After another thrilling weekend of NBA basketball that featured some shakeups to the postseason picture, you might find yourself wondering:
Fear not, disoriented traveler. We'll get you up to speed on the playoff standings as they exist at the moment. Let's hit it.
Yes, LeBron James, you and your Miami Heat are in the playoffs, and you have been for about a month now. Your Sunday opponents, however, are not, and they're fading fast.
• New York, I love you, but you're bringing me down. After putting themselves back into the Eastern Conference's top eight last Wednesday, the New York Knicks had a weekend to forget. On Friday, they dropped a 90-89 decision to the Washington Wizards thanks in large part to a large night from Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal (28 points, including his second game-winner at Madison Square Garden this season). Then, on Sunday, they fell to the Heat, 102-91, with James exploding for 38 points, six assists and five rebounds to outduel J.R. Smith, who set a Knicks record with 10 3-pointers — the third time in his career he's made 10 or more — on an NBA-record 22 long-range attempts en route to 32 points of his own. (Not everyone was stoked at J.R.'s deep hoisting.)
Conspicuously absent thus far in this discussion of the Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, who scored just 23 total points in the two losses, making only nine of his 36 field-goal attempts and posting an unsightly nine turnovers against the Wizards. He's dealing with a right shoulder injury, and it looks like it, and the ailment couldn't have come at a worse time for a Knicks team that desperately needs its best player working in top form to keep its near-dead playoff hopes alive. The Knicks have four games — all against East playoff teams — left on the docket and now sit two games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference after Atlanta nabbed two big wins this weekend. Speaking of which ...
• Indy, cover your heart. The Indiana Pacers lost to a Toronto Raptors team missing pivotal starters Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson on Friday, and followed that up with a 19-point embarrassment at the hands of the Hawks on Sunday in which Frank Vogel's team never led, didn't get within single digits of Atlanta after the 6:42 mark of the opening quarter, and managed just 23 first-half points on 7 for 35 shooting. Bow your head in shame, Pacers.
Roy Hibbert got benched after just nine minutes and three seconds of utterly unproductive basketball — no points, 0 for 5 from the floor, no rebounds, no blocks, one turnover — and had no answers after the game. "I got nothing to say," Hibbert muttered, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, although Vogel said his 7-foot-2 center "looks to me to be worn down" at the end of a long regular season.
The same could be said for just about every member of what once looked like a championship-ready Indiana team. Lance Stephenson, far removed from "was he an All-Star snub?" chatter, was a -21 in 30 minutes. Paul George, far removed from "is he the third-best player in the NBA?" discussion, needed 17 shots to score 18 points. The league's stingiest defense allowed Mike Budenholzer's crew to shoot 56.2 percent from the floor, including a 12 for 27 mark from 3-point range. The Pacers were outrebounded by a Hawks squad whose center, Pero Antic, spent the lion's share of his time on the perimeter torching the defense (18 points on 7 for 8 shooting, including a 3 for 4 mark from downtown). Nobody seemed capable of corralling Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, who scored 25 points on 9 for 17 shooting largely by getting wherever he wanted on the court.
It's all breaking wrong at precisely the wrong time for the Pacers, who have now lost five of their last six, eight of their last 11, and 12 of 19. They've been a .500 team since the All-Star break and have had the league's second-worst offense — ahead of only the historically bad Philadelphia 76ers — since the start of February. Local columnists are wondering if Vogel — who has led this team to four straight playoff berths, pushed the Pacers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year and seemed to be on a rocket ride to coaching stardom two months ago — is going to be able to keep his job after this. They're still a lock for at worst the East's No. 2 seed, and they're still just a game — albeit two in the loss column — behind Miami with four games left, but the Pacers now seem vulnerable in a first-round 2-vs.-7 matchup against the likes of the Washington Wizards or streaking Charlotte Bobcats, which was a basically unthinkable sentence just eight weeks ago.
• Clip 'n save. The Los Angeles Clippers notched another ho-hum destruction of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Blake Griffin (23 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) is good:
... and Chris Paul (23 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals) is evil:
... and after the Oklahoma City Thunder's Sunday loss to the Phoenix Suns, the 55-23 Clippers are now just one game behind the 55-21 Thunder for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Seems like that'd make Wednesday night's matchup between the two clubs pretty interesting, huh?
• Sunrise/bear down. That Suns win plus the Memphis Grizzlies' 20-point loss to the league-best San Antonio Spurs means that 45-32 Memphis is now a full game behind 46-31 Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The two teams will meet in Phoenix one week from today in a game that could be absolutely massive.
• Succeed and proceed. Shouts to the Portland Trail Blazers, who defeated the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday to secure their first 50-win season since 2009-10 and clinch a postseason berth for the first time in three years. After looking like a team in tremendous turmoil a couple of weeks back, the Blazers improved to 5-1 since getting LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, four blocks) back in the lineup, and stand firm in the No. 5 spot out West, two games behind the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets and 1 1/2 games up on the sixth-seeded Warriors. Well played, Blazers.
• Etc. The Bobcats clinched their second playoff berth in franchise history. (Big Al for All-NBA!) The Rockets remain in strong position for the No. 4 seed in the West due in large part to James Harden being utterly ridiculous. And speaking of ridiculous, here's Stephen Curry putting up 31 points on 12 for 18 shooting and 16 assists in 29 1/2 minutes to help the Warriors keep pace with a big win over the Utah Jazz:
• What to watch for. Nothing Monday, since the entire league's off to watch UConn vs. Kentucky. (Or, y'know, do something else.) Come Tuesday, though, the Hawks can get one step closer to locking up the East's eighth seed with a win over the Detroit Pistons, the Brooklyn Nets could give the Pacers a hand by finishing off a season sweep of the Heat, OKC gets a chance to right the ship against the Sacramento Kings, and the Mavs can earn a bit of breathing room from the Suns and Grizz by beating the Jazz.
OK, that ought to bring you up to speed. Enjoy the national championship game. Say goodbye, Joakim.
- - - - - - -