Just 10 days left in the regular season, get your playoff seedings here

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The slog that can be the NBA regular season is almost over — you can see the playoffs from where you’re standing. Well, not from where the Cavs and Timberwolves are standing, but a majority of teams can.

But things are not settled. So with 10 days left until the playoffs, here is a little breakdown of where the races stand.

Western Conference

San Antonio’s win Sunday over a sad Phoenix team (without Steve Nash), combined with the Lakers loss to the Nuggets, means the Spurs control their own destiny. The Spurs are now 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers for the tops spot, and they are two games up in the loss column (but only one on the Bulls for the best record overall). More importantly, their magic number is four. The Lakers and Spurs play each other April 12, but that game may be moot — if the Spurs win their other four games left they finish ahead of the Lakers regardless of that game (and the Hawks are the only playoff team of the four on that list).

The Lakers, however, have a magic number of one to clinch the two seed over Dallas. So look for the top three spots to be Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks, in that order. And if things get set look for the veteran coaches on those teams to rest guys.

The Thunder are pretty locked into the four seed, Denver basically is the five seed. That sets up what will be the best first round playoff series on either side.

Portland, New Orleans and Memphis are all within one game of each other for the six, seven and eight seeds in the West. Houston is on the outside looking in and has been hot — 8-2 in their last 10 — but nobody has really fallen back to them. They are three games back and need some help. The most likely scenario is a New Orleans Hornets collapse, but they beat the Pacers Sunday.

The Rockets play the Hornets Wednesday and that is now must win for Houston.

The interesting scenarios would have the six-seed Blazers taking on the Mavericks in the first round and the seven-seed Grizzlies taking on the Lakers — both underdogs who play well against that higher seed and could really push them. If not pull off an upset.

Eastern Conference

Seven of the eight spots out East are set.

Charlotte remains two games back of Indiana overall and one back in the loss column for the eighth-and-final playoff spot. The Pacers have four games left: Suddenly hot Washington (3-1 in their last 4), Atlanta, New York and at Atlanta. The Bobcats have six games left but have Orlando, Miami and Atlanta in that group. If Indiana goes just 2-2 over the last four the Bobcats would have to win out to pass them. And they have to pass them — Indiana holds the tiebreaker by sweeping the season series. The Bobcats need wins and the Pacers to stumble to return to the playoffs.

Up at the top, the Bulls are three games clear of Miami and Boston in the loss column, so Chicago should wrap up the top spot. They just need to go 4-2 over the last 6 and they cannot be caught. The Heat and Celtics are in almost a dead heat for the two seed (tied in the loss column) but the Heat are 8-2 in their last 10 compared to the Celtics 5-5. No Shaq again for Boston and Ray Allen’s shot has taken a vacation — look for the Heat two get the two seed.

It’s pretty locked in after that: Orlando is the four seed, the Hawks are the five seed (can Jason Collins make that a close first round series?), the Sixers are the six seed (and could give Boston trouble) and the Knicks are the seven seed.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.