The Houston Rockets entered the final week outside the NBA playoffs needing to beat the young spoiler T-Wolves and hope for some help from a division rival. The basketball gods shone on the Rockets as they got both prayers answered.
Numerous times this season the Houston Rockets have had the opportunity to control their own destiny and stumbled. After beating the Lakers handily Sunday they faced Minnesota who’ve been playing spoiler and were on a three game winning streak. Two of those wins came versus playoff squads including the 72 win Warriors. So, it was with bated breath Red Nation watched last night knowing a Rockets loss would virtually remove them from the playoff equation.
In fairness, time and again this season the Rockets would falter when there was opportunity to pull ahead. During one stretch Memphis lost Marc Gasol, Dallas was slipping, Utah seemed to have hit a wall and the Blazers were on a horrible road heavy tour. But instead of seizing the moment the Rockets vacillated between beating great teams and losing games versus low end competition.
Every short winning streak was immediately followed by a barrage of losses. Then last week arguably the most deflating week of the season occurred. First the team allowed the Mavericks to come back in a game Houston had well in hand. Then they followed it up with a lack luster performance playing zero defense versus the lottery bound Suns who went on to win by 9 points. The Rockets were booed off the Toyota Center court and it seemed Clutch City had fallen into an abyss.
Perhaps it was precisely what the players needed to hear. Red Nation fans are a passionate sort who held steadfast, remaining committed to their Rockets in spite of the off court antics, jokes in the media and obvious on court chemistry issues. What they weren’t willing to tolerate was one more game showcasing a lack of focus or defensive effort. Nor were they about to accept what appeared to be a lack of passion or desire.
The blow-out win Sunday versus the Lakers served as the perfect antidote, but the fact remained the Rockets would need to win their final two games and even that wouldn’t cement a post season berth.
Rockets Reclaim Eighth
Last night the basketball Gods apparently were in a giving mood as the Rockets took care of business and the Mavericks bested the Jazz who also lost Rudy Gobert in the process. By night’s end with these two games in the book Houston had reclaimed the eighth seed.
One game remains to determine the final participant of the playoffs which will either be the Houston Rockets or the Utah Jazz. On paper it seems like the Rockets have the edge given they play at home and face a Sacramento Kings team who say they won’t play Cousins on the road again. Conversely, the Jazz play the Lakers on the road, and while that may seem like a gimme win it’s not. Utah are the youngest team in the Association and they’ll have two challenges to overcome Wednesday.
First, the fact Rudy Gobert left Monday night sporting a walking boot on crutches doesn’t bode well for him to play so soon after. However the big issue will be one Kobe Bean Bryant who’ll be appearing in his final game of his career. News of tickets selling for upward of $25,000.00 just to see him play his last game speaks to how much hoopla will be focused on the Staples Center Wednesday. Further, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn Kobe will want to go out with a bang. While I wouldn’t expect another 81 point showcase, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him light it up one last time.
Suffice to say the Jazz will have major distractions to deal with and it might be too much to expect of the young team. Houston tip-off at 8PM EST, so given the expected pregame festivities for Bryant it’s feasible the Jazz will already know their destiny before their 10:30 tip. If the Rockets can do what’s alluded them all season (control their own destiny) it will be a moot point. However, an unforeseen loss to the Kings would only add to the tension of the what’s likely to be the game that will close out the 2015-2016 regular season.Let’s hope it’s the former not the latter.
Rudy Gobert on crutches and in a walking boot after the game with a sprained ankle. pic.twitter.com/qHxeQUV07R
— Dana Greene (@dana_greene) April 12, 2016
Record Breaking Time?
Ironically all this fighting just to claim the eighth seed feels like a masochistic action given the berth will lead to a meeting in the first round for the best team in the NBA. So, while the Rockets and Jazz duke it out their round one series playoff partner will be seeking history. With the win in San Antonio the Warriors tied the Chicago Bulls best regular season record of 72 wins. Wednesday they tip off at “Roaracle” (Oracle Arena) to capture what the elusive 73 win season. Given they’ll face the decimated Grizzlies and know they’ve already tied the Bulls all signs point to the record falling.
In addition the odds on favorite to win back to back MVP’s Steph Curry will be in search of another astounding milestone. Curry sits at 392 made 3-pointers needing just 8 to reach 400 this season. Expect the sharp shooter to be firing bombs all night hoping to add that incredible achievement to his portfolio. In fact this stat brings up an interesting side note. Last week players like Ron Harper and Scottie Pippen were in the news stating the Bulls team would have swept this year’s Warriors team.
