HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The playoffs are here. And to get you ready, we’ve got statistical nuggets for each series, courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Western Conference basketball was faster and more efficient than Eastern Conference hoops. We’re sure to see three high-paced series in the first round, because six of the eight West playoff teams ranked in the top 10 in pace, with the only exceptions being the Clippers and Grizzlies, who will face each other.
Pace won’t be the only reason scoring will be higher in the West. Seven of the eight West playoff teams ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) The league averaged 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions.
It’s simple math, and the NBA is realizing it more and more each year.
This season, the league has made and attempted more 3s than it ever has. Both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets have passed the previous single-season, team highs for 3-point makes and attempts. And now, with one game left in the regular season, Stephen Curry is just two 3-pointers away from setting the all-time record for most 3-pointers made in one season by an individual.
Most 3-pointers, single season
* The 3-point line was shorter (22 feet all around) in 1994-95, 1995-96 & 1996-97
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range
In only 12 of his 77 games has Curry hit fewer than two 3s, so the odds are good that he’ll get the two he needs in Portland on Wednesday. The Blazers have the fourth-best 3-point defense in the league, but Curry hit seven treys against them less than three weeks ago.
Curry is the Warriors’ point guard, so most of his 3s have come from above the break. Only 46 of his 268 3s have come from the corners, but Curry has shot the worst from the top of the key. And he’s clearly more comfortable from the right side of the floor…
Stephen Curry’s 3-point shot chart
Curry leads the league with 103 unassisted 3-pointers, but 165 (62 percent) of Curry’s 3s have been assisted, by nine different teammates.
Assists on Stephen Curry’s 3-pointers
Only 39 percent of his 3s from the top of the key have been assisted, vs. 67 percent from the wings and corners. Combine that with his shooting percentage numbers (worse at the top) and it’s clear that he’s a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble.
The way things are going, we may see somebody top 300 3-pointers in a season sometime soon. And it may be Curry. For now, he’ll have to settle for this place in the NBA record book.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It all comes down to this, the final night of the NBA regular season.
We’re not used to the one-and-done stuff around here, not when champions are crowned in a best-of-seven environment. It’s rare that we get to see teams dealing with a 48-minute cauldron that decides their fate (there are still tons of moving parts, as we detailed earlier in our complex playoff scenarios update). For some that means determining whether or nor they make the playoffs at all. For others it’s the difference between a desired (or dreaded) seed in the playoffs. And for some, that means whether or not you host a first-round series or start on the road.
Either way, it all comes down to this one night. The clock is winding down on the regular season for everyone. All 30 teams are on the schedule tonight, but the finale means a little more for the teams involved in these matchups:
ATLANTA HAWKS at NEW YORK KNICKS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Hawks were supposed to be fighting for the fifth seed Tuesday night against Toronto, but they didn’t look like they had a whole lot of fight in them during that TNT broadcast. The Hawks went through the motions during their home finale (without Al Horford) and got pounded by the Raptors. The Knicks will rest Carmelo Anthony and others heading into this weekend’s playoff opener, so the Hawks should have an edge. They have to finish with a better record than the Bulls to get the fifth seed, because the Bulls own the tie-breaker. An interesting side note: Anthony has already locked up his first scoring title without even suiting up since Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durantsaid on Instagram he won’t play tonight in Milwaukee.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS at CHICAGO BULLS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The beautiful thing about the Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau is that they’ll never be accused of not pushing it to the max every night of the season. This should be no different. Thibs will make sure his team shows up with the same nasty disposition for this game that they did for the 81 games that came before it. The Bulls want that No. 5 seed because Thibs won’t allow them to backslide into anything. And this notion that the Hawks and Bulls would rather avoid the No. 5 seed, and the potential second-round matchup against the Heat that comes with it, is laughable. You have to get past the Brooklyn Nets before you get to worry about the Heat.
UTAH JAZZ at MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is truly a win-or-go-home game for the Jazz. They have to win this game to keep their season alive and then they have to start their rain dance in the locker room and root for the Houston Rockets to upend the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center (10:30 ET, ESPN). The only problem for the Jazz? The Grizzlies need this game just as bad. Their seed is set, they’re going into the Western Conference playoffs at No. 5. But they can still host their first-round series by virtue of having a better record than the Los Angeles Clippers, provided the Clippers wind up at No. 4 (more on this below). This one will have all of the intensity of a playoff elimination game. It’s must-see TV!
