The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the San Antonio Spurs 96-82 on Monday to fall into a 2-0 hole in their first-round series, which understandably puts pressure on them to perform well in Wednesday’s Game 3 at home. A quick look at the Game 2 box score shows one glaring culprit for the loss — a 32-15 free-throw disparity that afforded the Spurs a steady stream of points the Grizzlies simply could not match. San Antonio superstar Kawhi Leonard accounted for 19 of those 32 attempts by himself (and made all of them). By contrast, reserve wing James Ennis III led Memphis with six attempts.
Those numbers were enough to upset first-year Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale, who unloaded on referees in his post-game press conference. Fizdale can expect a fine from the league office before Wednesday, and one look at his comments is enough to know he got his money’s worth:
First, let’s give Fizdale his due. This rant is excellent, especially considering he had just finished only his second playoff game as an NBA head coach. It has everything — a casual reference to his anger early on, several references to players on his team who deserved more freebies, a statement that he’s “not a numbers guy” after listing many stats, a comparison with Mike Conley that implies Kawhi Leonard is an arrogant hothead, and two instant-classic catchphrases.I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see “They’re not gonna rook us” and “Take that for data” belong on t-shirts later this week.
Many coaches go decades without giving the public a rant of this quality. Let’s hope Fizdale coaches in the playoffs for years, because we need more moments like this one.
With that important aesthetic judgment out of the way, let’s move on to the substance of Fizdale’s statements. On a basic level, he’s right — the Spurs got lots of calls that the Grizzlies didn’t and benefited for it. Yet free-throw totals can’t be explained only by how many shots a team takes in the paint. Referees usually reward teams and players that dictate the physical terms of the game, and Leonard is exactly that kind of player. Only four other Spurs shot free throws, and just fellow star LaMarcus Aldridge (5-of-6 FT) went to the line via more than one whistle. If Fizdale wants his players to get more calls, he has a point. But the Spurs’ total was due to Kawhi, a unique player who often gives defenders little recourse but to make contact.
Of course, assessing Fizdale’s press conference as a logical argument misses the point. A good portion of a head coach’s job is to stand up for his team, and he fulfilled that duty as well as possible. The Grizzlies have lost two games by double digits and need all the help they can get — if his comments push referees to call even just a few more fouls on the Spurs, then his fine was totally worth it. At the same time, he has shown his players that he is willing to take a financial hit for their benefit. All of those positives are much more important than concerns over logic.
Plus, we neutrals just got the first great comedy moment of the 2017 postseason. We might as well band together and start a collection to pay Fizdale’s fine. He has given everyone a great gift.
With all eyes on high-scoring, playmaking All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, it was the hard-as-nails Chicago-born guard who helped tilt the game. Beverley rebounded from a bone-crunching screen by Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams to ignite a monster third-quarter run that turned what had been a tight contest through two quarters into a blowout early in the fourth, as the Houston Rockets ran away with a 118-87 shellacking of the visiting Thunder to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.
After getting planted by a pick with just over 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Beverley came back to drill a pair of 3-pointers off feeds from Harden to give the Rockets their first double-digit lead of the game and get the crowd at Toyota Center as fired up as they’d been all night:
The second 3 set a new playoff career-high scoring mark for Beverley, who would finish with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting (4-for-6 from 3-point land) to go with 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 26 minutes of work.
“He’s been doing it since I’ve been here, five years,” Harden said when TNT’s David Aldridge asked him about his backcourt partner after the game. “He’s just this dog, man. He’s feisty. He’s going to play as hard as he can. That’s one of the reasons he’s in the position he’s in. Obviously, he knocked down some big shots, scored for us well, but he plays with a lot of energy, a lot of tenacity.”
He also had a hand in limiting Westbrook, the league’s leading scorer during the regular season, to 22 points on 6-for-23 shooting (3-for-11 from deep) and helping Russ undercut his seven assists with nine turnovers.
