With just a few weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. NBA Playoff Picture keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds.
A Raptors Resurgence?: While the Toronto Raptors have already clinched the Atlantic Division and are still very much in play for the No. 3 seed in the East, the team has been in a slump for more than a month. Since beating the Atlanta Hawks on February 20, Toronto had lost 10 straight to opponents over .500 during a 6-13 stretch overall. Despite their still-impressive record, they've looked like a squad that could be upset in the first round.
It's just one game, but the Raptors' 99-96 home win over the Houston Rockets on Monday may represent a change in fortune. DeMar DeRozan was the biggest reason for the victory, in part because of this tough jumper to put Toronto up three points with 18 seconds remaining in regulation:
That basket also brought DeRozan to a career-high 42 points (14-of-27 FG, 12-of-17 FT). You can watch his full highlights here:
The Raptors needed every one of those points with just two other players scoring in double figures and Greivis Vasquez replacing the injured Kyle Lowry in the starting lineup. Toronto got a break in that Dwight Howard sat out the contest for rest on the second day of a road back-to-back, but this was still a meaningful win over one of the strongest teams in the league. It also brought the Raptors within just a game of the Chicago Bulls for third place in the East.
The Rockets can explain away this loss with the absence of Howard and poor outside shooting (8-of-27 on threes), but it was certainly not the ideal performance on a day when starting point guard Patrick Beverley was declared out for the season. DeRozan's career night also stands out given that Beverley is an excellent perimeter defender on a team that now must ask much more of wing Trevor Ariza at that end.
Bear Necessities: The Rockets loss also stands out because of the Memphis Grizzlies much-needed home win over the Sacramento Kings. After three straight losses against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs — arguably the three best teams in the NBA right now — the Grizzlies fed on an undermanned Kings team playing without DeMarcus Cousins and won 97-83. That result combined with Houston's to lift Memphis back to the No. 2 spot in the West, although the half-game margin could very well become a tie when the Rockets play those same Kings on Wednesday. The Grizzlies will have a chance to lick their wounds further with no game until they face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. That should also give the team's equipment managers plenty of time to stock up on fresh jerseys for Marc Gasol.
Put a Berth on It: The Portland Trail Blazers are officially the fifth team to clinch a spot in the West playoffs after handling the Phoenix Suns 109-86 at the Moda Center. Four starters scored between 16 and 19 points as the Blazers shot 51.2 percent from the field. The victory also brings Portland just a half-game behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for homecourt advantage in the first round, although they can drop no lower than the No. 4 seed once they clinch the Northwest Division title.
A Pistol for Avery Bradley: The long march to deciding the East's final playoff team continued apace on Monday, with the ninth-place Boston Celtics traveling to the 11th-place Charlotte Hornets and leaving town with a comfortable 116-104 win. Avery Bradley led the way with 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting, all of which seems like a misprint.
The win put the Celtics back into the No. 8 spot by virtue of holding one more win (and one more loss) than the Brooklyn Nets. But the Nets visit the Indiana Pacers (just a half-game back of both teams) on Tuesday, so it's possible that we'll enter Wednesday with a totally new and confusing tie. It looks increasingly likely that this race will go down to the final days of the season, driving us all insane in the process.
The Dirt of Buck: Two days after giving all their starters a much-deserved rest against the Hornets, the Hawks brought back their core and summarily bested the Milwaukee Bucks 101-88. The Bucks are now only 1 1/2 games in front of the Miami Heat for the No. 6 seed, a key spot because it would allow them to avoid the Hawks and Cavs in the first round. The Hawks gained little from the win, but they do have an outside shot at besting the Warriors for the NBA's best record at 4 1/2 games back.
Tuesday's Most Important Games
Pacers at Nets, 7:30 p.m. ET: It's pretty simple — if the Nets win, they'll be a half-game ahead of the Celtics for the final playoff spot in the East. If the Pacers win, they'll enter a tie with the Celtics for that same spot. Is that enough to get you to watch two middling squads?
Spurs at Heat, 8:00 p.m. ET: This NBA Finals rematch — seriously, they played each other last June, look it up — concerns each team primarily insofar as it allows them to put pressure on the teams ahead of them. A Spurs win would put pressure on the Clippers to avoid seeing their lead slip to a half-game later in the night, and the Heat can get within a game of the idle Bucks.
Warriors at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET: The Warriors have virtually nothing to lose or gain from this one, so we could see them make like the Hawks and rest their key players in their first game since locking down a No. 1 seed. If Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and others do sit out, then the Clippers can take advantage and potentially increase their lead on the Blazers and Spurs.
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