Breaking down the Suns, Lakers and Heat before the NBA playoffs begin | Jalen and Jacoby

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ESPN 14 May, 2021 - 04:26pm 19 views

When is the play in tournament?

When do the 2021 NBA Playoffs start? The play-in tournament starts on Tuesday, May 18 and concludes on Friday, May 21. That will be followed by the first round of the playoffs. DraftKings NationNBA Playoffs start date 2021: When the play-in tournament and first round tip off in May

Why is there a play in tournament NBA?

At the end of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, but prior to the first round of the postseason, the NBA will be conducting a play-in tournament. ... The tournament, which features four teams in each conference, was implemented to minimize tanking during the final weeks of the regular season. Sports IllustratedHow Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?

LeBron James was hoping to return Tuesday vs. the New York Knicks, then Wednesday vs. the Houston Rockets, and now the hope is for Saturday vs. the Indiana Pacers. The Los Angeles Lakers managed to squeak out wins against New York and Houston by a combined four points to keep their slim hopes of crawling out of the play-in tournament alive. 

But it doesn't look good. The No. 7 Lakers trail the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks and No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers by one game, but both those teams own the tiebreaker over L.A., which makes the gap an effective two games with two to play. If Portland, Dallas and L.A. finish in a three-way tie, the Lakers would still end up No. 7 on account of Dallas being a division winner and the Blazers having a better head-to-head record (4-2) vs. L.A. and Dallas than the Lakers do (2-4) against Portland and Dallas. 

But LeBron's return is about more than trying to make a last-minute run at a secure playoff spot. He needs reps. Rhythm. He's only appeared in two games over the last seven weeks, and the challenges of repeating start immediately. As it stands entering play on Thursday, the Lakers would play the Golden State Warriors in the first play-in game. 

With the way Golden State is rolling, that's no easy task with the added dimension of LeBron working his way back into shape. If the Lakers get through the play-in round, they'll face the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Even if they crawl to No. 6, they'll face the Suns, Clippers or Nugget out of the shoot. 

Trae Young is averaging 33 points and nine assists over his last three games. The Hawks have won five of their last six and clinched a top-six seed on Wednesday. Atlanta is no joke. Since Nate McMillan took over for Lloyd Pierce on March 2, the Hawks are plus-4.9 per 100 possessions in Young's minutes, the exact same mark as the Mavs in Luka Doncic's minutes and the Nuggets in Nikola Jokic's minutes. 

Young still isn't a consistent 3-point shooter. He's six for his last 30 from deep and is shooting under 35 percent for the season. But he's reined in his attempts, from 9.5 per game last season to 6.4 this season, and has particularly curbed his early shot-clock bombs. Young is a master at getting into the paint. His floater is basically indefensible. He has the annoyingly effective knack for getting to the free-throw line, where he's made 40 straight and 99 of his last 102 attempts. 

On Wednesday night, the Hawks clinched their first playoff appearance since 2017. They are 25-11 since Nate McMillan took over as coach and currently sit as the East's No. 4 seed. They are explosive, versatile and confident. And Young is the center of it all. 

After spending five weeks -- 18 games -- on the shelf nursing his injured hamstring, James Harden made his return on Wednesday in the Brooklyn Nets' win over the San Antonio Spurs. He came off the bench and posted 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. He shot 6 of 8 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3. If there's any rust on his game, good luck detecting it. 

"Not to brag or anything, but I'm, like, really good at this game," Harden said after the win. "I study the game, very unselfish. I take the game and I play it the right way every single night. So, I don't try to do anything I can't do or doesn't benefit my team. That mindset right there keeps me in a really good place."

This is not arrogance. It's the truth. Harden is so natural with the ball in his hands, he's not going to have a long road back skill wise. Like LeBron, it's about getting back into game condition. And on top of that, playoff game condition, which is an entirely different level of intensity. 

