NBA Playoff scenarios: So who plays who now?

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Twenty-four hours ago the NBA playoff picture was about as clear as Mr. Magoo sees the world.

Today, it’s come into focus a little bit around the edges, but it’s still pretty dang hazy. Here’s what we know so far.

Eastern Conference

In the East, Cleveland has had the number one seed locked up for a while, and they will play either Chicago or Toronto. The Raptors won last night, putting pressure on the Bulls to beat the Celtics tonight to keep their current half-game hold on the eight spot. Then on Wednesday the Bulls face the Bobcats while the Raptors play the Knicks. If the Bulls and Raptors tie, Toronto wins the tiebreaker.

The one matchup that is now set in the East is the one we expected: Orlando the two seed will face Charlotte the seven seed. That is set.

Atlanta has the upper hand in becoming the three seed, which would force Boston into the four slot. The Hawks magic number is one. If Atlanta wins Wednesday night against Cleveland (which will rest a lot of players that game) or if the Celtics lose to the Bulls tonight (Tuesday) or the Bucks on Wednesday, the Hawks get the three seed. Boston can fall no lower than the four seed.

Miami has a magic number of one and is pretty much a lock to be the five seed (and likely see the Celtics in the first round), which will force Milwaukee into the six slot. This will be decided Wednesday night. Miami needs to beat the lowly New Jersey Nets, or Milwaukee would need to fall to Boston. If neither happens, the Bucks can be the five seed still.

Western Conference

Out West, the Lakers are the one seed and they will face the eighth seed Thunder in the first round. This was set after the Thunder lost to the Trail Blazers Monday night.

Also, the Mavericks are almost a lock two seed. Almost. They lock it up with a win Wednesday against the Spurs, or if the Jazz lose one game (either to Golden State tonight or Phoenix Wednesday) or if the Nuggets beat the Suns tonight (in a game that decides a lot). If the Mavericks beat the Spurs on Wednesday night it would lock in a Mavericks/Spurs first-round showdown, regardless of what happens anywhere else.

The Nuggets can lock up the three seed if they can win tonight against Phoenix. If not, they would need the Jazz to lose to the Warriors tonight (not likely) then beat the Suns on Wednesday night. However, if Phoenix beats Denver tonight and the Jazz win both their remaining games, the Nuggets can fall all the way to the five slot.

Phoenix can lock up the three seed if they can win out, but that will not be easy — Denver tonight then Utah on Wednesday. (That two-win Suns scenario means the Jazz and Nuggets in the first round as the four and five seeds). If Denver beats the Suns tonight, it locks in a Suns vs. Jazz first round matchup.

The Jazz could theoretically get the two seed still, but a small miracle of things needs to happen. First, they nee to win out (the Warriors tonight and Suns tomorrow) and the Suns would beat Denver tonight and the Jazz lose to the Warriors tonight and the Mavericks lose to the Spurs Wednesday. That’s not going to happen.

The Jazz as the three seed is a little more likely. They just need to win out (Warriors and Suns) and have the Nuggets beat the Suns tonight (this assumes Dallas beats San Antonio Wednesday). If the Jazz beat the Suns and the Warriors, they will be no lower than the four seed. But if they lose to the Suns, the Jazz could be the fifth seed as they lose the tiebreaker with the Suns, and would have to start on the road.

Portland will most likely be the six seed and the Spurs the seven seed. All Portland needs is to beat the Warriors Wednesday, or have the Mavericks beat the Spurs Wednesday. However, if the Warriors and Spurs win those games, the Spurs are the six seed.

There, isn’t that all perfectly clear now?

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.