No. 1: Celtics downplay chase for No. 1 spot -- One game remains in the 2016-17 season for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. One game is also the size of Boston's lead on Cleveland for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. Yet as the season winds down, don't believe it if the Celtics say they aren't gunning for that top spot, writes Steve Bulpitt of the Boston Herald:
Back in the trainer’s room, cheers could be heard, occasional outbursts from players watching Miami’s overtime win against Cleveland last night.
So don’t believe it when the Celtics say they don’t care about seedings. The Heat’s win, combined with the C’s 114-105 win against Brooklyn, not only gave the Green a one-game lead on Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, it sets up a chance to secure the top position if the Celts can beat Milwaukee in the regular-season finale tomorrow.
Brad Stevens, who generally tries to downplay these things, was bemused by mention of the Atlantic Division title the Celtics won last night, their first since the 2011-12 season when they lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I don’t even know what divisions are for anymore other than tiebreakers and playoff scenarios like last year,” the Celtics coach said. “It’s not something that we necessarily set as a concrete goal, but Toronto is a heck of a team, and to even be at a level where throughout an 82-game season . . . we are at the top of that division, I guess it means something. It’s not something we’ve talked about, and I guess in Boston you only talk about one goal.”
Judging by that noise from the trainer’s room, though, there’s a lot of romance behind this late-season chase for the top seed.
“Me, I thought about it a lot,” Isaiah Thomas said. “I think it’s pretty cool to be the No. 1 seed, and hopefully we can finish the season that way. It says a lot about this group. I don’t think anybody thought we’d be in this position, so it’s a nice feeling.”
The East still is jumbled, with Miami, Chicago and Indiana within one game of each other while fighting for the last two spots.
Preparation for the Celtics can be chaotic because of the possibilities, though like the past two years, Stevens has doled out specific team scouting assignments to his assistant coaches.
“We divvy up scouting assignments all the way throughout the year,” he said. “Unless a staff member is assigned to Milwaukee in some capacity — because we have three different people working on each team — then the rest of those guys can get a head start on potential opponents that may have been something they’ve been working on all year. So we’ve talked about that and making sure that we’re on top of what we can be on top of, and at the same time not wasting energy because I think the most important thing is to focus on this game and to focus on our team.
“(Preparation has) been very similar. The bottom line is I feel really good about the way we prepare things. Our players are good about preparing. And one thing that I’ve learned is . . . obviously there will be some tremendous individual performances and maybe some bad matchups, but at the end of the day, if you run back and set your defense and make it as tough to score on you as possible, and you rebound the ball and you don’t turn it over, you give yourself a shot. So ultimately, you have to keep that focus on playing good in that way.”
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No. 2: Heat keep playoff hopes alive with thrilling win -- Had the Miami Heat dropped their game to the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers last night, that would have been the end of their playoff hopes. Wins by the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers earlier in the evening assured them of that. But Miami refuses to give up on its playoff dream in vanquishing the Cavs 124-121 in OT, writes Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:
It’s going to be a wild ride right up to the very end.
The Miami Heat’s season — full of twists and turns and one of the most amazing second-half turnarounds in NBA history — still has a pulse. Barely.
“Survive and advance,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who took extra delight in Miami’s comeback, often smiling and clapping as his team rallied in the fourth quarter.
“This is what is our season has been like. We knew this was going to be tough going all the way down to the stretch and that’s one of the best regular season games certainly this year in this building. It wasn’t necessarily going our way, but our guys are so tough mentally just to persevere and show some fortitude and finally grab hold of the game.”
With Chicago blowing out Orlando at home, Indiana winning in Philadelphia and Milwaukee beating Charlotte at home Monday night, the Heat (40-41) needs to win Wednesday night’s season finale against Washington and a loss by either the Pacers or Bulls Wednesday to make the playoffs.
Chicago (40-41) hosts Brooklyn (20-61) and Indiana (41-40) hosts Atlanta (42-38). The Hawks will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back and will simply be playing for seeding. The Nets beat Chicago at home over the weekend.
If Miami wins and Chicago and Indiana both lose, the Heat would be the seventh seed in the East. If only one of those teams loses, the Heat would qualify for the playoffs as the eighth seed.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said he and his players had no idea the Bucks, Bulls and Pacers had all won while the Heat was facing elimination in overtime.
“It would have totally distracted me — especially now knowing what happened,” Spoelstra said. “I would have been going crazy. That game was enough. I don’t need the extra stress.”
With Monday’s win, the Heat avoided its fourth consecutive home loss and the fifth in their last six home games. They also avoided postseason elimination.
Now, a fourth opportunity to reach .500 this season awaits. If the Heat sweeps the season series with the Wizards, Miami would become the first team in NBA history to reach .500 after being 19 games under during the season.
“Win or go home really,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “I don’t know how it works, but we might win and have to go home anyway. We just have to go out and give everything. That’s the only way we know how to do it.”