Bradley Beal did not take kindly to Kent Bazemore's playful suggestion that Beal's hamstring strain might be some kind of cover for Beal not wanting to go head-to-head with Stephen Curry down the stretch for the scoring title. Bazemore took the jab after Curry hung 49 points on the Thunder to all but eliminate the ground Beal might've gained by scoring 50 earlier in the night before leaving with the hamstring strain, which has kept him out since. 

"Forty-nine points in 29 minutes, that's unreal," Bazemore said of Curry's performance vs. OKC. "We got guys hurting hamstrings to keep up."

Beal has had on-court beef with Bazemore in the past. When Bazemore played in Atlanta, he shoved Beal from behind on a breakaway layup when Beal was in the air, and he undercut John Wall under similar circumstances. 

The beef Bradley Beal has with Kent Bazemore is much bigger than what Bazemore said recently. Goes way back. pic.twitter.com/313zG3PBRq

When Beal caught wind of Bazemore's comments, he, along with his wife, went on a Twitter tirade for the ages. From Sam Quinn's piece summarizing the ordeal:

The beef began in earnest when, mere hours before tipoff of the Wizards' game against the Atlanta Hawks, Kamiah Adams-Beal started tweeting about Bazemore. It began with her sharing Bazemore's career statistics, which are unimpressive compared to Beal. Things seemingly cooled off when she argued that he didn't need to put others down to make his point. Then they got more heated when she tweeted "I'm mad we even giving relevancy to someone most people didn't even know was still in the league."

This escalated the situation enough for Beal to get involved. When he asked if he should respond to Bazemore, his wife chimed in with this GIF from Mortal Kombat. 

The Beal stepped in for himself. 

"You don't know me or s*** about me bruh!!!" Beal's first reply read. "You don't know why I go out there and play and it damn sure ain't for another man's approval!!! You a straight LAME!!! But it don't surprise me coming from you, thats what's yo type do!!"

He then turned things around on Curry, who has spoken openly about his pursuit of the scoring title. "It's funny you say that because ya mans admittedly checked my numbers before the game, but IM CHASING!!! Shut yo a** up!" 

And, to complete the family tag team, Adams-Beal replied "I wouldn't hold my breath for a response. But hey, maybe after a long night of 8 points, 1 assist, 1 rebound, 6 turnovers and 6 fouls he will have some time." While all of this was going on, Bazemore's Warriors were on the floor playing against the Utah Jazz. He has therefore been unable to respond to it at the time, but commented after the game. 

"I guess you can't joke anymore," Bazemore said. "Whatever. I feel like I'm a pretty lighthearted guy. Hey man -- my loyalty is to SC30. It kind of got out of hand. I don't get involved with that crap."

This is sort of funny, of course, that Bazemore would say he "don't get involved with that crap" when there was nothing to get involved in before he, you know, creating something. Bazemore is a jokester. He was kidding, I think. But to me, that's a tad bit over the line to suggest, even in jest, that a competitor like Beal would be essentially faking an injury to avoid the challenge of staring Curry down in the scoring race. 

When has Beal ever backed down from a challenge on a basketball court? The guy is still in Washington, for crying out loud. He could've demanded a trade years ago. He's battling. He's up for the fight. And Beal's point about Curry admitting he was tracking Beal's 50-point game is right on. Beal has never shown any indication that he's particularly concerned with this title. 

But if he was overly concerned with winning, just for the sake of argument, how would sitting out games help his cause? Even with Curry posting a 21-point game on Tuesday, his PPG average only dropped one-tenth of a point. If Beal wants to win, he needs to play, not sit out, so he can give himself a chance to have another huge game and up his average. Curry (31.8 PPG) is almost certainly not going to fall back to Beal (31.4 PPG). 

Either way, I'm Team Beal here. Bad joke, Baze. 

On Monday, Russell Westbrook posted 28 points, 21 assists and 13 rebounds against the Hawks for the 182nd triple-double of his career, passing Oscar Robertson for the NBA's all-time record. 

What more is there to say about this? It's an astounding statistical achievement. I've been hard on Westbrook in the past, and I still don't believe he impacts games quite as much as the stats suggest, but Robertson's triple-double record appeared to be about as untouchable as any in sports. Robertson averaging a triple-double for a season was, not long ago, talked about with an almost religious reverence. Robertson did that once. Westbrook, whose gas pedal is perpetually pegged to the floor, has now averaged a triple-double in FOUR separate seasons. 

