Playoff picture starts to come into focus (Heat may not like it)

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Not everything is clear to me. Like how Rebecca Black has a career, for one. Or how Criminal Minds has been on television for so long.

But the NBA playoff picture? That started to come into focus Wednesday and the Spurs like what they see. Miami, not so much.

So here is a quick run down, by conference.

Eastern Conference

Chicago remains on top at 57-20, with a magic number of 3 heading into a big Thursday night game against Boston. Bulls win that and the Magic number becomes just 1, lose and they can still clinch the top seed by winning three of their last four (at Cleveland, at Orlando, at New York and New Jersey). So basically, nobody is catching them. Sorry Celtics.

The good news is Boston has a more firm hold on the two seed after the Heat were upset by Milwaukee Wednesday. The Heat loss drops them to the three seed at 54-24, just half a game back of the Celtics — but Boston owns the tiebreaker (regardless of what happens when the two play Sunday). So for practical purposes, the Heat are 1.5 games out of the two seed because they have to pass Boston. Miami needs a Bulls win Thursday, then Miami has to beat Boston Sunday, or they will finish the season the three seed.

Which may mean a date with the Knicks. New York beat Philadelphia Wednesday, moving them back into the six seed spot, half a game up on the Sixers. Which seemed impossible two weeks ago, but they have found an offensive grove and have won five straight. If the Knicks beat the Nets Friday they also clinch the tiebreaker (conference record) over the Sixers. (New York and Philly split their season series.)

Also, Indiana is now officially in the playoffs as the eight seed after a thumping of Washington Wednesday, Charlotte and Milwaukee cannot make up the ground. So start printing those Pacers/Bulls first round playoff tickets. For all four games in that series.

Western Conference

The Spurs win over the Kings combined with the Lakers second loss in a row — this time to the Warriors — means the Spurs are officially the top seed. Nobody can catch them. So look for the Spurs key players to get a lot of rest.

The Lakers loss also was a chance for the Mavericks to make up some ground on Los Angeles as the two seed, but the Mavs have lost four in a row after another one Wednesday. L.A. and Dallas — two fan bases starting to worry about which version of their team they will see in the playoffs. Dallas fans should worry a little (and Lakers, too) — the Thunder are now just one game back of the Mavericks for the three seed. Dallas has the tiebreaker, so it’s really two games, but if Dallas keeps losing the Thunder could pass them (the Lakers would rather face Dallas than Oklahoma City in the second round).

New Orleans, Portland and Memphis remained tightly bunched but unmoved out of the six, seven and eight spots out West — but now Houston has no real shot of catching them. The Rockets had to beat the Hornets Wednesday, were up 17 early and gave it all back and then some. Mathematically the Rockets are alive, but they are 3.5 games back of Memphis, so the Grizzlies can stop worrying who is behind them and focus on the teams ahead of them.

LeBron James, Cavaliers advance past Celtics to meet Warriors in 2017 NBA Finals

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Let’s line it up and run it again. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are going to meet in the 2017 NBA Finals after LeBron James and the Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday, 135-102.

It wasn’t much of a contest from the outset as Cleveland looked determined to put away their opponent. The Cavaliers played strong, shot well from 3-point range, and forced the Celtics into 18 turnovers over the course of the game.

The Cavaliers set a franchise playoff record in the first half, scoring 75 points in the first two periods. LeBron had 20 before the third quarter started, putting him just inches away from passing Michael Jordan to top the list for most points scored in NBA playoff history.

That moment came in the third quarter, with James dropping in a sweet 3-pointer from the left side of the arc to push him past Jordan. LeBron finished the game with 35 points, going 4-of-7 from 3-point range will adding eight assists, eight rebounds, and three steals.

Kyrie Irving was another bright spot for the Cavaliers, scoring 24 points to go along with seven assists. Kevin Love added 15 points, and Deron Williams had a rejuvenation off the bench with 14.