PHOENIX SUNS at DENVER NUGGETS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Nuggets have home court locked up, but their seed hangs in the balance tonight. George Karl‘s crew can clinch the No. 3 spot with a win over the Suns or if the Los Angeles Clippers fall in Sacramento. The Nuggets need to handle their business first and foremost, though, because if they end up with the same record as the Clippers, they lose out on the tie-breaker even after winning the season series with the Pacific Division champs. The No. 3 seed also keeps the Nuggets from having to face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
HOUSTON ROCKETS at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (10:30 p.m., ESPN):Kobe Bryant will be watching (from his home in Orange County as he’s been ordered to stay off of his surgically repaired torn Achilles) and willing his Lakers to a much-needed victory and into the playoffs in his absence. His playoff guarantee is on the line. But at least the Lakers, winners of four straight, control their own destiny. All they have to do is win. The Rockets, on the other hand, could land anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 (it’s complicated). But this is all about the Lakers and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and whether or not these two big men can drive the Lakers into the playoffs and into a space where they can make the noise Bryant promised they would in the first round.
L.A. CLIPPERS at SACRAMENTO KINGS (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Clippers’ march to the Pacific crown guarantees them of a top-four seed in the Western Conference. But being No. 4 does not guarantee them home-court advantage (as explained above) if they get locked into a 4-5 matchup with a Grizzlies team that could finish the season with a better record. I’m sure the Clippers love Beale Street and dinners at the Rendezvous like we all do, but it would be a shame if they have to celebrate the first division title in franchise history by going on the road to start the playoffs.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS at PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): All the Warriors have to do is win to lock down the No. 6 seed. Lose, however, and things get a bit sticky. They’ve worked too hard this season to allow the Houston Rockets to decide their playoff picture. (Houston can finish as high as No. 6 and as low as No. 8, depending on how things shake out tonight around the Western Conference.) But they might not have a choice since the Rockets and Lakers will be finished playing before they get done in Portland tonight.
Bottom line, the playoffs start tonight for every team on this list!
One more win by the Lakers — they wrap up the regular season against Houston on Wednesday night — secures their playoff bid. But they could lock it down without taking the floor if the Utah Jazz can’t keep the pace tonight in Minnesota. A Jazz loss also nails down the Lakers’ postseason plans.
That’s just one of the glaring storylines on tap for a busy, 11-game Monday around the league:
CHICAGO BULLS at ORLANDO MAGIC (7 p.m. ET, LEAGUE PASS): The Bulls’ regular-season-ending Florida road trip continues in Orlando, where the Bulls have to win if they want to keep up their chase for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Of course, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is more concerned with his team’s recent struggles (they are 1-4 after a 6-2 surge that had them in striking distance for home court advantage in the first round) than he is anything that will come this weekend. ”I don’t want us thinking about the playoffs,” he said. “I want us thinking about the game against the Orlando Magic.”
Other than the distance, there isn’t much difference between a 4-5 matchup with Brooklyn or a 3-6 matchup against Central Division rival Indiana in the first round. The Bulls will go into the weekend as one of the most dangerous lower seeds on either side of the conference divide. That is, of course, if they can actually get back to playing winning basketball.
UTAH JAZZ at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (8 p.m. ET, LEAGUE PASS): Plenty of televisions and mobile devices in Southern California will be tuned into this game, which reunites the previous and current fans of the Lakers in a way that has probably never happened before. The Jazz have to win out and hope the Lakers fall in their regular season finale against Houston to claim the playoff bid they have been chasing vigorously the past month.
“Focus. Focus,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “They play well at home. They have great fans in Minnesota. They’re really going to be hyped for this game. They know how important it is for us. So that’s really going to motivate them to be spoilers, so we want to come in focused and ready to play.”
Al Jefferson worked the Timberwolves for a career-high tying 40 points in a 107-100 home win over the Timberwolves on Friday night. The Jazz will need more of the same from him tonight if they are going to continue the fight for their playoff lives another day. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, control the Lakers’ destiny tonight.
HOUSTON ROCKETS at PHOENIX SUNS (10:00 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Rockets’ playoff bid was locked up last week, but they are clinging to that sixth seed right now with an opportunity to determine their own fate with wins, tonight in Phoenix and Wednesday against the Lakers. They already own the tiebreaker over Golden State by virtue of their 3-1 edge in the season series and they hold a 2-1 lead over the Lakers.
