Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Oklahoma City Thunder had much trouble in the first round of the playoffs. They each made quick work of injury-depleted opponents, registering point differentials of 22.0 and 18.2 points per per game, respectively.

Things are going to get a lot more interesting in the conference semifinals, where the Spurs and Thunder will have their third meeting in the last five postseasons. The previous two meetings were in the conference finals, with the Thunder advancing in 2012 and the Spurs advancing in 2014.

This season, we’ve been anticipating a Warriors-Spurs matchup in the conference finals. And the Thunder may be a bigger obstacle than Stephen Curry‘s knee injury for that dream meeting of teams that won 73 and 67 games in the regular season.

The Spurs have home-court advantage and have won six of the last seven meetings in San Antonio. But the Thunder have won 11 of the last 13 in Oklahoma City and, going back to the 2012 conference finals, 14 of the last 21 games that Kevin Durant has played against the Spurs.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard was just a rookie in that 2012 series and has since evolved into the two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s best two-way player. His matchup with Durant will be the feature of this series, but there will be a lot more that will help determine the outcome.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Spurs-Thunder, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

San Antonio Spurs (67-15)

First round: Beat Memphis in four games.
Pace: 91.4 (13)
OffRtg: 111.9 (3)
DefRtg: 89.3 (2)
NetRtg: +22.6 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160428_sas_offense

20160428_sas_defense

Spurs playoff notes:

20160428_sas_shooting

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Pace: 94.8 (7)
OffRtg: 117.7 (1)
DefRtg: 99.3 (6)
NetRtg: +18.4 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160428_okc_offense

20160428_okc_defense

Thunder playoff notes:

20160428_okc_shooting

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (home team won all four games).
Oct. 28 – Thunder 112, Spurs 106
Mar. 12 – Spurs 93, Thunder 85
Mar. 26 – Thunder 111, Spurs 92
Apr. 12 – Spurs 102, Thunder 98 (OT)

Pace: 96.1
SAS OffRtg: 99.7 (22nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 102.9 (6th vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lowry feeling pressure to advance | Rockets’ dysfunctional season ends | Will Bosh play in first round? | Westbrook grateful for Durant’s comments

No. 1: Lowry on advancing to semifinals: ‘We have to do this’ — One win is all that stands between the Toronto Raptors’ first Eastern Conference semifinals appearance since 2001. Yet grabbing that final victory won’t be easy as the Indiana Pacers have given the No. 2-seeded Raptors everything they can handle in their opening-round series. Toronto’s players definitely are feeling the pressure to advance and star guard Kyle Lowry admitted as much in an interview with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Perhaps this Eastern Conference series shouldn’t be such a struggle for a No. 2 seed with 56 regular-season victories, but the truth is unmistakable: Winning a playoff series has transformed into a monstrosity for the Raptors.

“The crowd is waiting,” GM Masai Ujiri told The Vertical. “The fans are waiting. The city is waiting. The whole country is waiting. We hope we can do it for everybody. And the players, I know they feel it.”

Hours earlier in the corridor of the arena late Tuesday, Ujiri had been chatting with the most famous Raptors fan of all. Drake had exhaled too, and shared a laugh with Ujiri and Raptors executive Jeff Weltman over a past postseason memory. Fifteen years of fervor since Vince Carter led the team past the New York Knicks in 2001, 15 years of regular-season futility and playoff failures linger like a fog rolling off Lake Ontario.

“It’s there,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told The Vertical. “We can’t hide from it. … Listen, you’ve got to go through something as a program. Five years into our program [as a coaching staff], and the expectation level is through the roof.

“For our program, this next step is the hardest one to get … one of the hardest things to do in sports.”

“I haven’t once talked about our woes in the first round,” Casey told The Vertical. “Not once. There’s so much hoopla. There’s so much pressure.”

Between Games 5 and 6, Lowry stopped to study a series of text messages that popped into his phone. His college coach, Villanova’s Jay Wright, broke down Lowry’s decisions and plays in the final several minutes of Tuesday night’s victory. Three weeks ago, Lowry was sitting behind the Villanova bench for the national championship victory over North Carolina.

“I’ve always listened to him – except when I was in college,” Lowry told The Vertical.

