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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.

 

Carmelo Anthony talks opportunity, playing role as he starts play in Portland

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Carmelo Anthony has got his chance.

Portland is a team that needs what Anthony can bring to the court, and Anthony needs the Trail Blazers to end his career on his terms.

Saying the whole thing came together in about 48 hours, Anthony talked about joining Portland in a video posted to YouTube called “The Next Chapter.” He said the Blazers have long been on his mind.

“I always kept my eye on Portland. It just didn’t work out at other times, but now it seems like a perfect opportunity. Me and Dame, we’ve been talking for the past couple years, just off and on. CJ has been playing in my Black Ops runs for the past four years. I just look at that opportunity, that team and say, look ‘this is what I can bring to the team, this is where I can help it.’ It will only work if all parties see it the same way.”

One of the things that gave teams pause about welcoming in Anthony was whether he’d accept a role. The Trail Blazers have a pecking order: Damian Lillard is the alpha and CJ McCollum is the No. 2. Anthony is coming off the bench, not being the focal point of the offense. Anthony is saying the right things.

“What happened before is the past, I can’t dwell on that, I learned from that. This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life, and my approach is totally different.”

Anthony could make his debut as soon as tonight when Portland faces the Pelicans. If not, it will be soon.

Then it will not be about words, but actions.

 

Marcus Smart forced to leave Celtics game with with ugly right ankle sprain

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Marcus Smart has been playing through a lot of bumps, bruises, and minor injuries, refusing to take time off as the Celtics are off to a red-hot start to the season.

He will have to sit out a while with this one, however.

Smart went down with a scary non-contact right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Boston’s win against Phoenix Monday. It happened with 9:12 to go in the fourth quarter and Smart didn’t return.

The real test with ankles is the next day (when there will be further testing), but there was optimism after the game that the sprain was not that bad, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“They’ll check it in the morning,” [Boston coach Brad] Stevens told reporters after the game and added, “it doesn’t look too bad.”

In his postgame comments, Smart said he was okay but he had aggravated the “exact same ankle injury I was coming back from.” He added that he “should be fine to play the rest of the road trip.”

Smart’s a competitor who wants to play. Still, with this being the same ankle he has injured twice now the team might be wise to force him to sit for a few games and let his ankle (among other ailments) heal completely and not become a chronic issue all season (there’s still nearly five months of NBA regular season left).

Look for an update from the team later on Tuesday.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20

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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) Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20. I, for one, welcome our new Luka Doncic overlord.

LeBron James is right, Doncic is a “bad m***** f*****.” Doncic is destroying the Association and he’s not yet old enough to legally buy a drink. Monday night against the Spurs he had arguably his best game yet: a career-high 42-points, plus 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

It’s hard to get a grasp on just how historic a start to the season Doncic is having, but to help here’s the full list of players who have had 40+ point triple-doubles at or before age 20:

LeBron James
Luka Doncic

That’s it. Expand that to age 21 and you can add Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Isiah Thomas. That’s some Hall of Fame company Doncic is running with at a young age.

Doncic has six triple-doubles this season, which leads the league. On the season he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game, all with a ridiculously efficient 61.2 percent true shooting. Those rebounds are the real difference maker, by the way.

It’s far too early to have a serious MVP conversation, but if you do, Doncic has to be a part of it. He’s been that good this season.

Did I mention he’s only 20?

2) Also making history: James Harden. The Beard put up 36 points in 33:06 minutes on the court against Portland, which is actually slightly below his per game average (39.2) but is still its own bit of history.

Russell Westbrook is right about how we view Harden sometimes, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I think that a lot of people like to normalize greatness when you see it over and over again, but it’s not normal because there’s nobody else that can do it. If it was normal, everybody would do it.”

Westbrook, by the way, had his own big night with a triple-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Rockets have won eight in a row and are one of the NBA’s hottest teams right now.

3) Paul George sticks a dagger in his former team, Clippers beat Thunder. It looked like the night former Clippers would get revenge on their team: First Danilo Gallinari hit a three to tie the game at 86-86, then Chris Paul made two free throws for an 88-86 Thunder lead.

Then Paul George happened.

Gallinari had a shot at a three to win but it missed, George hit a free throw after being fouled, and the Clippers get out 90-88 with a win. The real Los Angeles star for the night was Montrezl Harrell, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

George saw his minutes jump to 29 in just his third game back from shoulder surgeries (plural, as in both of them) but did not score north of 30 like his first two games as the Thunder defense had more of a focus on him.

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game with a bruised knee suffered against the Rockets.

Paul George’s late three proves to be game-winner against Thunder, his former team (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, lifting the Los Angeles Clippers over the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-88 on Monday night to improve to 8-1 at home.

The Thunder had just tied the game at 86-all on a 3-pointer by former Clipper Danilo Gallinari before Chris Paul made two free throws after being fouled by George for an 88-86 lead.

George’s 3 put the Clippers ahead 89-88.

The Clippers were then called for a foul that was overturned on a challenge by coach Doc Rivers. The Thunder retained possession and Terrance Ferguson inbounded to Gallinari, whose 3-pointer missed.

George made a free throw with 0.3 seconds left to close out the game against the team that traded him to Los Angeles last summer.

The Thunder fell to 0-5 on the road.

Montrezl Harrell had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench to lead the Clippers. George finished with 18 points after scoring 30-plus points in his first two games of the season.

Paul scored 22 points, making 10 of 11 free throws, against his former team. Gallinari added 14 points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, another former Clipper, had 11 points despite five fouls.

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard for the third straight game because of a bruised left knee.