But they can’t slip up in these final two games. If they do, the Lakers will not only even the season series Wednesday night, they’ll gain the tiebreaker over the Rockets by virtue of their better record against Western Conference teams. The Rockets can render all of that critical minutiae useless by simply continuing to do what they have done during this recent stretch that has seen them win six of their last eight games, and that’s handle the business at hand.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS at GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV): This could end up being a first-round playoff preview for the Spurs and Warriors, who currently occupy the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, respectively, in the Western Conference playoff order. The Spurs blew their chance to control their fate in the race for the top seed with the Oklahoma City Thunder by dropping that game Sunday night at Staples Center to the Kobe-less Lakers.
The Warriors have lost three of four, including that tight game against the Lakers Friday night in Los Angeles. Forget the seeding, they need to get back on a winning track heading into the playoffs, no matter who they face this weekend. “We don’t want to relax. We can’t afford to do that right now,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. “This is a big game for us to bounce back after two tough losses. It’s good preparation to know that every game means something for our seeding, and for our state of mind going into the playoffs.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson has been a believer in his team all season and that faith has been realized now in the form of a team that won six of its past eight games to strut into the playoffs, as opposed to slipping through the back door.
“We celebrated, and rightfully so,” Jackson told reporters afterwards, fighting back the tears that flowed in a reportedly emotional and raucous postgame locker room celebration. “People questioned us, and they should have. People doubted us, and they should have. But they underestimated the heart, the desire, the work ethic, the determination, the willingness to put in the time and then the favor of God.”
Much like fellow Tuesday night playoff clincher Houston, the Warriors have arrived to the surprise of many. They’ve done it without the hype-train that has accompanied the Rockets’ rise. There’s no James Harden or Jeremy Lin headliner on this Warriors team (although an All-Star like David Lee and shooting star like Stephen Curry certainly deserve whatever plaudits come their way).
The Warriors’ front office doesn’t have a figure like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Wizard of Advanced Metrics Oz,to point to. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has gone about his business without a ton of fanfare. He’s plotting the course properly. The Warriors roster is sound. And they are built not just for a momentary playoff flash this time, but for a sustained period of playoff contention that Warriors fans have not experienced before.
“We should enjoy this,” Lacob said after Tuesday’s playoff-clinching win. “We’ve got to celebrate the little moments, too. Every step counts. This is an important first step for this franchise and this ownership group and for all of these guys and the coaches.”
How soon the Warriors take that second step remains to be seen. The playoffs provide all sort of opportunities for upstarts to attempt to “shock the world.”
One thing seems certain, though, and that is the Warriors shouldn’t have to endure another six-year wait between playoff trips.
That’s all the time we have left in the NBA regular season to sort out all of the issues facing us. And, Naismith knows, we have plenty of them.
Nine more (game) days to weave through the months of drama and finalize the playoff order in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, to see who will snatch this season’s scoring title, to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can salvage the dumpster fire that their season has been since training camp … there’s a host of other loose ends that need to be tied up before the postseason tips off.
We already know the eight players in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have clinched their playoff bids. All that’s left is to firm up the order beneath the Heat, who have a 10-game cushion in the standings.
The Knicks and Pacers are battling for the No. 2 seed (just 2.5 games separate the two). The Knicks surged ahead on the strength of their current 12-game win streak, fueled by their MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony and the streaky J.R. Smith.
The Nets are doing whatever it takes to hold on to their top four spot in the standings, and the coveted home-court advantage that comes along with it.
But at least the pecking order is pretty much set. Not so in the other half of the bracket.
SORTING OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEST …
The order in the West remains a bit muddled. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are playoff locks. The Spurs have already wrapped up the Southwest Division crown and the Clippers secured the first Pacific Division title in franchise history with their win over the Lakers Sunday at Staples Center.
“It just feels like something we were supposed to do,” Chris Paul said after shredding the Lakers for 24 points and 12 assists. “It means we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not satisfied. We understand this is something small compared to the big picture.”
The bottom of the standings in the Western Conference will come into a clearer focus in the last nine days. The Jazz have a half-game lead over the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the playoff chase, courtesy of their huge win Sunday night over the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz have four games remaining: against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, against Minnesota on Friday and in Minnesota on April 15, and at Memphis on April 17, the final night of the regular season.
The Lakers have a slight schedule advantage. Of their five remaining games just one (Wednesday night’s tilt in Portland) will come away from the Staples Center. But their last three will be against playoff teams; Golden State on Friday, San Antonio on Sunday and Houston on April 17.
