The final seeding games have been played, with Friday’s four-game slate wrapping things up, but there is still business to attend to before the field for the NBA Playoffs is officially set. Memphis and Portland will meet in the play-in round Saturday afternoon. Should the Blazers win they’d advance to the playoffs, where the top-seeded Lakers await. But a Memphis win would force a winner-take-all rematch on Sunday, as the Grizzles need two wins as the 9-seed in order to reach the postseason.
There was news away from the bubble as well, with Chicago making a coaching change and Sacramento now looking for a new general manager. Below is a look at everything that happened Friday in the NBA.
Bulls part ways with Jim Boylen
Executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas took a deliberate approach when it came to assessing Boylen’s future with the team, which may have surprised some. But the final decision to not retain the head coach was not a shocker in any sense of the imagination, as Boylen amassed a record of 39 wins and 84 losses in two just under two seasons at the helm. Much has been made about the connection, or lack thereof, with star guard Zach LaVine, but given the lack of success it was clear that a move had to be made. Now Karnisovas, who was hired to his position during the league hiatus, now takes on the task of hiring a coach capable of developing the young talent on the roster.
In addition to LaVine and Coby White on the perimeter there’s Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the post, but those two need to stay healthy. And Chicago will also have a lottery pick to work with in this year’s draft, with the exact position to be learned during the draft lottery next week. LaVine is going to put up numbers no matter what, and White showed some glimpses of what he’s capable of in Chicago’s final games back in March. More will be known about the fantasy impact of the Bulls’ change of direction once Karnisovas hires his new head coach, but given Boylen’s struggles while in charge Friday’s move was much-needed.
Vlade Divac steps down as Kings general manager
One day after its season came to an end Sacramento is now in need of a new general manager, as Divac tendered his resignation. Joe Dumars, who joined the team in an advisory role last June, will serve as interim GM while the franchise searches for Divac’s replacement. In the meantime Dumars has some major issues to address with the Kings roster. Bogdan Bogdanovic will be a restricted free agent, and he played well once moved into the starting lineup. The only issue with this is that Buddy Hield was not a fan of coming off the bench, and that is still a role that he does not want to fill.
Hield signed a four-year extension worth $94 million that goes into effect next season, and that sets up to be an extremely difficult contract to move should Sacramento choose to go that route. And if the Kings don’t, that is a lot fo money to have tied up in a sixth man if Walton continues to bring Hield off the bench. What happens with De'Aaron Fox is another major offseason storyline, as he is eligible for a new deal this summer. Add in the lottery pick that Sacramento has, and Dumars (or whoever gets hired if Sacramento gets this search done quickly) has a lot of work to do.
Divac’s biggest blunder was passing on Luka Doncic to select Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. While Doncic has emerged as an All-Star and one of the league’s top young talents, Bagley has struggled to remain healthy during his two seasons in the league. It was reported that Divac’s decision to step down was influenced by owner Vivek Ranadive stating a desire for Dumars to have more influence within the front office; now he (meaning Dumars) is the most important voice in the building.
Raptors 117, Nuggets 109
With only one playoff position left undecided, many of the teams in action Friday used rotations that look nothing like the grouping that they’ll use in the playoffs. In the case of Toronto, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka all sat, with Marc Gasol being the lone available starter. And he played just 17 minutes, as the Raptors looked to keep Gasol sharp but not play him too many minutes. Stanley Johnson (23/4/6/1/1 with four 3-pointers) and Paul Watson (22/6/2/1 with four 3-pointers) took full advantage of their opportunity to play more minutes, while Norman Powell (15/6/2/1/1 with three 3-pointers) looked quite sharp in his 23 minutes on the floor.
Gasol and Powell are clear rotation guys for Nick Nurse, while Chris Boucher may be called upon if either Gasol or Ibaka were to be lost due to injury. But there wasn’t a whole lot to be taken from this one when it comes to Toronto’s playoff rotation. But if Johnson and Watson don’t see a minute of action in the postseason, at least they put forth solid outings Friday to help Toronto end its regular season on a high note.
