Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade is going to will Heat into playoffs

15 Comments

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while imagining your texts if an angry Yo-Yo Ma was in your living room

1) Dwyane Wade drops 40, is going to will Heat into playoffs. With just a couple weeks left in the NBA season, Miami may not yet be  a lock to make the playoffs. However, they now have a two-game cushion over the nine seed Boston Celtics, and it feels like Miami is going to find its way into the dance as the seven seed (and almost certainly face Cleveland in the first round). All thanks to Dwyane Wade. He’s been on fire of late and dropped 40 on the Pistons Sunday in a game that continued Miami’s trend of players dropping like flies. Chris Bosh is out for the season recovering from blood clots in his lungs. Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen were already out injured for the night. Then Luol Deng suffered a contusion his knee and left not to return after halftime. With all that Wade had to take charge, and he did — 40 points on 14-for-27 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. Wade did it without hitting a three. He was getting to the rim like a younger Wade, making shots in the paint, plus going 6-of-12 from the midrange.

2) The Rockets never win pretty, but they do win and are now the second seed in the West. Much like how James Harden racks up his points, how the Rockets keep racking up wins is not aesthetically pleasing. It just works. It worked Sunday as the Rockets held on to beat the Wizards 99-91, which combined with Memphis’ loss puts Houston into the two seed out west. This time it wasn’t all James Harden, rather it was Josh Smith putting up points to open the game, it was Pablo Prigioni controlling the game in the fourth quarter. The  Wizards are a floundering team right now, and the Rockets did let them hang around. But anytime the Wizards seemed to get close, Houston went on a little run. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to pick up their 50th win and get the two seed (at least for a day).

3) Oklahoma City beat Phoenix and all but clinched a playoff spot. The sun set on the Phoenix’s playoff chances Sunday — with their loss to Oklahoma City the Suns are four games back with eight to play. (The Pelicans are 2.5 games back.) Mathematically everything is possible, realistically the Thunder are going to get the eight seed in the West. Sunday’s game had the feel of a playoff game. Phoenix was desperate to get the win, hit everything early; Markieff Morris had 16 first quarter points and the Suns led by 20 in the second quarter. Then the Thunder run started. There was a 17-4 run in the second quarter, then another 17-7 one in the third and we had a ballgame. The 13-0 OKC run in the fourth was pretty much the end of it. Russell Westbrook led the way, of course, dropping 33.

4) Brook Lopez had a 30 point, 11 rebound game to put Nets back in playoffs (for a day). If the playoffs started today, we would have to suffer through a round with the Brooklyn Nets in it. Sorry. At least they will get swept by the Hawks. But as bad as the Nets are they are too much for the Lakers right now. Brook Lopez has again become the focal point of the Nets’ offense, averaging 28.8 points per game over the last six, and that may be enough to keep them ahead of Boston. Or not. I’m not going to try to predict the teams stumbling to the finish line in the East.

5) San Antonio beat Memphis as these teams continue to trend in opposite directions. The Spurs have won three in a row, seven of their last 10, Tony Parker is getting in the lane, Tiago Splitter is making plays, and the Spurs are getting some big games from Kawhi Leonard. Sunday Leonard  had 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-of-7 in that final frame, to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 win over the Grizzlies. The Spurs are healthy again and look like a team that nobody’s going to want to face come the playoffs. A team that could come out of the West. Meanwhile, Memphis has lost three in a row. Granted, to the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs, so it’s hard to read too much into that (if they lose to the Kings in their next game…). Still, if the Grizzlies are going to be title contenders, these are the kinds of games you’d think they would win some of.

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
2 Comments

Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.

Report: Kyrie Irving requested trade after ‘sloppy’ discussion by Cavaliers’ front office

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cavaliers reportedly explored trading Kyrie Irving in June. He requested a trade in July.

Since dealt to the Celtics, Irving has said he’ll never pinpoint his precise reason for leaving Cleveland. But he also said the Cavs “didn’t want me there.”

Did the Cavaliers push him out?

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN.

The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber.

The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.

“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content.

While Altman was involved in the meeting, he and Mike Gansey — at that point officially the head of the Cavs’ G League team — were only keeping the ship afloat on an interim basis and had yet to be formally elevated to their current roles as GM and assistant GM, respectively.

This is one spin on the story. Yet another: Irving initially requested a trade before the draft and considered requesting one in 2016.

Both sides are trying to blame the other for the disintegration of their relationship.

It can be difficult to read how serious the draft-day discussion was. Maybe Irving interpreted ut correctly. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just used it to justify a trade request he wanted to make anyway.

What’s more clear: Communication hasn’t been as strong between the front office and players under general manager Koby Altman as it was under Griffin. McMenamin:

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN.

Altman helped repair that relationship leading up to the trade deadline, looping LeBron in on discussions that culminated with three trades. LeBron appears more invested in the Cavaliers, just in time to keep him next summer.

But some mistakes can’t be fixed before it’s too late. Maybe those Irving trade talks in June were one of them.

Report: NBA considering play-in tournament for playoffs

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
5 Comments

Adam Silver and LeBron James are publicly arguing about 1-16 playoff seeding.

But that’s not the only change to the NBA’s postseason potentially afoot.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

sources say there is also some behind-the-scenes momentum for the idea of a play-in tournament determining the last two seeds in each conference — to the point that two specific proposals are circulating at the highest levels within teams and the league office.

The play-in proposal that has generated the most discussion, according to several sources: two four-team tournaments featuring the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th seeds in each conference. The seventh seed would host the eighth seed, with the winner of that single game nabbing the seventh spot, sources say. Meanwhile, the ninth seed would host the 10th seed, with the winner of that game facing the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the final playoff spot.

It is not coming next season, and it would be a shock if the NBA adopted it in time for 2020 or even 2021. It may never happen. Any such change would need approval from the competition committee, and then from a supermajority of 23 NBA teams. That process has not even started.

The NBA playoffs, with best-of-seven series, makes it more likely the better team advances. The NCAA tournament, with one game per team per round, generates excitement with increased variance and upsets.

Each format presents its own pros and cons, and I think too many NBA people seek the unpredictability of college basketball without considering the tradeoffs.

But I actually like this, because it makes the long regular season matter more. Each play-in seed faces a progressively easier route to the real playoffs:

  • No. 7 seed: Win one of up to two home games
  • No. 8 seed: Win one road or one home game
  • No. 9 seed: Win one home and one road game
  • No. 10: Win two road games

With more doors open to post-regular-season basketball, that’d theoretically curb tanking. Most tanking occurs lower in the standings, and the NBA hopes its lottery reform will address that. But this could incentivize teams otherwise be out of the playoff race to keep competing.

There are still plenty of questions to answer: How is revenue from the play-in tournament distributed? Could it work in conjunction with 1-16 seeding? How are are play-in-tournament teams treated in the lottery?

But this at least seems plausible.