Hurricanes are not out of it just yet. By virtue of their current nine-game points streak (6-0-3), Carolina is just five points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to play.
What makes the Hurricanes task so difficult, though, is that they sit behind three teams in the standings in the battle for the final postseason berth in the East.
"The guys are real smart," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said to the team's web site. "They know what's on the line; and they know that it's very important for them moving forward. That's really what it amounts to. This is the most important time of the season."
The Hurricanes are coming off a 4-1 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday, and will be closing out a four-game road trip in New Jersey. Lee Stempniak recorded his second two-goal game of the season in Thursday's win, and the red-hot Jeff Skinner netted his team-high 29th goal, his eighth in the past seven contests.
"We're just playing a complete game," said Stempniak, who has seven points in his last seven contests. "We're not making mental mistakes, and we're working hard. I think there's some confidence to our game."
Elias Lindholm extended his point-scoring streak to nine consecutive games with his 10th goal in Montreal; and the Hurricanes are now 21-5-5 this season when he records a point.
Backup goaltender Eddie Lack made 21 saves Thursday, and has won each of his last three starts, allowing only four goals in that span.
"It was a huge two points for us," Lack told the Hurricanes web site. "We just want to keep rolling here."
Peters did not say whether Lack or Cam Ward will start against the Devils. Likewise, Devils coach John Hynes has not committed to either Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid as the starter between the pipes on Saturday.
In fact, Hynes said after his club's 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday that playing time down the stretch, at all positions, will be decided on a game to game basis.
"The objective, like everything, is to give guys opportunities, but it also comes down to performance," Hynes said. "We'll give guys opportunities as long as they play well and deserve them."
Several youngsters on the Devils roster are taking advantage of increased playing time in the final weeks of the season.
Pavel Zacha, the 2015 first-round draft pick, enters play Saturday on a six-game point streak. The 19-year-old also has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in his last 24 games.
Fellow first-rounder John Quenneville (2016) has three points in five games since being recalled from the minor leagues, including his first NHL goal and two-point game this past Tuesday against the New York Rangers.
Of course, the club still leans heavily on veteran Kyle Palmieri, who leads the Devils with 25 goals and 50 points this season, his second straight 50-point campaign. Palmieri has 10 goals and 17 points in his last 15 games.
"I'm getting some better shots off, shooting more, and making sure they hit the net," Palmieri said of his strong second half play this season. "Our whole line (Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac) is playing well, keeping opposing goaltenders honest during this good stretch here."
The Devils are 2-3-0 in their last five games after a brutal 0-8-2 winless skid.
This is the fourth and final meeting this season between the Devils and Hurricanes, with New Jersey winning the first three contests by an aggregate 10-4 score.
|Maple Leafs||vs.||Sabres||7:00 (EDT)|
|Senators||vs.||Canadiens||7:00 (EDT) Preview|
Friday, March 24 at 7:30 PM (EDT)
MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are undoubtedly experiencing a sense of deja vu.
One week ago, the division rivals headed into a weekend battle with first place in the Atlantic Division on the line. Montreal held a one-point edge over Ottawa.
Fast forward seven days and the situation hasn't changed.
While the Canadiens (41-24-9) swept the back-to-back, home-and-home set against the Senators to build a four-point cushion, an 0-1-1 record against the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes this week combined with Ottawa's wins against the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins brought the teams back to square one.
The clubs have split the season series thus far, with each side holding a 2-1-1 record heading into Saturday's season series finale at the Bell Centre.
"We know that we have to play better than we did in the last couple of games if we want to get back to winning hockey games," Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher said after Friday's practice. "We're playing a team that since we played them last, they've been playing really well and they've picked up some big points.
"They're going to be excited coming into our building. We better be ready. The intensity level and the excitement level will be a little bit higher as well, so it adds some intensity to the game."
Claude Julien tweaked his lines ahead of the loss to Carolina and the change that saw Alex Galchenyuk move from top-line center to left wing with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen paid off. Galchenyuk scored Montreal's lone goal and the line showed potential.
But the Canadiens are still looking for top-end offensive contribution. Captain Max Pacioretty has been held off the scoresheet in five straight games and right winger Alexander Radulov has just two points in his last eight games and zero goals since Feb. 27.
"It's not about being pretty anymore," Radulov said. "It's just about getting to that area in the slot and maybe getting some dirty goals. Whatever it takes, you just have to battle and work hard."
