Playoff Scenarios: How the West will be won (the No 2 seed anyway)

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One day of games remain and five seeds still up for grabs in the Western Conference — and you say there isn’t parity in the NBA.

Okay, there isn’t parity. Not really. But for one day we can at least pretend because a lot of things can happen in the Western Conference. (The East is set, it got its act together a couple of days ago.)

Here’s how it breaks down:

San Antonio is the top seed, locked up.

The Lakers control their own destiny, they will be the No. 2 seed if they win in what promises to be a very raucus Sacramento arena Wednesday (in what everybody thinks will the last game ever for the Kings in Sacramento, which sucks).

If Los Angeles loses and Dallas beats New Orleans, Dallas is the two seed (they will have one-more win) and the Lakers the three seed. If Dallas loses then they can do no better than finishing tied with Los Angeles, and the Lakers have the tiebreaker so they are the two seed no matter what.

If Dallas loses to New Orleans and Oklahoma City beats Milwaukee, then the Thunder and Mavericks will be tied, but Oklahoma City has the tiebreaker and gets to be the three seed, and Dallas falls to the four spot.

So, the Lakers will be the two or three seed, Dallas can be anywhere from two to four, and Oklahoma City can be the three or the four seed. Still with me?

Denver is the five seed, Portland the six, both locked in.

New Orleans and Memphis are now tied for the seven and eight seeds, but New Orleans has he tiebreaker so they are the seven seed. If the Hornets beat the Mavericks, then New Orleans is the seven seed. If the Hornets lose and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers, then Memphis is the seven and the New Orleans the eight.

What will really be interesting Wednesday: The important Dallas vs. New Orleans game starts at 8 p.m. Eastern, two-and-a-half hours before both the Lakers and the Grizzlies tip off in their respective games. If Dallas were to lose then the Lakers incentive to play their starters at all goes away. If New Orleans were to lose — and Memphis wanted to make sure it lost and kept the eighth seed — it also could suddenly start pulling key players off the floor.

So, we all clear now? Oh, what if there is a three-way tie? The Lakers still get to be the No. 2 seed by virtue of the conference record tiebreaker. There, that should answer everything. I think.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.