The Jazz own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers the favorable schedule. As suspected, this one could come down to the final night of the season.
WHAT RACE FOR THE SCORING TITLE?
The three-time scoring champ doesn’t want a fourth title. Not right now.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said as much about his battle with Anthony for the scoring crown.
“He can have it,” Durant said last week, before admitting that he is rooting for Anthony to snag his first scoring title in his 10th NBA season.
Durant obviously has more pressing matters to occupy his time, namely the Thunder’s battle with the Spurs for the top overall seed in the Western Conference. OKC’s loss Sunday to Anthony and the Knicks didn’t help that cause.
Best guess: Anthony gets the scoring title (he’s scored 36 or more points in four straight games) and the Spurs get the top seed in the West.
EAST MATCHUPS UP FOR GRABS, AFTER HEAT-BUCKS
If form holds in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Heat will face off with the No. 8 Bucks, a matchup tilted heavily in favor of the league’s best team.
Everything else after that, however, is literally up for grabs.
The difference between the six other teams is negligible on any given night. With experienced playoff teams like the Bulls, Hawks and Celtics lurking in the bottom half of the East bracket, the higher seeds have to be extremely careful with home-court advantage.
The Celtics and Bulls, in particular, are teams adept at ignoring the obvious and playing above their heads in the playoffs. Two physical teams like this, built with defense in mind — teams that have shown themselves capable of pushing the Heat to the edge (remember the Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game win streak) — should have no problem making life difficult for higher seeds in the first round of the playoffs.
STILL HOPE FOR ROSE …
The Bulls have the one variable in the playoffs that could change the entire postseason landscape in former MVP Derrick Rose, who made it clear over the weekend that he has not abandoned the idea of suiting up this season.
Time is obviously not on his side. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Rose or the Bulls, who would surely welcome back their All-Star — their best player — to a team that has survived without him quite well.
With just six games left, Rose will have to accelerate his decision-making process and come up with an answer sooner rather than later. After weeks of speculation to the contrary, might Rose actually be ready for a return?
“Oh, no,” Rose said, when asked if he’d announce he’s sitting out this season. “I’m keeping it open.”
After Sunday’s game against the Pistons, the Bulls have just six regular-season games remaining.
“I’m not trying to think about that right now,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to help my teammates, give them confidence to go out there and play hard. I’ll play whenever I’m ready to play. Who knows when I’m ready to? Right now, all I can do is just cheer on my teammates.”
Rose first scrimmaged on Feb. 18 and has said whether he returns is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one at this point. Playing on a minutes limit wouldn’t bother him.
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he said. “Of course I want to play more. But it’s not that big. I’m going to play whenever I’m ready. I don’t care if it’s 15 or 40 (minutes). I just love the game too much. Like I said, I’m just waiting and praying about it. And hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”
Bulls fans are waiting and praying as well, hoping that not only can Rose return but that he can thrive on his surgically repaired knee.
VUCEVIC CHASING HOWARD FOR REBOUNDING TITLE
No one gets a fancy trophy for winning the league’s dirty work award, the rebounding title.
But wouldn’t it be something if Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (11.8 rebounds per game) was able to catch and pass former Magic and now Lakers big man Dwight Howard (12.5) for the top spot? Vucevic has turned out to be the surprise gem of the multiple-player and multiple-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming …
TROUBLE FILLING OUT YOUR ALL-NBA BALLOT?
If you are struggling with who goes where on your All-NBA first-team ballot, welcome to the club.
Outside of LeBron James and Paul, there are some extremely difficult choices that have to be made. Who gets the nod between Anthony and Durant at the other forward spot? And do you go with Marc Gasol at center and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard?
That relegates worthy candidates (based on the position-specific nature of the All-NBA team) like Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Howard and Tim Duncan to the second team, even though you could make a compelling case for each of them, too.
At least we have time to think about it … well, nine game days.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: When a player has 90 points over his last two games, it’s a sure bet his game is the must-watch recap of the morning. That being said, what Carmelo Anthony did against the Hawks last night in Atlanta was a thing of beauty (unless, of course, you’re a Hawks fan). ‘Melo systematically picked apart the Hawks’ defense with some nice passes and since Atlanta opted to not double team one of the NBA’s best scorers (and a man on a hot streak of late), he torched them for 40 points for good measure. The Hang Time Podcast crew gets into a good debate/discussion about what all this regular-season scoring means for a player who has yet to have more than one deep playoff run. It’s a worthy discussion to listen to, but if you don’t have time, just watch the Knicks’ No. 1 option go to work on the Hawks.