Working hard is exactly what Senators winger Mark Stone has been doing in his recovery from a leg injury. Injured March 9 against the Arizona Coyotes, the 24-year-old was on a week-to-week recovery timeline. He hit the ice on two previous occasions before joining his teammates for Thursday's morning skate.
"I'm gunning for it," he told reporters on Thursday of potentially facing Montreal. "I want to be in that game. I know what (the magnitude) is to it, so I'm going to try everything I can over the next couple of days to get there."
Goals have been hard to come by for Ottawa (41-24-8) in recent weeks, with just 10 goals (excluding Thursday's shootout winner) in its past six games. Stone, who ranks second among Senators forwards in goals, assists, and points, would certainly provide a boost.
While there hasn't been a flood of offense, the power play has helped, connecting five times on 21 opportunities in the past seven games, for a 23.8 percent success rate.
"These times of the year it's hard to score goals," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said after Thursday's win. "Every guy on every team is low on energy and we're focused on defense first, so we get limited scoring chances.
"Today was a special-teams game and we both scored on power plays. We need to generate a lot on special teams to have a chance to win in tight games."
Ottawa will be without defenseman Marc Methot after he suffered a brutal finger injury after a slash by Sidney Crosby.
Craig Anderson gets the start in goal for the Senators and Carey Price will counter for Montreal.
|Friday, March 24, 2017|
|National Hockey League|
Cracknell's hat trick help Stars rout Sharks
Saturday, March 25 at 12:50 AM (EDT)
DALLAS -- Heading into this season, Adam Cracknell had scored 11 career goals across parts of his seven previous NHL seasons with four different teams.
However, thanks to his first career hat trick that adds to his career-high total of 10 goals this year, Cracknell and Kari Lehtonen, who made 20 saves, led the Dallas Stars to a 6-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Friday night at American Airlines Center.
Cracknell scored in the first, second and third periods. His final goal came 4:59 into the third when he scored with Dallas short-handed, intercepting an attempted clearance by Aaron Dell, who made 23 saves, just beyond the Sharks' blue line. Cracknell then beat Dell with a wrist shot from the slot.
"I was trying not to think about it," Cracknell said of the hat trick. "It's like trying a pitch a perfect game, and everybody keeps bringing it up. To see the guys excited as they are, it's just a great feeling to walk in the room. They know I don't score that many goals. I guess to get that reaction from my teammates meant the most."
Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for Dallas (30-33-11), which got three assists from Jason Spezza and two each from Remi Elie and Curtis McKenzie.
The Stars defeated the Sharks at home for the second time this week, also edging San Jose 1-0 on Monday.
"Yeah, just one of those games," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody's got any kind of legs or energy. It was one of those nights. I don't have any explanation for it."
Joe Thornton scored the goal for San Jose (42-25-7), which lost a fifth consecutive game. The Sharks have been outscored 16-5 during this current skid and are 0-3-0 on their current road trip.
"Yeah, sometimes they're going in, sometimes they're not," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "Some teams are doing a good job of taking some of our plays away, but it's on us as players. You got to win some battles, you got to create some energy, some speed throughout the team. It's hasn't been one guy. It's been all of us."
Klingberg made it 6-1 with his 12th goal of the season just 21 seconds after Cracknell completed the hat trick, triggering a flurry of hats flying onto the ice, delaying the game briefly.
Cracknell gave Dallas an early lead 8:30 into the game. As Cracknell skated toward the visiting goal with the puck, it deflected off the right skate of Micheal Haley and through Dell's five-hole to make it 1-0.
Ritchie doubled the Dallas lead with his 14th goal of the season 1:58 into the second period. Tyler Seguin, appearing in his 500th career game, assisted with a cross-ice pass, which Ritchie one-timed in at the near post.
After Dell denied Seguin's one-timer from the slot 5:16 into the second period, Benn put Dallas ahead 3-0 with his 25th goal of the season. Cody Eakin won the faceoff in the left circle against Pavelski, sending the puck to Ales Hemsky, who spotted Benn open at the near post. Benn then knocked in Hemsky's pass.
Cracknell added a second score, his ninth goal of the season, 7:08 into the second period. Spezza, who was returning from a two-game absence with back spasms, picked up his second assist of the game.