Now, there’s a Game 6 in Indianapolis on Friday night, a chance to unburden these Raptors, himself, and reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“We know what it is,” Lowry told The Vertical. “We hear it. We’ve played with the pressure on our shoulders. We’ve been here three years now. That’s the biggest thing: the first round – we’ve got to get out of the first round. We have to get that monkey off our back.”

Eventually, there are no more text messages and speeches and game plans and pep rallies outside the arena. Eventually there are no more excuses and explanations for an organization and its GM and coach and star players.

“We have to do this,” Kyle Lowry finally said, and that’s the burden of this franchise, the hard truth of 15 long years that hang like an anvil over these Toronto Raptors.

***

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Blogtable: Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?


> Game 1 of the Spurs-Thunder conference semifinals series is Saturday. Who or what is the X factor in this series? And which team do you predict will advance?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Danny Green, as another Spurs’ on-ball defender, is my X factor. When an opponent has two explosive scoring stars such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it means some San Antonio player has to step up besides Kawhi Leonard. Green has the size to match up with Westbrook and the fundamentals to make deny or bother Durant while chewing up some shot clock. He also can force OKC’s guys to work at the other end if he’s able to contribute offensively. Green’s 40 percent shooting from the arc against Memphis was a nice start, a bump from his 33 percent of the regular season. Where does it all end? Barring any more of these playoff-convulsing injuries we’ve been getting, I think San Antonio advances in six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Serge Ibaka is my X factor. When he’s running the floor, guarding the lane and also knocking down jumpers, he’s an athletic force that can be tough for the Spurs to handle. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook demanding so much attention from defenses, Ibaka is the third weapon that can be a difference-maker. But we haven’t seen much of that guy all season. Spurs in 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That guy trying to break into the Spurs rotation, Tim Duncan. That’s a little extreme, but Duncan did have a reduced role at just 20.3 minutes per game in the first round because of matchups and San Antonio blowout wins. Now comes the chance to face an opponent with more bigs — Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter — that should mean a larger presence for Duncan. A big contribution will be a step toward the Spurs advancing.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com This sounds weird, but the X-factors are named Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. For over a decade they were the backbone of the franchise. Right now, none are playing efficiently and for the most part are backup singers to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. That must change ASAP. San Antonio will need more from at least two of those three against a hungry OKC team, or else Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a series away from returning to the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Danny Green is the X-factor. The ball will find the open man in the Spurs’ offense and that open man is often Green. He had a rough regular season, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (27 percent in March and April), but was 6-for-13 in the first round. He’ll also be the primary defender on Russell Westbrook, so his ability to get back in transition, fight through screens, and stay in front of the Thunder point guard will be critical.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The dueling wild cards in this series are salty Kevin Durant and raging Russell Westbrook. The Thunder superstars (sorry Mark Cuban, they’ve got two) are playing with monstrous chips on their shoulders these days and nothing would delight them more than to upset all the conference finals plans we’ve all been talking about for months. That said, I’m picking the Spurs to advance in a knock down, drag out six-game affair.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This one is going to be all about defense. The Spurs are the league’s most cohesive and versatile defensive team. Will the Thunder be able to match San Antonio’s passion and attention to detail? I’m afraid not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHaving seen both of these teams in person over the last two weeks, the one part of the match-up that I can’t reconcile is how will the Spurs stop Russell Westbrook? You haven’t seen elite speed until you’ve watched Westbrook in person — he literally flies down the court, his feet barely touching the floor, like he’s running across the surface of a lake. And i just don’t know how San Antonio matches that speed. I guess you could try Kawhi Leonard against him, although I’d rather save Leonard for Kevin Durant. Either way, the Spurs have a matchup problem waiting to happen.

Should Kanter be Fifth Man, not Sixth Man, for OKC?

He’s one of the most productive players in his first round series and in the entire NBA playoffs, if you project him over 48 minutes. But there’s no guarantee Enes Kanter will get more than his usual supply of 21 minutes in the next game against the Dallas Mavericks, or for the rest of the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s sheer lunacy. Kanter is averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes against the Mavericks leading into Game 5. He’s doing more damage against Dallas than Kevin Durant. A big man blessed with a dancer’s footwork and a diamond cutter’s touch, Kanter can score and is a decent rebounder yet is still being punished for his defense which, real or imagined, is shoddy and plants doubt in the head of coach Billy Donovan.

