What Wednesday’s games mean: Heat can lock up best record; Lakers need win

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There is one week of NBA regular-season basketball left — next Wednesday, April 17 is the final day of games, then we get to focus on the playoffs. Right now teams are jockeying for playoff position — or in the case of the Lakers and Jazz a spot in the playoffs.

Which means a lot of games in the next week have implications. As a viewer’s guide, here are the potential impacts of Wednesday’s games.

Eastern Conference

Heat at Wizards: Miami’s magic number is one — one Heat win or one Spurs loss and they secure the best record overall in the NBA (they are currently 61-16). It might happen against the Wizards, although John Wall has Washington playing better of late. No Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh for Miami.

Hawks at Sixers: Atlanta would much rather face Brooklyn in the first round than Indiana, but to do that they need to catch the Bulls for the five seed. The Hawks win this game and they move into a virtual tie with Chicago for that spot. Lose and they need to look over their shoulder at the seven seed Celtics — 1.5 games back of Atlanta. The seven seed gets the Knicks in the first round and that would be trouble.

Nets at Celtics: If Boston can get a win here and get some help from the Sixers, they could move within half a game of the six seed. The Nets are pretty locked into the four seed, three games up on the five-seed Bulls. Still, wins help them secure that spot.

Western Conference

Lakers at Trail Blazers: This is a virtual must-win for the Lakers — win and they have a one-game lead over Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West; lose and they fall into a tie with the Jazz and Utah has the tiebreaker. The Lakers have nothing but games against playoff teams left, the Jazz have two against the Timberwolves. It’s a back-to-back and the Lakers still look shaky, but they need to find a way to win this.

Spurs at Nuggets: Denver is currently the three seed in the West, half a game up on Memphis. The Clippers look pretty locked into the four seed and can fall no lower as division champions. The team that is the three seed in the West gets Golden State in the first round (a young team that doesn’t play great defense), the five seed gets the Clippers (with Chris Paul and a deep roster). Win and they are a game up on Memphis, lose and they fall into a tie and make it possible even the Clippers could catch them.

Timberwolves at Clippers: The Clippers can be no lower than the four seed as division winners, but if the five seed (Memphis or Denver) has a better record the Clippers would still be the road team in the first round. Right now, the Clippers are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies and two back of the Nuggets. Get a win and they are within a game of home court in the first round

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).

 

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.