I’ve always maintained just like you can’t compare Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq or Yao Ming you can’t compare two different eras and styles of basketball. It’s like asking whether an orange or a melon tastes more like an apple. Beyond the fact it’s subjective it’s also two vastly different things. Case in point the 72-9 Bulls scored 544 three pointers in their magical season. In contrast Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have posted 664!
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 11, 2016
West: 2 vs 7
Like the Warriors the Spurs will need to wait to learn who’ll they’ll face in the first round. Dallas currently resides in the seventh position and after clinching a berth by beating the Jazz they’ll play once more ironically against the Spurs at home in Dallas.
Where things get tricky is based on all the tie breaks the Mavericks own. Though they can’t fall lower than 7th there are a number of variations where they can end up:
- A victory over the Spurs coupled with a Blazers win and Grizzlies win would keep them in 7th
- A loss to the Spurs would hold them in 7th
- If the Grizzlies lose both their final games (Clippers/Warriors) and the Mavericks win Wednesday the tie-break would go to Dallas which would move the Mavs up to 6th
- If the Blazers lose their final game at home to Denver, and the Grizzlies lose both their final 2 games and the Mavericks beat the Spurs then they vault all the way up to the 5th seed.
Confused yet? Suffice to say there are a myriad of options for the Mavericks if they win their final game, but will be predicated on how the Grizzlies and Blazers perform as well.
— ALL IN Sports Talk (@allinsportstalk) April 12, 2016
My bet is the Blazers win their final game vs Denver (especially given how well Portland play at home) and as poorly as the Grizzlies have played down the stretch they’ll be gunning for the victory in LA vs the Clippers. If Memphis lose to the Clippers then the Spurs could actually determine who’ll they play. By beating the Mavericks they would retain Dallas, but let’s consider perhaps a decimated Grizzlies team might be more appealing to the Spurs. Since Pops is known to rest players there would be no eyebrows raised if he chose to sat all his core players, and allow the Mavericks to get the win which would move them out of 7th and assuming a Warriors win over Memphis ensure the Spurs get the Grizzlies.
Of course I’m speculating and that’s never a good idea when it comes to the Master called Popovich
West: 3 vs 6
At the moment the Grizzlies would play the Thunder. Yet as outlined above Memphis could fall to 7th, but there are also options for the Grizzlies. If they did the unimaginable and won both their final games and the Blazers lost their final game then Memphis would reclaim the 5th seed. This is the only way they move up despite splitting the series with Portland because the Blazers have a better in conference record. While the Thunder have secured the three seed it sure didn’t stop their two stars from posting two incredible personal stats Monday night. Russell Westbrook posted his 18th triple-double of the season… in the first half! And, fittingly with Kobe Bryant in the house Kevin Durant passed Bryant’s record of consecutive games scoring 20 or more points with his 64th such consecutive effort. (Michael Jordan has 2 streaks that are still within reach of Durant: 1990-01 his streak ran 69 games and 1987-88 the streak ran 72 games)
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 12, 2016
West: 4 vs 5
As I outlined above any of the Mavericks, Grizzlies or Blazers can end up in the fifth seed. The easiest scenario is if the Blazers beat the Nuggets as they’ll sew up the spot.
Personally I’d be thrilled to see a Blazers vs Clippers round 1 match. Although the Clippers have been one of the most improved defensive teams heading into the stretch they have problems guarding driving guards or guards with offensive versatility. Who doesn’t want to see Lillard given another chance to end a team’s dream (especially if it’s not the Rockets).
PLAYOFF UPDATE: With tonight's results, Rockets now control their playoff chances and will be the 8 seed with a win Wednesday vs. Sacramento
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 12, 2016
East: 1 vs 8
It took 81 games, but the Cavaliers finally wrapped up the top spot in the East with their victory over the Hawks last night. Their opponent will be one of two teams: the Pistons or Pacers.
As of last night that opponent is the Pistons who actually own the season series over Cleveland at the moment. For the Pistons they have a tough road to try to move up given they’ll play the Heat tonight and the Cavs Wednesday. With the Pacers playing the Knicks and Bucks they certainly have the much easier path to staying in the 7 seed. By nights end the 7 and 8 seeds could be cemented if the Heat repeat last weeks results when the dismantled the Pistons 107-89) coupled with an Indy win over the Knicks.