Mike Malone had many of his healthy rotation guys on the floor with Michael Porter Jr. being the exception for load management reasons. Porter has been one of the best players in the bubble, and his contributions were key as the Nuggets have been shorthanded throughout. Will Barton and Gary Harris remain sidelined, and it is anyone’s guess if either (or both) will play a part in the Nuggets’ first round series against the Jazz. Jerami Grant replaced Porter in the starting lineup Friday, and none of the starters played more than 18 minutes (Grant).
P.J. Dozier, whose chances of sticking in the rotation took a major hit when Monte Morris (16/6/4/1 block with two 3-pointers) was cleared to play, finished with 20 points, five rebounds, eight assists, two steals and five 3-pointers in 31 minutes. Dozier is unlikely to play enough to make him a player worth considering in any fantasy format right now, but at the very least he’s shown that he’ll be ready when his name is called. Also worth noting from this game was Mason Plumlee and Bol Bol combining to block seven shots, with the former tallying four.
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Pacers 109, Heat 92
Both teams sat key contributors for this one, with the goal being to keep those guys healthy for the first round series between these two teams that kicks off on Tuesday. Unfortunately there was a noteworthy injury, as Derrick Jones Jr. was taken off on a stretcher after running into a Goga Bitadze screen during the third quarter. Jones’ MRI revealed a strained neck, and he was doing much better shortly after leaving the arena. He will be re-evaluated at some point this weekend, and at that point the team should have an answer regarding his availability for Tuesday’s series opener.
Miami held out Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo (ending his streak of 158 straight games played), Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, which meant a very rare start for Udonis Haslem (the 500th of his career). As one would expect he didn’t have much of an impact statistically speaking, but he’s far more valuable to the Heat locker room than he is to any fantasy team. Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson were the only Heat starters to play, with Nunn scoring 23 points with one rebound, three assists and three 3-pointers in 28 minutes.
Robinson played just 13 minutes, missing all three of his 3-point attempts and going scoreless. That ended a run of 57 consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer for Robinson. Solomon Hill, who along with Meyers Leonard appears unlikely to factor much into the Heat’s playoff rotation, scored 21 points with seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in a game-high 41 minutes off the bench.
Indiana played without Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren, with the latter still dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis. Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, Justin Holiday and JaKarr Sampson joined Malcolm Brogdon in the starting lineup, with Johnson grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds while also tallying 11 points, four assists, one block and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes. Doug McDermott (23/4/1 steal and five 3-pointers) led the way off the bench, while Aaron Holiday posted a line of 11 points, two rebounds, two assists, three steals and one 3-pointer in 17 minutes off the bench. He was essentially a load management case without missing the game completely.
Clippers 107, Thunder 103
We’ll get to the list of Clippers who did not play in a second, but first and foremost there was an update on Montrezl Harrell (personal). He’s due to complete his league-mandated quarantine period on Monday, and the expectation is that he’ll be cleared before the Clippers open their series against the Mavericks. And Doc Rivers plans to play Harrell, despite his not having seen any game action (be it an official game or the three scrimmages) in the bubble. Harrell is averaging 27.8 minutes per game on the season, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he approaches that number on Monday. JaMychal Green and even Patrick Patterson (17 points, 14 rebounds and four 3-pointers in 399 minutes) may see a few more minutes backing up starter Ivica Zubac as a result, while Joakim Noah’s minutes will depend upon the matchup.
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley (calf), Marcus Morris and Lou Williams all sat out, and there still isn’t a timetable regarding Beverley’s status moving forward. As a result of the absences Zubac and Reggie Jackson were joined in the starting lineup by Green, Rodney McGruder and Amir Coffey, but the team’s best performer came off the bench. Terance Mann fell one assist shy of his first career triple-double, finishing with 25 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and one 3-pointer in 42 minutes. Coffey also played well, posting a line of 21 points, two rebounds, four assists, four steals, and two 3-pointers in 50 minutes. Neither young wing is likely to factor into the Clippers’ playoff rotation, but Mann and Coffey give the Clippers additional depth/versatility.
