<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Clippers

Report: Jamal Crawford cleared, expected to play for Clippers Tuesday night

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The Clippers need depth. That — and the lack of flexibility with no depth — is the team’s Achilles heal heading into the playoffs.

So the Clippers need Jamal Crawford back.

And, as had been expected, they should get it Tuesday night, reports Arash Markazi of ESPN.

Crawford has been out since March 2 with a calf injury, so expected limited minutes. Still, more Crawford and less Austin Rivers is good for the Clippers.

Crawford, the defending Sixth Man of the Year award winner, averages 16.4 points per game and brings needed shot creation off the bench for the Clippers. That said he is shooting 40.1 percent, he’s going to get singled out defensively in the playoffs, and the Clippers are -7.8 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

He doesn’t solve all the Clippers’ problems. But he is an upgrade.

Report: Many NBA executives expect Brook Lopez to opt out this summer

Brook Lopez
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Strike while the iron is hot.

It’s not just a phrase for medieval blacksmiths, it can apply to NBA free agency as well. While many potential free agents are eyeing being available come 2016 — when the salary cap will jump by $23 million or so — but if you’ve had a really good 2015, it might be better to get max now then bet on being in the same hot spot a year from now.

Enter Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.

After years of battling injuries, he’s been largely healthy this season and been on fire since the All-Star break. In his last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.6 points per game on 60.2 percent shooting, plus he’s doing better on the boards grabbing 8.8 a game. He’s the two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Week and is the reason the Nets are likely a playoff team.

And he’s likely to strike while the iron is hot, reports Zach Lowe at Grantland.

Most execs expect Lopez to opt out and enter free agency after rampaging across the league over the last month.

Lopez will likely draw max offers, with teams thinking that what is a max salary for him this summer doesn’t look too bad a year later when the cap space spikes. (A number of guys are going to get paid this summer on that theory.)

Lopez is set to make $16.7 million with the Nets, and they will have to decide whether to pay him big if he opts out — they already have both Joe Johnson ($24 million) and Deron Williams ($21 million) on the books and will likely need to try and retain both Lopez and Thaddeus Young. They likely will not pay for all of that.

Meaning Lopez could be on the move, and some big markets might drool over the chance to add him.

 

Breaking down Western Conference playoff chase with nine days left in season

James Harden, Chris Paul
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With just nine days left in the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff race is just shockingly still up in the air.

We know the one seed. We all but know the four and seven seeds. But around that everything else is chaos. We try to break it down.

No. 1 seed: The Golden State Warriors have officially secured up the top spot, not just in the West but in the NBA. They will have home court as long as they last in the playoffs.

No. 2-6 seeds: The middle of the West is about as settled as the Major League Baseball standings are today. Here is where things stand going into Tuesday’s games.

2. Houston
3. Memphis (-1 game)
4. Portland (-3 games*)
5. LA Clippers (-1.5 games)
6. San Antonio (-2 games)

* Portland has won the Northwest Division and can be no lower than the four seed, however if the five seed team has the better record (as is likely) the fifth seed gets home court in the first round.

Houston moved into the two seed last week but the real test to hold on to it they likely need at least a split in their home-and-home with the red-hot Spurs this week. While for the Spurs, a couple wins could move them up the ladder and get them home court in the first round. If the Spurs run the table the rest of the way, nobody would be shocked.

The Clippers have a soft schedule the rest of the way, save for one tough game — Memphis. Win that one and they could well be the three seed. Or higher.

This middle of the West could go any direction.

No. 7 seed: Dallas is locked in here. They have a magic number of one to secure a playoff spot, but they are not catching the Spurs, Clippers or anyone else up there.

No. 8 seed: Oklahoma City has stumbled, losing four in a row, and that has opened the door for New Orleans, which is just half a game back now. Still, Oklahoma City has a much softer schedule the rest of the way, playing two playoff teams in their final five games (Spurs and Trail Blazers). The Pelicans, on the other hand, have four playoff teams in their final six games (Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets and Spurs). The Pelicans have the tie breaker, but they need to catch some of these teams resting key players, and pull off some upsets, to get the playoff spot. Well, that or the Thunder just need to keep losing.

Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with nine days left in season

Kelly Olynyk, Luis Scola
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With just nine days left in the NBA season, the Eastern Conference playoff race still has a lot to shake out.

Not at the top, where the Hawks and Cavaliers are in. But the bottom of the conference races are fascinating.

No. 1 seed: The Atlanta Hawks have officially locked up the top spot. They have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

No. 2 seed: The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Chicago Bulls essentially locked the Cavs in there. Cleveland’s magic number is one to secure the two seed.

No. 3-5 seeds: As it has looked for a while, most likely ends up with the Chicago Bulls in the three seed, the Toronto Raptors fourth and the Washington Wizards fifth. The current three seed Bulls are one game ahead of Toronto, which is one game ahead of Washington. What could lead to movement is Toronto does not face another team over .500 the rest of the season. The Bulls schedule isn’t much tougher, but Toronto might get on a run and push Chicago for the three spot. Washington has a tougher schedule and is going to need some help to get past Toronto and get home court in the first round.

No. 6 seed: The Milwaukee Bucks are two games up on seven seed Brooklyn and likely finish here. That said, the Bucks have a bit of a tough schedule the rest of the way and if they stumble much they could slip down the standings.

No. 7-8 seeds: This could go just about any direction. Here is where things stand now:

7. Brooklyn —
8. Boston (-1 game)
9. Indiana (-2 games)
10. Miami (-2 games)
11. Charlotte (-2.5 games)

The Nets picked up a nice win Monday night over Portland and are now two games clear of falling out of the playoffs, with a magic number of just three to clinch a playoff spot.

Boston has the eight seed but also a looming home-and-home series with Cleveland. If the Cavs rest key guys (say, LeBron James) it would be a big boost because Boston could use a split.

Indiana got the boost from Paul George’s return and has a couple easy games before a tougher stretch to close out the season.

Miami has been struggling of late and now have lost Luol Deng and Michael Beasley for the rest of the regular season. Charlotte is not out of it but they are going to need some help.

Damian Lillard awarded three for top of key jumper (VIDEO)

Brooklyn Nets V Portland Trail Blazers
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Brooklyn beat Portland 106-96 in the lone NBA game Monday night, and it shouldn’t have been that close.

I mean literally. It should not have been that close.

Above you see a shot Damian Lillard took officially with 8:41 left in the third quarter, for which he was awarded three points — the referee raises his hands and awards it. This wouldn’t have even been a three for Duke or Wisconsin Monday night, it was about 18 feet. Lillard was behind the arc for the top of the key, not the three-point line, but the official apparently got confused. Then this was not reviewed at the next stoppage in play, so it stood.

Lillard finished with 36 (not 35) but it didn’t matter because Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez dropped 32 on his brother Robin and the Nets got a win that seriously boosts their chance of getting into the playoffs.