Russell Westbrook: 6-23 shooting including 3-9 with two turnovers when guarded by Patrick Beverley https://t.co/M7JrQgOdl1
After the game, though, Beverley was quick to deflect credit for dimming the Thunder’s leading light.
“I don’t think it was individual at all,” Beverley said during his postgame press conference. “I think it was a team effort. We just tried to show him a lot of bodies, try to make it as tough as possible on him. We understand that he’s one of the most explosive guards in this league, and can’t one person guard him. Of course we understand that. But, you know, just try to make it tough on him, try to make him shoot a lot of contested 3s, and tonight, I guess we got lucky.”
Westbrook didn’t use that same term when asked about Beverley’s surprising offensive performance. But he also didn’t seem especially concerned about the defensive-minded guard repeated that performance throughout the series.
“We don’t want to give up drive-and-kick 3s. That’s what they do,” Westbrook said during his postgame press conference. “He made some tough shots. We’re OK with that […] He made some shots. He made some shots. We’re OK with that. He made some shots. You live with it.”
They might have been lucky on that score, but after Oklahoma City took a 29-27 lead following the first quarter thanks to Westbrook’s attacking and some surprising shooting from defense-first wing Andre Roberson, the Rockets were also awfully good. That was especially true of Harden, who went 4-for-11 from the field in the first frame, missing all four of his 3-point tries, before cranking it up in a big way:
Harden scored or assisted on 26 of the Rockets’ 30 points in a third quarter that saw Houston extend its lead to 17 points. Thanks to the attacking of reserve guard Lou Williams and the playmaking of Beverley …
… the lead was up to 20 by the time Harden checked back in with just under 7 1/2 minutes to go in the fourth. A couple of Beard triples later, and the advantage was up to 30, allowing Harden to check out with 4:14 remaining and rest his laurels on a stellar stat line of 37 points (13-for-28 from the field, 8-for-11 at the foul line) with nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and just two turnovers in 34 minutes.
After struggling early to find the range on his jumper en route to a 3-for-11 mark from 3-point range, and with Oklahoma City showing a different defensive wrinkle by switching screens up top and trusting their big men to guard Harden in space rather in hopes of taking away his passes out to 3-point shooters, Harden dedicated himself to attacking the basket.
“No doubt about it,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game when asked if the Thunder had shifted defensive tactics. “We talk about it all year, how smart [Harden] is and how he figures it out, and it just takes him a little bit to know that he can get to the rim. And they were switching everything, and he was just exploiting what was there. That’s what he does. If he’s not the best, I don’t know.”
The result: nine makes in 11 tries within the restricted area for the Rockets superstar, part of a steady march to the lane that saw Houston score a whopping 62 points in the paint on Sunday, 24 more than the Thunder.
“We’ve been preaching that all year,” Harden told Aldridge after the game. “Obviously, we have a lot of 3-point shooters, but if we aren’t making shots, we’ve still got to find ways to win. We’ve done it during the regular season, and tonight was another example of it. They’re gonna hug up on our 3-point shooters? We’re gonna kill them in the paint.”
And so, despite a Rockets club that just set an NBA record for 3-pointers made in a season going just 10-for-33 from long range, Houston still feasted on the OKC defense. Centers Clint Capela and Nene combined for 29 points on 14-for-17 shooting, and with Oklahoma City’s bigs drawn away from the paint trying to corral Houston’s ball-handlers on switches, the Rockets absolutely crushed the Thunder after the 14 offensive rebounds they collected:
Rockets on 2nd-Chance Possessions – Game 1 Pts 31 (most this season) FG 12-14 3-pt FG 4-5
“Our turnovers and offensive rebounds, the second-chance points, that’s what really killed us,” said Oklahoma City center Adams after the game. “Second half was, it just came down to […] just the reads. The bigs, and especially me, were just, like, trash on the reads on the pick-and-rolls. We were absolute garbage. So, got to go back to the drawing board and have a look at how we can better that for Game 2.
“[…] They were just finding the big man [rolling to the rim after the screen] or they were just finding floaters. That’s just two things. I mean, you have to take away at least one, right? Just got to go back and look at video, see where our positioning is, see where we can get better in terms of footwork and communication, where the guards are, where the help side can come from. All that stuff.”