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Trail Blazers' loss opens path for Lakers to avoid a play-in game; Celtics lock in No. 7 spot

Yahoo Sports 14 May, 2021 - 05:20pm

With just four days left in the regular season, the intrigue surrounding the play-in format has drawn more attention than the race for the No. 1 seed.

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Sports Seriously: The NBA Play-In Tournament is fast approaching. Mackenzie Salmon and Analis Bailey explain how the tournament will unfold. USA TODAY

The NBA implemented the play-in game to create excitement, make more games meaningful and curtail tanking.

With just three days left in the regular season, the intrigue surrounding the play-in format has drawn more attention than the race for the No. 1 seed, buoyed by the prospect of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers needing to win a play-in game to make the playoffs.

In short, the seventh- and eighth-place teams in both conferences aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot. The league has given the ninth- and 10th-place teams a shot at reaching the playoffs.

A look at the NBA standings and playoff picture with three days remaining in the regular season: pic.twitter.com/uyc1c4BASd

Here’s how it works and who might end up in the play-in game format.

After the regular season concludes, the seventh- and eighth-place teams play each other and the winner earns the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game. The winner of that game becomes the No. 8 seed. To give the teams that had a better record during the regular season an advantage, teams 7-8 need to win just one play-in game to advance and teams 9-10 need to win two games.

The play-in games are May 18-21 with the 16-team, best-of-7 playoffs beginning May 22.

In the East, the picture is a bit more clear than in the West, though tiebreakers convolute the scenarios.

Boston, Charlotte, Indiana and Washington are in spots 7-10 right now with Chicago lurking in 11th place. The top six seeds in the East are set, so none of these teams can finish above No. 7.

The Celtics secured seventh place in the East because Charlotte lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Pacers lost to Milwaukee on Thursday. Even if the Celtics lose out and the Hornets and Pacers win out and all three teams finish with 35-37 records, the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams.

Celtics’ remaining games: at Minnesota, at New York Knicks

Though Charlotte and Indiana have identical records and each have two games remaining, the Hornets are in eighth place because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Charlotte does not have it easy the rest of the way, playing teams who are jostling for playoff or play-in positions. Indiana doesn't have a cakewalk either. But at the very least, the Hornets and Pacers have locked up a spot in the play-in game.

Hornets’ remaining games: at New York Knicks, at Washington Wizards

Pacers’ remaining games: vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Toronto

Washington wants a spot in the play-in game but needs to win a game. They are two games ahead of Chicago, and if the Wizards lost their final two games and Chicago won its final two, the Bulls would get in based on head-to-head tiebreaker. The Wizards could also move up if they win their final two games and get help with Charlotte and Indiana losses. That final game of the season between Washington and Charlotte could be significant.

Wizards' remaining games: vs. Cleveland, vs. Charlotte

Bulls' remaining games: at Brooklyn, vs. Milwaukee

In the West, the seventh-place Lakers, who are still waiting for LeBron James to return, still have a chance to move into the sixth or fifth spot, but they need help. At 40-30, they are a game 41-29 Dallas and a ½ game behind 41-30 Portland.

Both the Blazers and Mavericks own the tiebreaker against the Lakers, so for the Lakers to avoid the play-in game, they would need to win their two remaining games and either Dallas or Portland would have to their remaining games. So, Portland and Dallas could still end up in the play-in game, and the Blazers have the most difficult schedule of the three teams. Portland lost to Phoenix on Thursday. But if it’s the Lakers in the seventh spot, they could face eighth-place Golden State in a tantalizing play-in game.

Lakers’ remaining games: at Indiana, at New Orleans

Mavericks’ remaining games: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota

The Warriors don’t have eighth place in their possession just yet. Golden State is tied with Memphis at 37-33. That position could come down to the final game of the season when the Warriors and Grizzlies play on Sunday with the winner earning the tiebreaker.

