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Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

2018 NBA Mock Draft of entire first round

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The ping-pong balls have bounced and the basketball gods have shined on the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks.

Will the Suns take Deandre Ayton No. 1? Will Luka Doncic slip down the board? Where will Trae Young land?

Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk and myself spent hours after the lottery ended putting together a full first-round mock draft. You can listen to the two-part podcast here and see how we argued and reasoned our way into these picks. Dauster brings incredible knowledge of these college players (and an international), and I tried to think like these teams and what they will prioritize in the draft (usually just the best player on the board, but still).

Here’s how we see the first round shaking out.

Suns small icon 1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). The consensus No. 1 pick could be a franchise-changing player with unlimited skills on the offensive end — he can finish at the rim, face up, hit threes or midrange jumpers, is mobile and can play in transition, and just generally looks like a modern NBA five. The only knocks are consistent effort questions, which show mostly on the defensive end (he can block shots but is not consistent there). If he lives up to his potential, he will be a dominant force who will make many All-NBA teams and more. He can be the inside to Devin Booker’s outside in Phoenix.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Serbia). He put up good numbers against men in the EuroLeague and ABC League last year, leading powerhouse Real Madrid at age 19. He’s a gifted passer and playmaker who is at his best in transition or coming off the pick and reading the play. He’s the most NBA-ready player in this draft. The only question is his ceiling, he’s not al elite NBA-level athlete and struggled some when defended by NBA-level athletes in Europe (the NBA’s speed and length will be an adjustment). Will make a strong playmaking combo with D’Aaron Fox.

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:. Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). Just a pure scorer who is an elite athlete and may have the fastest second jump in this draft. He has the full bag of tricks on offense — can shoot the three and is strong around the rim — and is going to be able to score at the NBA level right away. There are real questions about his defense (Duke went to a zone last season in part because of how he got torched in pick-and-rolls). Bagley and John Collins can be Atlanta’s front line of the future.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). The Grizzlies have a center (Marc Gasol) but can’t pass up the best guy on the board right now and a prototypical center for the direction the NBA is going — 7’5” wingspan, a good rim protector who can block shots but also can switch on the perimeter and stay in front of smaller players, can finish around the rim with either hand, and can shoot the three (despite a slightly odd shot). He’ll need to get stronger and prove he can be consistent (and stay out of foul trouble) on defense, but he’s young and some scouts think he could be the best player in the draft eventually.

Mavericks small icon 5: Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, 7’0” center (Texas) The Mavericks have been looking for a center ever since the DeAndre Jordan debacle, this can be there answer. Bamba has the potential to be an elite rim protecting center with his 7’9.5” wingspan and instincts, plus he moves well enough to cover on the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. A lot of comparisons to Rudy Gobert here, and like Gobert he’s got a lot of work to do to get strong enough to make this work.

Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: . Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). The Elfrid Payton era is over, the Magic are in the midst of another rebuild, and whoever the new coach ends up being he is going to need a point guard to lead the squad (and the Magic need a name to help them sell tickets). Young has shooting range out to 30 feet and isn’t afraid to show it off, he also sees the court well and makes entertaining passes — he also commits a lot of turnovers by not making the simple pass. There are questions about his defense. A lot of fans want to compare him to Stephen Curry, but if he doesn’t put in a lot of work and accept his role there is Jimmer Fredette potential here.

Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). Long term, Carter can be the more traditional big man the Bulls play next to Lauri Markkanen on the front line. He has an NBA body and a varied offensive game — he can post up back-to-basket, has a variety of moves, can face up, and can hit a three. Carter is strong on the glass, too. The big concern is defense, where he’s slow footed and (along with Bagley) struggled so much on that end Coach K was forced to play zone at Duke. What happens when he gets dragged into NBA pick-and-rolls?

