With one day left, plenty still to be decided in playoff race

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Thursday is it — the final day of the NBA regular season. And fitting with the condensed schedule, there are 13 games.

And there still is a lot to be decided. While we know the 16 teams in the playoffs, who plays whom is not fully set in either conference. David Stern loves this, his schedule makers do not.

Let’s take a closer look.

Eastern Conference:

Series locked in:

Indiana (3 seed) vs. Orlando (6): This became locked in Wednesday when Orlando beat Charlotte. It would have been a bigger story if the Magic lost.

Celtics (4) vs. Hawks (5): This matchup has been set for days but who has home court is still not decided. And no, the Celtics don’t get it just because they are the four seed and won the Atlantic — the team with the better record still gets home court advantage. The Hawks have a one-game lead over the Celtics but the Celtics have the tiebreaker. Thursday night Boston needs Atlanta to lose to Dallas and for Boston to beat the Bucks. If either of those games goes the other way the series starts in Atlanta.

What we find out Thursday:

Chicago is locked in as the one seed, Miami as the two seed. What we don’t know is who they play.

New York and Philadelphia are tied for the seven/eight seeds at 35-30, and New York has the tiebreaker. Which means when the Knicks beat the Bobcats Thursday they become the seven seed. I think saying when is safe there, but if the Knicks were upset and the Sixers beat the Pistons, Philly would be the seven seed. Not likely, however.

So look for:
Chicago vs. Philadelphia
Miami vs. New York.

Western Conference:

Series locked in:

San Antonio (1) vs. Utah (8): When Denver won Wednesday Utah got locked in at the eight. San Antonio would have preferred Denver, but it’s not going to matter much.

Memphis (4) vs. L.A. Clippers (5): While this series is set home court advantage comes down to Thursday — if Memphis beats Orlando they get home court, lose and the Clips get it.

What we find out Thursday:

Oklahoma City is locked in at the two seed, the Los Angeles Lakers are the three seed, those are locked.

Denver gets the six seed and a date with the Lakers if they beat Minnesota or if Dallas loses to Atlanta. However a Mavs win and a Nuggets loss and Dallas is the six seed.

So look for:
Oklahoma City vs. Dallas
L.A. Lakers vs. Denver

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

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.