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Pacers at Heat headline Friday night games with playoff implications


Friday night’s Pacers/Heat showdown is not going to tell is much about how a likely Eastern Conference Finals between these teams plays out — there is no Dwyane Wade for the Heat, for one. Also, both teams are going to run things a little vanilla, not overplay any sets or match ups they like and tip their hands for future playoff strategy (think NFL preseason offense).

But it does matter. A lot.

The Pacers have struggled on the road at points this season (20-19), which is why their focus all season has been getting the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the East. They want Game 7 against the Heat in their building — to get that they need to beat the Heat on the road Friday night.

Miami sits half a game back of the Pacers (one fewer wins) but with a softer schedule the rest of the way — if Miami wins they control their own destiny. Miami closes out with the Hawks, Wizards and Sixers — all very winnable games. Beat the Pacers and the top seed is yours for the taking.

For the Pacers, win and you are 1.5 games up on Miami and Indiana owns the tiebreaker — win this and the Pacers’ magic number for the top seed is one.

Add to that these teams have a nice rival growing and we should see an intense, physical game. It should feel like a playoff game. LeBron James will attack the rim and Roy Hibbert will be there to greet him. Lance Stephenson will make amazing plays or foolish plays, or most likely a little of both. Chris Bosh will float around on the perimeter but make plays. It will get chippy.

It’s going to be fun. Just don’t think the playoff match ups between these two will look like this.

Here are a few other games of playoff import on Friday night:

• Washington at Orlando/Charlotte at Boston: Right now Washington and Charlotte are deadlocked for the 6/7 seed. Nobody wants the 7 seed. With the six seed you likely face Toronto or Chicago in the first round — two good but flawed teams where the Wizards or Bobcats stand a chance to extend the series and maybe, with a little luck, get a win. Land in the 7 slot and you become chum in the first round for Miami or Indiana. Expect both Washington and Charlotte to play with some desperation.

• Philadelphia at Memphis/Phoenix at San Antonio. As of right now Memphis is the 9 seed in the West, one game back of the Suns. Memphis is going to beat Philadelphia tonight because, well, Philadelphia. Have you seen them? That puts pressure on the Suns to come up with a win against the team with the best record in the NBA — a Spurs team resting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on the second night of a back-to-back, but still a Spurs team that plugs in its reserves and keeps on moving forward like the Terminator 3000s that they are. (They will not stop. Ever.) The Suns really need a win because they have the Mavericks — the other team playing musical chairs for the final playoff slots in the West — on Saturday night. Oh, just a reminder that the Grizzlies have the tie breaker over the Suns. So yes, the Suns need wins.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.