Oklahoma City played this game without Chris Paul, and he was given the day off, and Danilo Gallinari (nine minutes) and Steven Adams (six) weren't on the floor for long before they were pulled. The big news for the Thunder from a rotation standpoint was the return of Dennis Schroder, who left the bubble to be present for the birth of his second child. Schroder started and played 25 minutes, finishing the game with 17 points, one rebound, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers.
He shot 6-of-12 from the field and made all three of his shots from beyond the arc, and there appeared to be little sign of rust. The Thunder's end-game trio of Paul, Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is back together, which is a big deal given the small rotation that first round opponent Houston employs. Gilgeous-Alexander played 14 minutes before being shut down for the day, with Billy Donovan relying on his reserves to finish the game.
Hamidou Diallo (27/11/1/1 block and four 3-pointers) was excellent, and he's a player worth keeping an eye due to the knee injury suffered by starter Luguentz Dort. There's no guarantee that Dort will be ready for Game 1, and he was likely to take on the arduous task of guarding James Harden. Diallo was likely to see some time on the league's leading scorer anyway, but his role is of even greater importance if Dort is either limited or can't play.
76ers 134, Rockets 96
Joel Embiid (right hand) was a game-time decision for this one and he ultimately played, posting a line of 14 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot in 23 minutes of action. There were a couple instances in which he appeared to be shaking out his injured right hand, which was X-rayed during halftime of Wednesday’s game against Toronto (the scans came back negative). Brown said before Friday’s win that he did not expect the hand to be a problem for Embiid in the team’s first-round series against Boston. However, given the medical history there it’s understandable if some are concerned even with the negative X-rays.
Embiid did play some during the second half as did Philadelphia’s other starters, but they weren’t on the court for very long. No starter played more than 24 minutes (Tobias Harris, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, one steal and two 3-pointers), while Alec Burks (16/5/5/2 with four 3-pointers) led the reserves with 22 minutes. Burks’ value has increased in the aftermath of Ben Simmons’ knee injury, and prior to Friday he scored 20 points or more in three straight games. That run came to an end against the Rockets but Burks still put together a good night shooting the basketball, as he was 6-of-11 from the field overall and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Furkan Korkmaz (12/5/1 with two 3-pointers), Raul Neto (14/3/5 with one 3-pointer) and Mike Scott (10/7/3 with one 3-pointer) also played well off the bench, with Korkmaz set to be the most impactful of the three when it comes to Philadelphia’s postseason rotation.
Houston also had a game-time decision to address but unlike Embiid, Danuel House (toe) was not able to play. He’ll have a couple days to rest the injured toe, as Houston won’t begin its first round series against Oklahoma City until Tuesday. Jeff Green filled the resulting void in the starting lineup, playing 25 minutes and finishing with 17 points, four assists and one steal. Green obviously doesn’t play the same position as the injured Russell Westbrook, but it will be “all hands on deck” when it comes to accounting for the production lost. The hope is that Westbrook will be able to return from his quad injury at some point during the series, but there is no definitive timetable.
Until then James Harden’s usage will go through the roof, and he’s proven himself to be more than capable of shouldering the load. He played 26 minutes Friday, finishing with 27 points, three rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, two blocks and four 3-pointers. The seven turnovers were a negative, and we may be back to the point where that is a concern. In Houston’s last four games, all of which were missed by Westbrook, Harden amassed a total of 27 turnovers. For as lethal of an offensive player that he is, Harden will need to get the turnovers down to a more manageable number for the postseason.
On a positive note he made some history this season, becoming just the third player to lead the league in both total points and total assists (LeBron had the league's highest assist average). Harden joins Michael Jordan (three times) and Allen Iverson on this short, albeit esteemed, list.
P.J. Tucker played 29 minutes and Eric Gordon 23 with no issues, which is good news as both have been a bit banged-up recently. Gordon is the player who has the most to gain with Westbrook sidelined, as he’s capable of getting hot from beyond the arc at any time. There may also be more opportunities for him to create off the dribble, but spot-up shooting is where Gordon’s bread is buttered.