What all the games mean Wednesday: For Lakers, just win and you’re in

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Just as David Stern planned (or at least wished for his final regular season finale as commissioner) the battle for playoff seedings — and maybe even a playoff spot — will come down to the final games on the final day of the regular season.

Which is tonight.

It’s going to make for some dramatic television.

There’s a lot to follow, especially in the Western Conference where five of the eight playoff spots could shift Wednesday night, so let’s break it all down. Stay with me here, this isn’t simple.

• Except for the Lakers it is simple — win and you’re in. More than that, win over the Rockets and you leapfrog them in the standings to the seven seed (the two teams would be tied but the Lakers have the tiebreaker), meaning the Lakers get the more desirable matchup with the Spurs in the first round and the Rockets can try to beat the Thunder.

• But the Rockets have something to play for Wednesday, too — if they win and the Golden State Warriors lose to Portland then the Rockets would jump up to the six seed and Golden State would be the seven. Plus, at the very least the Rockets want the seven and not the eight seed.

• Also if the Rockets beat the Lakers, the Jazz can knock the Lakers out of the eight seed if the Jazz can beat the Memphis Grizzlies on the road.

• But the Grizzlies are playing in hopes they can get home court — Memphis will be the five seed in the West but if they beat the Jazz and the Clippers fall to Sacramento in what could be the Kings final game ever in that city (so you know the fans will be out and loud) then the Grizzlies will have home court against the Clippers in the first round. (The Clippers cannot fall any lower than the four seed because they won the Pacific Division but if the five seed Grizzlies have the better record then the Grizzlies get home court. Don’t ask me why, those are just the rules.)

• The Clippers will be motivated because if they win and the Denver Nuggets lose then the Clippers jump up to the three seed. Even if Denver wins, the Clippers need to win to keep home court in the first round.

• The Denver Nuggets also have it pretty simple — win at home against the lowly Suns and they are the three seed. If Denver loses they need the Clippers to lose to get the three seed.

• Houston at the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento, and Golden State at Portland all tip off at 10:30 ET tonight, so this is not all going to get decided until late in the night.

• One race is still alive in the Eastern Conference — the battle for the five/six seed between Atlanta and Chicago. After the Hawks loss on Tuesday they are tied but the Bulls have the tiebreaker (they won the season series). So if Chicago beats the Wizards at home, they get the five seed and face Brooklyn in the first round, Atlanta would be sixth and face Indiana. But if the Bulls lose and the Hawks can beat a Knicks team likely to be resting a lot of guys, then the Hawks are the five seed.

The teams watching that game with the most interest? The Nets and Pacers. Both would much rather face the Hawks than the scrappy, physical, defensive-minded Bulls in the first round.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!