A 12-game Wednesday means plenty of moving and shaking in the race to lock up the final playoff berths and to secure positioning among those who've already clinched a spot in the dance. Let's review what went down, and try to make sense of what matters going forward.
Nature > sorcery. We told you it mattered, and evidently, it mattered a bit more to the Charlotte Bobcats than it did to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. After falling behind by 20 points midway through the second quarter thanks to balanced scoring led by 12 from Stylin' Josh McRoberts ...
... the Wiz cranked up both the defense and the John Wall-Marcin Gortat two-man game in the second half to put themselves in position to win late. After a tough Gortat finish off the pick-and-roll gave Washington an 87-85 lead with nine seconds remaining, Randy Wittman's club needed just one more stop to lock down a win and take a two-game lead in the race for the East's No. 6 seed with four games left to play. Well, sometimes what you need isn't what you get.
A blown defensive assignment led to a bucket in the paint (duh) for Charlotte center Al Jefferson, knotting things up at 87 with three ticks remaining. Washington failed to get a shot off at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime. The Bobcats' defense stiffened and the Wizards' shots went awry in the extra frame, as Charlotte outscored Washington 7-1 to score an impressive 94-88 overtime road win that gave both teams 40-38 records.
The marks aren't identical, though. The Bobcats took the season series, 3-1, giving Charlotte a leg up in the race for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and the chance to avoid the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in Round 1. Both teams have relatively soft schedules heading into the postseason. Charlotte faces the playing-out-the-string Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers before finishing off the season against the Atlanta Hawks (who could still need a win to lock up the No. 8 seed) and playing the Chicago Bulls at home in the season finale. Washington gets three games against nothing-to-play-for competition (the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Celtics) and one potential opening-round preview (Monday against the Heat). After the overtime loss on Wednesday, the Wiz now have to finish one game ahead of the Bobcats to avoid the No. 7 slot.
(Before we move on: a brief shoutout for Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker. His shooting percentage is pretty disastrous — he's making only 46 percent of his shots in the paint this season, and it's been even worse (an awful 37.4 percent) since the All-Star break — but he's averaging just under 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds per game during Charlotte's five-game winning streak, turning it over just 2.2 times in 35.8 minutes of work during that stretch. He's 7 for 15 from 3-point land over his last three games, including some confident deep bombs on Wednesday. The Bobcats have been nearly 14 points per 100 possessions better with Walker on the floor than off it since the All-Star break, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and his attacking, dribble penetration and pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop work have been integral elements of the Bobcats' rise from the league's sixth-worst offense in terms of points scored per possession before the All-Star break to a middle-of-the-pack 15th since mid-February. He won't, and shouldn't, get the same level of credit for Charlotte's success as Big Al, but he, too, has mattered in a big way. Big up yourself, Kemba.)
Speaking of that eventual 2-vs.-7 matchup ...
The victory ensured that Vogel would (for the moment, at least) be spared second-guessing over the timing of his decision to give his heavily worked starting five a breather, and it snapped a six-game Indy road losing streak. It offered an opportunity for flagging role players like Evan Turner (23 points on 9 for 18 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds and two turnovers in 41 minutes) and Luis Scola (24 points on 11 for 17 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists in 31 minutes) to soak up touches in a search for rhythm. It also let little-used out-of-the-rotation pieces like Copeland (18 points on 7 for 8 shooting in 17 minutes) and Lavoy Allen (eight points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes) and just-returning-from-injury point guard C.J. Watson (eight points, two assists, three turnovers in 17 1/2 minutes in his first game back after missing nearly a month with a strained right hamstring) knock some rust off, too, which could prove helfpul.
Most importantly, though, it put the Pacers back in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference, because Miami had to follow its Tuesday loss to the Brooklyn Nets with a road trip to the Grindhouse, where the Memphis Grizzlies continued to fight for their postseason lives.
Zero bluffs, sir. Thanks to superhuman stuff like Marc Gasol's passing (seriously, go back and revisit that last one a few times):
... and this third-quarter-ending buzzer-beating heave by shooting guard Courtney Lee:
... and monster outings from Zach Randolph (25 points and 11 rebounds against a small Miami frontline missing Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Greg Oden) and Mike Conley (26 points, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter, to go with six assists), the Grizz held off LeBron James (37 points, six assists, five rebounds, plenty of individual ridiculousness) and the Heat, 107-102. The loss puts Miami a half-game behind the Pacers heading into their Friday night matchup, which would seem to give Indy the inside track at the No. 1 seed, but the Heat are still in business, provided they take care of business:
If a No. 1 seed is something you're concerned with, the Heat are in fine shape if they win on Friday. Pacers play Thunder two days later.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) April 10, 2014
A helpful breakdown of what would shake out with the East's top seed depending on who wins Friday's game, courtesy of CBSSports.com's Matt Moore:
If Indiana wins and goes 3-0 [to finish the season], Indiana gets the No.1 seed.
If Indiana wins and goes 2-1, Indiana gets the No. 1 seed.
If Indiana wins and goes 1-2, Miami must go 3-1 to get the No. 1 seed.
If Miami wins and goes 4-0, Miami gets the No.1 seed.