After a 31-point drubbing that’s tied for the fifth-most-lopsided loss in Thunder/Sonics franchise history, there’s plenty for Oklahoma City to review and try to correct before tipoff of Game 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday night. The bad news for the Thunder: teams that have gotten blown out like this in the opening game of a playoff series haven’t fared too well over the rest of the series.
Teams to lose the 1st game of an NBA playoff series by at least 30 have lost 22 of the last 23 series
Last year’s Thunder team was able to pull off that massive turnaround thanks in part to a certain former MVP. (And Dion Waiters!) This year’s model will have to find other answers, starting with getting Westbrook unlocked and, ideally, finding some supplementary sources of points.
Shooting guard Victor Oladipo shot just 1-for-12 from the field in a nightmarish postseason debut. Enes Kanter scored eight points in 16 1/2 minutes, but gave away many more than that as the Rockets repeatedly torched him in the pick-and-roll. Roberson chipped in 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, making four of his six 3-point tries, but it’s unlikely that OKC can count on getting that kind of injection of offense from a 26 percent career 3-point shooter who averaged 6.6 points per game this season.
Despite all that went wrong on Sunday, though, Westbrook sounded unsurprisingly unconcerned.
“Regardless of whether you win by 20, two or 40, it doesn’t matter,” he said during his postgame press conference. “It’s still one-zero, and we’ve got to be ready to come back and play for the next one.”
• Golden State: Any discussion of the 2016-17 Warriors must start last June. Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals set the stage for a reevaluation in the offseason and created a situation in which signing Kevin Durant after a 73-win season suddenly wasn’t so far-fetched. Adding another superstar required a near-total readjustment of the bench, but it was worth it. The Warriors entered the regular season not just as favorites to win the title, but as a team expected to look like one of the best ever.
The results have been pretty good. The Warriors won 67 games to finish with the NBA’s best record for the third-straight season, ranked first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency, put up a plus-11.6 average point differential (four points ahead of the next-closest team). Curry and Durant didn’t always look super comfortable playing together, but it’s also not as if they were a walking disaster. Klay Thompson took on the role of third option better than most had assumed he would, Draymond Green continued to hold the whole operation together with his boundless versatility, and Andre Iguodala figures to be a top Sixth Man of the Year finisher. Golden State even managed to turn JaVale McGee into a useful player.
Nevertheless, the No. 1 seed was not assured up until the final weeks of the season. Durant “went down with a knee injury on February 28 in his hometown of Washington, D.C. during a hellish portion of the schedule in which the Warriors played eight games in eight cities all over the country over a period of just 13 days. Estimates had Durant out for a month, which opened up the race for the West’s top spot and put a strain on the remaining roster. The team’s performance over that stretch led to an unprecedented regular season skid in the Steve Kerr era — three straight losses, five losses in seven games, and a sense that the inevitable was anything but.
Then the Warriors finally got a few games in a row at home and the skid turned on to one of their best stretches of the season. A narrow win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 14 started a 14-game winning streak that only ended this Monday, when the Warriors had nothing to play for and didn’t push anyone’s minutes too far. A combination of elite defense and a seriously hot stretch for Curry led to one of the most complete stretches of basketball any team played this season, and the Warriors immediately morphed from vulnerable power back into a dominant favorite.
It’s worth noting that all but the last of the wins in that streak came without Durant, which could be interpreted as a sign that the Warriors still aren’t entirely comfortable with their new superstar. On the other hand, the fact that a team can win 13 games in a row without one of the five best players in the NBA is downright scary. No other team in the league could dream of doing the same, and that’s why they’re clear favorites to win a second title in three years.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that the Warriors haven’t felt pressure like they’re going to feel over the next two months (or however long they stay alive). Every loss will be attended by jokes about blowing a 3-1 lead or criticism that this group doesn’t have the mental fortitude to live up to the lofty expectations heaped upon them. Golden State was always going to be judged by their ability to win a championship, and that challenge begins in earnest now.