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No. 3: Clippers keep rolling, maintain lead on Jazz -- The chase for home court in the LA Clippers-Utah Jazz playoff series will come down to the final night. If the Clippers keep playing how they have been, it won't matter what the Jazz do, though. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Co. wrapped up a sixth straight win last night by drubbing the Houston Rockets and remain in the driver's seat for No. 4 in the Western Conference. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has more:
The Clippers are ready for the playoffs.
Seven Clippers scored in double figures in a 125-96 victory over the Houston Rockets.
These were not the Rockets (54-27) who twice dominated the Clippers earlier in the season, with four key players out either for rest or minor injuries. But perhaps these are not the same Clippers either.
After playing like Western Conference afterthoughts for much of the season’s second half, the Clippers (50-31) have won six straight games and 10 of their last 12. They have won 50 games six straight seasons.
What else do they have to prove in a playoff tune-up?
“We all know in the playoffs your great players have to play great and your role players have to do their jobs,” Coach Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers followed that recipe on Monday: The “big three” of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 51 points in the first three quarters, with Paul scoring 19, Griffin adding 18 and Jordan logging another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds).
“These games down the stretch are about us working on the things we need to work on, cleaning stuff up, making sure we’re going over our game plan, making sure we’re on rotations defensively. I thought we did a solid job.”
Even Paul Pierce got in on the fun.
In the penultimate regular-season game of his career, Pierce crafted a vintage performance. With the game in hand and college coach Roy Williams in the stands, he scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter.
Those final points had special meaning for Pierce, who spent most of his career with the Boston Celtics. With his final basket, Pierce moved past Boston great John Havlicek for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 26,397 points.
The Clippers are locked into a first-round matchup with Utah, but the question of seeding and home-court advantage will come down to the last day of the regular season after the Jazz (50-31) beat Golden State, 105-99, in Oakland.
If both teams win their final games Wednesday, the Clippers, who own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating Utah in three of their four games, will host Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center.
The Clippers play host to Sacramento, while the Jazz close at home against San Antonio, which is likely to rest several players.
“To be a really good team you have to win no matter where it’s at, but obviously we would like to have as many games as possible in front of our fans,” Crawford said.
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No. 4: George rants over ejection vs. Sixers -- The Indiana Pacers are still alive in the hunt for one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference after taking down the Philadelphia 76ers 120-111 last night. In the course of that win, however, Pacers star Paul George and Sixers guard Gerald Henderson got ejected late in the fourth quarter ...
and afterward George let forth with an epic rant about the call and more. Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com has more:
Paul George was unhappy.
Unhappy with the officials. Unhappy with Gerald Henderson.
His frustrations culminated in a postgame rant following the Pacers' 120-111 win over the Sixers Monday and he didn't hold back.
"S----- officiating job," George said.
The tension began to spill over with 5:08 left in the game. Henderson and George got locked up on a Pacers' possession. Henderson grabbed George as both hit the ground. The referees whistled double technicals. Neither player agreed with the call.
"I didn't think I deserved a tech for the first one, I didn't do anything," Henderson said. "He stood over the top of me, I stood up and walked to the bench. I think as a cop out, they just do a double technical foul. That's just a cop out. I didn't think I deserved anything for that."
George, who plans to ask the league to review his technical fouls, reacted: "I didn't deserve either one of them technicals. Terrible, terrible officiating job."
George said he "didn't retaliate at all" on the first foul. With 3:19 remaining, though, he appeared to deliver an elbow to Henderson's back as they ran down the court.
On the same possession, Henderson drove the basket against George. He threw an elbow on the way, making contact with George in the neck. Henderson was issued a Flagrant 2 foul and automatically ejected. George also was whistled for a technical, his second, and tossed.
"He elbowed me on the play before after he scored, which is fine," Henderson said. "The refs didn't see it initially. But I came off that screen. I knew contact was coming, so I tried to hit him before he hit me. It just so happened that I hit him in the face. I'm looking at the basket. I wasn't trying to hit him in the face."
George saw it differently. Being ejected left him fuming over the calling of the game.
"We were warning them (the refs) all night what he's going to do, stuff he's doing, and they allowed this s--- to go on," George said. "He was throwing jabs, throwing punches at my stomach all night. I didn't retaliate until late in the game when they weren't doing s--- about it. So he pulled me down, I get double tech for doing nothing. And then throw an elbow at my neck, I get another tech for nothing. So [I] really don't have no respect or no -- nothing's there for officiating."
"Paul George is a good player," Henderson said. "We got into it before. It's a physical game, those things are going to happen. I respect him as a player. Whatever happened on the court, it is what it is. I'm pissed we lost the game …
"We play similar positions so we've had to guard each other. We probably got into this stuff before but nothing too serious. I'm about playing. I play physical, sometimes scraps are going to happen. It's just the nature of the game."
George's feelings toward Henderson go beyond this game, though.
"For whatever reason, he doesn't like getting scored on by me," George said. "Every time he's at home, I guess that's when he feels confident. He's sweet on the road, but at home is when he gets some nuts."
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