Three games to watch on final day of NBA season Wednesday

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Wednesday is the final day of the NBA season, and while most of the playoff positions are set and plenty of players will be getting the night off for rest, there are still some games that matters. Here’s three races and a few games to keep your eyes on Wednesday.

1) Boston vs. Milwaukee and the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Cavaliers have made it clear rest matters far more to them than the No. 1 seed — LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals, four times his team got there out of the two seed. The fact that Cleveland rested LeBron last game and will sit him again on Wednesday — as well as possibly Kyrie Irving, although there are mixed signals there — shows they are not worried about home court in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The race for the top seed in the East is simple: Boston has a one-game lead over Cleveland, so if they win against Milwaukee Wednesday, the Celtics have home court advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs. And the Celtics should win. The Bucks are locked into the six seed (after Atlanta’s win Tuesday) so they have nothing to play for, and four key Milwaukee rotation players — Matthew Dellavedova, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Tony Snell — are not even making the trip to Boston. This is gift-wrapped for the Celtics.

The Cavaliers have the tiebreaker against the Celtics, but the only way they get the top seed is to beat Toronto and have Boston lose. The Raptors have an interest here: They are the three seed, so they will face whoever is the two seed in the second round, and they would much rather have that be Boston than Cleveland. So expect pretty much a full on tank job from Toronto in the name of rest. That will not matter, however, unless the Celtics lay an egg.

2) Washington vs. Miami and the race for the No. 7 and 8 seeds in the East. This is the real drama on Wednesday night: There are three teams — Miami, Chicago, and Indiana — fighting for two playoff spots at the bottom of the East. At the end of the night, someone is not going to have a ticket to the dance.

What to watch starts with Washington at Miami — the Heat have to win or they are eliminated. It’s that simple. Miami should be motivated and Washington has nothing to play for (they are locked in as the four seed) so you have to like the Heat’s chances here. Washington is expected to rest John Wall and others for this game. Still, the entire process starts with Miami needing a win.

Even if they do win, Miami also needs either Chicago or Indiana to lose.

For the Bulls and Pacers Wednesday is simple: Win and you’re in.

The Bulls are hosting the Nets in a game Chicago should win, as Brooklyn is resting three key rotation players in this one: Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. That said, the Nets have played fairly well since the All-Star break and did beat the Bulls on Saturday. Nothing is guaranteed, but things look good for the Bulls.

Indiana hosts an Atlanta team on the second night of a back-to-back, and since the Hawks locked up the five seed with their win Tuesday they have nothing to play for. Expect a number of key Atlanta players to be rested on Wednesday, setting things up for the Pacers.

All of which is to say Miami has a chance, but it’s a slim one. They need a lot of help.

3) Sacramento vs. L.A. Clippers and the battle for home court in the first round. The matchup is already set, the Clippers will face the Jazz in the first round, an interesting series featuring two of the best defensive big men in the NBA in Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. What we don’t know is who gets home court in that series, both the Clippers and the Jazz are 50-31 heading into Wednesday.

This is very straightforward: The Clippers have the tiebreaker, so if they beat Sacramento they will be home for Game 1 this weekend. The only way the Jazz get home court in this series is if the Clippers lose and then Utah beats San Antonio. Not impossible, but not a likely outcome of events.

Markelle Fultz’s steal, slam secures Orlando win against Washington (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Markelle Fultz is fitting in nicely with the Orlando Magic.

The former No. 1 overall pick had a career-high 19 points and the deciding defensive play in a 125-121 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 17 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 25 points and nine assists, but the Magic nearly squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead before Fultz stopped Washington’s rally.

Fultz made all six shots from the field in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 8 for 10 from the field. However, it was his defensive play that decided the game.

With Orlando leading 119-116, Fultz stole a pass and was fouled as he dunked the ball with 36.1 seconds left. His free throw finished the 3-point play and gave Orlando a six-point cushion that stood up for the team’s fourth win in its last five games.

“That was definitely fun,” said Fultz, who was drafted No. 1 by Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 before being traded to Orlando midway through last season. “You live for moments like that when the game is on the line and you’re out competing to see what everybody is made of. I love it that I got a chance to make a big-time play and I finished it off.”

Orlando needed it to withstand a couple of fourth-quarter rallies by Washington and its 3-point shooting team. The Wizards made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the final period and scored 44 points, but couldn’t play enough defense to overtake Orlando.

