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NBA Daily: The Mad Scramble For Playoff Position

As the NBA regular season enters its final week, playoff seeds in each conference are up for grabs.

Buddy Grizzard

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With Wednesday’s 96-78 win over the visiting Celtics, the Toronto Raptors may have wrapped up the number one seed in the East. Competitive games against the Pacers and HEAT remain, but with Boston three games behind in the loss column, that race may be over.

The Raptors maintain the league’s third-rated defense, but point guard Kyle Lowry said he felt the team’s defensive identity had slipped in recent weeks. He saw good signs as his team held the Celtics below 80.

“Yesterday I said it … we haven’t played really good defense in the last month,” Lowry told reporters after the Celtics game. “But tonight I think we did a good job of trying to take a step forward.”

Lowry was also fully aware of what’s at stake with the top seed in the East up for grabs.

“Knowing that we’ll have home court throughout the playoffs in the Eastern Conference would be big for us,” said Lowery. “If we need a game seven, then we’ll have it on our floor.”

Teammate DeMar DeRozan made it clear that the Raptors aren’t looking past the games remaining in the regular season schedule.

“Every single one is extremely important,” said DeRozan. “Because once next weekend starts, it’s literally win or go home. So these four games are critical.”

While the Raptors have given themselves a cushion, the Celtics’ disastrous injury news has thrown much of the Eastern Conference playoff picture into chaos. Thursday’s bombshell was the revelation that Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving will miss the remainder of the season and playoffs after the process of diagnosing his sore knee revealed a bacterial infection.

With Boston missing its centerpiece for the playoffs, the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers may see an easier path to the Eastern Conference Finals by obtaining the third seed rather than potentially facing the Raptors in the second round. Indiana kept pace with a 126-106 blowout of the Golden State Warriors Thursday that kept them within two games of the third seed currently held by Cleveland. The Cavaliers capped a five-game win streak with a dramatic, come-from-behind 118-115 victory over the Washington Wizards Thursday.

The win put Cleveland one game ahead of Philly in the win column while both teams have 30 losses. The 76ers have won 12 straight despite missing Joel Embiid for part of that stretch. The Cavs have a pair of games remaining against the lottery-bound Knicks. The 76ers must play the Milwaukee Bucks, currently the eighth seed, and have remaining contests against the playoff-eliminated Hawks and Mavericks. Thus, tonight’s visit by Cleveland to Philadelphia could decide which team earns the three seed.

After the Cavaliers rallied from down 17 points with seven minutes to play against the Wizards, LeBron James was asked about how Embiid’s injury absence impacts the 76ers.

“They’re very good with him or without him in the lineup,” said James. “Obviously Embiid is a special talent. But they’ve been playing so much without him that they still keep the momentum going.”

With Jose Calderon and George Hill sitting out, it was a challenging first game back for Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who returned to the sidelines after a nine-game absence to address health concerns. Lue started wing Cedi Osman at point guard and admitted that organizing the team after his time away was a challenge.

“Our rotations were a little off tonight,” said Lue. “I was rusty, but they bailed me out.”

With the Pacers currently two losses behind the 76ers and Cavaliers, the team would need a lot of help to climb above the fifth seed, especially with a visit to Toronto on tap for tonight. Indiana appears destined for the four-five playoff matchup against the team that loses out on the third seed between Cleveland and Philadelphia.

The HEAT, Wizards, and Bucks have all clinched the final three playoff slots in the East, and are within a game of each other. Each of those teams could wind up with anything from the sixth to the eighth seed. For the HEAT, reserve forward Udonis Haslem tweeted congratulations to teammate Wayne Ellington, who became the NBA’s single-season leader in made three-pointers as a reserve.

Washington’s loss to Cleveland, combined with the Milwaukee Bucks’ brutal 119-111 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Thursday, left the teams with identical 42-37 records. With Miami just one game ahead of both teams, the final three playoff seeds in the East will remain up in the air until decided by the remaining regular-season games. Miami visits the Knicks tonight while the Wizards host the Hawks.

Western Conference Picture

In the West, things are slightly more settled with the Rockets having clinched the conference’s best record and the Warriors locked into second. A two-game losing streak has put the third seed in jeopardy for the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to the red-hot Utah Jazz, which sent the L.A. Clippers two games below the playoff cut line with a 117-95 blowout Thursday in Utah. The Blazers lost a tight one in Houston Thursday, 96-94.

While the Jazz trail the Blazers by two games, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are only a game behind Utah with identical 45-34 records. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets made things even more interesting with a 100-96 win over the visiting Timberwolves Thursday that brought those teams even at 44-35. Minnesota won the first two games against Denver, and thus currently hold the tiebreaker.

With the Nuggets in ninth place in the West but tied with the Timberwolves, that means the current fourth through ninth seeds are separated by only two games.

It’s going to be a dizzying finish to the regular season with so many playoff match-ups still to be determined.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks.

They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far.

He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards.

He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot.

It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building.

The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.

The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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