Cavaliers small icon 8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn): Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). Koby Altman and the Cavs front office is not going to know LeBron James’ plan when they pick, which puts them in a very tough spot. Bridges is a guy who can help on the wing now if LeBron returns. He’s very athletic, can knock down threes, can guard either wing spot, and knows how to play a role. He could step right into a “3&D” role. If LeBron leaves Bridges can be part of the future, but he’s not a franchise cornerstone guy (there are none left on the board at this point).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). This would be a roll of the dice by the new Knicks front office, but a good one at this point in the draft. Coming into this season Porter Jr. was projected as a top-three — potentially No. 1 — pick but a back injury sidelined him for most of the season, and he didn’t look 100% upon his return. The medical reports on him will play a key role in where he goes. He’s also rumored to have a real ego. That said, the man when healthy is an elite athlete who can score inside and out and will just get buckets on the NBA level. Potentially a good pairing with Kristaps Porzingis on the front line.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova) The Sixers need shooting from the wings — Marco Belinelli, Ehsan Ilyasova, and J.J. Redick are free agents and not the long-term answer — so they will take the guy already beloved in Philly who is a perfect fit. Bridges shot 43.5% from three last season, although he needs to improve his defense he has the athleticism and length (7’2” wingspan) to do it.

Hornets small icon 11.Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). Whether new GM Mitch Kupchak decides to keep Kemba Walker or trade him and start a rebuild, they still could use depth and playmaking at the point (the Hornets fall apart with Walker off the floor). Sexton is a hard-working, exceptional athlete who loves to drive the lane (but needs to work on his decision making) and could be an elite defensive point guard in the NBA. Fans are going to love his aggressive style of play that borders on reckless, new coach James Borrego maybe not as much.

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). While Los Angeles has a lot of guys at the point — Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic — none of them are the future for the franchise at that position (unless you’re a much bigger Austin Rivers fan than the rest of us). With Gilgeous-Alexander Los Angeles gets a big point guard who has a nice jump shot and can hit threes, and who is crafty and slithery more than classically explosive, and he knows how to manage a game. He will fit in well with this team (whatever DeAndre Jordan decides and what direction the franchise goes).

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Robert Williams, 6’10” power forward/center (Texas A&M). If DeAndre Jordan leaves in free agency the Clippers will want a new big man, if he stays they could use some depth behind him (or next to him at the four if Doc Rivers wants to play big). Williams is an elite athlete, long and can jump out of the building, and he should become a strong rim-protecting center. He’s also a bit of a development project, particularly on the offensive ends. Will Williams put in the work to get where he needs to? If so, this becomes a good pick.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets:. Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky). He has the potential to be the kind of switchable forward NBA teams covet these days, with good shot mechanics (despite hitting just 34% of threes in college) and good athleticism. His defense needs to improve to cover smaller wings at the NBA level. One of the youngest players in this draft, so a lot of room to grow.

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). When John Wall sat last season, the Wizards were 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse, and coach Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to fully trust Tomas Satoransky in the backup PG role (hence too much Ty Lawson in the playoffs). Enter Holiday (the younger brother of Jrue Holiday), he is a very smart game manager who can light it up and averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 42.9 percent from three last season. Can play well off the ball, too (as he had to next to Lonzo Ball the season before). Not a high ceiling, but will be a quality backup PG in the NBA for a long time.

Suns small icon 16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). The Suns have wings, but for a team looking for high-upside players to develop this is their guy at this point in the draft. One of the best athletes in the draft, he’s a good shot creator who can get to the rim and finish. He has the skills to be a very good NBA defender, but he needs to put them to use. To thrive at the NBA level, his jumper has to be more consistent and his handles need to improve. He may not have been used properly in Miami and could thrive in an NBA setting, but he needs to put in the off-season work.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks. Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). The Bucks love to draft long, high-upside projects, and Smith is all of that. 6’11” wingspan, crazy athletic, and he has show the potential to be a very good defender. He needs to show consistency with his shooting (he hit threes at a 45% clip but didn’t take many) and his handles need to improve. He’s a project but could develop into a steal and another long athlete for the Bucks.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). The guy is a shooter, although his three-point percentage in college may not show it. Not an explosive athlete but smart, still he’s going to have to become a better defender to earn regular minutes at the NBA level.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves):. Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). A top high school prospect who didn’t blow people away in college, he is a valued NBA commodity — a shot creator on the wing who can play and guard multiple positions. He’s not an elite athlete and his shooting has to improve, but he’s young and can develop into a quality wing.