• Portland: The Blazers entered this season hoping to build off the successes of a surprising playoff berth and impressive performance in an elimination at the hands of the heavily favored Warriors. After a few months, though, it appeared that management had committed too heavily to a middling group. Portland entered the All-Star break at 23-33 and seemed to have regressed, or at least taken especially poorly to stagnation. Franchise star Damian Lillard kept his scoring average up but became less efficient and lost some of his status to backcourt mate C.J. McCollum, free-agent acquisition Evan Turner looked like as much of an overpay as analysts feared, and big man Mason Plumlee utterly failed to follow through on preseason talk of regular triple-doubles. An injury to forward Al-Farouq Aminu exposed just how little flexibility the rest of the roster had, and the Blazers ended up getting locked into shootouts with pretty much everyone they played.
Then one trade changed everything. General manager Neil Olshey dealt Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets for center Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick on February 12, a deal that seemed like a way for Portland to get value for a player before he hit restricted free agency. It turned out to be the steal of this season. Nurkic entered the starting lineup and transformed the Blazers, offering a dose of much-needed interior nastiness, a true threat in the pick-and-roll with Lillard and McCollum, and a lot of swagger. His presence reenergized the Portland attack, and a team that otherwise felt like a disappointment took over the race for the West’s final playoff spot and seemed poised to enter the postseason as a real threat.
Unfortunately, Nurkic suffered a leg fracture in late March and was announced to be out for at least two weeks. The Blazers held on to their lead over the Nuggets to clinch a playoff berth in the season’s final days (with some help from Russell Westbrook), but they clearly lacked the same flair as with Nurkic and aren’t flying into the playoffs. Nurkic’s original schedule had him set to be reevaluated on Friday, but even a return to action for Game 1 doesn’t promise full health. Without him, the Blazers rely heavily on Lillard and McCollum, a recipe that works late in the season but doesn’t tend to result in upsetting heavily favored title contenders.
Regardless of how this series goes, though, the Blazers’ late-season charge allowed them to save face and reclaim some faith in this group. If they hadn’t rebounded to make the postseason, it’s likely that this summer would have brought significant changes.
Four matchups brought four wins for the Warriors, which is why it’s hard to imagine the Blazers winning more than a game in this series. Sweeping a team by an average margin of 19 points tends to make a statement.
There was some variation in those scores, though, so let’s dig in a bit. The first matchup came at Oracle Arena on just the eighth day of the season and saw the Warriors win 127-104 with 56.2 percent shooting. Yet that was mere prelude to the devastation to come on December 14 at Moda Center, when the Warriors won 135-90 in a game that Terry Stotts called “embarrassing.” Durant scored 34 to lead the victors, but the story again was Portland’s inability to defend anyone. The Warriors shot 58.6 percent and made half of their 28 three-point attempts.
The next two were at least a little closer. The Warriors won 125-117 on January 4 as Durant and Curry both topped 30 points — the good news for the Blazers was that they stayed relatively close with Lillard out of action. The finale was much tighter as Golden State won 113-111 in Portland in late January, but it’s necessary to note that Curry didn’t play due to stomach flu. Durant was the best player on the floor again, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Blazers can’t guard him.
The numbers suggest plenty — the Warriors have too many quality offensive players for the Blazers’ defense to handle, Durant could go wild in this series, and Golden State is perfectly comfortable taking part in a shootout with Portland. If there’s anything going for the Blazers, it’s that the Warriors haven’t seen them with Nurkic in the lineup.
Likely Starting Lineups
You’re probably familiar with the Warriors by now. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form the league’s best backcourt and provide more than just the greatest outside shooting duo the NBA has ever seen. Curry would have been a top-two MVP candidate in a normal year, and Thompson continues to make strides as a ballhandler and can score 30 (or 60) without dribbling more than a few times.