Though unlikely if the Pistons win out and the Pacers lose one of their final two games they’ll jump to seventh. If both Indy and Detroit win or lose it will come down to the final night when as mentioned the Pistons play the Cavaliers and Indy play the Bucks. If that happens the Cavs will find themselves in a similar situation to the Spurs of whether they allow the Detroit to win. The problem with this scenario is they can’t control what the Pacers will do.
There’s two schools of thought on this situation as the Pacers have been sputtering down the stretch, but they still retain a top defensive squad and there’s that guy Paul George to contend with. Conversely the Pistons have talent and great coach, but are young and inexperienced.
Personally, I’d bet the Cavs would prefer the Pacers (heck I’ve droned on all season on my desire for the Raptors to draw them so no one needs to convince me). Moreover Cleveland’s Achilles heel is defending the pick and roll so you just know Stan Van Gundy who already runs a bunch of PNR plays will up the ante should they face Cleveland.
Again, just my opinion, but I’m expecting the Heat to beat the Pistons tonight as they are motivated to retain home court and the Pacers to sew up seventh with a victory over the Knicks.
NBA Capsules: Cavaliers wrap up top seed in East with 109-94 win over Hawks https://t.co/9kvLLwpwA8
— Daily Republic News (@AllDailyRepNews) April 12, 2016
East: 2 vs 7
The Raptors enter the post season healthy including a returning DeMarre Carroll and bolstered depth with the emergence of the steal of last season’s draft, second rounder Norman Powell. Like the Cavaliers they await what happens between the Pistons and Pacers which I outlined above. I’m predicting a Pacer first round match and I’m happy Carroll will be on hand to help with the defense of George.
Of note: perhaps the most under the radar deadline move was the addition of Jason Thompson who has been grabbing valuable minutes down the stretch and is fitting in seamlessly. To wit, he leads the Raptors with a plus 10.1 point differential when he’s on the court. Granted that’s a small sample size, but the fact Duane Casey has Thompson available to deal with mobile bigs in replacement of Luis Scola could well be an x factor in the post season.
East: Seeds 3, 4, 5 and 6
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Just like the majority of the season the four teams fighting for the middle of the East bracket are all so closely knit a single game separates them all. There is a myriad of options of what can occur however losses by the Hawks and Celtics coupled with a win by the Hornets Monday evening made things even stickier. Here’s how they currently rank:
- Atlanta sit third and play once more versus the Wizards on closing night.
- Miami moved into fourth following the Celtics loss to the Hornets and have two tough games remaining versus motivated squads. Tonight they’ll play the Pistons and they close out against the Celtics.
- Boston put themselves in a bit of hard spot with the loss Monday pushing them down to fourth, so they’ll be motivated to beat the Heat on Wednesday
- Charlotte helped themselves with a big win after falling off in the past few games, but it came at a cost as Nic Batum twisted an ankle. They have one last game on closing night versus the Magic.
Put tonight behind us True Believers. We have home court in Round 1!
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) April 12, 2016
In terms of who owns the season series and tie breaks:
- Atlanta own the tie break over the Celtics and Hornets therefore the worst they can finish is fourth and only if Miami win out.
- Miami would win a tie break over the Hawks and Hornets
- Boston owns the tie break over the Heat and Hornets
- Charlotte is in the unenviable position of holding no tie breaks over the 3 teams, therefore they can’t usurp the Hawks. And since the Heat and Celtics play each other one will definitely finish ahead of the Hornets. Further if the Heat beat the Pistons but lose to the Celtics regardless of whether the Hornets win their final game they’ll be locked into the sixth seed. The scenario that would find them moving up is if they win their final game with the Celtics losing or if they win and the Heat lose both their final games.
There's only 1 way to respond to Monday's loss as Boston heads into its final game. Evan Turner has the answer here: https://t.co/zEYb9xWtbF
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 12, 2016
Miami has a tough test facing the Pistons and Celtics, but are the only team with 2 games in hand. I’m not sure they can pull off victories in both, but it’s likely their goal is home court. Since they’ve played the Cavaliers as well as any team one would presume finishing 4th would be fine (especially since the Raptors took their season series).
Column: After going around the NBA in 80 games, the Heat is about to learn a lot more about itself. https://t.co/HjThJaiOxb
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 12, 2016
Again, this is only my opinion, but if you’ve followed the All In Sports Talk NBA Blue Monday’s show the current board from 1 through 8 is set up exactly how I’ve hoped for. Though the Heat blew out the Pistons last week they aren’t as dominant on the road where they’ll also play the Celtics.
Since my preference is as the board currently stands of course my prediction will mirror that result. One thing is certain, these 4 teams have kept the East super exciting and will right up until the final night of the regular season.
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