NBA playoff picture: Here’s what to look for on Wednesday

Associated Press
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With just one night left in the season a lot is still up in the air. Here’s a look at the NBA Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, what will be decided on Wednesday night, and what to watch.

TUESDAY’S SCORES
Hornets 124, Cavaliers 97
Pistons 100, Grizzlies 93
Celtics 116, Wizards 110
Heat 122, Sixers 99
Knicks 96, Bulls 86
Raptors 120, Timberwolves 100
Warriors 112, Pelicans 103
Mavericks 120, Suns 109
Jazz 118, Nuggets 108
Thunder 112, Rockets 111
Trail Blazers 104, Lakers 101

A couple of things were decided on Tuesday:
• Miami was eliminated from the playoffs despite their win (because Detroit and Charlotte also won).
• The Utah Jazz are locked in as the fifth seed in the West.
• And that’s it. The eighth playoff spot and three first-round playoff matchups are still in play in the East; and in the West, not one playoff series is locked in.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

What to watch for Wednesday night:
• If Detroit wins on the road against New York, the Pistons are in the playoffs. However, if the Pistons lose — and with a hobbled Blake Griffin they needed an amazing comeback to beat the Grizzlies Tuesday — and the Hornets beat the Magic on Wednesday, then the Hornets are in. (If Charlotte loses, the Pistons are in.)
• There are still eight different scenarios for the 6/7/8 seeds in the East depending on what happens in three games: Miami at Brooklyn, Orlando at Charlotte, Detroit at New York.
• Brooklyn (who has clinched a playoff spot) will finish either in the six or seven seed.
• If Orlando can beat Charlotte on the road, it will finish as the six or seven seed. However, if the Magic lose (and the Hornets will be desperate to win, they need to or they are eliminated), they can fall to the eight seed.
• The top five seeds in the East are locked: Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

What to watch for Wednesday night:
• Denver will finish with the No. 2 seed with a win at home against the Timberwolves. A Nuggets loss and a Rockets win drops the Nuggets to the three seed (which would mean starting the second round on the road).
• Portland has a real shot at the three seed. Denver rested players against Portland over the weekend and lost to them in a not-so-subtle attempt to give Portland a boost to the three seed. If Portland can win at home Wednesday against Sacramento it ties Houston, and the Trail Blazers have the tiebreaker. Houston would then fall to the four seed (Denver would have an easier path to the conference finals, and the Rockets would fall to the Warriors side of the bracket).
• (As an aside, Houston should prefer to face Golden State in the second round: James Harden will have more in the tank and be less tired, and it is less likely Chris Paul will be injured.)
• There are eight different scenarios of how the 6/7/8 seeds can still play out in the West.
• Oklahoma City needs to win in Milwaukee to assure themselves of the six seed, lose and they could fall all the way to eight.
• If San Antonio beats Dallas at home Wednesday and Oklahoma City loses, the Spurs are the six seed.
• If the Clippers can beat the Jazz at home and the Spurs lose, the Clippers are the seven seed. Lose and they are the eight seed and get the Warriors in the first round.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY:
Detroit at Milwaukee
Orlando at Toronto
Brooklyn at Philadelphia
Indiana at Boston — series clinched

L.A. Clippers at Golden State
San Antonio at Denver
Oklahoma City at Houston
Utah at Portland

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS:
• Miami at Brooklyn (8 pm ET)
• Orlando at Charlotte (8 pm ET, ESPN)
• Detroit at New York (8 pm ET)
• Oklahoma City at Milwaukee (8 pm ET)
• Dallas at San Antonio (8 pm ET)
• Minnesota at Denver (10:30 pm ET)
• Utah at L.A. Clippers (10:30 pm ET, ESPN)
• Sacramento at Portland (10:30 pm ET)

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.