Kevin Durant slid right into the Warriors’ system as a do-everything forward, adding new defensive and facilitation responsibilities away from the pressure of having to score 30 points a night. It’s almost unfair that he and Draymond Green are on on the same team — that kind of versatility is hard to imagine in a forward combination. Green still carries the potential to get in trouble with a few technicals and flagrants, but he’s the heart of the Warriors and the trendy pick for Defensive Player of the Year.
Whoever plays with those five in crunch time depends on matchups. Zaza Pachulia starts at center and rebounds and sets screens — ask him to do much more and you’ll regret it. But there’s no question that the fifth key player on the team is Andre Iguodala, defensive master and secondary facilitator. Along with Green, he’s the player who makes sense of the Warriors. Shaun Livingston is arguably the sixth most important player on the team, a point guard whose length allows him to excel in the team’s defensive system and shoot over smaller defenders in the mid-range.
Reserves include scoring guard Ian Clark, veteran forward David West, and potential future NBA champion JaVale McGee. Each of these players has his moments, but they’re the kind of guys who are just as likely to put up 12 points as they are to come out and struggle a day later. Golden State’s in trouble if they’re depending on any of them.
The Blazers are geared around backcourt stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lillard’s reputation took a dip this season as the Warriors struggled and his shooting percentages fell, but the Oakland native came on very strong in the season’s last weeks and especially relishes the opportunity to perform against his hometown team. McCollum followed a Most Improved Player season by getting any better and even got some notice as the guard the Blazers definitely shouldn’t trade when things were going poorly earlier this season.
Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonleh are most likely to start at the forwards, but Al-Farouq Aminu is just as important off the bench. He was especially solid in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals against the Warriors and could see heavy minutes. If Nurkic can’t go, then stretch five Meyers Leonard is likely to start at center.
Allen Crabbe is an especially key reserve — he can get hot in a hurry and should play big minutes if the Blazers have to play from behind. Evan Turner plays a fair amount, too, but as ever it’s hard to know exactly what he’s there to do.
Matchups to Watch
• Golden State vs. bad luck. The Warriors enter the postseason as overwhelming championship favorites for the third season in a row. Teams in their position often do not win, which they learned clearly enough last season. But it’s useful to remember exactly what it took for them to lose to the Cavs in June. Stephen Curry had to injure himself twice and experience several grueling series to feel the effects, Draymond Green had to miss a game due to suspension, Andrew Bogut had to get hurt in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, etc. They didn’t just lose — they were brought to a position where the chances of their loss became much higher.
The Warriors could probably lose Curry in the first round again and still win this series. They proved they’re capable of it last season against the Houston Rockets, and the Blazers don’t exactly enter the postseason as a surefire threat. Yet it’s possible that a few more bad breaks would increase the sense of dread in Oakland and get the favorites to worry. It might not affect the outcome of this series, but it could start to derail their championship plans.
• Nurkic vs. the Warriors’ bigs. Golden State’s weaknesses inside are a bit overblown, because Durant is a seven-footer who can rebound and block shots and Green regularly bodies bigger players effectively. Regardless, the Blazers don’t have a chance in this series if a) Nurkic doesn’t play and b) he doesn’t make a huge impact on the glass and finishing at the rim. The Warriors are best beaten by teams with athletic defenders capable of guarding multiple positions and big men who force them to commit more players to rebounding. Portland certainly doesn’t have much of the former, so they’re going to have to do their best with the latter. And they only have the potential to do that if Nurkic is healthy.
That’s a big “if,” of course, especially considering that even a healthy Nurkic has never played in the postseason. There’s a big difference between rampaging through listless defenses in March and facing a locked-in title contender in the spring. The complication of his injury and the pressure of encountering the worst possible opponent means that simply getting Nurkic back in the lineup promises nothing.
• Kevin Durant vs. his limits. KD has played in only three games since March 1, and none of them have had especially high stakes. He performed well in each contest and seems able to hold up to the stresses of a long playoff run, but there’s no way to know how he’ll respond to the intensity of this moment until he enters it. The Blazers aren’t likely to push Durant too far — their defensive options are poor at best — but he’ll still discover how much he’s able to do just eight days after his return to the court. The Warriors can get by in this series without him at his best, but they’ll need him to round into peak form soon to get by other teams.
