Playoff shakeout: What the chase looks like with two weeks left

15 Comments

Two weeks from today — April 26 — is the final day of the regular season. It came up on us all sneaky fast. You can thank the lockout for that, too.

Let’s take a look at how the playoff races and seedings shake out with two weeks left:

Eastern Conference

Chicago and Miami will finish 1-2, and the Bulls have a three-game lead. The only way Miami catches Chicago is to sweep the two times these to teams play in the next two weeks (Thursday and April 19), then catch a break. That’s not all going to happen, but it’s possible.

Boston, Atlanta and Orlando are tied at 34-24 for the 4, 5 and 6 seeds (the Pacers are the 3 seed and pretty much are locked in unless they falter). With the way the Magic are struggling (and with Dwight Howard not right) if feels like they will fall to six, which means what the Celtics and Hawks are really playing for these next couple weeks is home court in their first-round matchup.

With New York’s win over Milwaukee on Wednesday, it is going to be very difficult for the Bucks to make the playoffs. They are two games back of the Knicks, three back of the 76ers (and Philly has more road games but against lesser teams the rest of the way). What this means is the Sixers and Knicks are playing to see who gets the Heat and who gets the Bulls in the first round. That is basically a game nobody wins. The Bucks need someone to totally fall apart to make the playoffs at this point.

Western Conference

At the top of the West, Oklahoma City is one game up on San Antonio for the top seed. Getting that spot matters a lot more to the Thunder than it does the Spurs — Oklahoma City is a younger team and may have the best home court advantage in the league. The Spurs are the definition of unflappable veterans and they don’t care if the game is at home, on the road or played outdoors on asphalt with a chain net, they will be the same team.

The Lakers and Clippers are battling for the Pacific Division crown and the No. 3 seed — but what they are really fighting for is the right to avoid the Grizzlies in the first round. Right now the Lakers are the No. 3 seed, the Clippers the 4 (1.5 games back of the Lakers, plus the Lakers have the tiebreaker), then the Grizzlies are the No. 5 seed and just half a game back of the Clippers. The Clippers got a big win at Oklahoma City and they need more efforts like that because not only do they not want Memphis, they really don’t want Memphis to have the home court in that series.

At the bottom Dallas, Denver and Houston are tied at 32-26 and are the 6,7 and 8 seeds — with Utah now 1.5 games back of all of them. The Suns’ loss Wednesday hurt, and they are now two back of all those teams. You get the feeling one of those teams in right now will slip and get caught by Utah or Phoenix. If I had to guess, it would be the Nuggets, as they are erratic — the Mavs better with their backs against the wall, and the Rockets give it everything they have every night. But basically there are five teams within two games of each other and every game matters a lot to all these teams the rest of the way.

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis lead way, Bulls blow out Kyrie-less Celtics 108-85

Associated Press
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are starting to draw attention for their play together instead of their fight with each other.

Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA’s worst record, the Bulls (6-20) built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Leading the way were two players who made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the season started.

Their fight at practice left Mirotic with facial fractures, causing him to miss the first 23 games. Portis served an eight-game suspension.

But the two have played well together the past two games.

“We need to give the credit to (coach Fred Hoiberg),” Mirotic said. “Fred is the one who is making us play. He’s the guy who is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spots to play.”

As for the fight?

“Man, that situation’s over,” Portis said. “Everybody’s talking about that. But that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms and shot 9 of 14 with eight rebounds. Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 16.3 points.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston (23-6). Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics’ most lopsided loss of the season.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It was simple as that,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Chicago dictated the whole game. They played harder than we did. They played with more presence than we did. They played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”

 

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Leave a comment

A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.