There are only two games on the NBA calendar on Tuesday night, as the league prepares for its annual regular-season-ending 15-game, all-30-teams-in-action smorgasbord on Wednesday, but they both have playoff implications.
Yep, that's what I said, Terrence Jones. (Did I stutter?)
Here's a quick reminder of what's at stake in Tuesday's TNT double-header:
• If the Nets win, they lock up the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and the right to face whichever team loses the battle for the third seed between the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls.
• If Brooklyn loses, that leaves the door open for the Washington Wizards to slide up a spot in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The Wiz can take over No. 5 by winning its season finale against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, provided Brooklyn loses to the Knicks on Tuesday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. (Both teams would finish with 44-38 records, but the Wizards swept their season series with the Nets, three games to none.)
• If the Knicks win, they will take the season series from their intra-city rivals, three games to one, after splitting the four-game set during the Nets' first year in Brooklyn. I'm not sure if you get to have bragging rights when you miss the playoffs and can finish, at best, 37-45, but I am sure that if the Knicks win on Tuesday, at least some Knicks fans will brag about taking three out of four from the playoff-bound Nets.
• This game doesn't have nearly the weight and significance that the NBA's schedule-makers likely hoped it would when setting it up for the second-to-last night of the season, thanks to the Knicks' debaclicious season. But the games that will follow — or, at least, the ones that start this weekend — will have great weight and significance for the Nets ... from a marketing and visibility standpoint, at least. From Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
Now, after the teams wrap up their regular season over the next two days, the Nets will have the playoff stage all to themselves.
“I think it’ll be good for us to kind of be the only team playing, and all of the focus being on us as far as the fans are concerned,” [Deron] Williams said. “I think that’s good for Brooklyn basketball, for our brand, for the attention to be on us.
“We have to make the most of that opportunity and hopefully put together a run.”
And if the run's long enough, maybe they'll even become less a brand than just (heaven forfend!) a plain ol' basketball team.
• Given the fact that the Nets can still clinch No. 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland and that the Knicks are playing for little more than pride, we're probably not going to see full rosters competing as if their lives depended on it, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Four of Brooklyn's starters — Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston — have either been ruled out or are game-time decisions because of rest or small injuries. Carmelo Anthony "probably won't play" for New York, according to Knicks coach Mike Woodson. It's a nationally televised game on TNT between two teams who haven't played a close or intense game all season.
The lack of interest in tonight's matchup isn't lost on Nets coach Jason Kidd, who smiled when asked where the rivalry stands.
"At an all-time high," he said, sarcastically. [...]
"Honestly, at this point we just want to keep everybody healthy," Johnson said. "Obviously we have some people that are banged up. We just trying catch a nice rhythm going into the postseason."
The Nets have already announced that Livingston and reserves Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson will all miss Tuesday's game.
• The race for the No. 3 and 4 seeds between the Raptors and Bulls will go down to the last night of the season, and while Kidd and company surely wouldn't acknowledge a preference for which opponent they'd like to see in Round 1, Alex Raskin of the Wall Street Journal thinks Brooklyn's best matchup might be Chicago. Yes, Chicago, who knocked off the Nets at Barclays Center in Game 7 of last season's first round and who owns two double-digit wins over the Nets this season. The last time they played, though, Brooklyn beat the Bulls down, and that's what Raskin's focusing on:
That night, the Bulls turned the ball over 28 times, leading to 30 Nets points. It didn't matter that the Nets were beaten badly on the boards, 43-28, nor did it matter that they allowed 36 points in the paint.
That's because unlike last year's Nets team, which actually out-rebounded the Bulls in the playoffs, this year's squad lives on a steady diet of turnovers. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have forced an average of 16.6 turnovers a game while scoring a league-high 20.2% of their points off of turnovers.
Perhaps because the Bulls replaced injured star Derrick Rose with a combination of shooting guard Kirk Hinrich and journeyman point guard D.J. Augustin, they had turned the ball over on 16% of their possessions entering Monday's game with the Magic, worse than all but two teams.
The Raptors, meanwhile, turned the ball over on just 14.6% of their possessions entering their game Monday against Milwaukee, which is better than all but eight teams.
Toronto holds the tiebreaker for the No. 3 spot over Chicago by virtue of being a division winner, so if both the Raptors and Bulls win, or both lose, on Wednesday, Toronto takes third and Chicago takes fourth. The Raptors play the Knicks, while the Bulls take on the Charlotte Bobcats.
• If the Clippers lose to the Nuggets, the Oklahoma City Thunder clinch the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, locking the Clippers into a first-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors, who secured the sixth seed on Monday by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves.
• If the Clippers win, they keep their slim hopes of rising to No. 2 alive. Doc Rivers' squad needs OKC to lose out, following up Monday's surprising loss at the hands of Tyreke Evans and the New Orleans Pelicans with what would be a flat-out staggering loss to the devastated Detroit Pistons in Wednesday's season finale. If the Clips beat Denver on Tuesday and Detroit pulls out the upset on Wednesday, then L.A. can take No. 2 by beating the Portland Trail Blazers in Rip City to close out the season. In that scenario, L.A. would take on the seventh-place finisher, which will be whichever team wins the head-to-head final-night-of-the-season showdown between the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks. (Given the recent and devastating loss of starting center Andrew Bogut, it's fair to wonder if the Clips wouldn't be better off staying at No. 3.)
• With No. 2 still a possibility, the Clippers are expected to run out their full starting five on Tuesday, when they could set a new franchise record for victories with 58. How much the top guns will play, though, remains to be seen. From Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
Rivers has thought about sitting some of his starters in one or both of the next two games. But Rivers said, “No,” when asked if he had decided whether to sit any of his players when the Clippers play the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night at Staples Center or Wednesday night at Portend in the regular-season finale.
“I think some of them want to play,” Rivers said. “You always go back and forth. You just try to get a feel. The difference here is we're younger. The other difference is we got a lot of rest. You don't want to rest your guys too much. You don't want them to ever lose rhythm."
One Clipper who won't be in the mix: Danny Granger, who continues to nurse his strained left hamstring. Rivers said Monday that the former Indiana Pacers star is "getting closer" and doing some shooting, but that there's not yet any timetable in place for his return.
As for the Nuggets, you might expect the lottery-bound 36-44 club to be something of a soft touch for the Pacific Division champions. But Brian Shaw's squad has been frisky of late, playing .500 ball over its last 20 games and winning three straight, including last Thursday's last-second victory over the Warriors. The late-season charge didn't come in time to make a difference in the standings this season, but as Shaw and his players told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post, it does show that even when the playoffs aren't possible, there's still plenty to play for:
"I'm just happy we're winning games right now, just happy to do it for the fans," forward Kenneth Faried said. "That's all we can really do it for right now. We're going out there and playing hard, especially on our home court — even in away games, we're playing hard. And it's all for them. We want them to come back next year, and hopefully we're going to make this playoff push next year."
Guard Randy Foye, one of the veteran leaders, lauded the effort despite the Denver having nothing left to play for, which has been the Nuggets' situation since being eliminated from playoff contention March 26.
"There's no checking out," Foye said. "A lot of guys are under contract for next year. Not only are the coaches preaching, we're preaching that our season for next year starts now, not in the form of wins and losses, but the terminology, where we're supposed to be on defense, the things that we want to accomplish on offense. It starts now."
- - - - - - -