Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) This year’s Western Conference is special. The Clippers beat the Spurs last night, moving to 42-36 and clinching the 10th winning record in the West. The only other time a single conference produced so many winning teams – the 2001 Western Conference.
The standings that year:
1. San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
2. Los Angeles Lakers (56-26)
3. Sacramento Kings (55-27)
4. Utah Jazz (53-29)
5. Dallas Mavericks (53-29)
6. Phoenix Suns (51-31)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (50-32)
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
9. Houston Rockets (45-37)
10. Seattle SuperSonics (44-38)
The Bucks (106-102 over the Celtics) and Heat (101-98) winning last night also clinched all eight Eastern Conference playoff teams having winning records. So, there will be 18 teams this season above .500. The only other time that happened: 2005, when the 42-40 Cavaliers and 44-38 Timberwolves missed the playoffs.
All this points to a deep and fun postseason – except for the two Western Conference teams that don’t make it. Which leads to…
2) The Clippers and Nuggets aren’t going away. The Clippers trailed San Antonio by 19 and by seven with three minutes left. By snapping Indiana’s five-game winning streak, Denver has won three straight – last night’s narrow 107-104 victory and overtime wins over the Bucks and Thunder.
Just three Western Conference teams – Rockets, Warriors and Trail Blazers – have clinched playoff berths. The rest of the race:
4. Utah Jazz (45-33)
4. San Antonio Spurs (45-33)
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34)
8. New Orleans Pelicans (43-34)
9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)
10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)
In their final four games, the Nuggets and Clippers each face three teams in the mix – including each other. Here’s the closing four for Denver and L.A.:
- vs. Timberwolves tomorrow
- at Clippers on Saturday
- vs. Trail Blazers on Monday
- at Timberwolves next Wednesday
- at Jazz tomorrow
- vs. Nuggets on Saturday
- vs. Pelicans on Monday
- vs. Lakers next Thursday
Should be a fun finish.
3) The Cavaliers beat the Raptors, 112-106 – which means everything, nothing or something in between. Great analysis, I know.
Cleveland acting coach Larry Drew called a comeback win over Toronto a couple weeks ago a potential turning point. How big a message is another win over the first-place Raptors?
The Raptors have been the East’s best team this season, but they’ve also struggled in the playoffs the last few seasons and gotten eliminated by the Cavs the last two years. Even with Cleveland holding a worse record this year, a LeBron James team is always dangerous. Last night’s result could instill doubt in Toronto.
Or it could be an isolated event. After watching Villanova win the national championship the day before in San Antonio, Kyle Lowry scored five points on 2-of-11 shooting. He’ll be better-rested in the postseason.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers were missing starting point guard George Hill – though replacement Jose Calderon (19 points on 11 shots) played well. Of course, LeBron (27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists) and Kevin Love (18 points and 15 rebounds) did the heavy lifting.
Let’s just say not to read too much into a single regular-season game but not completely discount its importance, either.