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 starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.