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


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.

Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury


In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.

Pacers use late surge to beat Clippers, close in on playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.

They certainly had a chance to turn things around.

After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.

Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.

The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.

They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.

The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.

Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.

Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.


LeBron James throws touchdown pass like Cleveland fans hope Sam Darnold can

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Cleveland fans can only hope Sam Darnold is as good a passer as LeBron James.

And that his receivers are better than Jose Calderon. Or at least taller.

LeBron James grabbed a rebound and threw a perfect touchdown pass to a leaked out Jose Calderon as the Cavaliers went on to beat the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

🙌🏽 @kingjames 🎯 @jmcalderon8 🙌🏽

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By the way, LeBron made a nice dish to the returned Larry Nance Jr., too.


Report: Rockets to waive Brandan Wright

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Finally healthy, it was easy to see where big man Brandan Wright would fit on Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets — he’s an athletic big man who can get up and down the court, he knows how to finish lobs above the rim, and could provide some front line depth behind Clint Capela and Nene. That’s why the Rockets picked him up in February after he was bought out by the Grizzlies.

It didn’t work out that way. Wright played in one game with Houston before his sore knee forced him to shut it down. He has not played since.

The Rockets are moving on, waiving Wright and bringing in forward Le’Bryan Nash out of the G-League on a 10-day contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

With center Brandan Wright unable to return from his knee issues this season, the Rockets will release Wright, who signed as a free agent last month, a person with knowledge of the move said…

He had a minor procedure and will work on his rehab with the Rockets staff, the individual familiar with the plans said.

 “Brandan did everything positive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just wasn’t physically able to hang in there. We hate it that the guy isn’t part of this.”

Wright has played in just 28 total this season averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.6 minutes. He’s battled knee issues for a few seasons now and has not played more than 28 games in the last three. If healthy he can help teams, but we’ll see if he ever gets back into the NBA.

The Rockets use Ryan Anderson as their backup center, using Nene less of late, although how much D’Antoni can use Anderson in the playoffs due to his defensive challenges remains to be seen.

Nash, who played a season at Oklahoma State, will get his first taste of the NBA. He was a highly recruited kid out of high school, and this season has averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes per game for the Rio Grande Vipers this season.