NBA playoff picture: East pretty much set, West not so much

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There are just four days of NBA games left and a lot is left to be decided in the playoffs.

Well, at least in the Western Conference.

The East is pretty much locked up, and although the cement has not fully dried on all the games, we have a pretty good idea what the matchups will be. The West, however, is a lot more fluid, with some key games this week to determine things.

With the East, the matchups would be:

Bulls (1) vs. 76ers (8)
Heat (2) vs. Knicks (7)
Pacers (3) vs. Magic (6)
Celtics (4) vs. Hawks (5)

The Boston vs. Atlanta matchup is locked in, the only question remaining is who gets home court. Boston is the No. 4 seed by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division, but that does not guarantee home court — the Hawks have the better record by a game after their win over a Celtics team that rested pretty much everybody Friday.

While Indiana vs. Orlando isn’t officially a lock, one more Magic win and it is — and the Magic play the Bobcats this week. So, consider it a lock.

There is a mathematical chance the Bucks could catch the 76ers for the eight seed, but it’s not happening. It also is possible that the Sixers could pass the Knicks and get the seven seed, but Basketball Prospectus puts that at 4.9 percent. Basically, what you see is what you get in the East.

The West matchups as of Monday morning:

Spurs (1) vs. Jazz (8)
Thunder (2) vs. Mavericks (7)
Lakers (3) vs. Nuggets (6)
Clippers (4) vs. Grizzlies (5)

San Antonio has a magic number of one to get the top seed, so that is happening, which will lock Oklahoma City in at No. 2. Also, the Lakers’ magic number to win the Pacific (and hold on to the three seed) is one (the Lakers have the tiebreaker over the Clippers, meaning that half-game lead is really one and a half). So what we’re saying is that although it’s not yet official, the top three seeds in the West are close to locked in.

Then it gets messy. The Grizzlies are a game back but could catch the Clippers for the No. 4 seed — however a Clippers-Grizzlies matchup may be the one thing we can count on in the West. Basketball Prospectus puts the odds of that happening at 95.9 percent.

Phoenix plays Utah on Tuesday, and that could shape who gets the eight seed (Utah is one game up right now). Also, only half a game separates Denver and Dallas for the six/seven seeds, so that could shift. I wouldn’t be shocked if today’s order is the final order, but things are still fluid.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.