San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers

Playoff scenarios: The East is set, the West we need Stephen Hawking to explain


Back East they have their act together. They’ve planned in advance and they know what they want to do for the playoffs.

Out West they have procrastinated. Always waiting to the last second. And the whole thing is complicated. Trigonometry complicated. Bring in Stephen Hawking and Brian Green to explain it complicated.

So we’ll start with the easy side.

Eastern Conference

Everything is set — these are your playoff matchups

No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 8 Indiana: Not much of a series here, the question is can Indiana even steal a game.

No. 2 Miami vs. No. 7: Philadelphia: Philly is capable of making this difficult for Miami — but the 76ers have to get healthy. Lou Williams’ hamstring and needs to be back at 100 percent, Andre Iguodala needs to get right. Elton Brand’s hand has to be better. And even if all those things do come together they probably win two games in the series.

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 New York: Boston is going to win this, but it could be entertaining. Boston limps into the playoffs while the Knicks are hot… but we got fooled by Boston limping into the playoffs last season. We won’t be fooled again. Boston is flawed but the Knicks are not the team to expose them.

No. 4 Orlando vs. No. 5 Atlanta: Orlando has dominated this matchup in recent years, but Atlanta is counting on Jason Collins to change that. Sure, that will work.

Western Conference

The easy part: San Antonio is the top seed.

Now it gets messy — ESPN’s John Hollinger says there are still 128 scenarios that could play out — and the West is going to go down to Wednesday night no matter what happens Tuesday….

Dallas, with their overtime win Monday, moves into second place in the West (56-25) by half a game over the Lakers, however, the Lakers still have the tiebreaker over Dallas and control their own destiny. Win out and Los Angeles the two seed. Which sounds simple enough except for that five-game losing streak.

For the Lakers they have to beat San Antonio Tuesday night. Now get Oliver Stone in here and let’s talk conspiracy — if the Lakers lose to the Spurs they will be tied with Oklahoma City for the three/four seed, and the team that is the four seed faces San Antonio in the second round. San Antonio wants to avoid the Lakers as long as possible. So don’t be shocked if the Spurs rest guys. However, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says that is not happening because the Bulls remain right on the Spurs heels for the best record overall. We’ll see who the Spurs give the big minutes to tonight.

That game will answer some questions but it’s still a mess. Suffice to say that the Lakers, Mavericks and Thunder all can basically finish anywhere from two to four seeds, and we will not know the answers until the games are over Wednesday night.

Denver is the five seed. That’s locked in.

The Portland/Memphis/New Orleans scenarios for seeds six, seven and eight make the Lakers/Mavericks/Thunder scenarios look simple. Honestly, I’m not even going to try and lay out all the possibilities because you have better things to do all day than read playoff scenarios

Tonight’s Portland vs. Memphis game is huge though. Portland wins and they are locked in at the six seed.  Memphis is currently the seven seed and that’s the spot nobody wants because it means the Lakers in the first round… unless the Lakers lose to the Spurs tonight, in which case it would be better to be the seven seed than the six seed…. Oh, and if Memphis beats Portland Tuesday and the Clippers Wednesday, then the Grizzlies will be the six seed. So Blazers/Grizzlies is a big game with big implications.

Just check back tomorrow and we’ll lay out the final night of the West and how it can all go down. For now, just enjoy Memphis vs. Portland. (We’d say enjoy Los Angeles versus San Antonio, too, but we sense a dud.)

It’s time: Russell Westbrook looks to fill void after Durant’s exit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4), head coach Billy Donovan, guard Russell Westbrook (0) and center Steven Adams pose for a photo during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — There were few indications before August that Russell Westbrook would be so willing to be the hero downtrodden Thunder fans needed.

For years, the sometimes combustible Westbrook toiled in Kevin Durant‘s shadow. He often was viewed as the talented, selfish player who was as likely to get in Durant’s way as he was to make a winning play. His flashy style seemed at odds with small-market Oklahoma City so when Durant, who seemingly was a better fit in OKC, left for rival Golden State, fear that Westbrook would bolt for a larger market increased.

He didn’t. He chose to re-sign with the Thunder and now that he has answered the call, it’s time to deliver.

“We know a few things about Russell at this point,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail every day. He’s going to compete. He’s going to inspire. He’s going to show great conviction and courage to his teammates, to the city, to the organization. And from there, we have to figure out how that comes together.”

That trek begins Wednesday in Philadelphia when Oklahoma City officially tips off the post-Durant era in its season opener against the 76ers.

Westbrook is now the unquestioned leader of the Thunder and player folks behind the scenes knew – the thoughtful, humble, giving man – has more readily come to the surface. He has gone to great lengths to connect with Thunder fans in recent months.

Among other things, he unveiled his new line of True Religion clothing near downtown Oklahoma City and he attended an Oklahoma home football game against Louisiana-Monroe wearing a custom-made Sooners jersey. When he was introduced to the crowd before the Thunder’s preseason home opener, he got the kinds of cheers normally reserved for a return from injury.

Westbrook seems more at ease on the court, too. His preseason play seemed more effortless than electric, with an occasional flourish.

“I want the team to play how they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I mean, it’s not totally up to me how we play. You have to adjust to the team you have and adjust on a night-in, night-out basis on how you want to play. You want to play fast some nights and you want to play slow. I think it depends on the game, on the situation, who is on the floor.”

He is poised to put up astronomical numbers this season as he tries to keep the Thunder among the NBA elite.

Last season Westbrook averaged 23.5 points and career highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He posted 18 triple-doubles, the most for a player since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. The two-time All-Star MVP and former scoring champion could do more damage without Durant, but the Thunder don’t want too much pressure on him.

“I think we have to be able to play in a way that’s not just relying on him to do everything and create every single shot, whether it’s him making the shot or making the play for another guy,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

Westbrook already has left an impression on his new backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the trade that sent defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando.

“After working with Russ, I can see the intensity in how serious he was about his craft,” Oladipo said. “But one thing that I realized that after guarding him for three years – I can see why he’s so effective at what he does. I definitely stole that from him, and I’m going to take it and run as fast as I can with it.”

How Oladipo and the rest of the Thunder do in keeping up with Russell will determine how much success the team will have. Oklahoma City is no longer considered the team to beat in championship conversations, and that’s fine with Westbrook. He said the team embraces the underdog role.

“I love it,” he said. “I love it, man. I think it’s a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP .

Memphis’ Chandler Parsons says he’s playing 5-on-5, hopes to be on court soon

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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When the Memphis Grizzlies get their full starting five on the court, that lineup is going to be a handful.

But the Grizzlies enter their opener Wednesday night likely without Tony Allen and certainly without Chandler Parsons.

Parsons is being brought along slowly following his latest knee surgery, but in an update on the team’s Twitter account notes he is now playing 5-on-5 and hopes to be on the court “soon.”

Parsons also says he hasn’t lost a step. We may need to see that before we fully buy in.

Memphis needs him — and Allen — on the court as soon as possible. While their starting five can be a force, there is not a lot of depth on the Grizzlies’ roster. Plus Parsons provides the floor-spacing shooting and second shot creator the Grizzlies desperately need.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant


You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee


This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.