Bradley Beal scored 34 points and had eight assists for Washington, which absorbed its fourth loss in five games. The Wizards got 21 points from C.J. Miles and 15 from Davis Bertans.

“We are 10 games in (to the season) now so we have to dial back the amount of excuses we have,” Beal said. “We compete hard enough to win every game. We are top five on offense, so we know that’s not the problem. We just have to get stops.”

 

Sixers rout Cavaliers 114-95 behind 12-of-14 shooting night from Tobias Harris

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Tobias Harris scored 27 points, Joel Embiid had 14 and the Philadelphia 76ers routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-95 on Sunday.

Cleveland nearly pulled off an upset in Philadelphia on Tuesday before falling 98-97, but the 76ers ended quickly ended any hope of a repeat.

Philadelphia went ahead midway through the first quarter and steadily built the lead, shooting 67% in the half. The lead reached 75-44 early in the third quarter.

Harris was 12 of 14 from the field, missing only one of 12 2-point attempts. Ben Simmons had 10 points and 11 assists, and the 76ers had six players score in double figures.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love took a hard fall after being flattened by Furkan Korkmaz while shooting in the lane in the first quarter. Love got up after being on the floor for a couple of moments and gave the thumbs-up sign to the crowd, remaining in the game.

Love scored 12 points in 25 minutes. Collin Sexton had 17 points for Cleveland, which has lost three straight and opened a stretch of five games in seven days.

The Cavaliers were ahead of the 76ers by five points late in Tuesday’s game, but couldn’t hold the lead. Love missed an open 3-pointer on the final possession.

Philadelphia shredded Cleveland’s defense this time with 33 assists on 46 baskets. The 76ers followed an 11-0 run with a 14-3 spurt to take a 60-31 lead on Harris’ dunk with four minutes to play in the second quarter.

Philadelphia had dropped five of seven going into the game, including consecutive losses in Orlando and Oklahoma City, but finished its road trip on a high note.

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winner sits on rim, rolls off, gives Kings win

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Boston came in on a 10-game winning streak where they had played well on both ends of the court, but they also got some lucky rolls of the basketball.

Not Sunday.

With Boston down one, Marcus Smart put up a floater as time expired in Sacramento, it looked like the shot would fall, and…

Give the Kings credit, at a rough start they have gone 5-2 in November, and that despite injuries to Marvin Bagley Jr. and De'Aaron Fox. Buddy Hield had 35 points to lead the Kings, including going 7-of-12 from three.

The Celtics had a balanced attack with six players in double figures, but their offense was not as sharp as it has been. This was the first game it looked like they missed Gordon Hayward, who is out with a fractured hand.

Report: Last summer the Lakers, among others, were hoping Suns would buy out Aron Baynes

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Aron Baynes has been critical to the Suns racing out to a 7-4 start with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA. When Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games (after testing positive for a diuretic, a banned substance), Baynes has stepped up and been exactly what the Suns needed. He is scoring 15 points per game, shooting 46.5 percent from three (which is opening up the floor for guys like Devin Booker), and providing a big body defensive presence in the paint.

You can see why the Lakers and other teams were hoping Baynes would hit the market this summer. From Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Suns center Aron Baynes has emerged as a cornerstone piece for Phoenix early this season, supplying defense, leadership and, yes, shot-making. Phoenix acquired Baynes on draft night, and in the weeks to come contenders such as the Lakers hoped Baynes would reach a buyout with the Suns to hit the open market, sources said. Suns general manager James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams wanted Baynes — and are now receiving the rewards for the offseason move. Through 11 games, Baynes is averaging 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 46.8 percent 3-point shooting (two 3s made per game). Baynes will enter free agency next July, and as one team executive said, “He is positioning himself for well over $10 million per year.”

Smart move by Phoenix’s management to hold on to Baynes as an Ayton insurance policy (one they ended up needing). Plus, when trying to change a team’s culture (as Jones and Williams are working to do in Phoenix), you can’t have enough hardworking professionals in the locker room. Baynes brings that.

The Lakers thought they would have DeMarcus Cousins in the paint, but he tore his ACL over the summer. The tag team of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee has worked surprisingly well for Los Angeles to start the season.

In what will be a down free-agent market next summer, Baynes is going to be in demand. His payday is coming.