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Playoff picture still not in focus with two days left in season, here’s what to look for

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The Indiana Pacers will face the Boston Celtics.

That’s it. That’s all we know. Well, that and LeBron James will not be participating.

When the NBA playoffs start this weekend, Indiana will travel to Boston for the start of that series.

We’re 80 or 81 games into the NBA season (depending on the team) and literally no other matchup is set in the NBA’s playoff picture. How complex is it? Look at the spreadsheet the league sent out to help media members and others understand the possibilities.

This is what the league office wants, it’s drama. It has fan bases involved all the way through the season. It’s something the league can sell as parity, even if we all know there’s not really parity in the NBA in the sense of how fans would describe it.

To be fair, we know a couple of other things heading into the final two days of the season. In the East, we know the top five seeds: Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana. In the West, we know the Golden State Warriors are the top seed, and we know which are the eight playoff teams. However, there is no seeding set beyond the top one.

Here’s what to watch.

There is one playoff spot left open, the eight seed in the East. The Detroit Pistons sit in that spot, one game ahead of both Miami and Charlotte, with two games to play. The Pistons control their own destiny — beat Memphis and New York over the next two days and Detroit goes to the playoffs (it’s even possible they pass Orlando for the seven seed, if the Magic help out with a loss Wednesday). However, if Detroit loses one of those games — and Memphis is trying to win in an effort to make it more likely they convey their first-round pick to Boston this year — then the doors open for Charlotte and Miami. And it gets complicated. The NBA’s spreadsheet shows 64 possible remaining scenarios that could play out between the Nets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, and Heat over the final two days of the regular season (both who gets in and the order of seeding).

The West is even more complicated.

At the bottom of the conference, just half a game separates the Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers, who will finish as the 6-7-8 seeds. Probably. They can finish in literally any order, and there are even a couple of scenarios where the Thunder leap past the Jazz into the five seed and Utah gets to be sixth.

Denver is the No. 2 seed, but is just half a game up on the Rockets who sit third, with Portland just one more game back at No. 4. Denver rested key players on Sunday in a loss to Portland that raised a lot of questions about who the Nuggets were trying to line themselves up to face (even if that loss opened the door for the Rockets a little to get the two seed). Was Denver trying to pump up Portland and help the handful of scenarios where the Trail Blazers jump the Rockets to get the three seed, in essence giving the Nuggets a potentially easier second round matchup (and putting the Rockets on the Warriors’ side of the bracket)?

The Jazz seem locked into the five seed, but there are scenarios where Utah wins its final two games, Houston and Portland stumble, and the Jazz jump up to the four seed and host a playoff series.

Just look at all the scenarios.

It’s more complicated than how Avril Lavigne ever had a hit with that song.

It’s also going to make for an exciting final couple of days in the NBA’s regular season.

 

Utah Jazz extend Joe Ingles for one additional season at $14 million

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Joe Ingles is part of the Utah Jazz core. He’s a key forward in their system who serves mostly as a stretch four — more than 60 percent of his shot attempts last season were from three and he hit 39.1 percent of them — but also can put the ball on the floor and is a smart passer. While the past couple of seasons Donovan Michell has been Utah’s primary shot creator, when teams focused on him and bottled up the offense it fell to Ingles to be the man.

The Jazz like him enough to lock him up for one more season. He had two years, $22.7 million left on his contract but now the Jazz have added a third year, the team has announced. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that additional year will be for $14 million.

“As one of our longest tenured players, Joe’s shooting acumen, playmaking ability and unselfishness have been integral to our team’s identity,” Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik said in a statement. “We are excited to keep a player like Joe, as his character and leadership are critical for the foundation of our team.”

Ingles is now locked up until the summer of 2022. The only other key player whose contract currently extends out that far is Bojan Bogdanovic, who Utah signed this summer for four years, $73 million.

The Jazz are going to have some big money to pay out in the coming years, and with that some ownership decisions about the luxury tax. Donovan Mitchell is eligible for his rookie contract extension next summer and that certainly will be a max deal. Rudy Gobert has two years remaining on his contract ($51.5 million total), then will have to be extended, again likely for the max. Mike Conley has a $34.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season (he likely picks that up), after that the Jazz need to decide what to do at the point guard spot.