Report: Williams plans to forsake more cortisone shots — Deron Williams‘ season can basically be broken into two categories: the pre-platelet-rich plasma injections portion and the post-PRP portion. The former occurred up until mid-February, which is when Williams decided to have the PRP treatment done on his bothersome ankles and since then has looked more and more like the All-Star/superstar guard he has been throughout his career. While there was a notion that Williams would need cortisone shots for his ankles just before the playoffs begin, D-Will is scrapping those plans, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
When the playoffs roll around, Deron Williams says he won’t need the high dosage pain killers that helped salvage his season.
The point guard plans to ride this out cortisone-free.
Having braced himself for continued ankle pain and a fourth round of shots just before the playoffs started, Deron Williams told the Daily News on Wednesday that his treatments in February were so successful that injections aren’t necessary prior to the postseason in late April.
It’s a welcome development for Williams, who is aware of the longterm dangers of injecting too much cortisone – a hormone steroid which, used liberally as an anti-inflammatory, can weaken cartilage in the joints, leaving it susceptible to damage or ruptured tendons.
Doctors typically recommend athletes don’t take more than four injections per year, and Williams is happy he doesn’t have to test the limits with a fourth round.
“That’s a good thing,” said Williams, who indicated in February that he “probably” will receive injections before the playoffs.
Williams originally injured his left ankle during training camp for the Olympics, just after signing a five-year, $98 million contract with the Nets. At some point he injured his other ankle, and underwent his first round of cortisone shots in October.
By the time he received his third round in February, Williams was hobbling around the court and undergoing his worst season as a professional. His last cortisone shots were preceded by PRP injections to both ankles about a week prior.
Not coincidentally, Williams’ season turned around after the All-Star break. He’s also 20 pounds lighter, quicker, averaging more points, more assists, less turnovers and shooting at a better percentage.
Williams has said his latest cortisone injections were “finally in the right spot.”
Clippers’ Hill might retire after season — When the Suns decided to embark on their (somewhat puzzling) rebuilding plan, it meant bringing back Grant Hill for a sixth season in Phoenix was a long-shot-at-best proposition. Hill didn’t sit on the summer’s free-agent market for long once he and Phoenix couldn’t reach a deal, as he signed a two-year deal with the Clippers and looked like a piece that would bolster an up-and-coming squad. However, a bone bruise on his right knee kept Hill off the court until Jan. 12 and, since finally playing, he’s averaging career lows across the board. With the injury problems in mind and given Hill’s age (40), the former Rookie of the Year winner tells Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic he might hang it up after this season:
Hill expected to return to Phoenix for a sixth Suns season when he stayed in the Valley to train last summer. The Suns made a one-year, minimum-salary offer of $1.35 million and the Clippers came with a two-year, $4 million one while Oklahoma City and Chicago also pursued him.
Hill, 40, joined the Clippers, began the season on the inactive list after suffering a bone bruise to his right knee, the one which underwent two arthroscopies since 2011 in Phoenix, and did not play until Jan. 12. Hill likely will not make it to that second contract year and opt to retire this summer.
“Strong chance,” Hill said. “I’m leaning toward it. I want to get to the end of the year and off-season and think about it but I’m pretty confident that’s where my mind is right now. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Except for a brief 2008 experiment under then-Suns coach Terry Porter, Hill always had started in his career until this season, when he often is not in the 10-man rotation.
“That knee injury (bone bruise) set me back a bit in terms of staying healthy and getting in the rotation so that hasn’t been good,” Hill said. “But I wouldn’t change it one bit other than to be hurt early in the year. I like the situation. I like my teammates. We’ve had an up-and-down season. We’ve experienced every emotion you can. We’re still battling for that third spot. We haven’t played well of late but we still have a chance to correct it. We have the ability and the talent to beat anybody. I have no regrets. It’s been a great experience.”
Much like with friend Steve Nash’s summer departure from Phoenix to Los Angeles, Hill did not receive the interest he expected or wanted from Phoenix and chose Los Angeles to stay competitive and close to his kids in the Valley. Hill takes trips home on off-days and will return to the Valley when the season is over.
There have long been hopes by many in the Suns organization that Hill would return in a front-office role when he retires.
“I’ve really just focused on enjoying the last year, if this is the last year, and not focusing on the future,” Hill said. “We’ll get to the end and once the end’s over, I’ll start worrying about what I’m going to do from there.”