20:Minnesota Timberwolves: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.) Minnesota has Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, but Hutchinson can bring scoring off the bench behind them. He’s a fluid athlete whose shot needs to get better, but he’s got the potential. A four-year college guy he can likely help right away, he just needs to add some range to his shot.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). This may be a little high for Frazier (most teams have him later first or early second), but we’re a little higher on him than most. With a 7’2” wingspan he has the potential to be a very good NBA defender. The question is his shooting — he hit a respectable 38.5% on threes, but a lot of people are convinced he’s not that good a shooter (which is why he could fall to the second). If the Jazz can develop that shot they will have a player who will fit what they do on the wing.

Bulls small icon 22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Khyri Thomas, 6’3” shooting guard (Creighton). He’s going to be kind of a “3&D” two guard who can cover both wing spots (thanks to a 6’11” wingspan) and he can hit spot up jumpers. This is not a high ceiling player, but is a high-floor one — he’s not going to be a bust, he will be part of an NBA rotation.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). In an NBA where versatility on the wing is what all 30 teams are seeking, Evans will fit right in. He’s a good defender at multiple positions and can hit the three. He’s an NBA role player, coming off the bench at first, but has real value for the Pacers.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky) An elite recruit coming out of high school who never played at Western Kentucky because he wanted to transfer but would have had to sit out under NCAA rules, he’s still got the size and physical tools NBA teams want in a center. He can be a shot-blocking rim-runner with a couple of years of development. It’s a good risk at this point in the draft.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavaliers): Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). A top-10 prospect who decided not to go to college and headed to prep school instead (ala Thon Maker). He is a project who is going to take a couple of years to come around, but could be worth the wait. He’s a versatile combo guard who should play off the ball mostly (which is fine next to Lonzo Ball). This is a good spot in the draft to roll the dice, and the Lakers did just that.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). De’Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). He sat out this season with Southern California due to being at the heart of the FBI investigation into college basketball, which means workouts will be huge for his standing. He needed to improve as a shooter with the season off, but he was a very good defensive guard who could do some playmaking when called upon.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Bruce Brown, 6’3” shooting guard (Miami)He has the versatile skills set that Brad Stevens likes and could fit into the Celtics’ rotation. He’s a very strong defender who is physically gifted, but he needs to work a lot on his shot and handles to really impact the NBA game.

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). The point guard who led Villanova to a national title, he’s a high IQ player who is polished, can manage the game, and is a good facilitator of the offense. He’s not going to be elite (not athletic enough) and could struggle some defensively, but coming off the bench for the Warriors and feeding their shooters is something he can do. Brunson will stick in the NBA a long time.

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Tyus Battle, 6’7” wing (Syracuse). He had to carry the Syracuse attack last season as their only good shot creator, so his efficiency should go up in the NBA. He has NBA size, can play with the ball in his hands, and he has the potential to be a good NBA defender.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks (via Raptors:. Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). A tall point guard who can play the two as well, he’s got a good shooing stroke. He battled injuries last season, which kept his production down. This guy could be a steal this deep in the draft.

James Harden scores 44 points as Rockets beat Wolves 104-101

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 44 points and powered a big fourth-quarter run that allowed the Houston Rockets to outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-101 on Sunday night in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.

Minnesota scored four straight points to get within 3 with about 30 seconds left. Chris Paul added two free throws after that for Houston, but a tip-in by Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota back within 3. After a bad pass by Paul gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds left, Jimmy Butler‘s shot was short.

The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a 3-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

Jeff Teague ended Minnesota’s scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a 3-point play after a basket by Harden. Harden made another shot to give him 11 straight points for Houston before another basket by Teague.

Harden got Capela in on the scoring after that, finding him for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to 101-93 with less than three minutes left.

