Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with two weeks left in season

10 Comments

There are just more than two weeks left in the NBA regular season — 16 days if you want to be specific — and the playoff matchups are starting to take shape. But there is still a lot in flux.

Let’s take a look at the East, where the top seed is set, the two seed might as well be, and after that things get interesting. Particularly with the eighth seed, which may be the best race in the NBA this year and could go down to the final day.

No. 1 seed: The Atlanta Hawks have officially locked up the top spot. They have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and their stars will get a lot of rest the next couple weeks.

No. 2 seed: The Cleveland Cavaliers might as well have locked up the second seed. Cleveland has a 2.5 game lead over Chicago with eight games left to play, and the Cavs have the tiebreaker (their magic number is six). The Cavs and Bulls do play next Sunday, if you’re a Bulls fan looking for some hope.

No. 3-5 seeds: This most likely ends up with the Chicago Bulls in the three seed, the Toronto Raptors fourth and the Washington Wizards fifth. The current three seed Bulls are 1.5 games ahead of Toronto, but what the Raptors have in their favor is an easy games coming up — after Houston Monday night they do not face another team over .500 the rest of the season. The Bulls schedule isn’t much tougher, but Toronto might get on a run and push Chicago for the three spot. Washington is the current five seed and would need to make up two games on Toronto to get home-court in the first round. That doesn’t seem likely. First off, the Wizards are stumbling, having lost five of six. Second, they have a tougher schedule down the stretch with five road games including at Memphis and at Cleveland.

No. 6 seed: They had been slumping, but after the Milwaukee Bucks beat Miami and Indiana on a back-to-back last week they put themselves in the driver’s seat for this slot. The Bucks have a two-game lead over Miami entering play Monday night (they are four games clear of falling out of the playoffs, which is highly unlikely). The challenge for the Bucks is a tough schedule ahead: Atlanta, Chicago and Boston are the first three up this week; Cleveland is still out there on the horizon. None the less, expect the Bucks to land here.

No. 7-8 seeds: This could go just about any direction. Here is where things stand now:

7. Miami (34-39)
8. Brooklyn (-1.5 games)
9. Boston (-2 games)
10. Indiana (-2 games)
11. Charlotte (-2.5 games)

These teams also play each other plenty the rest of the way — it’s a big week for Indiana if they are going to make a move. Here are the games just for this week:

Charlotte at Boston (Monday)
Indiana at Brooklyn (Tuesday)
Indiana at Boston (Wednesday)
Charlotte at Indiana (Friday)
Miami at Indiana (Sunday)

And that’s not including Boston playing Milwaukee and Toronto, or a host of other interesting games on the docket. It’s especially hard to break down how this will shake out because these are flawed teams that are stumbling toward the finish line — every time you think “this team has got it together” they lose four in a row. Right now, the Hornets seems to be the team least likely to climb their way back in, but anything could happen. This is the one race in both conferences that could come down to the final night.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

0 Comments

Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

0 Comments

No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

0 Comments

No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

0 Comments

The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.