The playoff picture is coming into focus, and by the end of Tuesday night we may have a better picture. Or, we may not. But we’ll know a few more things about how the picture will clear up. Trust me, that makes sense.
Here are the games that matter Tuesday night.
Phoenix at Utah: This is for the eighth seed in the West. And the right to get steamrolled by the Spurs. But still, you get your ticket punched for the dance. If Utah wins this game they are in. If Phoenix wins the two teams are tied but the Suns will have the tiebreaker — their magic number will be one and either they will have to beat the Spurs Wednesday or they need the Trail Blazers to beat the Jazz on Thursday.
Phoenix has won both meetings this season, but the Jazz are a much better home than road team. Steve Nash owned the Jazz on the pick-and-roll last meeting, the Jazz need to not let him control and dictate the flow.
Clippers at Hawks: Both teams need this win. For the visiting Clippers, if they win they are at least the four seed — which gives them home court in what would be the best first round series in either conference against the Grizzlies. A Clippers win also keeps their chances of getting the three seed and avoiding Memphis all together alive — they would need to beat the Knicks Wednesday and have the Lakers lose to the Kings Thursday. Not likely, but a win keeps that door open.
The Hawks are playing the Celtics in the first round, that is set. Right now the Hawks have a one-game lead for home court in that series (it doesn’t matter that the Celtics are the higher seed for wining their division) but the Celtics have the tiebreaker. A win doesn’t lock the Hawks into home court, but it could if Boston were to lose.
Heat at Celtics: I feel sorry for whoever paid good money for this game, because both teams will be resting a lot of key players — LeBron James, Ray Allen and the list will grow by gametime. This game means nothing to the Heat. For Boston it’s about home court. As mentioned above the Hawks and Celtics will play in the first round, right now the Hawks are one game up and would have home court. Boston has the tiebreak so if they win out they force the Hawks to win out to keep home court.
However, Doc Rivers has already said health matters more than home court. So expect to see your favorite Celtics reserves get big minutes.
We’ve seen this movie before.
There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.
The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.
Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.
Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.
The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).
That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.
He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.
Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.
In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.
When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.
Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.
You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.
“He played 20 years … I mean, yeah I guess.”
That’s what Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball had to say in this video after learning that Kobe Bryant was the all-time leader in steals for his franchise. You have to hand it to him, it is a little surprising. Even more surprising is that Bryant has 220 more than Magic Johnson at No. 2.
In a video posted to YouTube by Complex on Saturday, rookies tried to answer questions similar to the one Ball pondered over, like what team drafted their head coach, who the NBA all-time leading scorer is, and what day the first game of the season starts on.
A lot of the responses were pretty funny, including the guys getting wrong what year Adam Silver became NBA commissioner. Poor David Stern has already been forgotten about!
Meanwhile, Ball looked the sharpest. He’s going to come in handy when the Lakers play pub trivia.