And so the question is this: Is he really that bad a defender that it’s necessary to prevent Durant and Russell Westbrook from having a very solid third wheel for half a game?

In Game 4, while Kanter was doing a number on Dallas once again — he finished by making 12 of 13 shots, one by falling on the floor — Donovan reflexively tried to remove him from the game. It took the intervention of Westbrook, who told the coach to chill out, that kept Kanter on the floor.

“I was going back and forth, whether to keep him on the floor,” Donovan admitted. “But Enes was playing so well.”

Westbrook: “He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed.”

If that’s true, then you only have Donovan’s substitution pattern to blame. Kanter averaged only 21.0 minutes during the season, yet averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds anyway. Donovan starts Steven Adams, who’s tougher and sets meaner picks and yes, a notch above Kanter defensively. Crazy thing, though: Kanter’s minutes go unchanged even when Oklahoma City plays teams that lack an opposing big man who can score. And so, the question begs to be asked again: Is Kanter really so bad defensively that he can’t even defend centers who don’t touch the ball?

Donovan’s reasoning is that the two-headed center of Kanter and Adams works best for Oklahoma City, and Adams’ blue collar work is valuable for a finesse team. There’s also the feeling that Kanter doesn’t rotate well and therefore doesn’t offer “help” defense, especially on the pick and roll. Perhaps.

But it’ll be curious to see how Kanter is used should the Thunder eliminate the Mavericks as expected and face the Spurs in the next round.

He had success against the Spurs during the season, averaging 15.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in 27.9 minutes. He’d be matched against Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan, who are older yet very crafty. Duncan has been an afterthought for much of the season and particularly in the Spurs’ sweep of Memphis, but is Timmy showing his age, or merely laying low until the Spurs need him, which will be the case against Oklahoma City? Last season Duncan was tremendous in San Antonio’s seven-game series with the Clippers, and the Spurs can expect a similarly strong challenge from the Thunder.

Kanter finished third in the voting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award and Westbrook thought the wrong guy won.

“All due respects to Jamal Crawford, but I don’t believe it should’ve been close for sixth man with Enes, a guy who shoots 68, 69 percent form the field. He’s been doing it all season.”

Well, that’s a question Westbrook should ask of his coach: If Kanter can do this all season as a sixth man, shouldn’t he start or at least get starter’s minutes? Shouldn’t he fill the role of the “missing” third wheel in OKC, especially in the fourth quarter, when he’s often on the bench?

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 235) Playoff Time!

HANG TIME BIG CITY — I was sitting on the couch the other night, tuned in to the postseason, when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. Tuesday? Wednesday? It couldn’t be Monday, could it?

Welcome to the playoffs!

It’s that time of year, when every moment matters, when every game is must-see-tv. And the Hang Time Podcast crew has been on the ground from coast to coast checking out games, which was a great jumping off point for today’s podcast. 

But first, just as we began taping we found out about the tragic death of Prince, an artist we all grew up listening to and enjoying, and we had plenty of stories to tell as we paid our respects.

Once we got around to talking hoops, we went from the Thunder (and the Mavs) Dance Party to Atlanta’s impressive start, from the hot hot heat Miami has brought over the first two games to the Warriors and how long they should let Curry recuperate. We even talked about the Knicks and Lakers, and how those legendary franchises are moving forward without playoff participation.

Check out all that and more on Episode 235 of The Hang Time Podcast … Playoff Time!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Thunder/Mavs Game 2 All-Access

The Graduation of Dion Waiters

VIDEO: Waiters gets served.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Fourth-year Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters is averaging the fewest points per game (9.8 ppg) of his career. Waiters is also probably playing the best overall basketball of his career. It speaks to Waiters’ continuing basketball education that he realizes the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

As the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Waiters joined a rebuilding Cavaliers team with plenty of shots to go around. But as part of Cleveland’s rebuild following the return of LeBron James, Waiters was traded to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder just missed the postseason last year while Kevin Durant was out injured.

