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.

Patrick Ewing on Knicks firing David Fizdale: “Very disappointed in that”

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Knicks legend Patrick Ewing currently is waist deep… well, at his height maybe knee deep, in the college basketball season. His Georgetown team is off to a solid 6-3 start with a game at Syracuse coming up this Saturday.

He still has time for his SiriusXM radio show, “Center Court with Patrick Ewing,” where he said he was “very disappointed” to see David Fizdale let go.

“Very disappointed in that. I think that Fiz is an outstanding coach. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know him over the years, met him when he was working for the Hawks. And just want to let him know that I support him and I know he’s looking forward to his next opportunity, but he is a very good coach and I was disappointed to see him getting let go.”

Coaches back the other coaches, it’s a fraternity that way. Rick Carlise is the master of it.

Fizdale is not blameless for the current state of the Knicks, his rotations and ability to develop young players certainly are in question, but he wasn’t the root of the problem. The best analogy I can come up with is Fizdale was the first contestant sent home on “Chopped”: Nobody was going to make a delicious meal out of the horribly mismatched ingredients in that basket, but the chef still has to do something cohesive with it. Fizdale did not.

The question becomes, is team president Steve Mills — the long-time Knicks employee who has known how to survive in James Dolan’s world — going to finally be let go and a big name brought in, or are the Knicks just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Pacers fans still boo Paul George, he responds with 34 through three quarters (VIDEO)

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Don’t make Paul George angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (if you’re the opposing team).

It was a couple of seasons ago, but the wounds of Paul George forcing his way out of Indiana are still fresh for Pacers fans, so they booed him when he handed the ball at points during the Clippers visit to Indiana.

George’s response? Go get buckets and tell the crowd to “shhh.”

Like 21 points in the first half buckets.

And 34 points after three quarters, with seven from beyond the arc.

The Clippers — without Kawhi Leonard on the back-to-back — were up double digits in the fourth quarter in Indiana. George will be your player of the game for L.A.

Kevin Love on latest rumors Cleveland will trade him: ‘Nothing’s changed’

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Kevin Love has heard it all before.

Rumors floated around Cleveland was going to trade Love in the summer of 2015 after his first season with the team. They sprung up again the next season at the trade deadline — before Love played a central role in Cleveland winning a ring. The rumors kept springing up, especially after LeBron James left. Then this past summer, Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stay in Cleveland.

That has not stopped the rumors.

Love was asked about the rumors and sounded unmoved by them but a little frustrated, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“Nothing’s changed,” Love told ESPN after Cleveland’s morning shootaround at TD Garden. “What I mean by that is, since I got here they’ve been … since I f—ing got here, there’s been talk of me being traded, so it’s nothing different. If they decide to go that way, I’ve just got to know it’s part of the business, or if we decide to go that way, it’s part of the business.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how it’s going to play out, because I see both sides.”

This time it feels like Love could get moved, if not at the trade deadline then this summer — and he wants to go to a contender.

The logic is simple: Cleveland is rebuilding, Love is still a stretch four and good rebounder who can help a playoff team. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game. Boston, Denver, Portland and a host of other teams could use him this season.

The challenge is that massive contract, which is why a trade may be put off until next summer.

Whatever happens, Love isn’t going to stress over it.

It’s official: Gordon Hayward makes return to Celtics lineup Monday

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He beat the timeline by a full two weeks.

Gordon Hayward fractured his hand on a fluke play against the Spurs that required surgery to repair (he fractured the fourth metacarpal, the bone that connects the wrist to the ring finger). When he had surgery on Nov. 11, the timeline for a return was 6-8 weeks.

One month later, Hayward has been cleared to make his return Monday night against Cleveland.

This is good news for Boston and its offense. Hayward was having a bounce-back year through his first eight games, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. Even more than Kemba Walker, it was Hayward who was the playmaker for others and kept the offense flowing.

Not that Boston struggled too much with Hayward out. The Celtics went 9-4 with a +5.9 net rating in the games he missed, although the team’s offense slid back to middle-of-the-pack without his scoring and shot creation.

He’s back, and Boston — the second best team in the East so far this young season — just got a little better.