The top-seeded Rockets had their hands full with the No. 8 Timberwolves on a night where Houston made just 10 of 37 3-pointers. Harden made 7 of 12 3-pointers, but Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Paul combined to make just 3 of their 22 tries.

Houston kept All-Star big man Towns in check, limiting him to just eight points after he’d averaged 21.3 in leading the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since 2004. Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points to lead Minnesota.

The Wolves scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 56-54 lead. Tucker made a 3 for the Rockets after that, but Minnesota used a 6-1 spurt, with 3s from Wiggins and Teague, to go back on top 62-58.

The Rockets had managed just six points in the quarter when Gerald Green made a basket with to cut the lead to 1 with about five minutes left in the third. Derrick Rose added a bucket seconds later, but Houston scored six straight points after that to put Houston up 68-65. Harden got things going when he made a 3-pointer while being fouled by Rose and also made the free throw.

Minnesota led by a basket after a jump shot by Towns with about two minutes left in the quarter. Harden took over after that, scoring the last six points of the quarter to leave Houston up 76-72 entering the fourth.

Harden hit a 3-pointer before making a driving layup he was fouled on by Gorgui Dieng. Harden flexed each bicep twice while peering down at the muscles after the shot before making the free throw.

The Rockets swept the regular-season series 4-0, winning by an average of 15.8 points a game and it looked like this one might be another blowout early as the Rockets raced out to a 17-6 lead behind 10 early points from Clint Capela. But the Timberwolves got going after that and had tied it up by late in the first quarter.

The Rockets led 54-47 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Butler, who led the team by averaging 22.2 points in the regular season, finished with 13 points. … The Wolves made 8 of 23 3-point attempts. … Towns had 12 rebounds and two assists.

Rockets: Ryan Anderson missed the game with a sprained left ankle. Coach Mike D’Antoni said there was a chance he could return for Game 2, but that he would know more in the next couple of days. … Capela had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, but was limited in the second half and added just four more points and two rebounds.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets

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Minnesota is a team on the rise in the West — Karl-Anthony Towns is a stud. Andrew Wiggins is a stud for the games he shows up and plays focused. Then coach Tom Thibodeau added Jimmy Butler to that roster to both be the glue and push this team, especially defensively. It worked — for the first time since 2004 the Timberwolves are in the postseason.

However, it’s going to be a short trip.

Houston and James Harden are the best regular season team in the NBA (and very possibly just the best team in the NBA, period). They are relentless attackers of mismatches and weaknesses on offense, and they switch everything and defend well on the other end. I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

Minnesota will eventually have more playoff success with this roster,, but this season will be a learning experience.

NBA Power Rankings: Can Rockets, Raptors carry impressive seasons into playoffs?

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The final power rankings come out on the final day of the season. There are no real surprises at the top, and the comments on these rankings are as much a look forward for teams as a look back at the season that was.

Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (65-16, Last Week No. 1). This season went as well as could have been imagined for Houston: James Harden is going to win MVP, he and Chris Paul meshed well from Day 1, and their switching defense proved to be top 10 in the league. The Rockets proved to be legitimate title contenders. They went 41-3 in games Harden, Paul and Clint Caplela all played. Their big test comes in about a month when the Western Conference Finals start — they had better be in it, and then we’ll see how they match up with Golden State.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (59-22, LW 2). Like Houston, this was as good a regular season as Toronto could have hoped for: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan stayed healthy all season and led a more egalitarian offense that moved the ball well, plus they finished the season with a top 5 offense and defense. Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time in its history. None of that has fully eased the playoff doubts — the Raptors have never won their first playoff game (0-9) and will face a tough test (probably from Washington, although Miami or Milwaukee could still be the 8 seed).

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (58-24 LW 3). Time to flip the switch. Due to injuries and a knowledge that they both know where the switch is and can turn it on, the Warriors have coasted through the end of the season. When the Warriors four stars are all on the court the team is 31-10 during the season and remain the title favorites, but they will need to get through the first round without Stephen Curry. More importantly, they need to start defending like a champion again, that end has seen the big drop in recent weeks.

