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?

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.