Jazz clinch last playoff spot in the West, eliminate Suns

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The Jazz clinched the final playoff spot in the West on Tuesday, and knocked the Suns out of the postseason picture at the same time. In a game that was essentially a must-win for both teams if they were to keep their playoff hopes alive, Utah was too tough at home, especially inside, and were able to pull away for a 100-88 victory over a Phoenix team that was missing two of its starters, and largely overachieved in the second half of the season to even make it this far.

Paul Millsap did the heavy lifting for the Jazz, and finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds. Al Jefferson was huge down the stretch, scoring eight straight points that pushed a five-point lead to 13 with just over two minutes to play. He finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, and Derrick Favors added 13 and 11 in 29 minutes off the bench.

Utah’s bigs made things extremely difficult for Suns center Marcin Gortat, who is used to scoring at the rim off of pick-and-roll feeds from Steve Nash. While the opportunities were there, the shots were challenged or blocked to the point where Gortat finished just 1-of-8 from the field with two points.

The Jazz seemed poised to put this game away earlier than they actually did, but a couple of scoring droughts, along with the competent play of the Suns’ bench unit behind decent performances from Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd, and even Hakim Warrick kept things within reach for Phoenix.

Without Channing Frye, though, who was out with a dislocated shoulder, the usual spacing wasn’t where it needed to be for Nash to be able to do what he does in setting up his teammates for easy looks. As a result, the Suns offense couldn’t keep up with the repeated easy baskets Utah was able to get inside — the Jazz outscored Phoenix 50-40 in points in the paint, although it didn’t seem nearly that close.

At the end of the night — and the season — the Jazz deserved to get that final playoff spot more than the Suns. Phoenix gave it everything it had in coming from six games under .500 at the All-Star break to have this chance, but injuries and perhaps age caught up to the team and they simply didn’t have enough left in the tank to beat Utah in their building with a playoff spot on the line.

While Phoenix stumbled to the season’s finish line losing six of its last 11 games, Utah has won four in a row, and six of its last eight. That’s how you close a season out, and that’s how you find yourself having earned a spot in the playoffs.

Miami, Cleveland and Oklahoma City players all lobbying for Dwyane Wade

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MIAMI (AP) Teams cannot officially start pursuing Dwyane Wade yet, because that would be tampering.

The same rules don’t apply to players.

So on Monday, even though Wade’s agreed-upon buyout deal with the Chicago Bulls has not yet become official, plenty of his NBA colleagues – particularly those in Cleveland, Oklahoma City and his former home in Miami – started lobbying the 12-time All-Star in earnest about where they think he should be playing this season.

“If I was to talk to that guy that would happen to possibly be like a brother to me, hypothetically, I would say I would love to have you in Miami,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, Wade’s teammate in Miami for 13 seasons. “I would love to finish my career with you. I would love to have you help me mold this young group of promising young men that have the chance to take the Heat culture to the next level.”

Wade isn’t expected to clear waivers until 5 p.m. Wednesday. He and the Bulls reached an agreement Sunday on the buyout, a person with direct knowledge told The Associated Press. Wade was due to make about $24 million this season in Chicago, and he told AP that he intended to take a couple of days to talk with players and teams about his options.

“My decision is a pure basketball decision and I’ll make the one that fits me best at this point in my career, and with what I feel I have to offer a team that needs what I have to offer,” Wade said in the AP interview.

It’s unclear how many teams have reached out to Wade’s representatives. Wade said he hopes to make a decision quickly.

Wade helped recruit LeBron James to Miami in 2010, and James is now hoping to do the same by getting his close friend to Cleveland.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” said James, Wade’s teammates on Miami’s title teams in 2012 and 2013. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another player to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

James said he will talk to Wade about what to do next.

“But it’s not up to me,” James said. “It’s up to D-Wade if he can clear waivers and then it’s up to our front office. But I hope we can bring him here. I would love to have him.”