For Boston, yet another game without Isaiah Thomas forced their offense into stagnation. Avery Bradley — who had a considerable series in an effort that should not be overlooked — scored 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting. Gerald Green was Boston’s second-leading scorer in a bench role, adding 14 points.

Now we get to wait until June 1, when what seemed an inevitability way back in training camp has indeed come to pass. The Warriors get their shot at redemption after the worst breakdown in NBA playoff history, and the Cavaliers get a chance to solidify themselves over their peers and galvanize LeBron’s position as the best player of a generation.

The Finals don’t start for anther week. We’ll all be champing at the bit to see if Cleveland really does have what it takes to guard the Warriors offense. Likewise, a top defensive team in Golden State will need to prepare themselves for the LeBron that showed up against the Celtics in Game 1 and 2.

LeBron James passes Michael Jordan for most NBA career playoff points

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LeBron James is now above Michael Jordan in one very important, objective area. On Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, LeBron passed Michael Jordan for the most playoff points scored in NBA history.

James’ historic moment came in the third quarter of Game 5, with the Cavaliers up by double-digits.

LeBron passed Jordan with a 3-pointer that came from the left side of the arc.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers look poised to meet the Golden State Warriors yet again in the NBA Finals.

Cavaliers set franchise record, score 75 points in first half vs. Celtics (VIDEO)

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The Cleveland Cavaliers looked ready to put the Boston Celtics away in the first half of Game 5 on Thursday night. With LeBron James just inches away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, the No. 2 seed exploded on the Celtics in Boston.

The result of the first two periods was James scoring 20 points, Kyrie Irving adding 11, and Kevin Love dropping 12 points.

Oh, and the Cavaliers set a franchise record for points scored in the first half of playoff game.

Via Twitter:

The play may or may not have been a goaltend by Al Horford, but officials saw it that way and gave Cleveland the points just seconds before the half ended.

Rumor: After spurning Celtics, Lonzo Ball is considering working out for 76ers

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UCLA guard Lonzo Ball is expected to be a Top 2 pick in June’s 2017 NBA Draft, but he won’t be working out for the Boston Celtics. If Danny Ainge wants to select Ball No. 1 overall, he will have to do so without seeing him up close and 1-on-1.

But if the Philadelphia 76ers (owners of the No. 3 pick) want to see Ball … well that could be arranged. Maybe.

According to a report from ESPN, Ball’s camp is considering a workout with the Sixers if they can get more information about the team situation.

Via ESPN:

A final decision will be made once Ball’s agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN.

That dialogue is expected within the coming weeks. Most expect Ball to be off the board after the first two selections.

Of course, the situation in Philadelphia for Ball is excellent. The thing they need is backcourt help, which is why a move up for Markelle Fultz might make sense for them. That or drafting one of the two if either fall to No. 3. The Sixers have also been linked to Kyle Lowry, who is a free agent this summer. The Sixers have talked for a year about using Ben Simmons as their point guard, so they’ll need some amalgam to get a working situation put together.

In short, Philadelphia’s plan is to:

  • Sign / draft a guard
  • Win a lot of games

Where Ball doesn’t fit into that is a mystery, even if the 76ers end up grabbing another guard.

If you can’t read between the lines — or read the giant sign LaVar Ball might as well be holding up behind his son everywhere he goes — this seems mostly like a hilariously transparent way to add pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to select Ball at No. 2.

Will this strategy work? No. Is this necessary? Probably not! Magic Johnson already said he thinks Ball is the player that most resembles him in this draft, an equally transparent signal.

The Lakers are going to select Ball at No. 2. Or they won’t.

If they don’t it will be for reasons outside what Ball’s camp can influence, the potential for workouts with the team directly below them (but not the team above them) in the draft notwithstanding. He certainly won’t slide beyond No. 3. But the combination of both not working out for the Celtics and offering the idea that Ball might work out for the Sixers is extremely clumsy — and unnecessary — media work.

And to think we have a whole career of this to go. Strap in! I’m here for it if you are.