This season, things finally fell into place for the Thunder and Waiters, as he played in 78 games for the 55-27 Thunder. Waiters made his playoff debut last night in the Thunder’s 108-70 win over the Mavericks. Waiters chalks up his 1-of-9 shooting game to being overexcited. But it’s worth noting, Waiters also netted a +17 plus/minus rating thanks to two rebounds, two steals, three assists, and making an effort on the defensive end.

We sat down with Waiters after practice Sunday, where the guy who used to relish going one-on-one is now talking about hockey assists and giving up good shots for great shots.

DION WAITERS: I’m excited just to be here first and foremost. I’m blessed. My first playoffs ever. I was real excited yesterday, too excited. I’m glad I got one game under my belt now.

NBA.COM: You were too fired up?

DW: I was too hyped. I came out like that. But I needed one of those games, needed one of those to get those emotions out. I’m fine now. Guys were telling me how crazy it would be. You just see it, the stands with people wearing blue and white. It was great.

NBA.COM: What’s the transition been like for you, into this organization as you’ve learning your role here?

DW: I mean, of course, it’s different. My rookie year, my sophomore year, I was able to play and play a lot. I was one of the go-to guys. My rookie year and sophomore year I got better each year, but we were losing. My third year, LeBron came, and things just weren’t going right. I got traded in January, came here, and when I got here, I just felt the love. Everybody connected. The atmosphere, the love, the people that really want to help you. And I knew what it took to be a pro, but over here it was pro’s pros. If practice is at 11, these guys are here at 9, out on the floor, setting an example. So I started trying to beat them here. I see what it takes. And they do it every day, no breaks in between, they got the same routine. When I got here, instantly I got better. Of course, you’ve got to make sacrifices. You’ve got to find your niche. When I got here, unfortunately KD had gotten hurt, so Scott Brooks let me play, and that was some of the most fun basketball I’d had, being one game away from the playoffs even though I ended the season strong. I knew coming here with KD was going to be different, because that’s what he does, he scores. And a guy like me, I need the ball. So I’ve tried to make different adjustments now, as far as like, working on being able to catch and shoot. I’m at like 40-percent now on catch-and-shoot situations, so that’s great. I was a guy who had to take you off the dribble. Now that I’m here, I don’t always have to do any of those things because I’ve got two top-five players in the League in Russ and Kev. I know I can score the ball, but now I want to show other people that I can defend, that I can get to the lane and make plays for myself and others. And one thing about here? You’ve gotta understand, some games you might have a big night, some games you might have 10 points. But what did you do to impact the game? I’m learning that. I’m only 24 years old. Just by me being here for a year and a half, I’ve gotten so much better as a player, as far as developing a consistent routine, I feel like my body is good, just working and continuing to work on an everyday basis. So it’s been a great ride for me so far, man. I’m enjoying every moment, and it’s about being patient, being patient. I know my time is going to come, I’ve just got to continue to work hard and be a part of a winning team and enjoy it. You can’t substitute anything for winning. I was losing my first three years. Just to win 50 games alone is great.

NBA.COM: Man, you need to have a radio show.

DW: I should?

NBA.COM: Yes, you should. Because you can really talk.

DW: (laughs) When I first got here, I was just talking without making sense. I used to hate watching myself in interviews.

NBA.COM: You talked about making sacrifices with your game. What kind of things have you pulled back on, what have you emphasized?

DW: Just trying to figure out when to be aggressive. I’m always going to be aggressive, that’s who I am. But learning the difference between what’s a good shot and what’s a great shot?

NBA.COM: What is the difference?

DW: It’s a good shot when you’re open, but a great shot if you’re open but you’ve got a guy open in the corner, and the defender in between comes to you and you kick it to him. Or if you make the hockey assist or get an assist. I can always get my shot off, I feel. At the end of the day, when you’re a scorer, you think scoring first. That’s just your mentality and your instinct. But here we’ve got so many great players who can make plays. Sometimes you even make a pass, get the guy the open shot, and it might come right back. Those type of things, I’m learning each day. I would say, coming into the league you really don’t know what to expect and you learn on your own, on the fly. That’s the difference between me three years ago and now. I’d say I was a pretty good, smart basketball player, but now I know the difference, and you know when you’re wrong and when you take a bad shot.