Warriors make their own beard pact — In case you’ve been living on another planet for a few months, you might have been oblivious to the much-reported fact the Dallas Mavericks started growing beards as a show of unity that they pledged to keep until they reached .500. The Warriors, who are well above .500 and headed for their first playoff berth since 2007, are also growing beards themselves — even if everyone isn’t on board with the plan. Marcus Thompson IIof The Oakland Tribune has the details:
The Warriors have made a pact that everyone will grow beards until they clinch a playoff spot. No shaving. No trimming.
“The worse it looks, the better it is for the team,” David Lee said.
From the looks of it, though, Andris Biedrins isn’t on board. He looked cleanly shaven Wednesday. And the patch on rookie Harrison Barnes‘ chin looked well groomed.
Coach Mark Jackson is even in on it. His shadow was turning into some rough real estate at practice, highlighted by some gray strands. But he had his facial mane neatened.
There was talk about extended the beard pact through the playoffs. But Stephen Curry wasn’t a fan of that idea.
“This thing,” he said at Wednesday’s shootaround, scratching his grizzled neck. “I’ve already got lint all in it.”
Garcia has empathy for Kings’ supporters — Rockets swingman Francisco Garcia has played 473 games over eight seasons in the NBA, with 462 of those games played coming as a member of the Sacramento Kings. As a rookie, he was a member of the last Sacramento squad to make the postseason and spent the bulk of his younger years in the NBA in California’s capital city as the Kings trudged through losing season after losing season. He also hasn’t been oblivious to the potential sale of the Kings to a Chris Hansen and a Seattle-based group that wants to buy the team and rebrand them as the Seattle SuperSonics. Yesterday, groups from both Sacramento and Seattle presented their proposed bids to Commissioner David Stern and other league officials and although no decision on the Kings’ future is expected for a while (our own David Aldridgehas the full details), Garcia is watching and feels for Kings fans, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
He could have anticipated he would return to Sacramento for the first time with another team. He never could have imagined the possibility it could be his last time as well.
“My first years were great,” Garcia said. “There was a sellout every game. There’s not a lot of cities that were like we were when I first got there.”
While Garcia and the Rockets prepared to go against the Kings on Wednesday night, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was in New York to present the offer of a local group to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family and prevent the sale to a group that would move the team to Seattle.
After spending most of the last two seasons in the heart of the battle, from the near move to Anaheim through the handshake deal to remain in Sacramento and finally the Seattle-Sacramento tug of war to be decided by the Board of Governors meeting April 18 and 19, Garcia can’t begin to handicap how the competition will end.
On Wednesday, the groups vying for the Kings — Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen are seeking to buy them and move them to Seattle; Ron Burkle, Mark Mastrov and Vivek Ranadive are bidding to buy them and keep them in Sacramento — made the presentation to a Board of Governors sub-committee, which later will make its recommendation.
Garcia could not help but feel empathy for the fans who supported the Kings so faithfully through much of his career.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “One guy is saying this; another guy is saying that. I don’t know. I’d be sad (if the Kings leave Sacramento). It’s such a great city. They’re great fans. They’ve been supporting the team for a long time.
“It’s great. It’s a great city. I have nothing but good things to say about Sacramento. I had a great eight years there.”
ICYMI of the night: Trevor Ariza shows the kids at home why the pivot foot is important … and that having a little luck is important, too… :
Tell us which 6, 7 or 8 seed, as they stand now, is most primed for an upset. And why?
Steve Aschburner: Scanning all the likely lower-seeded teams, my conclusion is: In Thibs I trust. If the Chicago Bulls draw anyone but Miami or Indiana in the East, my hunch is they can advance even without Derrick Rose available. One of the Bulls’ biggest problems this season has been letdowns against dubious opponents. Another has been lapses in concentration due to schedule turnarounds. Neither of those will be present in the postseason. Assuming Chicago doesn’t suffer anything as traumatic as Rose’s injury last spring and Joakim Noah‘s subsequent ankle sprain that doomed it against Philadelphia, I think coach Tom Thibodeau‘s ability to lock in and game-plan defensively will thwart the higher-seeded Knicks, Nets or Hawks.
Fran Blinebury: I don’t know that any of them are actually “primed” for an upset. But if I had to pick one team — as the standings are today — I’d go with the Celtics, simply because you can’t count out the veteran know-how and determination of players such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Of course, the same would apply to the Lakers if they squeeze past Utah for No. 8 in the West. A team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash is not the kind of reward either the Spurs or Thunder would be happy to get for finishing first in the West.