How the Warriors Can Win
First, they need to get to the arena on time. Then they need to make sure more than one star doesn’t get hurt.
In all seriousness, though, it’s hard to imagine them losing this series. Golden State simply has too much talent and knows its roles too well to lose to a team with such defensive frailties. The Blazers have no answer for Durant, their backcourt can’t check Curry and Thompson enough to make them pay for lax defense at the the other end, and their preferred pace plays into the Warriors’ hands. It would have to take several cataclysmic events for the Blazers to win, and even then they might only be able to take a few games.
The Warriors are no longer playoff neophytes — they’ve been through battles together and know how to respond to pressure. As we learned last June, it takes a few superheroic performances to beat them even when several breaks go against them. Don’t overthink this series.
How the Blazers Can Win
Lillard and McCollum average 60 points for the series, Nurkic comes back as his best self, and the Warriors team bus gets lost in the woods.
Best Reason to Watch
Each team is going to score a ton of points, even in a one-sided series. The Blazers defense just isn’t very good, and the Warriors will gladly let them play fast to let their own offense fly. Golden State scored at least 125 points in three of their four victories over Portland this season and could easily do the same here.
The Miami Heat defeated the Washington Wizards 110-102 on Wednesday night to complete a stunning second-half turnaround, finishing the season 41-41 following a 11-30 start. After beginning the season so poorly, contending for a playoff spot on the season’s final day represents a meaningful accomplishment for Miami. When second-year forward Justise Winslow went down for the year in early January, it didn’t feel like too much to say the season was already lost. Now they’re set to enter the offseason with optimism and meaningful progress to show free agents.
Unfortunately, that feel-good story was not enough to bring the Heat a playoff berth. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls also won on Wednesday night, which forced the Heat into a tiebreaker with the latter for eighth place in the East. Miami lost the first two meetings in their three-game season series before the end of December, so a team everyone greatly enjoyed watching is now out of the playoffs for one that seemed to suffer from infighting every five days. The rules are the rules and the Heat didn’t exactly dominate in April, but it’s still a bummer to see them go fishin’.
No one appears to have felt that pain more than head coach Erik Spoelstra. The Coach of the Year candidate spoke to the media following Wednesday’s game and elimination, and he did not hold back the emotion. He’s going to miss this team a lot.
And here’s that post-silence statement as a few blocks of text:
I don’t if I’ve ever felt this way about a team before. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something more for a team. Any one of us wanted to get into team sports, it was to be around a team like this. We went through so much together in just a few months and really got to know each other. And through everything we’ve made it each other better. It was such an honor to be around a group like this, you know, it really was.
I wish I had something for this team to keep this thing going. I think the hardest thing for any of us to wrap our minds around is that we don’t have practice tomorrow at 12. It just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t feel like the basketball gods shined down on us. I think probably our group wants to be in there as much as any team in the playoffs.
It’s just an extremely tough thing to wrap our minds around right now. This was a great group. Everything that we went through together brought it out. It was the most vulnerable group I’ve been around. It’s basketball but it really became a family. It became a group that really cared and loved each other, and we weren’t afraid to tell each other that.
It’s an affecting statement made all the more remarkable for the fact that Spoelstra went to four NBA Finals and won two championships with a group that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. For him to talk in such warm tones about a team that finished ninth in a conference full of disappointments speaks volumes about what this group must have gone through and meant to him.
An outsider is never going to understand everything about an NBA locker room, but the way the Heat banded together after a rough start and turned things around (complete with a record winning streak) was impossible not to notice given how most teams that start a season so poorly finish out the campaign. It’s all too rare to see a team with a winning percentage around .250 pack it in, rest its best players, and angle for the best draft pick possible. Most players begin to look out for themselves — not out of malice, but because it takes a lot to establish a career in a league with so much turnover.
