Four 3-1 series, do we see four series closeouts Tuesday? No.

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Four games — every one of them featuring a team up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.

Tuesday night could see four series close out in the NBA playoffs.

Not likely.

We’re not sure who, but someone will push the series forward to a Game 6. One team will lose some days off to rest. That said, we will see closeouts. We are going to see what some call a “Gentlemen’s Sweep” (a team could have won in four but took its foot off the gas and let the other team win a game). We are going to see playoff series set.

Here is a quick look at each of Tuesday’s games, in order of potential Game 6s being forced.

Boston at Atlanta, Celtics up 3-1: This series may have been decided way back in Game 2, when Boston won on the road without Rajon Rondo while Josh Smith got hurt for Atlanta. In Tuesday’s Game 5 back at home Al Horford and Marvin Williams will move into the starting lineup for the Hawks, and they will have Josh Smith. Boston will play all of its key guys, despite some injuries — Paul Pierce’s knee and Avery Bradley’s shoulder in particular. Boston has simply executed better in this series, looking stronger each game, but expect a more desperate Hawks team at home. Joe Johnson wants to take more shots and he is capable of getting hot. Jeff Teague has been good and could outplay Rondo for a night. Atlanta has been to the second round the last couple years and will not roll over. Boston is going to have to work to earn the extra rest that comes with no Game 6.

Denver at Los Angeles, Lakers up 3-1: Denver knows the model to win — run the Lakers into the ground with a scattered, up-tempo game — but the Lakers have largely resisted playing along. Los Angeles has turned their wins into a traditional half-court basketball games and used their superior size and skill up front with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to get the victories. Well, that plus that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good. The Lakers should close this out at home, but they have yet to really fire on all cylinders for any game and would you really be shocked if they had one of their “mental vacation” games tonight? Neither would I.

Philadelphia at Chicago, 76ers up 3-1: Again we have a young team trying to get a road close out win in the playoffs, something that they will learn is not easy to do. But the Bulls are just so banged up — Derrick Rose is out with his knee injury and Joakim Noah is a game-time decision, he shot without a brace on his sprained ankle during shootaround Tuesday, but he likely will not go and even if he does he’s not going to be 100 percent. Chicago has guys like Luol Deng who could take over for a game, but Philly is finding its groove from early in the season when they were surprising everyone. Spencer Hawes has always been key to their offense — he can stretch the defense and his passing skills move the ball side-to-side for Philly, getting better looks. He’s found his game again. Expect Philly to close it out.

Orlando at Indiana, Pacers up 3-1: In Game 1 Orlando came out with playoff intensity and Indiana came out like a wide-eyed young team that had never really been there before. Midway through Game 2 Indiana woke up and said, “wait, they don’t have Dwight Howard, we should be beating these guys” and it has gone that way ever since. Orlando plays hard, Stan Van Gundy knows how to coach. But in the end Indy has Roy Hibbert, David West and Danny Granger and talent wins out in this league. The Pacers will close this out.

Jimmy Butler says his meeting with Thibodeau, Timberwolves is Tuesday (today)

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There are a lot of questions surrounding Jimmy Butler‘s meeting with Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves brass: Can the Butler/Karl-Anthony Towns relationship be repaired? Is Thibodeau the guy who could repair it, or is he entrenched on one side of that battle? Will the situation be resolved enough for Towns to sign the max extension to his rookie contract that has been sitting on the table since July? Will Butler asked to be moved?

That meeting had been reported to be Monday, but Butler said on Twitter it’s Tuesday, and did so in a snide way.

Who cares if the reporting (by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Vertical) on the day was one off if the substance of the meeting is the same? It’s not some massive error that throws the entire reporting into question. This feels like a high school history teacher testing about the date for the battle of Gettysburg and not why it was a turning point in the Civil War — the substance is what matters more.

Butler doesn’t deny or get into the substance of the meeting, which is what matters.

What comes out of that meeting will have a significant impact on the Timberwolves one way or another this season. Minnesota won 47 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but it’s hard to see how they take a step forward if the locker room remains this fractured (and in a very deep West they need to take a step forward to make the playoffs again this season).

USA rolls past Panama in World Cup qualifying, 78-48

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PANAMA CITY (AP) — U.S. coach Jeff Van Gundy came into the start of this second round of qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup cautioning his players that they would face enormous challenges.