Jeff Caplan: In the question about the Pacers and Knicks, I’ve already suggested that a 3-6 Knicks-Bulls matchup could provide an upset. In the West, how can anyone not think that the Rockets in a potential 2-7 matchup with San Antonio couldn’t make that very interesting? The Spurs might not have Manu Ginobili against the high-scoring Rockets and that’s a huge blow. Obviously the edge goes to the Spurs, but for potential upsets I like it. I don’t think the Rockets could take down the Thunder in another potential 2-7 series, but it sure would be a fascinating series with James Harden against his old mates. I also don’t think the Warriors, if they face Denver in a 3-6 matchup, have enough to get past the Nuggets, although the Ty Lawson injury factor is significant.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The Bulls. What a brutal draw for the supposed favorite in a 3-6 first-round series. The Bulls aren’t far from being a No. 3 themselves, and that defense, rebounding, toughness and coaching makes them a tough out. The Heat would definitely be favored against Chicago. Anyone else in the East and there are small margins.
John Schuhmann:Chicago. Of any potential 6/7/8 seed, the Bulls have the best defense and the best road record. They’ve proven to be resilient in the face of several key injuries and are also 5-1 against New York (3-0) and Brooklyn (2-1), having held those two potent offenses under a point per possession over the six games. The Celtics’ chances of pulling off an upset obviously depend on Kevin Garnett’s health and their ability to avoid the 8 seed. If they face the Knicks with KG ready to go, I think they have a decent shot to get to the next round. But in the West, I just don’t think any 6/7/8 seed is good enough defensively to pose much of a threat to San Antonio, Oklahoma City or Denver/Memphis.
Sekou Smith: If by “primed for an upset” you mean poised to ruin the postseason for a top seed, I’m going with Chicago in the East and Golden State in the West. The Bulls, as they showed in stopping the Miami Heat’s win streak at 27 games, can crank their game up to another level than what we’ve seen from them on a consistent basis during the regular season. Even without Derrick Rose they are a dangerous group in a playoff setting. The Warriors are the ideal playoff wild card with their streaky 3-point shooting abilities. That said, if the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoff field, they could turn the postseason upside down in a first round matchup against either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are playing at a high level right now and if they get in, they’re going to be a major problem in the playoffs.
Steve Aschburner: If you could get, right out of the chute, what many expected could be the Western Conference finals, who wouldn’t want to see that? So I’d be glued to Lakers vs. Spurs, on paper one of the most amazing No. 1 vs. No. 8 opening rounds in NBA history. Big names and reputations everywhere, old nemeses in new colors and circumstances, the Lakers’ last best chance to salvage their season vs. what might be the Spurs’ last best chance to win a title with its historic Big 3.
Fran Blinebury: Thunder vs. Rockets. Revenge of the Beard. Hangin’ it on Harden. Slammin’ it at Sam (Presti). OK can you C me now? Hey K-Mart, there’s a mess on Aisle 4. Need I go on? I can’t ever remember a player as young and as good and as critical as James Harden being bounced off a Finals team and getting a chance to stick it in the ear of the bouncers just a few months later in the playoffs. This would be simply delicious.
Jeff Caplan: Out here in the Western Conference, where there’s actually more than one team of intrigue, there’s several would-be matchups to ponder. However, one in position to launch right now is James Harden against his old mates: Rockets vs. Thunder. Houston is 1-2 against OKC this season, but both losses, coming by a combined 52 points, were in 2012 when the team was still new and adjusting, and coach Kevin McHale spent a month away on personal leave after the death of his daughter. In 2013, the high-powered Rockets are 1-0 against the Thunder with a 122-119 victory in Houston on Feb. 20. Harden has averaged 29.3 points against his former team, has shot 55.0 percent from 3-point range and has averaged 12.3 free throws in the three meetings. Imagine the pressure on the reigning champs and Harden-replacement Kevin Martin against The Beloved Beard and a Rockets squad that has swapped the top spot with OKC all season as the highest scoring team in the league.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Clippers-Lakers. It may not happen because the Lakers may not get up to No. 6, even if the Clips get to 3. But if it does, what a moment for Clippers credibility, to be able to be the team that drives the Lakers season into the ground once and for all.
