Well, it took until the final moments of a 12-game night on the last day of the regular season to figure out not only who would play whom in the playoffs, but who would be in and who would be out. Actually, the Wolves solved that mystery relatively early with their intense overtime win against the Nuggets, but now that the playoffs are set, let’s take a look at playoff matchups. I’m going to break down the Western Conference Playoffs tonight, while Jonas Nader or Tommy Beer will be here on Thursday night/Friday morning with an Eastern Conference preview in Friday’s Daily Dose. Hit up my MVP and Rookie of the Year polls on Twitter by clicking here!
I don’t feel like breaking down a ton of games where a bunch of scrubs played in mostly meaningless contests. But I will say that there’s a decent chance the Rookie of the Year Award could go to both Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell. The award has gone to Co-Rookies several times in the past, both of their teams are in the playoffs, and both of them were critical to their team’s success. And while it may end in a tie and they could share the award, my pick is still Simmons, who helped lead the Sixers to a ridiculous 16 straight wins down the stretch, half of which came without Joel Embiid in uniform. As for MVP, I don’t see how James Harden doesn’t win it, despite LeBron James’ incredible year.
In case you’re wondering, the Eastern matchups are:
No. 1 Toronto vs. No. 8 Wizards
No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Bucks
No. 3 Philadelphia vs. No. 6 Heat
No. 4 Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Pacers
As I said, look for the Eastern Conference Preview column in Friday’s Daily Dose.
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Eastern News & Notes
Jeff Hornacek was fired by the Knicks last night after coaching the team for two years. He never had a chance with one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises, but at least we don’t hear much about Jimmy Dolan these days.
The Celtics started five guys Charles Barkley has never heard of. Seriously, I bet if you told him an NBA team was starting Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader, Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin and Jabari Bird, he might have been able to guess it was the Celtics, but I doubt it.
LeBron James played in all 82 games for the first time in 15 years and had 10 points in 11 minutes. LeBron and Karl-Anthony Towns were the only two true studs to play in all 82 games this season, while Khris Middleton, Bradley Beal, Joe Ingles, Taj Gibson, Taurean Prince, E’Twaun Moore, Julius Randle, Jakob Poeltl, Andrew Wiggins, Marcin Gortat, Yogi Ferrell, Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker, Patty Mills, Cory Joseph, Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks also pulled off 82-game seasons. And speaking of Brooks, he finished on a high note, scoring a career-high 36 points in his finale.
Western Conference Playoff Preview
1. Rockets vs. 8. Timberwolves – The Rockets will face the Timberwolves in Round 1 of the playoffs and the Rockets will hold home-court advantage. Home court is big in the NBA and the Rockets will be heavy favorites to win this series, as well as the NBA Title. But the Wolves are no laughing matter with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins in their starting lineup.
The Rockets will be led by leading MVP candidate, James Harden, along with Chris Paul, Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza, and will be bolstered off the bench by Eric Gordon and Gerald Green. The Rockets will be without forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who suffered a separated shoulder on Tuesday night. He’s likely to miss the first round of the playoffs with his injury. Ryan Anderson, who has missed three straight games with an ankle injury, should be good to go for Round 1. And with Mbah a Moute out, that’s a big deal. Anderson should play a key role for the Rockets in the playoffs, but is still too unreliable to count on in DFS and playoff leagues. Then again, with the Rockets expected to make a run at a championship, Anderson will be worth drafting at some point in playoff leagues. Gerald Green went nuts on Wednesday against the Kings, as Harden, Paul, Capela and Ariza all sat out. Green finished with 31 points and seven 3-pointers, while R.J. Hunter added 19 points in a rare start. They were the only two Rockets in double figures.
The Wolves beat the Nuggets 112-106 in overtime to win the first final-day play-in game in the NBA in the last 21 years. Jimmy Butler had 31 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer to lead the Wolves to the playoffs, while Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague all played well in the win. Wiggins hit a couple clutch free throws with 15 seconds left in overtime to seal the win. Taj Gibson played through a sore neck, so he should be OK for the playoffs, while Nikola Jokic had 35 points and 10 boards in the loss. Wilson Chandler failed to score in 48 minutes, while Jamaal Murray and Will Barton played well for the Nuggets, who were eliminated from the postseason in the tough loss.