Sixers small icon 4. 76ers (51-30, LW 5). Winners of 15 in a row and with a win Wednesday night against the Bucks they keep the three seed and the easiest path through the playoffs. Keep that three seed and the path to the Eastern Conference Finals is pretty clear — if they can get Joel Embiid back soon, mask and all. They need him. Still, for a team that won 28 games games a season ago the ride this season has been nearly unprecedented.

Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (50-31 LW 7). This has seemed like four seasons in one for Cleveland, with enough drama and changes to be their own reality show. Yet at the end of it all, this is a 50-win team with the best player in the game and the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East again. The one thing that can keep them out of another Finals trip is their defense — can LeBron James turn it on and lift this team’s D up to even league average? That will probably be good enough to make the Finals, but the Cavaliers enter the playoffs weighed down by bad defensive habits.

Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (48-33, LW 8). Back on Jan. 15, the Utah Jazz were 17-26, nine games under .500, five games out of the playoffs, and without Rudy Gobert. Since then they are 31-7 with a frightening defense (Rudy Gobert will win Defensive Player of the Year) and this is the team other top teams in the West wanted to avoid in the first round. With a win in Portland Wednesday night the Jazz will get the three seed, but even if they fall short of that the turnaround of this team — and the play of rookie Donovan Mitchell — has been amazing to watch.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (54-27, LW 4). Wait until next year! Brad Stevens has got my Coach of the Year vote for the job he has done leaning on Al Horford and young players (who traditionally don’t defend well) to have the top-ranked defense in the NBA for the season. Boston earned its two seed, and it’s not impossible they could win a first-round series with a little luck and a hot hand. But next season? With Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back, this team may be the favorites in the East.

Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (48-34, LW 10). Indiana is locked in as the five seed and will face either Cleveland or Philly in the first round — the Pacers went 3-1 against the Cavs this season and 2-1 against the Sixers, so they should have some confidence. The Pacers may be the most surprising team in the league, most of us “experts” had them pegged for 30ish wins and the ability to set tee times for mid-April, instead Victor Oladipo (the lock Most Improved Player) has lifted this team to the postseason and made them a threat there.

Spurs small icon 9. Spurs (47-34, LW 11). That this team won 47 games with Kawhi Leonard essentially being absent all season is a testament to Gregg Popovich and “the Spurs way.” And also LaMarcus Aldridge, who has earned an All-NBA roster spot this season (at either forward or center). That said, without Leonard this is not a team that strikes great fear in the hearts of the teams at the top of the West, the Spurs will defend but their lack of athleticism will catch up with them.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (47-34 LW 9).. We’re 81 games into the season and still asking “exactly who are the Thunder?” Down the stretch of the season the Thunder have been wildly inconsistent, both game-to-game and even within games (the win in Miami Monday was a great example, OKC toyed with Miami for much of the game, before decided to get serious and take advantage of their superior athleticism). Still, because of the elite talent on this roster, it’s a team nobody wants to face in the postseason.

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (48-33, LW 6). It looked like they had the three seed locked up a couple weeks ago, but they have stumbled to the finish line and now have to play the Jazz Wednesday night with the three seed on the line. Of late Portland’s offense has relied too heavily on Damian Lillard (who has been brilliant), on Wednesday night and into the playoffs C.J. McCollum and the rest of the Blazers need to pitch in more on that end.

Pelicans small icon 12. Pelicans (47-34, LW 12). When DeMarcus Cousins went down with his torn Achilles we all pretty much wrote off the Pelicans — what Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday did to get this team into the postseason is one of the great stories of the season. Davis isn’t going to win MVP (he will finish top 5 in the voting) but he has played like one the second half of the season. Reaching the postseason means GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry are likely back next season, and the Pelicans will re-sign Cousins. However, this roster still needs work to take the next step. A lot of it.

