The 2016-17 NBA regular season, thankfully, is nearing an end. Though the tops and bottoms of the standings have all been straightened out since January or so, little has been made certain yet beyond the Golden State Warriors’ move to ensure home-court advantage through the Finals. Even with just a short run left, there is still plenty to figure out as the NBA takes to April.
Since we all need the reminders as to who is set to start the playoffs where, who needs a bump during awards season or with a statistical accomplishment, and who is doing their best work in losing in order to grab improved lottery ball odds, Ball Don’t Lie is set to look at what should be your game of that particular day between now and the end of the term on April 12.
Friday’s Game of the Night: Miami at Toronto, 7:30 p.m. ET
At this point, we’d guess that you’d be safe. Have a laugh at the expense of Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. He’s earned your chortle.
It was the (still!) 24-year old big man that reminded us about the idea that Toronto had designs upon the Eastern Conference crown last January. Minutes after destroying the Boston Celtics to the tune of 18 points and 23 rebounds in the Raps’ 114-106 win on January 10, the sixth-year center offered this (via the Score):
“They (the Celtics) are racing for the second place,” it goes. “We are racing for the first.”
Credit his honestly, but Raptors fans can’t be as keen on the club’s 23-18 record in the days since his Jan. 10 proclamation. That’s a 20-18 jaunt if you count the three-game winning streak immediately following Valanciunas’ comments, one that gave the Raptors three credits following two conquests over the lowly Nets, and one over the ridiculous Knicks.
At the time of his statement, the Raptors sat just 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East, a full two games up on the 23-15, No. 3 Celtics. Since then, the Cavaliers have run up a disappointing 23-18 mark, leaving them prone for the sort of mid-to-late season RapAttack that Valanciunas hoped to spearhead, but instead the Celtics have eased into a role as the Cavaliers’ chief tormenter.
Until Wednesday, at least. Even with the Celtics’ loss to Cleveland, though, the C’s are still a full two games up on Toronto, working with the second seed in the East.
Toronto still has its chances, if the club wins out and Boston hits the skids in its final three games against the Hornets, Nets and Bucks.
Still, the Raptors’ hoped-for attempt at the top seed in the East was shot to hell months ago, upon the club’s third loss (in three attempts) on Dec. 5. For all of Toronto’s pre and mid-season bluster, they were beaten soundly by the Cavs in a trio of early-winter defeats by a total of only 11 points. As a result, Toronto’s contest in Cleveland on the final night of the season next Wednesday will have no influence on the standings. Even if the Raptors win out, and the Cavaliers lose every game between now and that nationally-televised snoozer.
Toronto, still boasting that tiebreaker over Boston, could still take hold of that No. 2 seed with a win in Friday’s contest, and with victories in that useless Cavalier game and its trip to Madison Square Garden on Sunday in what will sadly act as a nationally televised affair on NBA TV.
They’ll also have to move through the Heat, first.
Miami is desperate. The team did everything right in 2016-17, including the 11-30 swoon to start the season, a movement that stands as a teachable moment (that also happened to take half a season). The Heat roared back into playoff contention with a 26-8 run that was stopped in its tracks by the disastrous ankle injury to Dion Waiters, among other injury concerns. Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, has returned for the Raptors:
The team sits a half-game in back of the Pacers and Bulls at No. 9 No. 9 No. 9, out of the playoff bracket in technical terms while ruing that tiebreaker disadvantage in the face of a Chicago team that has done everything in its power to stay out of the postseason in 2017. Miami owns the tiebreaker over the Pacers, which helps due to Chicago’s upcoming pattycake schedule (the Nets, Magic, and somehow the Nets again), especially considering the daunting tasks that like ahead of Miami: Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and the Wizards a second time to end the season.
Washington (tied for third in the East with the Raptors) have something to play for, as could the Cavaliers should they decide that a potential first round opponent (in the Heat) is worth suiting up for in the final week of the regular season. The Heat should be everyone’s warmest story this April, and yet they’re close to being tossed out of the playoffs by two midwestern teams that, since December, haven’t appeared to enjoy much about the 2016-17 season.
The Heat need to make this work. The Raptors need to remember what got them into three playoff rounds 11 months ago. And time is running out.
Also worth watching
The NBA burdened the Hawks with back-to-back, nationally televised, contests at home against Boston on Thursday and in Cleveland on Friday. In a way, it’s almost good that the Hawks (battling to stay in that fifth seed) are mostly irrelevant in the championship chase, because the league really saddled the club with a bogus mini-stretch, ‘ere … The Detroit Pistons have lost 10 of 12 in what has turned into a terribly disappointing season, but somehow they’re not yet eliminated from playoff contention. That could change with a loss to the Rockets on Friday, mercifully.
The Knicks are still running the triangle offense, kind of, and they’ll try not to injure any Memphis Grizzlies as the Grizz ready its seventh consecutive playoff run … If you feel the need to watch a Spurs/Mavericks game, make it this one instead … The Pelicans finished its playoff run, but the Nuggets need a win on Friday to keep its postseason hopes alive: Portland’s magic number, for clinching that final No. 8 seed out West, is only two … Russell Westbrook could clinch a triple-double for an entire season, not sure if you’ve heard, against Phoenix on Friday.
The Jazz hope the Timberwolves show up a bit tired for Minnesota’s game in Salt Lake City on the second night of Minny’s back-to-back, Utah wants to hang on to that No. 4 seed ahead of the Clippers with a win … Sacramento vs. the Lakers is basketball game that is scheduled.
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