Warriors’ remaining games: vs. New Orleans, vs. Memphis

Grizzlies’ remaining games: vs. Sacramento, at Golden State

San Antonio will finish in 10th place because Sacramento lost to Memphis on Thursday, eliminating the Kings from a play-in game possibility. The Spurs can’t catch Golden State or Memphis for eigth or ninth place.

Spurs’ remaining games: vs. Phoenix, vs. Phoenix

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The suprising x-factor in the Lakers quest for title repeat

ClutchPoints 14 May, 2021 - 05:20pm

The Los Angeles Lakers ran away with the 2020 NBA Championship in the infamous Orlando Bubble playoffs. After acquiring Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James, the dream finally became reality for the Lakers as they hoisted another Larry O’Brien trophy. Now, as the 2021 playoffs are set to kick-off, the Lakers are gearing up for another run at a title.

However, their situation in the 2021 playoffs is polar opposite from what it was in the bubble. The Lakers finished as the top seed in the Western Conference last time and were as healthy as could be entering the playoffs. Unfortunately, this season the Lakers have dealt with injuries to essentially everybody on their roster, with LeBron and Davis missing months with various injuries.

Following an NBA trend of ongoing injuries, the Lakers have been kicked down to a likely spot in the play-in tournament, a far cry from being the top team a year ago. Nonetheless, the Lakers are getting healthy and hitting their stride. As everybody knows how important the superstar duo of LeBron and Davis are, the true x-factor for the Lakers might come as a bit of a surprise.

Sure, how can a guy averaging 4.8 points 1.6 boards per game be an x-factor? It’s rather simple, and just watching the Lakers last season and this season gives a clear reason as to why.

Of course, LeBron and Davis are the coal that keeps the train chugging along down the tracks. In last year’s playoff run, Frank Vogel tinkered with many different things to find a way to get it done- and ultimately it worked. Vogel has done the same this season, although not by plan or blueprint. The injuries put a huge damper in his normal, night-to-night rotations and forced other guys to get significant playing time.

For Matthews, his calling card has always been as a 3&D guy, which is exactly why Rob Pelinka gave the veteran a call when free agency started and wasted no time signing him. He’s played 14 seasons in the NBA and has bounced around the last six years, switching jerseys in each of those six and playing for the Dallas Mavericks twice.

While Matthews has come in and out of the rotation, he’s ready whenever his name is called. To that point, his name was called more often in the past weeks after injuries to Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, and Dennis Schroder in COVID-19 protocols while both LeBron and Davis were resting up.

On May 12 against the Houston Rockets, Matthews sealed the deal with a clutch defensive play in the final seconds to secure the win for the Lakers.

Wes Matthews' game-clinching steal pic.twitter.com/0cUxxCfZRK

— michael corvo (@_michaelcorvo_) May 13, 2021

The night before that Matthews sent the game to overtime with an insanely clutch putback layup after a missed three against the New York Knicks.

OVERTIME! After this shot by Wes Matthews for the #LakeShow

(Via @NBAonTNT)

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) May 12, 2021

It is those types of plays that the Lakers are going to need, and you never know when they are going to need it. The playoff rotation in the bubble was a revolving door, and Vogel switched players in and out for respective series to match against the opponents.

It’s that physical, gritty play, especially on the defensive end that Vogel loves, and that type of play that will lead the Lakers to reveal another banner in Staples Center.

While it took Matthews a while to get going this season, he’s emerged lately into the exact type of player they were hoping for when they brought him on board. His three-point shot has been hitting and his defense is winning games for the Lakers at a point of the year where wins are more crucial than pure gold.

Matthews might not play 20 minutes per game or score 15 points a game, not at all. However, he will be needed and might be somebody Vogel calls on when the game is on the line, as he has done in the past few games to help the Lakers build momentum as they aim to peak at the right time and hit their stride in hopes of another championship.

Copyright © ClutchPoints. Partner of iOne Digital / Cassius Network.

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Los Angeles Lakers 14 May, 2021 - 05:20pm

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