Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls

NBA playoff picture slowly starting to come into focus

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At this point, nothing would really surprise me when the NBA playoffs start in a month.

Well, Indiana winning the NBA title — heck, more than one game — would surprise me. So that is not totally true. But it’s hard to remember a more wide-open year. Every potential contender has enough strengths that you can champion them, enough flaws you can make an argument that dooms them.

Matchups will be key. And those matchups are slowly starting to come into focus. Let’s take a look one month out from the second season.

Eastern Conference

At the top: As of Wednesday morning, Chicago at 48-18 has a half game lead over Boston for the top spot, with Miami lurking 2.5 games back. Like the playoffs themselves, no finishing order here would be a real surprise, but there are some signs that look good in the windy city.

Getting that top seed matters because, as much as Orlando (who is basically locked in at the four seed) is not to be taken lightly, they scare anyone like the three right at the top do. The East’s two/three seed second round matchup will be a killer. Avoid that at all costs.

Chicago’s next 10 games feature only three teams over .500 and no team in the top four in either conference. They could push that slim lead out and hold on to the top spot. Miami is playing well again and after some tough games the rest of this week their schedule lightens up considerably. They are playing better defense and could make a real run at Boston in the two slot and even the top spot. Boston has a couple tough road trips ahead, they need to get their edge back or slipping to the three seed is not out of question.

Two games to watch: Boston at Chicago April 7, then Boston at the Heat April 10. Those could be big.

The East’s middle and bottom: The middle of the East looks pretty set. Look for another Orlando vs. Atlanta playoff series, although this time in the first round as the four and five seeds (the Magic swept that series last year). Philadelphia could catch New York for the six seed, either way the Sixers are a team the top teams are watching. Philly likely will not beat but will push whoever they face in the first round. They will not be an easy out.

The eight seed? Whichever team sucks the least amongst Indiana (currently in that slot), Charlotte (half a game back) and Milwaukee (2.5 back and fading). That team will have the honor of getting swept out in the first round. Indiana helped its cause with a couple wins over the Knicks and has the softest schedule from here on out. But it’s about sucking the least among these three.

Western Conference

At the top: Your San Antonio Spurs are the top seed and nobody is catching them. Whether their defense finds its way back is a question for another day, but San Antonio will have home court advantage for every round it plays in the playoffs.

The Lakers/Mavericks two/three seed battle in the West is more interesting. Currently the Lakers are the two seed by half a game over Dallas and Los Angeles may be playing the best ball in the West over the past couple weeks. That includes a thumping of the Mavs. That win raises this question: Does Dallas need home court to beat the Lakers in the second round? If so, they need to make a push now.

Oklahoma City is likely your four seed (unless they falter and Denver stays red hot). With Kendrick Perkins in the paint and a year of playoff experience, can they knock off the Spurs in the second round? That may be the most interesting question in the playoffs.

The West’s middle and bottom: All that talk above about second round matchups — that could be moot. The teams on the bottom half of the West are playing well right now, they are dangerous. The way Denver is defending and moving the ball makes them a real threat to Oklahoma City or anyone else in the first round. I’ve been told by people from a couple teams they want to avoid current eight-seed Memphis Grizzlies in the first round — that’s a long and dangerous front line with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, plus they have good wing players (with Rudy Gay due back in a week or two). Memphis is dangerous. Even to beat them could take a lot out of a team, who would then face a stiff second round challenge.

As for the other two teams, Portland is playing well and New Orleans brings a good defense and the always-dangerous Chris Paul to the table.

Only 2.5 games separate the five and eight seeds in the West, so predicting an order of finish is like predicting the NCAA tournament. Basically luck matters more than skill. Utah (2 games) and Phoenix (2.5 games) are looking up at the eight seed and want into to the party, but nobody in that top 8 is fading. That’s likely leaves Phoenix, Utah and Houston at the bottom of the lottery.

My prediction: One of the top four seeds in the West will get upset in the first round. It’s too early to say who — matchups and who is hot heading in will be factors — but the West remains deep. There will be no easy outs. Somebody is going to slip up.

Steve Kerr admits trying pot to deal with back pain, says leagues should treat it like alcohol

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are some inevitable changes to the American culture as the younger generation takes over from the old, things the march of time and demographics will change in spite of the beliefs and  frustration of older generations.

The legalization of marijuana use is one of them. The question is not if, but when?

Marijuana use in California was legalized in the November election, but it had been legal for medicinal use for years (under certain guidelines, such as a doctor’s prescription).