San Jose ended the shutout 49 seconds later when Thornton scored his seventh goal of the season off a rebound with the Sharks on the power play. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the slot, which rang off the left post. Thornton then collected and slipped in the rebound six seconds into the power play.
Dallas led 4-1 at the second intermission.
"It's nice to get rewarded. We've had a couple games where I've had to stand and talk about missed opportunities and execution, and it's been a pretty common theme," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "(Thursday) night was the same, but (Friday) we made a lot of real nice plays on the goals."
San Jose lost defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to injury early in the second period, but DeBoer didn't have any update on Vlasic's status postgame.
NOTES: The Sharks scratched D Dylan DeMelo, C Melker Karlsson and RW Tino Meier. ... The Stars scratched D Dan Hamhuis (lower body), RW Jiri Hudler (lower body) and LW Antoine Roussel (hand). ... Sharks RW Jannik Hansen returned after missing the previous two games with an upper-body injury. ... Dallas begins a five-game Eastern Conference road trip on Monday at New Jersey. ... San Jose finishes its road trip on Saturday at Colorado.
Ducks tied atop division with win over Jets
Saturday, March 25 at 1:58 AM (EDT)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With eight games left, the Anaheim Ducks and the NHL's defending Western Conference champions share first place in the Pacific Division.
Andrew Cogliano's game-winning goal not only gave the Ducks a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night at the Honda Center. It also put Anaheim into a first-place tie with the San Jose Sharks. Both teams have 91 points.
Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg also scored for the Ducks (40-23-11), who have won seven of nine. Goalie Jonathan Bernier stopped 17 shots in his fifth win in six decisions.
"We kept a pretty high-scoring team at bay for most of the night," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. "We're climbing in the right direction and finding different ways to win hockey games, which is encouraging. Tonight was a pretty complete game for the most part."
The division's co-leaders each have eight games remaining, divided evenly between home and road. But the Ducks have five games left against playoff contenders and the Sharks have six.
Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets (33-35-7), who received 32 saves from Michael Hutchinson. Patrik Laine, who shares the lead in rookie scoring with the Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews, was held to one shot that was blocked.
"They play a hard style of game," Morrissey said of the Ducks. "They play physical. They box you out and don't let you have a lot of room in the (offensive) zone."
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle believes his team must play that kind of style to succeed.
"We've got to be a strong forechecking club," he said. "We've got to have five men involved in our puck recoveries and defend all lines when teams are trying to enter our zone. We think we're a dangerous hockey club, but we still have to take on the mandate that we're going to have to win games 2-1, 1-0, 3-2."
Cogliano received some unexpected assistance in breaking a 1-1 tie with 2:38 left in the second period. Cogliano fired a pass from the left corner intended for Silfverberg. But the puck bounced off Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba and inside the left post for Cogliano's 15th goal of the season.
"It's unfortunate to have a bounce like that go in and end up being the game-winning goal, but that's hockey," Hutchinson said. "I was really happy with the way the guys played in front of me. I don't know how many blocked shots we had, but we had quite a few."
Perry's 15th goal gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead with 2:43 left in the first period. After Nick Ritchie dropped a pass to Perry in the left corner, Perry skated along the left boards to the top of the slot and unleashed a rising wrist shot that settled under the crossbar.
Morrissey tied the score with three seconds left on a power play in the second period. Matthieu Perreault began the scoring sequence with a pass from the right circle to Blake Wheeler, who one-timed a slap shot from the blue line that Morrissey redirected from the slot for his sixth goal 6:08 into the period.
Bernier kept Winnipeg from moving ahead when he stopped Joel Armia's shot with 8:32 left in the second period. Armia intercepted defenseman Josh Manson's pass in the neutral zone and began a give-and-go. But when Armia received Nic Petan's return pass, Bernier blocked Armia's attempted tip-in at the right post with his left skate.
"They had some Grade-A scoring chances for only 18 shots," Bernier said. "But I thought our forecheck was so strong tonight. We spent a lot of time in their zone."
Silfverberg registered his 21st goal by shooting the puck into an empty net with 1:07 to play.
