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?

Fan runs on court after Laker loss, LeBron stops to take selfie with her

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Even if you can afford the expensive seats that get you close, run on the court after an NBA game and usually security shuts you down. Fast. Try to get to a player and someone — team security, arena security, a police officer — will not-so-politely move you out of the way. (Unless you are Drake, then do whatever you want.)

Even if security is off their game, players ignore everyone on the court, looking to get to the locker room.

Except for LeBron James on Wednesday night in Brooklyn. He stopped for a selfie.

Classy move LeBron. He was clearly frustrated at the end of the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn, but he made time for the fan.

You can see the security guard start to reach for the phone, then he took his cue from LeBron, stepped back, and let that woman get her new Instagram post/wallpaper/Christmas card/all of the above and more photo.

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold hearted against Lakers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold-hearted against Lakers. Do you remember what Magic Johnson said after the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets?

“We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.”

Russell remembers. And Tuesday night against the Lakers he played with all the swagger Magic and the Lakers thought he lacked (and we haven’t seen all that consistently in Brooklyn). Russell was every bit a leader. And a scorer. And an assist man. Russell had 22 points, 13 dimes and the Nets got the win, 115-110.

There are two takeaways from this game.

First, the Nets are scrappy and have some talent — they have won six in a row for a reason (with wins over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers in there). The streak has revived the question “could the Nets make the playoffs?” They are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed out East. The Nets have done that with an elite offense (117.6 points per 100 possessions in the streak, third best in the NBA) covering up for a still bottom 10 defense. More than that, the Nets are a walking life lesson: Grit and effort will beat out unmotivated talent. Brooklyn is beating teams that look better than them on paper because they want it more and execute better — and that speaks to what coach Kenny Atkinson has built. It speaks to the right culture, one that will thrive as the talent increases.

The second takeaway? The Lakers need JaVale McGee. Which is a weird thing to type, especially considering Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo both missed the game as well. But the reality is the Lakers are thin up front — remember the start of the season when JaVale looked like a defensive force and the Lakers fell apart when he had to sit, meaning Kyle Kuzma or LeBron James had to play center? Then Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler and suddenly the Laker defense looked top 10 in the league. McGee has missed the last two games, Laker losses to Washington and Brooklyn, with flu-like symptoms. That moved Chandler into the starting lineup, but when he sits the Lakers are thin again. The Lakers may be 18-13 but they are built on thin margins — LeBron needs to play like an MVP and the Laker depth has to be good enough to support him to win. LeBron had 36 in this game, but in the 6:48 he sat in this game the Lakers were -9 and lost. The depth was not there.

Plus, Jarrett Allen did this to LeBron and became the hero of NBA Twitter for a night.

In the end, Russell made sure he got his revenge, sinking the dagger over Kyle Kuzma — the guy taken with the pick the Lakers received when they sent Russell East.

That’s cold. Just the way Russell wanted to serve it up.

2) Larry Nance Jr. tips in the game-winner and Cleveland stops Indiana’s win streak. The Indiana Pacers had won 7 in a row and came into Tuesday night as hot as any team in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers were scuffling without Kevin Love, Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson.

So what happens? The Pacers seemed to be looking ahead to a showdown with the Raptors Wednesday and came out lifeless. The ball movement and offensive spark that was at the heart of the win streak came to a screeching halt — Indiana shot 39.8 overall and a dreadful 18.2 percent from three. Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans combined to shoot 9-of-36 on the night.

That let the Cavaliers hang around, and then this happened — Larry Nance tipping in the game winner.

Cleveland hasn’t had a lot to celebrate this season, so they did.

If you’re one of the Pacers fans complaining that in wrestling for position to get off the game-winning tip that Nance fouled Oladipo… come on. First, you’re never going to get that call in that situation, the refs are going to let them play. Also, THAT’S NOT WHY THE PACERS LOST. Go rewatch the first 47 minutes of the game. Or, just go re-read the second paragraph of No. 2 of our three things to know. That’s why the Pacers lost.

At least they shouldn’t be tired against Toronto on Wednesday.

3) Denver has won four in a row, leads the West, and Nikola Jokic is getting MVP mentions. What a world. In a West where the Warriors have gotten healthy, it is Denver that is still sitting atop the West and riding a four-game win streak — over Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and now Dallas — despite a rash of injuries robbing them of their depth.

After Tuesday night’s win over Dallas, Denver has won four in a row and is 21-9 on the season. How? At the heart of the matter is the big man playing at an All-NBA level who is getting some fringe MVP buzz — Nikola Jokic. He had 32.

Denver is legit people. In a West where we have no idea which team will come out of the pack and take on the Warriors next May in the conference finals, Denver has a real shot at it. They have the star player in Jokic, a good supporting cast, the fourth best defense and the seventh best offense in the league. It will come down to health and matchups in the West in the end, but Denver has as good a shot as anyone to dance with the Warriors in May.

Report: Bucks will do everything they can to keep Khris Middleton

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Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton has been the subject of much discussion around the NBA, both as a potential trade target and as a free agent signing in the summer of 2019. Middleton is a crucial part of a Milwaukee lineup that needs his presence on the wing, and externally there appears to be some pressure on the Bucks to win this season with some uncertainty surrounding Middleton return next year.

Middleton has a player option for next season, and Eric Bledsoe is also in need of a new deal. However, thanks to the contracts of Giannis Antetokounmpo, George Hill, and Tony Snell, it’s going to take some fancy to financial footwork for Milwaukee to keep both of their star guards.

Still, the smart thing for the Bucks to do would be to re-sign Middleton if they can and keep this core together. Milwaukee should want to avoid a backslide into the years prior, where mediocre talent surrounded a rising Antetokounmpo.

According to a new report from Yahoo Sports, at least one Bucks official says they are going to try to do everything they can to keep Middleton in Wisconsin.

Via Yahoo:

The Bucks feel Middleton can fill that role and should he opt out to hit free agency, a Bucks official told Yahoo Sports: “We’re gonna do everything we can to keep him.”

That quote doesn’t necessarily mean that Milwaukee is going to stretch past a financial limit they set for themselves to sign Middleton. “Everything they can” might be going up to a certain limit and trying to convince Middleton to take the deal in order to build something in Milwaukee.

Middleton will have plenty of suitors, and many expect teams like the Los Angeles Lakers will come calling with big offers this summer. For now the Bucks remain one of the best teams in the NBA and have the second best record in the Eastern Conference, and Middleton is a crucial reason why.

Larry Nance has buzzer-beating tip-in to beat Pacers (VIDEO)

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are not a good basketball team. Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James’ former squad had just seven wins.

Enter Larry Nance.

Where’s the Cavaliers down by one point with nine seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Rodney Hood took it upon himself to take what he thought would be the last shot for Cleveland. Hood danced around the defense before finally taking a jumper from the free-throw line, which bounced softly off the rim.

Nance, battling down low for the rebound, worked his way free for a tip-in as time expired.

Via Twitter:

There’s not much to cheer for in Cleveland this season but that’s a fun way to win a basketball game.