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NBA Game Previews for March 18, 2018
March 18, 2018 at 1:00 PM ET

Thunder Travels North of Border to Tangle With Raptors

By Juan Carlos Blanco

The Oklahoma City Thunder takes on the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon. After struggling with consistency at various points this season, the Thunder (42-29) has potentially figured things out at a very timely juncture. Oklahoma City comes into Sunday's contest having won five straight contests, a stretch that's helped land them fourth place in the Western Conference playoff standings for the time being. Their latest success came against a quality opponent and fellow postseason contender, as they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers by a 121-113 margin on Friday night. Corey Brewer led the way for OKC with 22 points, a total he supplemented with three assists, one rebound and a game-high six steals. Paul George overcame a groin issue to tally 19 points, seven boards, seven assists, three steals and one block. Steven Adams posted an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double that also included one assist, five blocks and three steals. Russell Westbrook produced a 16-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. Terrance Ferguson led the bench with 12 points and also recorded three steals. Carmelo Anthony struggled through a 3-for-11 shooting night to supply nine points, four rebounds and two assists. The Thunder will come into Sunday's contest without any injuries of note. The Raptors (52-17) have essentially been unstoppable over the last several weeks, as they've notched 11 consecutive wins, and have prevailed in 18 of their last 19 contests overall. The impressive surge has helped them build what increasingly appears to be an insurmountable five-game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference over the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics. Toronto's most recent success didn't come easy, as they scrapped their way to a 122-115 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. DeMar DeRozan paced the Raptors with 29 points and also contributed six assists, four rebounds and one steal. Jonas Valanciunas continued what has been an extended stretch of impressive play with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double that also included one assist and one block. Delon Wright drew the start for Kyle Lowry (rest) and turned in 15 points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals and one block. Fred VanVleet delivered a bench-leading 14 points and complemented them with eight assists, four rebounds and one block. Serge Ibaka registered 12 points, seven boards, two assists, one block and one steal. Pascal Siakam matched Ibaka's scoring total and also managed three boards, one assist and one block. C.J. Miles posted 10 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. The Raptors will likely listed Norman Powell (ankle) as no better than questionable after he missed Friday's contest, while Lowry is expected back in the lineup Sunday Sunday's contest marks the second and final meeting between the teams this season. The Thunder handed the Raptors a rare 124-107 loss in Oklahoma City back on Dec. 27.

Posted on March 17, 2018 at 11:11 PM ET      Updated on March 17, 2018 at 11:13 PM ET

March 18, 2018 at 6:00 PM ET

Pelicans Play Host to Shorthanded Celtics

By Joel Bartilotta

The Boston Celtics travel to The Big Easy to play the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on Sunday. The Celtics (47-22) have a training room full of valuable players, as that's the last thing Boston fans want to see heading into the postseason. In fact, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward are all dealing with injuries right now, as that very well could have been the starting five to begin the season. The one bit of good news with that is the fact that Horford and Irving are both expected to return here, as Brown's return is right around the corner as well. Being healthy in four weeks is much more important than being healthy now, as a quick exit out of the playoffs would be a bitter disappointment for Celtics fans. This team has rallied nicely despite the adversity, as they come into this matchup winning seven of their last 10 games. That's gotten them securely in the second-seed in the east, as they are 7.5 games up on the Cleveland Cavaliers in third and five games back from the Toronto Raptors in first. The Pelicans (39-30) come into this matchup losing four of their last five games, as they're putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy. In fact, New Orleans is now tied with the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz, as those three teams sit between sixth and eighth. They have very little wiggle room too, as the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are both within two games in ninth and 10th. That's scary that the margins are that thin, as the Pelicans have to keep their foot on the pedal as hard as possible. That's why it was strange to rest Rajon Rondo in the most recent loss on Saturday, as they were trying to keep him fresh for this critical matchup against the Celtics. New Orleans won their one game over Boston earlier this season, 116-113, on January 16. Prior to that, the Celtics won five of their previous six games over the Pelicans.

Posted on March 17, 2018 at 10:42 PM ET      Updated on March 17, 2018 at 10:44 PM ET

March 18, 2018 at 7:00 PM ET

Timberwolves Looking To Hold Their Ground

By Dan Bruno  

The Minnesota Timberwolves play host to the Houston Rockets, at Target Center on Sunday evening. This marks the second game of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves (40-30), who are coming off a loss in San Antonio on Saturday evening. The Timberwolves are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 2-2 in their last four games. They have won to of their last three games at home, where they are 26-8 this season. The Timberwolves sit sixth place in the West, as they have fallen into a bunched up part of the standings due to their recent record. They are just 2.0 games ahead of the 10th seed, but are only 1.5 games behind the fourth spot. The Timberwolves have gone 4-4 since Jimmy Butler (knee) has been sidelined. He is expected to remain out for a while longer, meaning they will have to continue find a way to keep on track without him. Karl-Anthony Towns has been doing his best to step up, averaging 24.1 points on 56 percent shooting, 13.1 rebounds 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game over his last 10 games. Andrew Wiggins is averaging 18.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game over the same stretch. The Timberwolves average 109.8 points per game, which is the sixth best in the league. Meanwhile, the Rockets (55-14) are 9-1 in their last 10 games, as they bounced back from the lone loss with four straight wins. This marks the second game of a three-game road trip for the Rockets. They have won two straight on the road, where they are 28-8 this season. The Rockets sit first place in the West, 2.5 games ahead of second place. James Harden continues to lead Houston with his stellar play, averaging 28.8 points, 7.0 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game, over his last 10 games. Chris Paul is also playing well lately, averaging 16.9 points, 7.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game over his last 10 games. The Rockets maintain one of the top offences in the league, as they average 113.5 points per game, which is the second highest total in the league.

Posted on March 18, 2018 at 1:41 AM ET

March 18, 2018 at 10:30 PM ET

Trail Blazers Seek 13th Straight Win in Los Angeles

By Oscar Heanue

The Portland Trail Blazers will visit the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Sunday evening. Portland (43-26) is currently riding a league-best 12-game winning streak. The Trail Blazers earned their 12th straight win on Saturday with a 100-87 win over the Detroit Pistons. Saturday's win, like many that came before it, was due in large part to the offensive output of Damian Lillard. Lillard led the team with 24 points on Saturday, adding eight assists and seven rebounds. Over his last 10 games, Lillard has been electric, averaging 30.5 points and 6.5 assists per game. He will look to continue his recent surge as his team travels to LA on Sunday. Jusuf Nurkic is questionable to play for Portland as he continues to deal with soreness in his right ankle. The Blazers will take to the road sporting an otherwise clean bill of health. The playoff-hungry Clippers (37-31), meanwhile, have dropped two straight after winning three straight over the past two weeks. Los Angeles has benefited greatly from its veterans over the course of the season. Sixth man Lou Williams has averaged a career-best 22.9 points and 5.4 assists per game to lead the team in both categories. All-Star big man DeAndre Jordan, meanwhile, is averaging 15.4 rebounds per game, second only to Detroit's Andre Drummond across the league. Williams and Jordan have provided stability for a team that has dealt with injuries and roster turnover throughout the season. The team is currently without recently-acquired guard Avery Bradley, who is suffering from a groin injury. The season series is currently split between the two teams, with each team holding one win and one loss.

Posted on March 18, 2018 at 1:22 AM ET      Updated on March 18, 2018 at 1:23 AM ET