The Wolves are getting Butler back just in time and he came through when it mattered most. This series should be a war and I’m not about to bet against the Rockets, but if Butler, KAT, Wiggins and Teague are firing on all cylinders, anything is possible. James Harden and Chris Paul better be ready to bring their A-game.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
2. Warriors vs. 7. Spurs – The Warriors were off on Wednesday and should have everyone except Stephen Curry healthy for the first round of the playoffs. Curry is hoping to return from his knee injury for the second round of the playoffs, but we still don’t have a definitive timetable on his return. Quinn Cook will continue to fill in at point guard until Curry’s ready to go. Andre Iguodala has missed six of his last seven games with a sore knee, but my guess is he’ll be ready to go for the first round.
The Spurs lost to the Pelicans 122-98 on Wednesday, but all the regulars played, with the exception of Kawhi Leonard (quad), who appeared in just nine games for the Spurs. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Kawhi will suddenly be ready to go for the Spurs, so I don’t see how they’re going to get by the Warriors in a playoff battle. The Warriors haven’t looked particularly sharp without Curry, but they still have a bit of an All-Star team, with or without him. And really, the Spurs are just thankful to be in the playoffs at this point. This is the 21st straight year the Spurs have made the playoffs.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
3. Blazers vs. 6. Pelicans – The Blazers held off the Jazz 102-93 last night, led by Damian Lillard’s 36 points and 10 assists, while C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic also played well. The Blazers are mostly healthy and ready to roll in the playoffs, but they’re going to have their hands full with the Pelicans. Moe Harkless could be ready to return from minor knee surgery soon, and Portland could use his defense against the Pelicans.
New Orleans crushed the Spurs 122-98 on Wednesday and got big games out of Anthony Davis, Jure Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore. They’re also healthy and if Davis can stay that way, and Mirotic can stay hot, the Pelicans might be ready to pull of an upset. Mirotic is averaging 25.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 4.0 3-pointers on 56 percent shooting over his last five games, while Davis was arguably the Fantasy MVP this season. What’s really interesting to think about is what the Pelicans would look like if DeMarcus Cousins hadn’t blown out his Achilles. Even so, I like the Pelicans here, even though they don’t have home-court advantage.
Prediction: Pelicans in 6
4. Thunder vs. 5. Jazz – The Thunder got another big game from Russell Westbrook, who locked up another season averaging a triple-double with his six points, career-high 20 rebounds and 19 assists. He needed 16 rebounds to average a triple-double on the season, and hit that number with relative ease, with an assist from his teammates. Westbrook is the first NBA player on record to record triple-double averages in consecutive season, and it’s almost hard to believe he’s done it. Paul George scored 40 for his third 40-point game of the season, while Steven Adams, Corey Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson all hit double figures in scoring in the win. Brewer suffered a right knee injury but George said he was OK after the game. He’ll be re-evaluated, but signs are pointing to Brewer playing in Game 1. He’s been a key for the Thunder since Andre Roberson’s season-ending injury, so everyone involved with the Thunder is hoping he’ll be all right. The Thunder won their final three games and four of their last five to sneak into the playoffs, and ended up with home-court advantage in the first round.
They might need it against the Jazz, who had won six straight before falling to the Blazers in the finale. The Jazz box score against Portland wasn’t pretty, but they’re pretty healthy coming into the playoffs. Rudy Gobert had a 13 & 13 double-double, Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio both scored 17 points with nice stat lines, Derrick Favors scored 10 with four blocks, and Jae Crowder added 12 points, six boards, a steal and a block off the bench. The Jazz have gotten to where they are because of stellar defense, but the Thunder got here with stellar offense. Westbrook and George are two of the better offensive players in the league and the home-court advantage is huge for the Thunder.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
Lou Barlow, the lead singer of Sebadoh and bassist for Dinosaur Jr., is on tour right now and coming to a city near you. He’s playing intimate shows in small venues and it will be a ‘Storytellers’ type of night. He’s in Atlanta on April 20 and Athens, GA on April 21, and chances are you’ll see me at one, if not both, shows. Check out his Facebook page for tickets and look for me in a Rotoworld baseball hat at the show. I look forward to seeing you there and talking some hoops, but don’t hit me up while he’s playing.
We made it! Now go enjoy the playoffs!