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

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.