Chaos theory reigns over NBA playoff scenarios

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Thumbnail image for bulls_game.jpgGame 1,230. The last one of the seemingly eternal NBA regular season. It tips off at 10:30 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday night, Utah Jazz at the Phoenix Suns.

Until that game ends well after midnight, we are not going to know all the first round playoff matchups. It has just been that kind of season. With just three days remaining of games we still almost need Stephen Hawking to figure out and explain all the potential playoff scenarios out there.

The Eastern conference is complex. For the Western Conference, maybe Hawking isn’t the guy, we need Edward Lorenz, the father of Chaos Theory. (Well, except he’s been dead for a couple years.)

Out in the West, we know the teams and that the Lakers are the top seed. That’s about it. It could be just about anybody playing just about anybody — four games still separate seeds two and eight. It’s so chaotic that one team with at least 51 wins this season (likely 52) will not have home court advantage.

In practice the West is really two tiers (behind the Lakers): The Mavericks, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets fighting for seeds two through six; then the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Thunder fighting for six through eight.  

Dallas is the current holder of the second seed out West, with a 53-27 record. Phoenix, Utah and Denver all are a game back at 52-28. With two games left, anyone of them can finish either as the two seed or the six.

Two big games will decide a lot of this and the Suns are in both — they play Denver Tuesday then Utah on Wednesday. Win both and they could be the two seed. However, that will most likely be Dallas because of their current one-game lead — and they have a gimme against the Clippers on Monday night. But then comes a game on Wednesday night against San Antonio where both teams could want to win for playoff positioning reasons.

Utah should get a win Tuesday against Golden State. Then comes the big Wednesday night showdown with the Suns. The scenarios for what that game could mean is where we need Hawking.

As for the lower tier of the West, Oklahoma City is likely facing the Lakers in the first round — unless they can beat Portland Monday night. The race in this second tier is actually tighter than the top — Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Portland all have 49 wins.

Which makes the Thunder/Trail Blazers game huge. At the same time as that game, San Antonio will almost certainly be beating the dead horse of Minnesota to get win 50. The bottom like is the loser of the Oklahoma City/Portland game almost certainly gets the Lakers.  

Just to make it more complex, San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City but Portland owns it over the Spurs. That Monday night game between the Thunder and Blazers decide who has that tiebreaker.

Thank Buddha the East is a little more straightforward. A little. We know a couple things for sure: The Cavaliers are the top seed, but we’re not sure who they will play yet. We are also sure that Orlando is the two seed and will likely play first-time playoff participants Charlotte.

Chicago’s blowout win over the Raptors in Toronto Sunday gives them a one game lead and the advantage, for that eighth and final spot and the “reward” of playing Cleveland. But the Raptors own the tiebreaker with the Bulls. Chicago has two games left — Boston on Tuesday, then Charlotte on the second night. Two playoff teams. Toronto’s two games left are against teams bound for the lottery, Detroit and New York.

That said, the Raptors have yet to win since Bosh was injured, can they really overtake the Bulls now? Not likely. The Bulls should hold on to the eighth spot. But with unpredictable teams like this “should” means little.

Also out East, Boston and Atlanta will finish as the three and four seeds, in some order, and will face Miami or Milwaukee, in some order. The Bucks may have the most say in how this finishes up — they face the Hawks and the Celtics.

Atlanta has a one game lead on Boston for the three-seed, and plays the Bucks then the Cavaliers (who likely will rest a lot of players). Boston faces the very desperate Bulls followed by the Bucks. The smart money would say Atlanta remains the three seed. But again the Bucks get a big say.

And those Bucks need their wins, Miami’s two remaining games are against the Sixers and Nets, two games the hot Heat should win. Milwaukee will have a tough time getting two wins. Again, look for the Heat to be the five seed (against Boston) and the Hawks to get the Bucks.

But when Chaos Theory is operating, anything can happen.

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.