The Heat were obviously different. They only grew stronger when things were going poorly, and they deserve lots of credit for accomplishing what they did. Even on playoff win would have been a well-earned prize for this group, but it’s safe to say that the lack of a postseason appearance won’t change the value of this season. It certainly won’t for Spoelstra.
The NBA’s regular season ends on Wednesday, which means that there’s only one day left to set the final standings and determine the shape of the playoff bracket. Fourteen of 16 playoff berths and six of eight first-round series have already been determined, but there are still plenty of seeds left to sort out.
The following seeds have already been set:
3. Toronto Raptors 4. Washington Wizards 5. Atlanta Hawks 6. Milwaukee Bucks
That leaves four spots to be decided, including the final two playoff berths in the conference. But we’ll start at the top, where the Celtics and Cavaliers must sort out which team gets homecourt advantage through the conference finals.
No. 1 if they beat the Bucks OR the Cavaliers lose to the Raptors No. 2 if they lose to the Bucks and the Cavaliers beat the Raptors
No. 1 if they beat the Raptors and the Celtics lose to the Bucks No. 2 if they lose to the Raptors OR the Celtics beat the Bucks
Useful notes: It is probably in the Raptors’ best interest to rest players to better the Cavs’ chances of nabbing the No. 1 seed. Toronto can avoid playing the defending champions until the conference finals if they finish first. Or maybe it won’t matter — the Bucks will not play several rotation players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, in Boston:
Three teams are vying for two spots for the most complicated scenarios of the season’s final day. If the Heat nab one of these berths, they’ll have completed a stunning turnaround following an 11-30 start.
No. 7 if they beat the Hawks OR the Bulls lose to the Nets and the Heat lose to the Wizards No. 8 if they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls lose to the Nets, and the Heat beat the Wizards OR they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls beat the Nets, and the Heat lose to the Wizards Eliminated if they lose to the Hawks, the Bulls beat the Nets, and the Heat beat the Wizards
No. 7 if they beat the Nets and the Pacers lose to the Hawks No. 8 if they beat the Nets and the Pacers beat the Hawks OR they lose to the Nets and the Heat lose to the Wizards Eliminated if they lose to the Nets, the Pacers beat the Hawks, and the Heat beat the Wizards
No. 7 if they beat the Wizards, the Pacers lose to the Hawks, and the Bulls lose to the Nets No. 8 if they beat the Wizards, the Pacers lose to the Hawks, and the Bulls beat the Nets OR they beat the Wizards, the Pacers beat the Hawks, and the Bulls lose to the Nets Eliminated if they lose to the Wizards OR the Pacers beat the Hawks and the Bulls beat the Nets
Useful notes: The Nets have the NBA’s worst record but already played spoiler to the Bulls in a surprising win on Friday. However, Brooklyn will sit six rotation players on Wednesday — Brook Lopez, Trevor Booker, and Jeremy Lin will rest, and Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, and Sean Kilpatrick will all miss out on the game due to injury. Those absences should clear the way for the Bulls to clinch a playoff berth.
All four first-round matchups have already been determined in the West. The only matter still to be resolved is which team gets homecourt advantage in the series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds.
The following seeds have already been set:
1. Golden State Warriors 2. San Antonio Spurs 3. Houston Rockets 6. Oklahoma City Thunder 7. Memphis Grizzlies 8. Portland Trail Blazers
And the Clippers and Jazz still need to figure out where they’ll play four of their seven games.
Los Angeles Clippers
No. 4 if they beat the Kings OR the Jazz lose to the Spurs No. 5 if they lose to the Kings and the Jazz beat the Spurs
No. 4 if they beat the Spurs and the Clippers lose to the Kings No. 5 if they lose to the Spurs OR the Clippers beat the Kings
Useful notes: The Clippers obviously have the more favorable matchup, but Gregg Popovich played his key players for roughly 20 minutes apiece on Monday against the Blazers and probably won’t push anyone too hard. There’s an argument to be made that the Kings are a more difficult opponent given that they have nothing to play for and could relish the role of spoiler.