Report: Two Western Conference teams propose best records, regardless of conference, make playoffs

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The Suns (48-34) and Timberwolves (40-42) missed the playoffs last season while the Hawks (38-44) made it because, unlike Phoenix and Minnesota, Atlanta plays in the Eastern Conference.

If that bothers you, you have company within the NBA.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

at least two Western Conference teams have suggested in meetings with NBA officials that the playoffs should feature the top 16 teams by record, regardless of conference affiliation, per multiple league sources. The idea does not appear to have much traction.

The league can’t simply allow the top 16 records into the playoffs and achieve equity.

That’s because teams play unbalanced schedules, 52 games against their own conference and 30 against the other. With such a setup, it’s possible for one of the 16 “best” team to get stuck in the better conference and finish without one of the 16 best records.

It probably happened last season to the Nuggets, who finished 36-46 – two games worse than Atlanta. Denver won 53.3 percent of its games against the East, just worse than the Hawks’ 53.8 percent. But the Nuggets significantly enough outclassed Atlanta against the West, 38.5 percent to 33.3 percent. More than actual team quality, unbalanced schedules explains why Denver had a worse record than the Hawks.

If the goal is only to reward the best teams with playoff berths, the NBA should eliminate conferences, balance the schedules and send 16 teams to the playoffs.

But unbalanced schedules are good for the league. They keep teams in the same time zone more often, which helps television ratings in the away team’s market. East Coast fans often don’t stay up to watch their favorite team play at 10:30 p.m. out West. Likewise, West Coast fans aren’t necessarily home in time to catch a 4:30 p.m. tip-off out East.

Some of those games are necessary, but too many is bad business.

And if the playoffs are seeded by record regardless of conference, drastically reducing the likelihood of same-time-zone matchups, that could further harm ratings – though fans obviously have a higher tolerance for inconvenient start times in the postseason.

Perhaps, letting the 16 best records – regardless of conference – into the playoffs is the best solution. The current setup, as the Suns and Timberwolves can attest, has its drawbacks. But the alternative is, by no means, a perfect fix.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”