If Miami wins and goes 3-1, Indiana must go 2-1 to get the No. 1 seed.
If Miami wins and goes 2-2, Indiana must go 1-2 to get the No. 1 seed.
Got all that? Of course you do.
As for the Grizz, the win improved them to 46-32, but they could only keep pace with the Phoenix Suns, who bounced back from some shaky-looking early play to knock off the New Orleans Pelicans, 94-88, to maintain control of the West's No. 8 seed. Memphis enters Thursday one game out of the eighth spot and 1 1/2 games back of the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who will take on the dreaded San Antonio Spurs in the first game of TNT's Thursday night doubleheader in a game that could restore agency to Dave Joerger's outside-looking-in squad:
Something just realized writing tomorrow's Playoff Pulse: If Mavs lose to Spurs Thurs, Griz, still in 9th, would control own destiny for 7th— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) April 10, 2014
That would require Memphis to win out and finish at 50-32, which would mean notching wins over both Phoenix (whom they visit Monday and over whom the Grizzlies hold the head-to-head tiebreaker) and Dallas (against whom they close the season next Wednesday, and above whom Memphis has to finish, since the Mavericks are 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season). Nobody said controlling your own destiny is easy.
Throwing seeds. Superchunk. Quickly:
• The Toronto Raptors dispatched the Philadelphia 76ers thanks in part to a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds from a contrite Jonas Valanciunas. Also, Terrence Ross (11 points, four assists, two rebounds) is fancy:
The win — combined with the Brooklyn Nets' upset loss to the Orlando Magic — cut Toronto's magic number for the Atlantic Division title to one, and kept the Raps in the No. 3 seed position in the East.
• The Raps didn't create any distance between them and the Chicago Bulls, though, as Tom Thibodeau's team kept pace with a 102-87 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves fueled by (who else?) Joakim Noah, who logged his fourth triple-double of the season — tied with the Pacers' Lance Stephenson for tops in the league this year — with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists while also limiting Wolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love to 17 points on 7 for 20 shooting.
The guy's everywhere, man.
Both the Raptors and Bulls finished Wednesday at 46-32. They split their season series at two wins apiece, but Toronto would have a leg up in seeding if the two teams finished with the same record by virtue of winning its division, and the Raptors' remaining schedule appears to be friendlier than Chicago's.
• The Houston Rockets became the latest in a long line of teams to succumb the second-game-of-a-back-to-back-in-altitude curse, dropping a 123-116 decision to the Denver Nuggets in a game that saw Randy Foye, Aaron Brooks and Evan Fournier combine for 57 points on 41 shots and 23 assists against six turnovers. Get well soon, Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard. Houston remains firmly nestled in the No. 4 seed, 2 1/2 games back of the No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers, who lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and 1 1/2 games up on the No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers, who beat the Sacramento Kings.
• The Hawks got one step closer to locking up the East's No. 8 seed when they came back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit to knock off the Celtics, 105-97. Atlanta's now won four of six since getting Kyle Korver back from injury, and improved to 35-43, two games ahead of the ninth-place New York Knicks; one more Hawks win and one more Knicks loss would officially eliminate New York. Hawks fans are pumped about that.
(Also, bad news: If you just saw a flickering image of Korver there, you now have seven days to live, unless you show this post to someone else. Hey, I don't make the rules. Sorry.)
Gonzo. Say goodnight to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were officially eliminated from postseason contention when the Hawks hung on to beat the Celtics. At least they went out with a 22-point win over the Detroit Pistons. Here's hoping that lightens the mood a bit the next time Kyrie, Dion and Josh get together to play mini-golf.
• Their weakness is strong. Speaking of that Detroit loss: Way to lose, Detroit! The defeat ensures that the Pistons will finish in at least a three-way tie for the eighth-worst record in the NBA this season. That's important because Detroit's 2014 first-round draft pick is slated to go to the Charlotte Bobcats if it falls outside the top eight as a result of the 2012 trade that sent Ben Gordon to North Carolina and Corey Maggette to the Motor City. Wednesday marked the second time in two weeks that the Cavs have done the Pistons this particular kind of sucky solid; this time, though, it didn't help Cleveland nearly as much as it helped Detroit.
Keep an eye out. The playoff implications of Thursday's two games:
• A Spurs win over the Mavericks would put San Antonio one win away from locking up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and would move Dallas into a tie with Phoenix for the No. 7 seed, and cut Memphis' deficit in the nine spot to one game.
• A Mavericks win over the Spurs would leave the door open for the Thunder (who enter Thursday three games back of San Antonio, but just two behind in the loss column) to regain the top spot, and would draw Dallas within a half-game of the Golden State Warriors for the No. 6 seed in the West, put Mavs a full game up on the Suns, and push the Grizzlies two back with just four games remaining.
• If the Warriors beat the Nuggets in the late game, they clinch their second straight playoff berth and move within 1 1/2 games of the Blazers for the No. 5 seed.
• A Warriors loss and a Mavs win would move them into a virtual tie for the sixth seed, although the Warriors hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Phew. OK, that about wraps it up. (I think.) Now, to cleanse your palate, here's a referee getting hit in the head by a basketball.
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