Week 23 NBA Storylines

The NBA regular season is coming to a close, with most teams having around five games left. The playoffs start a week from this Saturday, so let’s take a look at the top stories around the league heading into the playoffs.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

After Cleveland’s 2OT win on Sunday, the Cavs are 0.5 games back from the Celtics in the East. Those two teams will face off on Wednesday night in Boston, which could decide who gets the top seed. Cleveland is set to face Orlando on Tuesday, and assuming they win, they’ll head into Wednesday’s game with the same record as Boston. Wednesday’s game will be a tough one for the Cavs who have been struggling recently. It will also be Cleveland’s third game in four nights, including Sunday night’s win over the Pacers where LeBron logged an exhausting 52 minutes.

Meanwhile, the race for the final few spots in the East is very close as well. The Bucks have won 7 of their last 10 and should be able to lock in the 5th seed. After Milwaukee comes the Hawks who have dropped eight of their last 10 games. Atlanta’s final five games will be difficult, as they are set to face Boston, then two games against Cleveland, one against Charlotte, and their final game against Indiana. That could put them in jeopardy of losing their playoff spot.

The Bulls are the current 7th seed and have won four games in a row. They seem like a lock to make the playoffs, as they have by far the easiest schedule remaining of any team. Chicago also has tiebreakers over Miami and Indiana.

Miami, Indiana, and Charlotte will all be fighting for the final seed, and none of them will have an easy schedule to close out the year. Miami has struggled in Dion Waiters’ absence, while Charlotte has been surging lately.

This race should come down to the finish line.

Western Conference Playoff Race

In the West, Golden State has pretty much locked up the #1 seed after winning 11 games in a row in Kevin Durant’s absence. San Antonio will finish with the 2nd seed, with the Rockets following them.

In all likelihood the 4–5 matchup will be the Jazz vs. the Clippers, but which team gets homecourt is still up for grabs. Currently, Utah has a 0.5 game lead on the Clippers — although they have played one more game than LA.

As for the six and seven seed, OKC currently has a 1.5 game lead on Memphis. Since Marc Gasol has been out, Memphis has lost three of their last five games — including what should have been an easy win over the Lakers. However, Memphis and OKC meet on Wednesday night and that could be the deciding factor for which team gets the six seed. As of now, it seems like OKC should be able to hang on. As a fan, that’s what you should be rooting for — I think we all want to see the Russ vs. Harden matchup in the 3–6 series. The MVP debate has gone on all year long and a playoff matchup might finally settle the never-ending argument.

Since acquiring Jusuf Nurkic, Portland has been on the rise, having won nine of their last 10 games. The Blazers now have a two game lead on the Nuggets for the eight seed, and it seems like they should be able to hang on to that.

Meanwhile, the race for the worst record in the West has ramped up with the Lakers and Suns in full-on tank mode recently. Phoenix has lost 12 straight, while the Lakers haven’t done much winning lately either. The Lakers are currently 22–56, and Phoenix is 22–55. Those two teams may not win another game this season, which would leave them with the same lottery odds at the end of the year.

Rumors and Updates

  • After the Pacers waived Rodney Stuckey, Lance Stephenson signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Pacers to return to Indiana. Stephenson logged 4 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes in his return against LeBron and the Cavaliers.
  • The Knicks announced that Derrick Rose has a torn meniscus and is out for the rest of the season. He is expected to have surgery and recover in 6–8 weeks. This was awful timing for Rose who is set to hit free agency this summer and was hoping to get his last big contract. Now, he may have to settle for a one-year deal where he’ll have to prove himself once again.
  • One league executive told The Ringer that the Bulls are ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer and that he is “as good as gone”
  • Austin Rivers suffered a strained hamstring and should return in the middle of the first round of the playoffs.
  • Sam Dekker broke his hand in Sunday’s game against Phoenix and is likely out 3–4 weeks.
  • Jusuf Nurkic is out for the rest of the regular season with a fracture in his right leg. He will reportedly be re-evaluated in two weeks.
  • There are reportedly “whispers” that Gordon Hayward could end up in Miami this summer if he doesn’t re-sign with Utah.
  • Kevin Durant has been ruled out for Tuesday and Wednesday’s back-to-back but has made impressive progress and could return before the end of the regular season
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