Nuggets small icon 13. Nuggets (46-35, LW 17).. With their backs against the wall, the Nuggets have won six in a row to force Wednesday night’s “win and you’re in” showdown with the Timberwolves. If Denver doesn’t make it, they shouldn’t look back on the final game as much as things like the March 17 loss to Memphis or the March 13 loss to the Lakers, those were the games they needed to win and didn’t take seriously enough. The sense around the league is Mike Malone’s job is not safe after a season with the league’s 27th ranked defense.

14. Timberwolves (46-35, LW 13). One game to determine if Minnesota can end the longest playoff drought in the NBA (13 seasons). No pressure guys. To win the game the Timberwolves will need what they haven’t gotten consistently all season — good defense out of Karl-Anthony Towns (matched up on Nikola Jokic) and a focused game from Andrew Wiggins. Jimmy Butler was a great pickup by GM Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Buckets has had an All-NBA level season.

Bucks small icon 15. Bucks (44-37 LW 18). Milwaukee has stumbled in the fourth quarter of games recently, not a good sign heading into the postseason. However, with a loss to the Sixers on Wednesday night the Bucks will be the coveted seven seed in the East and face off in the first round against the banged-up Celtics — with Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee will have the best player on the court in that series and a legit shot to win it. Would that be enough to get Joe Prunty the head coaching job full time? With this ownership, hard to say.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (43-38, LW 16). Miami is an interesting team to watch come the playoffs because of their style of play: This is not a “get the ball to our superstar and get out of the way” offense. Rather, they wear teams down with multiple pick-and-roll actions on each trip down the court, they rely on five versatile players, and once the defense slips up Miami makes them pay. But what happens when it’s the postseason and the defense is dialed in and not making those mistakes (or at least not as often)? The Heat have the defense to hang in a series, but do they have the offense to win one?

Wizards small icon 17. Wizards (43-38, LW 15). On paper, this team should scare Toronto or whoever they face in the first round. In reality, the Wizards dropped four in a row before beating a Celtics team Tuesday comprised of guys Brad Stevens had to pluck out of the front row due to injuries sidelining everyone else. Washington is 3-8 in its last 11, with a bottom 10 offense and defense over that stretch. John Wall is back, Bradley Beal can knock down shots, I love Otto Porter’s game, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts right now in Washington. Do you want to bet this team can flip the switch?

Clippers small icon 18. Clippers (42-39 LW 14). It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Los Angeles. Will DeAndre Jordan opt out of his $24.1 million contract to test a tight free agent market (and get out of L.A.) or does he take the cash and wait a year to try his luck? If he does opt out, will the Clippers try to re-sign him or let him go and start a rebuild? Is Doc Rivers back next season (the buzz around the league is no)? If the Clippers do decide to rebuild, what can they get for Lou Williams? L.A. would love to move Danilo Gallinari’s contract, but they will balk at the sweeteners other teams will want to take him on. This ship could sail a lot of different directions this offseason.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (38-43, LW 19). The sense from sources around the league is that Stan Van Gundy is going to lose is GM powers — with former agent Arn Tellem stepping in as head of basketball operations — but will he be back as coach? Whoever is sitting in the big chair, if the Pistons can keep Blake Griffin, the much improved Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson healthy for a majority of the season they should be a playoff team. But that feels like a very big “if.”

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (36-46, LW 20). Mitch Kupchak is in as the new GM in Charlotte, and at his introductory press conference he kept his cards close to his chest (note to Charlotte media, get used to that). Kupchak and Michael Jordan need to decide the big picture question here: Can they put together a consistent playoff team around Kemba Walker, or is it time to trade him and start a rebuild? Either way, is Steve Clifford a part of that future? (Clifford got a relationship with Kupchak, but if the new GM wants to shake things up that will not be enough.) On the bright side, Dwight Howard had a solid season for the Hornets and looked rejuvenated.

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (34-47 LW 21). Going into the season, a reasonable goal for this team was the mid-30s in wins, with their young core — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle — showing real signs of development. By that measure, this was a good Lakers’ season. This team defended better than expected, and the offense showed flashes. It’s something to build on, no matter who they land or don’t land in free agency this summer.

