Breaking down the seeding chase in the Eastern Conference

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Unlike their friends in the West, there really is no playoff chase in the East.

The top eight teams are pretty much locked in, starting with Miami as the one seed down to the Bucks, the current eight seed. The Sixers are six games back of the Bucks for that final playoff spot, so while it is mathematically possible Philly makes the playoffs it’s more likely they’ll just keep grumbling about Andrew Bynum and thinking about the lottery.

What’s interesting in the East is the struggle for seeding during the final couple weeks of the regular season.

Top three seeds. Miami has the top spot sewn up, but the battle for the two-seed is a good one.

The Pacers technically have a half-game lead on the Knicks, but Indiana has also played three more games. The Knicks have one less loss as of right now. In addition, both teams are hot right now — New York has won eight in a row, Indiana eight of nine.

The problem for the Knicks is the Pacers have the easier schedule from here on out. Indiana has seven games left, four at home with four against playoff teams. The Knicks have 10 games left, six on the road and seven against playoff teams. The Pacers could essentially be the team posting a good number in the clubhouse and forcing the Knicks to birdie the last hole to beat it. One other question to consider in this fight: Is the three seed better off because they likely the Bulls or Hawks in the first round while the two seed likely gets the Celtics?

This Knicks/Pacers struggle could come down to one game — Sunday, April 14, the Pacers at the Knicks. Head to head. The Pacers have won two of the previous three meetings, win this one and they get the tiebreak. Lose and it and the tiebreak comes down to better record against teams in their conference (currently the Pacers have that edge 30-13 to 30-16).

Four, five, six seeds. The Nets, Hawks and Bulls at all within 1.5 games of each other for the three middle seeds. There is motivation here to get the four seed and the home court in the first round. Also, there is motivation to be at least the five seed — all three of these teams are relatively even and have a legitimate shot to advance if they face each other in the four/five playoff matchup. However, fall to six and you get a tougher task against a Knicks or Pacers.

Seven, eight seed. This is really the battle to avoid the Heat in the first round. Currently the Bucks are 1.5 games back of the Celtics for the seven seed (and no easy matchup, but better than the Heat).

The good news for Boston is they have an easier schedule from here on out — five of their eight games are at home and only three are against playoff teams. The Bucks have six of nine on the road and have five playoff teams. Brian Robb breaks it down in great detail at CelticsHub, but looking at the numbers you’d think the Celtics should hang on to that last spot. Then again, watching them play without Kevin Garnett to anchor their defense, this race  feels a lot more like a toss up.

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.

Clippers win likely playoff preview 108-95 over Jazz

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West. The teams are likely to face in the first round of the postseason.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles’ lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend.

But Los Angeles turned things around in the fourth, scoring the first eight points for an 80-70 lead. Crawford had 17 points in the quarter, scoring six in a row to push the Clippers’ lead to 103-84. He was 9 of 9 at the free-throw line for the game.

The Clippers grabbed control early on, shooting 52 percent in the first quarter while building a 15-point lead.

The Jazz got within seven to start the second before the Clippers restored their 15-point margin and eventually led 49-41 at halftime.

Utah’s top two scorers, Gordon Hayward and George Hill, struggled. Hayward, who averages 22 points, had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Hill, who averages 17.1, had nine points while shooting 4 of 11.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Gobert was coming off a career-high 35-point, 15-rebound performance against the Knicks on Tuesday. … G Sheldon Mack missed his 11th straight game with a left ankle sprain. … F/C Derrick Favors remains out with a left knee bone contusion.

Clippers: Their six-year playoff run is the longest in franchise history. … They have won 18 of 20 against the Jazz dating to Feb. 1, 2012. … They won the season series 3-1.

 

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

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.