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

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

Here we take a look at the West, where the top seed is set, but the middle of the bracket could go a host of ways. Pretty soon we might start to see jockeying as teams try to line up the opponent they most want — meaning, think they can beat — in the first round.

No. 1 seed: The Golden State Warriors have officially secured up the top spot. They will have home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

No. 2-3 seeds: A few weeks back this looked like a lock for the Memphis Grizzlies. However, they have stumbled of late including three losses in a row to good teams — Cleveland, Golden State and San Antonio — while Houston just kept right on winning. The result is Sunday Houston vaulted into the second seed. The good news for Grizzlies fans is that their schedule gets softer while the Rockets have both Dallas and Oklahoma City on the road this week. These two teams most likely end up two and three, although the red hot Clippers could slide into the mix.

No. 4-6 seeds: Just 1.5 games separate the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Spurs for the middle of the pack. (Technically Portland is the four seed because they lead the Northwest division but if they played the Clippers in the first round Los Angeles would still have home court with the better record, at least as of today.) The Clippers have won seven in a row, the Spurs three in a row and 7-of-10. The big game coming up here is Wednesday when the Clippers travel to Portland — with LA on the second night of a back-to-back having just played Golden State. These three seeds could still shake out in any order.

No. 7 seed: Dallas is fairly locked in here, 2.5 back of the suddenly hot Spurs, three games up on Oklahoma City below them. That said, Dallas has lost four-of-five and this week face the Thunder, Rockets and Warriors. If they lose all three of those and Russell Westbrook keeps doing his thing, it could get very interesting the last week of the season.

No. 8 seed: Phoenix had to beat Oklahoma City on Sunday to have a chance and they came out playing like the desperate team — Markieff Morris had 16 points in the first quarter and Phoenix was up 20 in the second quarter. Then it all came apart for the Suns and together for the Thunder. OKC stormed back to win, and that pretty much is the stake through the heart of the Suns’ playoff hopes, they are four back now with eight to play. New Orleans is 2.5 back of the Thunder, but they are going to need some help to make up that ground. OKC is going to get in but with all their injuries they are no match for Golden State. (It is possible if Dallas keeps falling hard OKC could make up the three games and get to the seven seed, but don’t bet on it.

Hall of Famer Paul Westphal diagnosed with brain cancer

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Paul Westphal, the Hall of Fame guard who played at the peak of his career with the Phoenix Suns (and earlier won a championship with the Boston Celtics) has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Longtime sportswriter Mike Lupica made the announcement.

Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive and difficult form of cancer to treat.

Westphal was born and raised in the South Bay area of greater Los Angeles and went on to play his college ball at USC. He was the No. 10 pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1972 NBA Draft and went on to play three seasons with the Celtics, winning a title with them in 1974.

After that he went on to Phoenix, where he was an All-Star player and was named to the All-NBA team four times. Westphal also played for the Knicks and Sonics during his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame last September.

After playing he became a coach, spending at least part of seven seasons as the Suns head coach, plus he coached the Kings for three seasons.

One of the best-liked people in NBA circles, there are a lot of people in Westphal’s corner today and going forward.

 

Draymond Green fined $50,000 for tampering with Devin Booker

Draymond Green fined
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“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck, but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.”

That was the Warriors’ always outspoken Draymond Green on Inside the NBA on TNT Thursday, talking about the play of Devin Booker and the fast start of the Suns in the bubble.

The second he said it, Ernie Johnson asked, “Are you tampering?” Green said, “maybe.”

The NBA said yes and has fined Green $50,000 for “violating the league’s anti-tampering rule.”

In past years the NBA has mostly ignored player-to-player tampering, but after complaints from owners last season the league is cracking down on — at the very least — public tampering by players. Going on a popular national show to say Booker should leave Phoenix qualifies.

Just a reminder for fans of a team desperate for a star and suddenly looking at Phoenix, Booker has four years left (after this one) on his max contract extension. The Suns are building around him and Deandre Ayton — and right now it looks like it’s working (coach Monty Williams should get a lot of credit for that). The Suns aren’t looking to trade, Booker isn’t looking to leave (and has no leverage anyway), and the Suns seem to be building something real down in the Valley of the Sun.

 

Watch Luka Doncic post 36-19-14 with just dazzling passing (video)

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The Bucks’ have one of the best defenses in NBA history, allowing 7.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than league average. The Mavericks have the highest offensive rating (116.5) in league history.

Something had to give.

And it was Luka Doncic – to teammate after teammate after teammate.

Doncic had 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds in Dallas’ 136-132 overtime win over Milwaukee yesterday. He was in complete control as a scorer and passer, showing just how far he has come.

The Bucks already secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But they played hard, forcing overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like the MVP with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.

Doncic was just better.

Report: NBA could play next season at multiple regional bubbles

Warriors star Stephen Curry
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Other than waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to subside – a possibility – the NBA faces MAJOR challenges next season.

The bubble is working for finishing this season. But that’s with just 22 teams rather than the full 30. And this is just for a few months, not a full season. Players are already bristling about how long they’re separated from their families.

Yet, what’s the alternative to a bubble? It looks like the only safe way to play professional sports.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated

We’re a ways off from next season, but league sources have told me that the NBA is looking at options that include creating regional bubbles, should the COVID-19 pandemic still prevent normal business in the fall. Teams would report to a bubble for short stints—around a month—which would be followed by 1-2 weeks off.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Orlando is a consideration, and Las Vegas — a finalist for this summer’s restart — would reemerge as a possible site too, sources said.

This is an interesting possibility.

Smaller bubbles would reduce the odds of a coronavirus outbreak that undermines the whole league. But what happens if one bubble has coronavirus issues? Teams’ schedules could get significantly unbalanced quickly.

The shorter bubble lengths would allow players to spend time with family more frequently. But how many players would contract coronavirus while between bubbles? Look how many players got coronavirus during this last layoff.

There are no easy solutions amid this pandemic. This is one of many imperfect ideas that should at least be considered.