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NBA highlights on March 26: Cavs fall into play-in tournament zone
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Darius Garland (#10) of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes in the game against the Chicago Bulls at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Darius Garland (#10) of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes in the game against the Chicago Bulls at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 98-94 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday, ending their two-game losing streak.

As two of the least productive teams from downtown, the Bulls and Cavaliers combined for only 12 3-pointers in Saturday's game. The Cavaliers made two more, but they were over-reliant on Darius Garland to run their offense. The 22-year-old All-Star rookie made enough individual contributions, but the Bulls defenders managed to shut down his connections with the rest of the team. As a result, Garland only had five assists Saturday night.

By contrast, the Bulls have more ball-handlers, including DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso and even Ayo Dosunmu. They could give the ball to the right player to run the offense. In a low-scoring game in which neither side reached 100 points, delivering six more assists could mean a big difference in scoring efficiency.

Zach LaVine (#8) of the Chicago Bulls drives toward the rim in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Zach LaVine (#8) of the Chicago Bulls drives toward the rim in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

"We played desperate tonight and it showed," Nikola Vucevic of the Bulls said. "We needed to. It goes to our approach, knowing how important these games are."

The result of Saturday's game again changed the Eastern Conference standings. The Cavaliers dropped to seventh and watched the Toronto Raptors surpass themselves. If the regular season ends now, the Cavaliers will have to meet the Brooklyn Nets first in the play-in tournament, instead of appearing in the playoffs directly.

"Reality is what reality is. We've got young guys who are trying to figure it out and you never figure it out until you're in those positions," Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "I'm proud of our guys because it didn't take them the whole game to figure it out."

Nic Claxton (#33) of the Brooklyn Nets blocks a shot by Tyler Herro (#14) of the Miami Heat in the game at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Nic Claxton (#33) of the Brooklyn Nets blocks a shot by Tyler Herro (#14) of the Miami Heat in the game at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Heat cease to lead East after 4 straight losses

The Brooklyn Nets beat the Miami Heat 110-95 at FTX Arena on Saturday, giving their opponents their fourth consecutive loss.

The loss cost the Heat their leading position in the East. They are now behind the Philadelphia 76ers and 0.5 games above the third-ranked Boston Celtics and fourth-ranked Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat were in the second game of a back-to-back stretch, and their weariness showed in the team's sloppy ball-handling. They committed 21 turnovers, including 18 from Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, who serve as their main orchestrators or bench leader, in the case of Herro.

One of the results of making so many mistakes was allowing 24 fast-break points by the Nets. The Nets turned on full power under the leadership of Kevin Durant in the first three quarters. Durant shot 7-for-14 from the field for 23 points, five assists and three steals while his team led 96-68 before the fourth quarter, leaving nothing but garbage time in last 12 minutes of the game.

Kevin Durant (#7) of the Brooklyn Nets penetrates in the game against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Kevin Durant (#7) of the Brooklyn Nets penetrates in the game against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

"I thought there was a lot of force and purpose offensively," Nets head coach Steve Nash said. "We didn't take things for granted."

"We're in that mindset where every game counts," Andre Drummond said.

If the Nets go through the play-in tournament as seventh in the East and the Heat remain second, they will meet again in the first round of the playoffs.

De'Anthony Melton (#0) of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

De'Anthony Melton (#0) of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Grizzlies tear another championship contender apart

The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Milwaukee Bucks 127-102 at FedExForum on Saturday to pocket their fourth win in a row.

The Grizzlies lacked Ja Morant but the Bucks sidelined Jrue Holiday as well. The two teams had very different performances without their major orchestrators. On the Bucks' side, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed why he's one of the most destructive weapons in today's NBA by shooting 11-for-20 from the field to drop 30 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. However, none of his teammates managed to offer him support, especially beyond the arc. The rest of the Bucks shot 7-for-31 in 3-pointers, giving the opponents more reasons to close in to protect the paint.

By contrast, the Grizzlies again displayed how intimidating their squad depth is. Not only did they have five players reach double-digit points, none of the 13 Grizzlies who played in Saturday's game was minus in plus-minus. This meant that whoever was on the court, the Grizzlies were the leading side.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (#34) of the Milwaukee Bucks drives toward the rim in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

Giannis Antetokounmpo (#34) of the Milwaukee Bucks drives toward the rim in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2022. /CFP

De'Anthony Melton shot to kill from downtown, knocking down six triples to score a team-high 24 points for the Grizzlies off the bench.

"I'm just trying to go out there and hoop," Melton said. "Have fun with it. Play with confidence and do what the team needs me to do."

"We're just sticking with our identity," Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said. "It doesn't matter if you're a starter, bench, mixed lineups. Whatever we do, we do to the best of our abilities."

With a 52-23 record, the Grizzlies are likely to lock their second-ranked position in the next five games.

Other games on Saturday (away teams come first):

San Antonio Spurs 107-103 New Orleans Pelicans

Sacramento Kings 114-110 Orlando Magic

Indiana Pacers 91-131 Toronto Raptors

Oklahoma City Thunder 107-113 Denver Nuggets

Houston Rockets 115-98 Portland Trail Blazers

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