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.
If we’re honest, there are no standings accomplishments to take hold of with a major win tonight. If the Wizards prevail and even if the Celtics (at home, Milwaukee) and Raptors (at home, Charlotte) lose on Wednesday night the Wizards will still be stuck in third place in the East. A game behind Cleveland for the No. 2 spot with a win tonight and a game and a half behind Boston for the lead spot, just 1 1/2 games up on the Raptors.
That’s if everything goes right, for Washington. Nothing settled, but plenty gained. They’d take it.
A win would put Washington at its highest peak yet, 19 games over .500, with just two weeks to play. The idea that they’re even challenging the Raptors and Celtics of the world is sensational – even given Boston’s relatively slow 13-12 start, as Washington won just seven times in its first 20 tries in 2016-17. For this club to be anywhere near the top – much less battling with the Cavaliers as we head into April – is a supreme accomplishment.
The Clippers, of course, haven’t accomplished anything. Unless you count the move from the highlight pages and into the realm of national TV ubiquity an “accomplishment,” the Clippers are still the team that your local sports-talk spinner knows hasn’t made it out of the second round, as even your well-versed NBA knob can assure you that the Clips can’t be counted on for anything save for excruciating batches of inconsistency in 2016-17. Even while healthy, which the Clippers (true to form) most often are not.
We’ll save the transaction-by-transaction (free of context, of course) breakdowns for another day. What doesn’t suit the Clippers currently is the team’s No. 15 ranked defense, and the team’s insipid play on that end (among the league’s worst) since the All-Star break, a run that has saddled Los Angeles with a 9-10 record since the time off and a tepid No. 5 record in the West.
It didn’t used to feel that way. Fifth seeds in the West used to belong to championship contenders, now they’re the haven for the pretty good teams that have more or less maxed out. The Clippers occupy that role, and they know it, and they’ll be looking to counter the embarrassment that was the team’s embarrassing loss to the Kings from Sunday night with a quick and tidy home blowout win over a Washington team that played (in the same building, but played) the night before in a conquest over the Lakers. After all, the Clippers finally had practices on Monday and Tuesday, the Wizards had travel and games.
Of course, as the Clippers figured out on Sunday against Sacramento, taking care of things early (which the Clippers didn’t even bother to against the Kings) is no sure sign of greatness, as Los Angeles blew a game in which it held an 18-point lead with less than five minutes to play. And the Wizards, featuring the winning percentage of a 60-win team since the first days of December, are hardly the Kings.
In 2017, at least. For a month, there early in 2016-17, the Wizards looked an awful lot like their similarly traveled sister franchise from Sacramento. We should probably thank them for giving us a new wrinkle to consider this late in the season.
This is a chance for the Wizards to prove their standing – on the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against one of the team’s you see a lot on ABC – and for the Clippers to turn their season around. Not a bad setting.
Also worth watching
It’s a night that features the two best teams (by a long shot) playing against each other, as Golden State will head to San Antonio to take on the Warriors on ESPN. This would typically take top status, but with GSW playing on Tuesday night, and with the Warriors inching even closer to the No. 1 seed in the West (they’re up 2 1/2 games with nine Spurs games to play), the orthodox move would be to assume coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich would sit various starters and stars. Of course, never assume the obvious with these two.
A Thunder win over the reeling Orlando Magic, paired with a Clipper loss, would tie OKC and LAC for the fifth seed in the West – OKC would then boast the tiebreaker over the Clippers with its superior in-division record, as the two have split the season series at 2-2 … The Hawks did well to take advantage of their good fortune against the tanking Suns on Tuesday, but the 76ers present a whole ‘nother competitive challenge, and ATL will still be without Paul Millsap … The Bucks sort of snatched Charlotte’s best chance at the playoffs away from them on Tuesday, and its day-later matchup with the Celtics on Wednesday should be quite the exhibit.
If we’ve learned anything from the Heat, it is not to give up on them on the second night of a back to back (they’re an NBA best 11-2), and they’ll be able to sustain its playoff run at home against New York … For the Hornets, now a full three games out of the Eastern bracket with eight to play, its game against Toronto on Wednesday is a must-win … The Mavericks and Pelicans will both try to pretend they’re in playoff races tonight, which will be cute, while the Jazz should make quick and easy work of a Kings team sated with its recent run of success … Meanwhile, the Grizzlies and Pacers will attempt to circle the wagons in the playoff standings while 18 other franchises battle on Wednesday night.
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