A lot of those decisions will come down to how the Jazz perform the next two seasons. Some pundits (*raises hand*) see them as a top-three team in the West that, if they come together, can challenge the Clippers and Lakers for a trip to the Finals. If that happens, how ownership wants to proceed will be different from if the team falls short of those goals.

Cavaliers reportedly snap up Alfonzo McKinnie off waivers

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Going into training camp, Alfonzo McKinnie was expected to be the starting small forward for the Warriors this season.

However, injuries along the front line — Willie Cauley-Stein is out for weeks still, plus Kevon Looney and rookie Alen Smailagic are banged up — and some strong play from Marquise Chriss meant he was going to make the Warriors roster. With the team being hard capped after signing D'Angelo Russell this summer, the Warriors had no choice but to cut McKinnie.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have snapped him up off waivers.

This is a good move by the Cavaliers, a low-risk pickup — McKinnie is on a minimum contract — that could get them a 3&D wing on a young team. He played in 72 games for the Warriors last regular season plus got playoff minutes, and shot 35.6 percent from three. He’s long and athletic and a player both the Raptors and Warriors liked but had to move on from because of other roster situations.

For the Warriors, they will have Glenn Robinson III starting at the three with Alec Burks behind him. They could have really used McKennie.

Report: Nets signing Taurean Prince to two-year, $29M extension

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The Nets traded two first-round picks to the Hawks to clear double-max(-ish) cap space for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

And get Taurean Prince.

Prince was an afterthought in his trade to Brooklyn, which signaled the Nets’ big summer. But Brooklyn acquired him for a reason and will pay to secure him longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Considering this information came from his agent, this is almost certainly the most favorable framing of terms. Maybe Prince got all $29 million guaranteed. But if there are any incentives, I bet that $29 million counts them as achieved.

The Nets are trying to build a championship contender. This deal gives them multiple avenues for uisng Prince.

His contract could help for salary-matching in a bigger trade. I can’t recall the rookie-scale extension so short, if there ever was one. Two years are not an especially long commitment. That hints at using this deal as a trade chip. So does Brooklyn extending Prince before he played a regular-season game there.

Of course, Prince has a track record from Atlanta. He’s a good outside shooter with the frame to defend well when engaged. Maybe the Nets really believe in his long-term potential. He fell out of favor with the Hawks only after they changed general managers.

The Nets needn’t decide on Prince’s long-term future now. They have paid for team control for the next three seasons (including this season, the final year of his rookie-scale contract). They can monitor how he plays – and what trades become available.

Pacers, Domantas Sabonis agree to four-year, $77 million extension

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Indiana is going all-in on the idea of Domantas Sabonis playing the four next to Myles Turner at the five this season. The Pacers have put up the money, now we’re going to see if it can actually work.

After initial struggles to find common ground on a contract extension — leading to reports of the Pacers testing the trade waters for Sabonis — the two sides have come to terms on a four-year contract extension, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Pacers.

The exact figures here are still in flux.

How likely those bonuses are remains to be seen.

This is a pretty fair contract number, a little more than $19 million a year average for the man who came in second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting last season seems about right. Plus, if it doesn’t work out with Sabonis starting next to Turner, this is a very tradable contract and there would be interest in his services (he was harder to trade at his $3.5 million current salary and get anything of value to match that smaller number).

The Pacers hope it doesn’t come to that and Sabonis becomes part of one of the better, younger frontcourts in the league.

Sabonis is skilled and versatile on offense, a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who sets good screens then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game.

The concerns with Sabonis, and why some teams are not convinced he’s a starter, are twofold. First, he is not good defensively and is not a rim protector.

The second concern is that he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Indiana is betting on this core. They have inked big contracts with Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). Victor Oladipo will be coming up for an extension in a couple of years and, if he returns to pre-injury form, is a lock max player. Throw in this Sabonis contract and that is a lot of guaranteed money. Are these guys worth it?

We’ll find out soon enough, the Pacers have gone all-in with them