As the NBA season winds down, so many races are undecided

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With just over a week left in the NBA regular season, there’s still a ton to be decided before the playoff field is set.

In the East, four spots remain unclaimed. In the West, two are up for grabs. And while some seedings look wrapped up, none are officially clinched.

Want drama? It’s not hard to find.

“To be in competition like this, it’s a privilege,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Monday was a most-needed day for most of the NBA to catch its breath. The league always tries to avoid scheduling games on the day of the NCAA men’s championship game and would have done so this year if a Portland-Minnesota game didn’t have to be postponed because of floor conditions earlier this season.

Things pick up in earnest again Tuesday.

So to get ready for the final nine days of the season, here’s a primer on playoff chases.

TOP OF THE EAST

Boston (50-27)

Cleveland (49-27)

The Celtics host the Cavaliers on Wednesday, with the winner assured of leaving that night with the No. 1 spot in the East standings. If Cleveland wins, it essentially becomes two victories since the defending champions will also own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Boston. … LeBron James got his first ring in 2012 as a No. 2 seed in the East with Miami, so it’s not as if he’ll be deterred even if the Cavs don’t get that top spot. … Boston is trending up, going 9-2 in its past 11 games. The Cavs have nine wins in their past 20 games.

BEST OF THE WEST

Golden State (63-14)

San Antonio (59-17)

The Warriors have won 11 straight, might get Kevin Durant back this weekend and face only one playoff-bound team in the final five games. It’s only a matter of time before Golden State wraps up the No. 1 seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. … San Antonio can’t be caught for No. 2, and coach Gregg Popovich has two full weeks to get his players rested and his rotation ready.

EAST NO. 3

Toronto (47-30)

Washington (46-31)

Toronto took the season series 2-1, so it’s like the Raptors have a two-game lead with five left. But the Raptors play four of their last five on the road, and still don’t have Kyle Lowry back from wrist surgery. … Washington still has to play Miami twice, Detroit and Charlotte, teams very desperate right now to get in. … Both the Raptors and Wizards have wrapped up home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

WEST NO. 3-4-5

Houston (52-25)

Utah (47-30)

Los Angeles Clippers (47-31)

The Rockets’ magic number for clinching the No. 3 spot is 1, and the only mystery is if MVP candidate James Harden will get some rest. … The Jazz are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and now have to hold off the Clippers in order to host Game 1 of the postseason for the first time since 2001, when John Stockton and Karl Malone were still starters in Utah. … The Clippers won the season series against Utah 3-1, big if tiebreakers are needed.

EAST NO. 5

Milwaukee (40-37)

Atlanta (39-38)

Milwaukee’s schedule is brutal with four road games in the final five, including ones at Oklahoma City, Indiana and Boston – teams all playing for something. … Atlanta took the season series 3-0, but the Hawks have a three-game, four-day stretch this week that goes Boston, at Cleveland, Cleveland.

REST OF THE WEST

Oklahoma City (43-33)

Memphis (42-35)

Portland (38-39)

Denver (36-40)

New Orleans (33-44)

The Thunder are in, the Grizzlies are on the brink of getting in, and the No. 6 seed might come down to the winner of the Oklahoma City at Memphis game on Wednesday. … Portland’s six-game winning streak was snapped in Minnesota on Monday, though the Trail Blazers still own the No. 8 spot for now. … Denver still has to go to Houston, plus plays Oklahoma City twice in the final three games. … New Orleans is alive only in the mathematical sense.

EAST NO. 7

Chicago (38-39)

Miami (37-40)

Indiana (37-40)

Charlotte (36-41)

Detroit (35-42)

The Bulls won’t play another playoff team until the playoffs, if they get in. Chicago’s final five games are at New York, at Philadelphia, at Brooklyn, then home for Orlando and home for Brooklyn again. … Miami goes to Charlotte on Wednesday, in an enormous game for both teams. … Indiana’s next two games are against playoff-bound Toronto and Milwaukee, and the Pacers go to Orlando on Saturday to face former coach Frank Vogel. … All five of Charlotte’s remaining opponents are playoff-bound or hoping. … Detroit needs a miracle.

TO THE LOTTERY

New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn, Dallas, Minnesota, Sacramento, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix have been eliminated.

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”