Wade worked out with James this summer – that’s not uncommon, they vacation together, dine together and talk all the time anyway. Wade also spent some time this offseason in the gym with Paul George, now with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

George said he would be hitting Wade up on Snapchat and Twitter to do his campaigning. And now the Thunder have longtime Wade friend Carmelo Anthony, after Oklahoma City’s trade with the New York Knicks was finalized Monday.

“Come on, D,” Anthony said. “You know where you belong.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, like Heat President Pat Riley last week, raved about Wade on Monday – but, wary of tampering, didn’t come anywhere near close to openly lobbying for a reunion.

Heat point guard Goran Dragic had a very simple message.

“This is D-Wade’s home,” Dragic said. “We’ll see how he’s going to choose. But hopefully, he comes back.”

AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

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

Watch Carmelo Anthony laugh when asked whether he would come off the bench

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Carmelo Anthony is now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s not immediately clear what position he will play.

Anthony joins a team with an established, All-Star level small forward in Paul George. That means that head coach Billy Donovan will have to be creative with his lineups especially as they will likely need to start Anthony.

Of course, Anthony has been a monster at power forward in the past and many would argue that it is his natural position in today’s NBA. Anthony played the majority of his minutes between 2012 and 2014 at the 4 spot with the New York Kniks, and indeed those were some of his most productive years both in terms of offensive rating and VORP.

Anthony has also played at the power forward position in order to play with Team USA in prior contests with the national squad.

However, when asked whether Anthony would play in the 4 spot or would prefer to come off the bench, Anthony had a good laugh.

Via Twitter:

Seriously though Carmelo should play the 4.

Russell Westbrook calls Oklahoma City “the place where I want to be”

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has yet to sign an extension, but the reigning league MVP says Oklahoma City is where he wants to be and he is “happy” about the offseason additions of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

Westbrook complimented Thunder management for making the deals.

The unsigned deal has tempered some of the excitement building around the team. He has until Oct. 16 to ink a contract that would be worth more than $200 million. Westbrook says he hasn’t signed because of the birth of his son and a busy travel schedule.

Westbrook’s former teammate Enes Kanter, who was sent to New York as part of the deal that brought Anthony to Oklahoma City, also says he expects Westbrook to sign the deal.

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

Paul George says OKC feels like “Somewhere I can call home for years”

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All we have heard about all summer is that Paul George is definitely going to the Los Angeles Lakers. Heck, we’ve heard about it earlier than that.

That’s what forced the Indiana Pacers to make the trade to send George to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he is now teammate of both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

But NBA Media Day was on Monday, and with it brought not only first interviews of new players but the platitudes that fans want to hear as well.

Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, George said that he thought the Thunder had done much that they had needed to do to show him they were a place that he could stay.

Via USA Today:

“Honestly, I’m happy,” he said. “The only thing I wanted out of Indiana was a chance to win my whole career there…That’s really what I want out of this, out of the league. I’m not looking for money. I’m not looking for stats. I want to win, and (to) be able to win at a high level.

“It’s Year One, and (the Thunder have) proven – and I haven’t even gone through a season yet – and they’ve already proven everything on my check list (that) I can check off. That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me, and somewhere I can call home for years.’”

George also told USA Today that winning was above anything else, including joining his hometown team in the Lakers. We’ve heard this from players before, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does appear that the Thunder have a shot of keeping the former Pacers star if George is to be believed.

Of course, Oklahoma City still has some work to do in terms of winning games. There are some serious doubts about the roster they have now with three high usage players that will struggle to find a way to share the ball efficiently.

The Western Conference got a lot tougher this offseason, and both Anthony and George were a part of that. But the other teams have stiffened and appear to have better roster fit at the moment. Thats before we even get to the 2017 NBA Finals champion Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James says that he is going to be finishing his career in Cleveland. George says that the Thunder have a real shot at keeping him. We will have to play out this season to see if either of those things come true.