On a night when the NBA had All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo back on the court after a year's absence, it was Kevin Durant scoring a career-high 54 points, some stellar Western Conference showdowns and the Lakers stealing the spotlight on Friday night.
That now leads into a slate of games Saturday that features the Los Angeles Clippers -- coming off a 109-95 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden -- against the Indiana Pacers in the first game of the day at 4 p.m. PST. Indiana, the Eastern Conference leader with an NBA-best record of 31-7, was off Friday night.
Rondo, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Jan. 25, started and played 19 1/2 minutes. He made four of nine shots from the field to finish with eight points, four assists and two steals. He missed his only three-point shot in the final seconds of the Celtics' 107-104 loss to the Lakers, who scored the last 11 points of the game to erase an eight-point deficit.
"I felt good," Rondo said after the game. "When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn't feel like I was limited to anything tonight."
As usual, the best play around the NBA on Friday was west of the Mississippi, where the Portland Trail Blazers continued to impress with a 109-100 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio and Durant led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 127-121 defeat of the visiting Golden State Warriors. Portland improved to 30-9 to pull to within half a game behind the Spurs (31-9) and stay half a game ahead of the Thunder (30-10) atop the conference standings.
"As the leader of this team, my main objective is to serve my teammates and some nights I have to put it up," said Durant, who made 19 of 28 shots and had six assists. That prompted Thunder Coach Scott Brooks to note, "You can point out KD's 54 points but also just his ability to get good shots. He had a game tonight that he was just hard to contain."
Not to be overlooked are the Dallas Mavericks (24-17), who went to Phoenix and took a 110-107 victory against the Suns (22-17), a rebuilt surprise this season like the Trail Blazers. Also of note, the resurgent Memphis Grizzlies, with center Marc Gasol back in the lineup after a two-month absence because of a strained ligament in his left knee, won their fifth in a row to move a game over .500 at 20-19 with a 91-90 win over the visiting Sacramento Kings.
Interestingly, Portland will be in Dallas on Saturday night to take on the Mavericks while the Warriors are in New Orleans to play the pesky Pelicans and the Clippers (28-13) take on the Pacers in Indianapolis. Only the Pelicans and Pacers, who beat the Knicks, 117-89 on Thursday, aren't playing the second set of back-to-back games.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the victory on Friday and suggested how hard it will be on Saturday without point guard Chris Paul.
"Listen, without Chris we have to be ready every night," Rivers said. "We don't have the luxury right now to show up and think we are going to win a game."
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