There is a lot to unpack heading into the final day of the NBA regular season, but here’s what you need to know, including playoff scenarios.
1) Lakers find a way to upstage even NBA’s biggest nights: Magic Johnson unexpectedly steps down as Lakers’ president. Nobody saw this coming. Not Laker owner Jeanie Buss — Magic didn’t even face her and tell her before stepping in front of the cameras at Staples Center. Not LeBron James, who had met with Magic Johnson and Laker GM Rob Pelinka days before and got not even a hint. Not Luke Walton, the Lakers’ coach who expected to be out of a job within 24 hours.
Magic Johnson stepped in front of the cameras at Staples Center Tuesday night and resigned as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations in what was a 40-minute, impromptu, rambling, emotional press conference.
It leaves the Lakers with oh-so-many questions. What is the fate of Luke Walton? GM Rob Pelinka? Who do the Lakers get to take over next? Will this impact free agents’ decisions this summer?
This can be a good thing for the Lakers because Magic Johnson wasn’t good at this job.
Sources told me last summer he was the kind of boss who had a lot of different things going on — time with family, a $700 million business empire, HIV activism, much more — so he would parachute in a few days a month, throw around edicts, then leave and let everyone else deal with the fallout. Pelinka (who is more likely than Walton to soon be out of a job now, Pelinka is not loved by other league executives) stumbled learning the GM job on the fly. Magic and Pelinka together came up with the plan to surround LeBron James with playmakers, not shooters, and the guys they could get on one-year contracts. That failed spectacularly.
Now the pressure falls on Jeanie Buss. The Lakers’ lead owner has to reach beyond her comfort zone and bring in someone who can turn the assets the Lakers still have — LeBron, max cap space, some nice young players, being in Los Angeles — into a winning team and culture again.
When Buss forced out her brother Jim and Laker loyalist Mitch Kupchak, she turned to a trusted friend in Magic, even if he didn’t have experience in the job. The Lakers have acted for a while now like their powerful brand is an organizational culture, that if they just do things “the Lakers way” everything will work out. But a brand is not a culture. Buss needs to go out and get a new basketball president from outside the organization with a track record of success, pay him well, give him complete power over the basketball side of the building, then get out of the way.
Oh, and she needs to do it fast because this upcoming draft and free agency will be huge for the Lakers and their chance to win a ring in LeBron’s window.
2) Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki each receive touching tributes in their final home games — then each of them drops 30. Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki both are more than just future Hall of Famers who had great careers. Both became the face of a franchise and led their respective teams to titles.
Both are retiring next season and both received an emotional sendoff from their hometown fans Tuesday night.
Then both went out and dropped 30 points.
Wade’s family was with him on the court in Miami, watching touching — if a bit too sponsor driven — tributes. However, the Heat were still playing for something, the game mattered, and Wade was not going to leave on a loss — he had 30 points to help the Heat past the 76ers. (Miami was still eliminated from the playoffs because both Detroit and Charlotte won.)
Nowitzki went into the night never having officially said he was retiring, even though everyone knew it was coming and his final season had basically been a farewell tour. Tuesday, in front of the Dallas fans, he said this was it, he was walking away.
Then Nowitzki dropped 30 points and had 8 rebounds to lead a Mavericks win against Phoenix (despite 51 from the ageless Jamal Crawford for the Suns).
3) One playoff spot and seven playoff matchups still to be decided on the final night of the NBA season. This weekend, the Indiana Pacers will travel to Boston to open the first-round playoff series between those teams.
That’s all we know. Not one other matchup. We don’t know all the playoff teams in the East yet — Detroit and Charlotte are still fighting for the final slot — and the other three series in that conference hang on the outcome of games on Wednesday night.
In the West, we know the eight playoff teams but not one matchup is yet official.
Here is a quick bullet-point rundown of what to watch for Wednesday night.
• If Detroit beats New York, the Pistons are in the playoffs. The Pistons control their own destiny for the final playoff spot in the East.
• If the Pistons lose and the Hornets beat the Magic on Wednesday, then the Hornets are in. (Charlotte has to win or they can book flights to Cabo.)
• 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 and Orlando have clinched playoff spots but their seeding is up in the air still.
• The top five seeds in the East are locked in: Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana.
• Denver will finish with the No. 2 seed with a win at home against the Timberwolves. A Nuggets loss and a Rockets means Houston is the two seed, Denver the three seed.
• Denver tried to manipulate the playoff standings over the weekend, and it may work. Denver rested key players against Portland 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 for the season, and the Trail Blazers have the tiebreaker, meaning Portland is the three seed (and the team Denver would see in the second round). Houston would then fall to the four seed and the Warriors side of the bracket.
• There are eight different scenarios of how the 6/7/8 seeds can still play out in the West.
• If Oklahoma City can beat Milwaukee Wednesday it will be the six seed in the West. Lose and they can fall to 7/8.
• San Antonio can be the six seed with a win Wednesday and an OKC loss. However, if the Spurs lose while the Thunder and Clippers both win, then San Antonio drops to 8. Nobody wants the eight seed and the Warriors in the first round.