NOTES: Winnipeg scratched D Dustin Byfuglien, D Ben Chiarot, C Marko Dano, G Ondrej Pavelic, D Paul Postma and D Brenden Kichton, who was recalled from Manitoba (AHL) after Byfuglien suffered a late injury Thursday night. ... Jets RW Blake Wheeler needs one goal to pass Vyacheslav Kozlov and become the third-leading goal scorer in franchise history with 146. ... Anaheim scratched D Kevin Bieksa, G John Gibson and C Logan Shaw. ... Ducks D Clayton Stoner will begin a conditioning assignment in San Diego (AHL). Stoner, who underwent abdominal surgery in December, has not played since Nov. 15. ... The Ducks sent RW Ondrej Kase to San Diego (AHL) on Thursday. ... Ducks coach Randy Carlyle passed Hall of Famer Punch Imlach in career coaching victories on Wednesday night. Carlyle claimed his 403rd in a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers and now sits 35th all time.
Islanders edge Pens, move back into playoff position
Friday, March 24 at 11:43 PM (EDT)
PITTSBURGH -- The last time New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak appeared in an NHL game, his team was in next-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.
One day after he was recalled from a nearly three-month stretch in the American Hockey League, Halak was a big reason that the Islanders moved into playoff position on Friday night.
Playing at the NHL level for the first time since Dec. 29, Halak made 40 saves and led the Islanders to a 4-3 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
The Islanders passed the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams have 82 points, but the Islanders (73) have played fewer games than the Bruins (74) heading into their game at the Barclays Center on Saturday.
"It feels great," said Halak, who finished with 40 saves. "Any time you win a game it always feels great, but I think it's more special right now after being called up and playing my first game in the late stages of the season. I'm happy that I'm back. I'm just going to try to help the guys win any games or get points when I play."
Since naming Doug Weight as interim coach on Jan. 17, the Islanders have surged to a 17-9-4 record.
"It just shows the character on our team," center Casey Cizikas said. "Don't quit. A scratch-and-claw mentality. We kind of turned things around. We made things clear. We're not out of this. Even when we were at the bottom, we were only eight or nine points out. We knew we had it in this room."
The Islanders nearly scored the opening goal in the final second of the first period.
After New York center Brock Nelson fired a wrister from the slot past the right skate of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins issued a coach's challenge contending Islanders center Alan Quine interfered with the Pittsburgh goaltender on the edge of the crease. After a video review, officials overturned the score.
The Penguins opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second period. At 1:54, defenseman Cameron Gaunce settled the puck at the right point and wired a slapper through a screen past Halak's glove hand on the near side. It was Gaunce's first goal of the season.
The Islanders tied the score at 4:48. Taking a drop pass above the left circle from right winger Joshua Ho-Sang, Nelson used Penguins defenseman Mark Streit as a screen and ripped a wrister past Fleury's glove on the far side.
New York took a 2-1 lead at 10:42. Pushing the puck up the right wing, Bailey fed a pass to the slot, where left winger Anders Lee fired a wrister past Fleury's blocker on the near side. The Penguins issued another coach's challenge contending the Islanders were offside upon entering the offensive zone, but officials upheld the goal.
A goal by Crosby at 13:41 tied the score at 2. Off a cross-ice pass by left winger Conor Sheary, Crosby left a drop pass for defenseman Chad Ruhwedel above the right circle. Ruhwedel pumped a one-timer which was blocked by Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan above the crease. Crosby followed on the rebound and lifted a wrister from the right circle past Halak's glove hand.
The Islanders claimed a 3-2 lead with five seconds remaining in the second period. Islanders captain John Tavares hounded Ruhwedel into a turnover in the Penguins' right circle and fed the puck into the slot past Penguins defenseman Ian Cole. Cizikas was able to tap the puck past Fleury's right skate.
"That one's on me," Gaunce said. "I just mismanaged the puck. I'd like to have that one back."
The Penguins forged a 3-3 tie at 13:50 of the third period. Gaunce pushed a puck from the right wing past Josh Bailey and attacked the net. After his shot was denied by Halak's right skate, center Matt Cullen lifted the rebound for a goal.
Center Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored in the shootout for New York. Crosby scored Pittsburgh's lone shootout goal. It was the Penguins' second shootout loss in as many days.
"We're not perfect by any stretch out there, but we're competing hard," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're battling right down to the wire and I thought we did that again tonight. The last two nights for me have really two hard-fought points. We would have liked to have gotten the second point, but it didn't turn out that way."