John Schuhmann:Pretty much any matchup in the West. Seriously, I look at those eight teams (assuming the Lakers hold on to the eighth spot) and there’s not one series I wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy. Even the Grizzlies, who play the best defense and play at the slowest pace of all those teams, are fun to watch. In the East, I would love to see any series between the Knicks, Nets and Celtics. The regular-season matchups between those three teams (with the exception of Tuesday’s game in Boston, which was lacking two very ornery defensive anchors) have been intense, and an Atlantic Division playoff series would be crazy. Knicks-Celtics looks like the most likely scenario of the three possibilities.
Sekou Smith: There are potential first round matchups that intrigue on both sides of the conference divide. That Denver-Memphis clash in the West, New York-Boston in the East or even a San Antonio-Los Angeles Lakers showdown. But if the basketball powers that be would be so kind as to grant us a Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors tilt in the first round, I’d be forever grateful. Styles make fights and this one would be filled with non-stop action. Generally, the outcome of first-round series tend to stick to the seeding. But the Clippers and Warriors could be a free-for-all without a clear-cut favorite. The Clippers might have the better record, but they’ve had all sorts of trouble with the Warriors this season. The Warriors won the season series 3-1. The Warriors handed the Clippers their first loss of the season, 114-110, on Nov. 4 at Staples Center, and one of their worst losses of the season, a 115-94 beating in Oakland that was their second straight loss after the Clippers’ franchise-record 17-game win streak (Denver snapped the streak a night earlier). These teams haven’t played since Jan. 21, but you had better believe they’d both be eager to battle for state bragging rights, what with the Lakers limping down the stretch of the season and not guaranteed to even make the postseason.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Friday marks the 3/4 mark of the 2012-13 season. Teams have played an average of 61 games, with 21 to go. What better time for a Q & A, where the Qs and As come from the same source?
1. Who will be the No. 1 overall seed, with home-court advantage through The Finals?
The Heat’s winning streak has to come to an end at some point, but it has already put them even with the Spurs in the loss column. And Miami has the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to cumulative opponent winning percentage. Their six remaining back-to-backs ultimately make their schedule a little tougher than that of a couple of other teams, but it’s still much easier than that of the Spurs or the Thunder.
2. Who wins the West?
The Spurs have a two-game edge in the loss column, but don’t have Tony Parker for the next four weeks. The Thunder play easier opponents, but the Spurs play 13 of their final 20 games at home and have fewer back-to-backs (3 vs. 6).
OKC’s trump card is two games against the Spurs in the next month. They play Monday in San Antonio and April 4 in Oklahoma City. With Parker out, you’d have to give the Thunder the advantage in both matchups. Oklahoma City also has the advantage in the conference record tiebreaker should they split the final two meetings.
3. Will the Lakers make the playoffs?
Flip a coin again.
L.A. is just two games in the loss column behind the Jazz and seemingly has the momentum to make the playoffs.
L.A. also has the easier remaining schedule. Ten of their final 20 games are against teams over .500 and their remaining opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of just .484, the second-lowest mark in the Western Conference. The Jazz play 12 of their final 21 games against winning teams, and their remaining opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .537, the third-highest mark in the West.
But Utah has the tiebreaker, having won the season series, 2-1. So the Lakers have to lose three fewer games than the Jazz over the final six weeks. Furthermore, though the Lakers are 10-5 over their last 15 games and the Jazz are 7-8, Utah has actually had a better point differential (NetRtg: +2.1) than L.A. (NetRtg: +0.0) in that time. While the Lakers have won a lot of close games in the last month, the Jazz have lost a lot of close ones. So, the momentum isn’t as strong as it may seem.
Both teams have three back-to-backs remaining, but Utah has one additional game (5 vs. 4) against teams on the second night of a back-to-back.
4. Shouldn’t we include Golden State and Houston in this conversation?
No. The Warriors have lost 10 of their last 15 games, but they still have four fewer losses than the Lakers and play 14 of their final 20 games at home. And they’re struggles have primarily come on the road. They’ve won eight of their last nine at Oracle Arena. They only have three back-to-backs remaining and play five opponents on the second night of a back-to-back. When you factor all that in, the Warriors have the easiest remaining schedule in the West.
Factoring in home/road and back-to-backs, Houston has the second easiest remaining schedule in the West, with 12 of its final 20 games at home. The Rockets also have the ninth best point differential in the league overall and sixth best (along with the No. 1 offense) over the last 15 games. They’re better than their record says they are.
If the Lakers grab a playoff spot, it’s the one that belongs to the Jazz. (more…)