Jazz back in playoff picture, Lakers out with nine games left in the regular season

18 Comments

The Jazz came from 14 points down in the second half to get a big win in Portland on Friday, and by doing so, temporarily reclaimed the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.

The victory was significant, for multiple reasons.

It brought Utah’s record on the season to 37-36, which is identical to that of the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the Jazz hold the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the head-to-head season series over the Lakers, they now control their own destiny with just nine regular season games remaining.

No scoreboard watching is required in Utah the rest of the way — keep winning, and that final playoff spot is theirs.

In addition to reclaiming playoff position, the Jazz win was big for the team’s psyche. The Blazers aren’t great this season, obviously, but are 22-13 at home because Portland has always been one of the tougher places for visiting teams to play.

The Jazz have now won three straight, and the excitement is beginning to build.

Momentum can disappear as quickly as it is gained, but Utah’s remaining schedule is much more favorable down the stretch than that of a Lakers team which will be chasing the Jazz as much as it can.

Utah will play its next four games at home against Brooklyn, Portland, Denver, and New Orleans — all winnable games, even if the ones against the Nets and the Nuggets may be much tougher to get than the others.

The next two will both be big challenges for the Jazz, playing at Golden State and then at Oklahoma City. They wrap up the season with a home and home set with the Timberwolves, followed by a finale at Memphis.

Even if the Jazz do no better than 5-4 against their remaining slate of opponents, it still might be enough to hold off the Lakers.

L.A. plays at Sacramento on Saturday, where the Kings always seem to find a way to have a little something extra ready for those home games against the Lakers.

Next up is a home contest against a surging Mavericks team, followed by games against Memphis, at the Clippers, and against the Hornets. After a trip to Portland, the Lakers will finish the season at home for the final three games, but the opponents are all playoff teams — Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston.

It’s tough to predict which of those games the Lakers might be able to get, but remember, with the Jazz holding that tie-breaker, L.A. needs to win one more than Utah the rest of the way to get into the postseason.

If Utah manages to go 5-4 to finish the season, the Lakers would need to finish 6-3 (or better) to knock the Jazz from that playoff spot. With the quality of teams L.A. has to face over the final nine games of the season, it’s difficult to envision.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
3 Comments

Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

1 Comment

The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.