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.

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.