They clearly heeded his words, and the Americans are now closing in on a trip to China next year.

Reggie Hearn scored 12 points, Dwayne Bacon added 10 and the U.S. easily got past Panama 78-48 in a qualifying game Monday night. The Americans have won both of their second-round qualifying games so far, winning them by a combined 87 points.

“It’s just an honor to be able to go to another country and wear this jersey,” said U.S. forward Henry Ellenson of the Detroit Pistons. “It’s just something really special and I love doing it. I was so excited to get the invite. This was a blast and a hell of an experience.”

The U.S. outrebounded Panama 50-34, held the hosts to 31 percent shooting and trailed for only 67 seconds in the early moments. Van Gundy went to his bench early and often, rotating players throughout in part because of a steamy feel inside the arena named for Panama’s boxing legend Roberto Duran.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Van Gundy said. “Again, we’ve pretty much done this throughout. We play 10 or 11 guys, anywhere from 10 or 11 minutes up to the low 20s. We try to take advantage of our depth. Tonight, the crowd was good, but it was warm in there.”

And now, Nov. 29 – the next day of qualifying games in the Americas Region – sets up as enormous.

The U.S. and Argentina are tied atop Group E with 7-1 records and will play that day with outright control of first place in the group standings up for grabs. Uruguay and Puerto Rico will meet that same day, each entering with 5-3 records, meaning the loser there will be three games behind the U.S.-Argentina winner with three games left in qualifying.

The top three teams in Group E are guaranteed spots at the World Cup, which starts in China on Aug. 31.

After the way they played Monday, it seems like only a staggering collapse would keep the Americans from qualifying.

The U.S. used a 16-0 run – needing only about two minutes – in the fourth quarter to turn what was a relatively one-sided game into an even bigger rout. Chasson Randle, Hearn and Travis Trice all made 3-pointers to get that spurt going, and Ben Moore‘s layup with 6:30 left gave the Americans a 73-40 lead.

“It feels great. It moves us that much closer to qualifying,” Hearn said. “It moves us that much closer to the U.S. getting to the World Cup and getting the whole thing.”

The U.S. got an ideal start in a hostile arena, running out to a 16-3 lead as Panama opened 1 for 11 from the field.

The Americans were in control throughout, though there was a brief stretch late in the first half where the U.S. grip on things seemed to slip ever so slightly. Panama got within 31-23 with 2:04 left in the half on a jumper by Tony Bishop Jr. before Hearn and White combined to score the final five points before the break and send the Americans into intermission with a 13-point lead.

When the second half started, the U.S. resumed pulling away. Frank Mason, Dakari Johnson and Bacon scored the first six points of the third quarter, and the Americans’ lead was quickly pushed out to 42-23.

 

Report: Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins to take front office job with Clippers

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Selfishly, this makes me sad because I’m not going to get to read more of his work now.

Lee Jenkins is more than just one of the best NBA writers out there, he is one of the best sports journalists out there. A fantastic reporter with a great eye, Jenkins is an artist of a storyteller. He’s the guy other NBA writers are in awe of. He’s the man who co-authored LeBron James“I’m Coming Home” about his return to Cleveland, and more great in-depth stories than there is room to mention here.

And he’s about to leave Sports Illustrated for the Los Angeles Clippers, a true WojBomb from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jenkins commented to Sports Illustrated.

“Sports Illustrated called on my 30th birthday, the greatest gift of my professional life,” Jenkins says. “I was one of those kids who grew up running to the mailbox on Thursday afternoons. SI taught me to read, and then, to write. With dream jobs, reality often disappoints, but everything about SI only exceeded my imagination. I’ve worked alongside my idols, Tim Layden, Tom Verducci and S.L. Price, and with my friends, Michael Rosenberg, Chris Ballard and Greg Bishop. There is no honor in this business like sharing a page with them.

“SI remains the ultimate platform for sportswriting and I would not leave for another media outlet. But I was offered an extraordinary opportunity to work in the front office of an NBA team and see the league I cover from a different angle. I’ve been privileged to tell a lot of triumphant basketball stories over the past decade. With Steve Ballmer and Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger, Doc Rivers and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I’m going to try to help build one.”

I’m not sure exactly how they will define Jenkins’ role with the Clippers, but I have no doubt he will do it well. Plus, inter-office emails for the Clippers are about to take a ridiculous leap in quality.

 

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.