NBA playoffs: Boston will win Atlantic, can 76ers stay in?

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With just more than two weeks left in the regular season, the NBA’s playoff picture is starting to come into focus. Sort of. Here is where things stand as of Monday morning.

Boston, with its easy win over Philadelphia, moved three games up in the Atlantic division, ahead of both Philly and New York. Barring an Atlanta Braves-like collapse, the Celtics will win the Atlantic — which means at least the No. 4 seed. Which means avoiding Miami or Chicago in the first round. Right now, Boston would get Atlanta in the first round (but the five-seed Hawks would get the home court due to a better record).

Philly is in danger of sliding right out of the playoffs all together — they are now the eight seed and just one game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks. Philly is tied with New York, but the Knicks are on an uptick and winning games — although the Wednesday showdown between the Bucks and Knicks will be big.

There may be some shifting in the middle in the East — Indiana, Atlanta and Orlando are all within 1.5 games of each other. But it’s hard to see those three being anything but the three, five and six seeds — they are six games back of the two seed Heat and four games up on the seven seed Knicks.

If the playoffs started today in the East it would be:

Bulls vs. Sixers
Heat vs. Knicks
Pacers vs. Magic
Celtics vs. Hawks (Atlanta has home court)

Out in the West, San Antonio and Oklahoma City remain tied at the top. The Lakers and Clippers are in a battle for the three and four seeds — the Lakers are half-a-game ahead (and have the tie-breaker) right now. But they both better look over their shoulder at the hot Memphis Grizzlies, who are two games back of the Lakers.

At the bottom of the West it is a crowded mess — Houston is the six seed, Dallas the seven and Denver the eight and they are all within a game of each other. Phoenix is one game back of the Nuggets and the Jazz are just half-a-game behind the Suns (after a loss to the Spurs Sunday). It feels like Denver is slipping out, but they have beaten the Bulls recently and are capable of big wins. Unless someone goes on a big losing streak, this is going to come down to the last week.

If the playoffs started today we would see:

Spurs vs. Nuggets
Thunder vs. Mavericks
Lakers vs. Rockets
Clippers vs. Grizzlies

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.