NBA.COM: I don’t know if you mean to, but you keep talking about your “sophomore” year in the NBA, and it’s almost like you’re talking about college. Now that you’re in your fourth season, does it feel like you’re a senior ready to graduate?

DW: That’s exactly it. I’m ready to take off. But we still have to focus on the task at hand right now. That’s my whole thing, I’m ready for that next step. That’s what it is man. I know what it takes.

Numbers preview: Thunder-Mavs


VIDEO: Thunder vs. Mavericks: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — When the Oklahoma City Thunder made The Finals in 2012 with their four best players all under the age of 24, we thought they’d return every year.

But the Thunder have yet to make it back and failed to make the playoffs entirely last year. And now, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hitting free agency in the next two summers, Oklahoma City may be running out of time.

Both Durant and Westbrook are healthy this year, but the Thunder have been somewhat of an afterthought with two historically great teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. Of course, the postseason is an opportunity for the Thunder to prove that they can compete with the Spurs and Warriors.

Before they can do that, though, they’ll need to get through the Dallas Mavericks, a veteran squad that made a late-season push to get into the playoffs an earn the 6 seed in the West.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the West, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

Pace: 99.4 (9)
OffRtg: 109.9 (2)
DefRtg: 103.0 (12)
NetRtg: +6.9 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_okc_shooting

Thunder notes:

20160414_4th_post-break

Dallas Mavericks (42-40)

Pace: 96.4 (23)
OffRtg: 104.8 (10)
DefRtg: 104.3 (16)
NetRtg: +0.6 (14)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_dal_shooting

Mavs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 4-0
Nov. 22 – Thunder 117, Mavs 114
Jan. 13 – Thunder 108, Mavs 89
Jan. 22 – Thunder 109, Mavs 106
Feb. 24 – Thunder 116, Mavs 103

Pace: 98.7
OKC OffRtg: 114.5 (2nd vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.9 (15th vs. OKC)

Matchup notes:

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Morning shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: Cavs ‘still team to beat’ in NBA | Report: Kobe turned down Euroleague offer | Westbrook saves OKC against shorthanded Clippers | Report: Terry interviews for UAB opening

No. 1: Irving says Cavs still ‘team to beat’ in NBA — The Cleveland Cavaliers have already matched last season’s win total (53) with seven games to play. They seem to have a solid grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are also, however, 2-2 in their last four games and have looked a bit shaky at times since the All-Star break. Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving isn’t hearing any of that doubt, though, and had some strong words to say about his team’s place in the NBA hierarchy after last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets, writes Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“We’re still to the team to beat honestly, regardless of what anybody else says,” he said after the 107-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. “‘[Pundits talking about] what we need and what we don’t need and what we need to get better at. . . . ‘ Us internally, we know we have to improve on a lot of things but we’ve just got to handle business as professionals and continue to get better.”

Clarification was needed. I asked him if he’s saying the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference or in the entire league. He didn’t backtrack.

“I feel like we’re the team to beat,” he replied. “Honestly, it’s open season until we get into the playoffs. I’ve got a lot more confidence than I think that anyone realizes in our team and what’s going on in our locker room.”

Their latest victory put them at 53 wins for the season, the total they accumulated last season. When LeBron James was informed of Irving’s comments, he didn’t completely join in on the “we’re the team to beat” narrative.

“I think we’re all confident in our ability when we’re playing at a high level,” James said. “We want to continue to use these games to get better. When the postseason starts, hopefully we can lock in, which I believe we can and make a run at it.”

A team with James, Irving and Kevin Love will always be a force to be reckoned with. At times the team has played down to the level of its competition and lost games it shouldn’t have. But the Cavs also have had some impressive road wins over some of top teams this league has to offer.

Cleveland has the third-best record in the association. So why aren’t the Cavaliers getting the respect they feel they deserve?

“It seems like that because everybody is watching Golden State. That’s why,” big man Tristan Thompson told cleveland.com. And that could be true. The Warriors are on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins, and Stephen Curry is rapidly becoming the face of the league.

“We’ve had a damn good season to this point and we’re going to continue that,” James said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving has some strong words after Thursday’s win

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