After a frantic and frenetic 13-game Wednesday in the NBA, there's a decent chance that you woke up wondering:
... so we thought we'd help you get caught up on the playoff races, quickly.
• The top two seeds in the East held serve. The Miami Heat hammered the Milwaukee Bucks, never trailing in a 19-point win that saw LeBron James (17 points, eight assists, four rebounds in 29 minutes) cram one all over Ekpe Udoh:
Ekpe caught some grief for that, and seemed a bit bummed out by it.
Sorry, Mr. Udoh, but Worldstar's everywhere these days.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers hung on to beat the Pistons, shooting 49 percent as a team after six straight games of sub-40-percent accuracy from the field. Paul George put up 27, 13 and seven, and hit a very long shot that he thought he had to take, but didn't.
Miami (52-22) and Indiana (53-23) remain in a virtual tie atop the Eastern Conference, with the Heat holding a thousandths-of-a-percentage-point advantage in the standings and the Pacers hot on their heels at No. 2. The beasts of the East resume their pursuit of the top spot on Friday, as Indy heads north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors, while Miami welcomes the Minnesota Timberwolves to South Beach.
• The San Antonio war machine proceeds apace. On one hand, the Golden State Warriors went into Wednesday without three starters — defensive centerpieces Andrew Bogut (pelvis/groin contusion, which, gross) and Andre Iguodala (right knee tendinitis), plus double-double provider David Lee (strained right hamstring) — so you kind of knew what was coming here. On the other, the Spurs led for the final 45 minutes of this game, cruising to a 21-point win despite shooting an uncharacteristic 4 for 19 from 3-point range.
Six Spurs in double-figures, eight Spurs with at least five points, 53 percent shooting as a team, a 19th straight victory; in other words, they were the Spurs. They might not be on Thursday, though, as they face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road, in the second game of a back-to-back, at the end of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch, especially with Pop practically begging for a loss at this point. So, y'know, feel free to just go ahead and pencil in a 30-20 from Jeff Ayres and a Cory Joseph triple-double.
• Play my position in the game of life, standing firm. The Raptors and Chicago Bulls both won, keeping them lined up at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in the East. DeMar DeRozan (29 points, six rebounds, four assists) outdueled the Houston Rockets' James Harden (26 points, six rebounds, four assists) in a game of dueling hand injuries, while D.J. Augustin (23 points and five assists in 28 minutes off the bench) gave the Bulls the boost they needed to get past the blasé-about-the-playoffs Atlanta Hawks and All-Star center Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, one turnover in 38 minutes) continued to look good:
• Now switch: The combination of the Hawks' loss and a 110-81 pasting of the Brooklyn Nets means the New York Knicks now occupy the eighth spot in the Eastern playoff bracket, holding a slimmer-than-slim fraction-of-a-winning-percentage-point lead over Atlanta (.434 to .432). The Knicks must still end the season with a better record than the Hawks to gain postseason access, as Atlanta holds a tiebreaker advantage over New York by virtue of their superior record against Eastern Conference competition, but if the playoffs started today, the Knicks would be in. We're sure the Heat are quaking in their boots. (Still in the eighth-seed mix: the Cleveland Cavaliers, who welcomed All-Star Game MVP and starting point guard Kyrie Irving back from injury with a tidy victory over the Orlando Magic and now sit two games back of the No. 8 spot.)
Dallas enters Thursday as the No. 7 seed, with Memphis down to No. 8 and Phoenix presently out of the money at No. 9. The Mavs' reward for sliding back into position? A nationally televised meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers, who just got Blake Griffin back from back spasms, who took out Phoenix on Wednesday, who beat the Mavs just one week ago, and who are now just 1 1/2 games back of the Thunder for the No. 2 spot out West. Nothing easy, ever, in the Western Conference.
• Etc.: Houston's loss to Toronto cuts their lead over the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 4 spot, and home-court advantage in the first round, to just one game. The Wizards' win over the Boston Celtics not only clinched a playoff berth, but also brought them within 1 1/2 games of the Nets for the East's No. 5 seed. (Also, Marcin Gortat is fun.) The Charlotte Bobcats' magic number for locking down a playoff berth is now down to three.
OK, you're officially caught up on where we stand, playoffs-wise, this Thursday. Feel free to relax, aggressively.
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