Nets small icon 22. Nets (28-53, LW 25). It’s going to be a long, slow rebuilding process in Brooklyn, but as they start to dig out from the ruins of the “we have to build a contender right now” trades of the past, they are finding some keepers. Rookie center Jarrett Allen showed real promise the second half of the season. Spencer Dinwiddie is a rotation NBA point guard who can be part of the future. Coach Kenny Atkinson is building a strong culture there. The big off-season question in Brooklyn: What to do about D’Angelo Russell.

Knicks small icon 23. Knicks (28-53, LW 22). Nobody around the league expects Jeff Hornacek to keep his job as coach, the only question is do they fire him before the weekend? Oh, and who replaces him? The Knicks are a big market, but a team with big expectations, not the most consistent owner, and star Kristaps Porzingis is expected to miss about half of next season returning from a torn ACL. This coaching job has its challenges. On the bright side this season, Tim Hardaway Jr. played well, and rookie Frank Ntilikina showed flashes to build upon.

Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (24-58 LW 23). Dirk Nowitzki will be back for one more tour of duty, and the celebration of the greatest Maverick ever (and the greatest European player in NBA history) will provide some cover as Dallas continues its rebuild. Dennis Smith Jr. showed off all that athleticism but also looked like a rookie and needs to get far more efficient with his shot and decision making. Dallas will have another top 10 pick to put next to him and Harrison Barnes.

Kings small icon 25. Kings (26-55, LW 24). Sacramento played their youth a lot and quietly, De’Aaron Fox showed real promise as the season went on, and the combination of Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic provides some good shooting on the perimeter to open up space. That said, the Kings don’t take good advantage of all that — they play too slow and take too few threes. Next season they need to open the offense up and let their young athletes — plus whoever they draft — shine.

Bulls small icon 26. Bulls (27-54 LW 27).. The Bulls finally went all in on the rebuild and they found real quality in big man Lauri Markkanen, he can be a key part of the future in Chicago. I’m still not as high on Kris Dunn as Bulls fans, but he looks like a rotation player who can bring some defense. The big off-season question is Zach LaVine, who is coming off an injury and is a restricted free agent. In a tight market, is some team going to come in big and try to steal him? How much would the Bulls pay to match and keep him? It’s going to be an interesting game of poker in the Windy City.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (24-58, LW 28). John Collins was the most efficient rookie out there (Ben Simmons could make a good case, too) and whatever is rebuilt in Atlanta he will be a part of it. Taurean Prince is now a legit “3&D” guy on the wing, those are hard to come by. There is still a lot of rebuilding to do in Atlanta, but they have a couple of quality young players now and can add to that in this draft.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (24-57, LW 26). Frank Vogel is going to be let go as coach (he should land on his feet somewhere) and the Magic’s new front office has to bring in someone who knows how to develop talent such as Jonathan Isaac and build up a young roster. Then that front office needs to go get a lot more young talent. The problem is they are locked into paying Bismarck Biyombo $17 million next season, hurting their cap space. Expect a lot of Nikola Vucevic trade rumors this summer (solid center on an expiring contract). The Mario HJezonja era in Orlando is going to end this summer.

Grizzlies small icon 29. Grizzlies (22-59, LW 29). Injuries were a big part of it, but there was no more disappointing team in the NBA than Memphis this season. With the ownership situation settled, expect the status quo next season (including coach J.B. Bickerstaff being back) — and with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol back, plus a high draft pick next to them Memphis should be back at least fighting for a playoff slot next season. (The Grizzlies might be the best fit for Luka Doncic, but do they want him? Depends in part on how the lottery gods treat them.)

Suns small icon 30. Suns (21-61, LW 30). The Suns tanking worked, they will head into the lottery with the best shot at the No. 1 pick. The first big question of the offseason is who will be the next coach of this team? (Expect them to reach out to Villanova’s Jay Wright, expect him to say no.) That coach has to develop talent well — rookie Josh Jackson showed improvement but has a long ways to go. The Elfrid Payton experiment did not work, and both Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender were disappointments. The front office has work to do to put better talent around Devin Booker.