Steve Kerr has been living in California for years — he was based out of San Diego while working for TNT as an analyst, now as the Warriors’ coach he obviously lives in the Bay Area. He’s also been dealing with chronic back pain, which has required surgeries — that’s why he missed the first half of last season.

In a podcast with Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com, Kerr admitted he tried marijuana to deal with his chronic back pain.

“I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this, I’ve actually tried it twice during the last year-and-a-half when I’ve been going through this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with, and (I did) a lot of research, a lot of advice from people, and I don’t know if I would have failed a (league) drug test, if I’m subject to a drug test, or any laws from the NBA. But I tried it and it didn’t help at all, but it’s worth it because I’m searching for answers on pain. But I’ve tried pain killers and drugs of other kinds and those have been worse.”

Kerr also said he hopes the NBA and other professional sports leagues come around to treating marijuana as they do alcohol.

“I’m not a pot person… I tried it a few times and it didn’t agree with me at all. I’m not the expert on this. But I do know this: if you’re an NFL player, and you have a lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s vitamin C, like it’s no big deal. There’s this perception in our country that over-the-counter drugs are fine but pot is bad. I think that’s changing, you’re seeing a change in these laws.. including California. But I would just hope that sports leagues are able to look past the perception. I’m sure the NFL is worried their fans are going to say “all the players are pot heads…” but I would hope the league comes to its senses rather than see these guys get hooked on pain killers.”

Kerr shouldn’t worry. The times, they are a changin’.

Report: Nets sign Donatas Motiejunas to four-year $37 million offer, Rockets have three days to match

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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The Houston Rockets’ hand has been forced.

They had reportedly offered Donatas Motiejunas $7 million a year in a short-term deal, but pulled the offer after he didn’t sign before the date that would make him eligible to be traded this season.  Since then, the Nets — a team trying to rebuild but stripped of picks and assets — considered making a gamble on him.

Friday they did.

On paper, Motiejunas is a good fit with the Mike D’Antoni Rockets. Two seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three, and it is easy to see where in the transition scrambles that the Rockets’ offense creates he could run to the arc or post up smaller defenders inside early in the clock. He could be a nice reserve big in Houston.

Which is why they likely match. But now the clock is ticking.

Report: No additional fine, punishment for Draymond Green after kicking flagrant

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Draymond Green picked up a flagrant foul after flailing his legs – this time catching James Harden in the face — and once again it’s become the topic of the day in the NBA.

If you didn’t see it (video above), Kevin Durant missed a three and Green made a good hustle play to get the offensive board and go back up, where he was fouled by James Harden. The foul threw Green off-balance and, as he does, he flailed his legs up, and his right leg caught Harden in the face. The replay center reviewed the play and called the original common foul on Harden, but a Flagrant 1 on Green for the kick. It mattered because it was overtime of a close game and that both evened out the free throws and gave Houston the ball again.

However, the league didn’t see this as the kind of intentional, malicious foul that gets extra attention, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That outcome seems about right to me. This was not the Steven Adams situation. Green went up, was fouled by Harden which did disrupt his balance, and he threw his leg up. Whether he did that intentionally, just instinctively looking to draw a foul, or if it was simply a move to keep his balance is irrelevant — he got his foot up high enough to hit James Harden in the face, that’s a flagrant foul. It wasn’t severe enough to warrant a suspension or fine in my opinion, but players are responsible for their bodies on the court and if you kick a guy in the face that comes with consequences. Like a high boot in soccer, there is no room for debate here.

Is Green being watched for this more than other players? Duh. Of course he is, this is seven incidents I can think of without bothering to go to Google. Yes, other players do it too, but Green has the reputation. And the league is cracking down on it. Hence the flagrant.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers hit mini-malaise, schedule maker isn’t helping things

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten smacked around two games in a row — first in Milwaukee and then by the Los Angeles Clippers on nationwide television — and they haven’t shown a lot of fight in either. Before that they had to come from behind and barely beat the Sixers. That’s an aberration, a championship hangover, we know the Cavaliers have fight — they came back from down 3-1 in the Finals. But they are in a mini-slump.

The schedule maker isn’t making things easier — they have a back-to-back against the Bulls the night after that big Clippers game. Then the Cavs get a couple of days off and travel to Toronto.

The Clippers had to play Friday in New Orleans. Houston won a dramatic game against Golden State Thursday in double OT, then has to play Denver the next night.

It all comes together in this latest PBT Extra.