Breaking down the playoff chase in the Western Conference

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The West is a mess. A deep, complex, playoff question mark still with a whole lot of moving parts.

Which is what makes playoff races fun.

We’ve got just more than two weeks of regular season games left. We’re going to try to lay out the entire playoff picture for you, but it’s messy, so stay with us here:

One and two seeds. It’s going to be San Antonio and Oklahoma City, in some order. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Spurs had a one-game lead over the Thunder.

The big key is the Thunder and Spurs face off Thursday night. That’s when we see how much the Spurs care about this race by who they suit up and send out there and who they rest… er, have to take out because their injured. If the Spurs win that game they not only stretch out their lead but also win the season series and the tiebreaker.

In the seven other games left this season, the Thunder have four on the road and four against playoff teams. The Spurs have only three on the road and three against playoff teams. You’ say advantage Spurs, but that means predicting Gregg Popovich and who he will play on any given night. Good luck with that.

Three, four and five seeds. This is where it gets really messy. Denver and Memphis are tied at 50-24 (Denver owns that tiebreaker) with the L.A. Clippers a game and a half back of both. Technically the Clippers as a division winner cannot slip any farther back than the four seed, but that would not give them automatic home court advantage. You really want to get the three seed and likely face Golden State or maybe Houston — the four and five seeds go head-to-head in the toughest first round matchup in either conference.

Denver has five of its eight at home and four current playoff teams (plus Dallas). Memphis has five games on the road but only two playoff teams (plus the Lakers, Blazers and Mavs in that road mix). The Clippers have the easiest schedule — five of eight at home and only one current playoff team (Memphis) but they have stumbled losing four of five.

There is no order there that would surprise me.

Six and seven seeds. This is going to be Golden State and Houston in some order. Golden State has a one-game lead and would like to maintain it because as scary as Denver (or Memphis, or the Clippers) might be as the three seed it’s not Oklahoma City. Houston wants wins for the same reason.

Houston is at Denver Saturday in a huge game for this seed matchup.

Eighth seed. This is a mess. The Jazz are as of Tuesday half a game ahead of the Lakers (tied in the loss column) and 1.5 up on Dallas (one up in the loss column) heading into a huge game for both teams between Dallas and the Lakers Tuesday night.

Here is the key — Utah has the tiebreaker over both Los Angeles and Dallas. The Jazz have seven games left, four and home and four against playoff teams. If Dallas goes 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers must go 6-2 in their remaining eight games to pass them. And by the way, Utah is on a five game winning streak. All of which is to say Utah controls its own destiny. But it’s not going to be easy for anyone.

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.

Stephon Marbury is parting ways with Beijing Ducks after three titles

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Stephon Marbury is big in China — he has his own statue and a play in his honor.

In six seasons he led the Beijing Ducks to three titles, but eventually rebuilding hits every team and it is coming to Beijing. Which means that while Marbury wants to stay in China beyond this season he is essentially a free agent. Here are the details, via shanghaiist.com (this has been confirmed by other sources).

The 40-year-old former NBA All-Star had a contract with Beijing for the next season that included an unusual clause allowing the team to decide if Marbury — known to fans as “Old Ma” — would return as a player or as an assistant coach. Marbury has said that after his playing days are over, he wants to coach in China; however, he still feels he could play for one more year.

But, after missing the playoffs this past season, Beijing is looking to rebuild and didn’t want their aging superstar clogging up a precious foreign player roster spot. The Ducks announced at a press conference on Saturday that after being unable to negotiate a deal, they were going to terminate Marbury’s contract.

Marbury put out a letter to fans on Weibo — a Chinese social media site — that Shanghaiist excerpted.

Second, we did not make the playoffs in the past season, as a player who always want to win and work hard to prepare myself for winning, it’s very hard to accept the way the season ended. Though I am 40 years already, I still work very hard to keep my body right, I can still play at a very high level, I am sure all the fans could tell from last season I’m still capable of playing. I was still able to lead the team to compete, even with an injured leg. I pulled my hamstring at the beginning of the season and I still played and put everything on the court because that’s who I am. I want to play, I love to compete, I [pursue] winning all the time, l love basketball because it’s my life, I still have a lot in the tank that [makes] me really want to play for another year. I want to dedicate this last year of my career in the best way possible on the court for the CBA, then I’ll retire and work as a coach to help the basketball here for the rest of my life.

Marbury had a 13-year NBA career (and was a two-time All-Star) but things got a little messy for him around the end of his career in the Association. Then he found a second life in China. A lot of Western players struggle to adjust to a very different culture and environment in China — not to mention a different style of basketball — so the league has a high drop out of Western players

However, Marbury has thrived. He’s found a second home.

I have to imagine a lot of teams would leap to get a draw like him on their team for a season.

Report: NBA to announce All-NBA Teams early, because of salary cap reasons

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The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award will not be announced until an awards ceremony June 26 on TNT — after the NBA draft, and after the NBA playoffs that will shape the narrative of the award even though voting will have been completed more than two months earlier. Same for Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and on down the line.

But not the All-NBA Teams, those are coming sooner — because teams want it that way.

The easiest example is the Indiana Pacers: If Paul George makes an All-NBA team they can offer him a designated veteran contract worth roughly $80 million more than any other team. However, if he doesn’t make a team the Pacers need to worry about him leaving as a free agent in 2018, and they may try to trade him. The best time for that trade might be around the draft — Indiana may be able to secure a high pick from a team near the top of the draft in a trade. However, if the Pacers didn’t know if George made an All-NBA team by the draft they wouldn’t make that move.

So the NBA is announcing early, a story broken by Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

To allow for its teams to have all the necessary information to make offseason preparations, the NBA will announce its all-NBA teams before its inaugural awards show in late June, according to league sources.

Because of the newly created Designated Player Exception, which relies on players making, among other things, one of the three all-NBA teams to qualify, decisions about whether players — such as Indiana Pacers star Paul George, for example — will be willing to remain with their current team or be open to being traded elsewhere could be based upon whether a player is voted on to one of the teams.

Smart move by the NBA. There are also bonuses and other impacts on salaries based on end of season awards that will alter the salary structure of teams heading into free agency.

Larry Bird delivers Pacers’ 2021 All-Star bid in an Indy car

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NEW YORK (AP) — Indiana wants the NBA All-Star Game and sent Larry Bird to get it – in an Indy car.

Bird drove four blocks down Fifth Avenue in his car Monday to deliver the Pacers’ bid to host the 2021 game to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, fitting his 6-foot-9 frame into a car usually driven by much shorter people.

Bird, an Indiana native and now the Pacers president, had driven an Indy car only once, during his practice for his drive Monday.

Drawing a crowd of a couple hundred spectators, he maneuvered along the left lane, exited his yellow and blue “Larry Bird” car and called it a “little rough ride” because of his big feet and the car’s small pedals.

Silver says the Pacers, who hosted the game in 1985, would be “fantastic hosts.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and 2019 is expected to be re-awarded to Charlotte. Houston, Orlando, and a number of other cities are expected to make bids for the 2020 and 2021 games, along with Indiana.