The Extra Pass: Four teams for three spots in West playoff race

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Four teams. Three spots.

With a quarter of the season remaining that his how the bottom of the Western Conference shakes out.

(Minnesota is 4.5 games out of the mix but in the deep Western Conference where it likely takes 47 wins to make the playoffs, meaning they have to go 17-6 the rest of the way. I don’t see that as a likely outcome.)

That leaves Golden State, Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis all within three games of each other (and more than four games back from the conference’s top five, so those five are safe). One of those four teams will not have a chair when the music stops.

And it could be any of them.

Which one is most likely? Let’s look at their upcoming schedules — listed in the order they stand currently, including how many quality teams they play and how many they play against others in this foursome.

TEAM NAME HOME-AWAY VS. +500 VS. EACH OTHER
6. GOLDEN STATE (38-24) 13-7 10 4
7. PHOENIX (35-25, -2) 8-14 13 3
8. DALLAS (36-26, -2) 12-8 13 4
9. Memphis (34-26, -3) 9-13 13 3

What can you read into that?

• Golden State is in a relatively good spot. They have a three-game cushion over the nine seed and the easiest schedule from here on out. They don’t have any road trips that take them east of the Mississippi. Only two of their last seven games are against teams over .500. There are no guarantees but they are the most likely team to find their way into the postseason.

• Dallas plays a lot of good teams — and they have struggled against the elite in the league — but they also have the advantage of having most of their games at home, where they are 19-10 this season. If they continue on pace of winning two thirds of their home games and just go .500 on the road they are at 48 wins this season, which will almost certainly earn them a ticket to the postseason dance.

• That leaves the most likely outcome — either Memphis or Phoenix is not going to make the cut. Both have tough schedules and they play the majority of their remaining games on the road. However, Memphis is the better road team (16-11 this season to the 14-13 of Phoenix).

• Obviously the games against others in this foursome are key.

• There are a three of games between these teams in the final week of the season that could turn out to be huge:

April 12: Suns at Mavericks
April 14: Grizzlies at Suns
April 16: Mavericks at Grizzlies

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

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.