NOTES: During a radio interview with TSN 1200, Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk referred to Penguins C Sidney Crosby as a "whiner beyond belief" after an unpenalized slash by Crosby injured a finger on the left hand of Senators D Marc Methot during Thursday's game. In response to Melnyk, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, "We see it just the opposite." ... Penguins LW Scott Wilson was scratched. Sullivan said Wilson has been battling an undisclosed injury "for a couple of weeks." ... Penguins RW Bryan Rust returned to the lineup after being sidelined 19 games due to an undisclosed injury. ... Penguins C Nick Bonino played in his 400th career game ... Islanders interim coach Doug Weight said RW Ryan Strome will be sidelined three to six weeks with a wrist injury. Strome was replaced in the lineup by C Alan Quine, who had been a healthy scratch for two games.
|Lightning||vs.||Red Wings||Final Recap|
Kucherov nets OT winner to lift Lightning past Red Wings
Saturday, March 25 at 12:21 AM (EDT)
DETROIT -- Before Friday's game, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was asked if he planned to take away any mementos from his last game at Joe Louis Arena.
"Two points would be nice," said Yzerman, who captained the Detroit Red Wings from 1986 to 2006.
Consider it done, though it wasn't easy.
Nikita Kucherov scored at 3:28 of overtime to give the Lightning a come-from-behind 2-1 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
Kucherov tipped home a Brayden Point pass from the edge of the goal crease for the winner.
The Lightning moved to within one point of the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
"Every game is huge for us right now," Kucherov said. "Every time you get a W, you are excited. We're just going to take one game at a time and see what's going to happen."
He was delighted to make a memory from his farewell appearance at the rink the Red Wings have called home since 1979. Detroit will move into Little Caesars Arena next season.
"The Russian Five played here, so for me it's special," Kucherov said.
For the past month, Kucherov has been special. Since Feb. 21, he leads the NHL in scoring with 17-12-29 totals.
"When Kuch is getting in that three-to-six-shot range, pucks go in for guys like him," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's what he's doing. He's creating space for himself, he's fighting through stuff.
"Your best players have got to be your best players and he's a big reason why we're back in this race."
After a three-game losing streak, the Lightning have now won two in a row in back-to-back nights over Boston and Detroit, and both on the road. Aware that the Bruins and Islanders face each other on Saturday, Cooper pulled no punches in assessing where they'd be without these consecutive triumphs.
"It would have been devastating for us, and that's the way it is when you're not trying to just catch one team but catch multiple teams," Cooper said. "It's hard to do.
"That's why you've got to sit there and say the only destiny you can control is your own."
For a long time Friday, it appeared as if that destiny would prove to be out of their control.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring at 8:03 of the second period. Zetterberg accepted a backhand pass from Gus Nyquist, and his fluttering wrist shot sailed over the shoulder of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who appeared to be screened by teammate Brayden Point on the play.
Zetterberg has six points in Detroit's last five games. It was his 325th goal as a Wing, moving Zetterberg past Norm Ullman into sixth on Detroit's all-time goal scoring list.
The Lightning tied it 5:53 into the third period. Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek blocked Kucherov's point shot but Ondrej Palat escaped his checker, Riley Sheahan, and slammed the rebound into the net.
"The first two periods we didn't play well," Palat said. "The energy wasn't there, the execution wasn't there.
"We were just talking about we have to shoot more, we have to go in front of the net more. That's what happened."
With the assist, Kucherov extended his point streak to four games. He has nine points over that span.
Detroit's power play finished the night 0 of 5 and Wings coach Jeff Blashill viewed that as the difference in the outcome.
"We had five chances, a chance to win the game," Blashill said. "The one power play, the second one, we didn't get in the zone, so that was no good at all. I thought overall it had some moments but not good enough.
"We've got to make sure we're doing a better job on our entries. We need more speed on our entries."
NOTES: Henrik Zetterberg is Detroit's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Zetterberg, who underwent back surgery in 2013, leads the Wings in scoring with 61 points. ... Detroit F Darren Helm missed his third straight game due to a lower body injury. D Ryan Sproul (knee) was also a Wings scratch. ... Ds Jason Garrison (lower body) and Slater Koekkoek and Fs Tyler Johnson (lower body) and Cedric Paquette (lower body) were scratched for the Lightning. ... Lightning D Victor Hedman leads all NHL rearguards in power-play points with 4-25-29 totals. ... Tampa Bay has won four straight on the road but has lost three in a row at home and will play its next four games on home ice.