Three games to watch on final day of NBA season Wednesday

2 Comments

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.

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

Getty Images
1 Comment

Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

2 Comments

There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

Getty Images
4 Comments

What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.