Nets ‘Big Three’ expected to play Saturday
The final Friday of the regular season didn’t lack for teams angling for a particular seed or matchup in the playoffs, or improved draft lottery odds. Also of note were the injury reports in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with the news for the former being more concrete (and better) at this point in the season. Let’s get into the final Friday Daily Dose of the regular season.
Wizards 120, Cavaliers 105
Nuggets 104, Pistons 91
76ers 122, Magic 97
Jazz 109, Thunder 93
Mavericks 114, Raptors 110
Rockets 122, Clippers 115
Grizzlies 107, Kings 106
Warriors 125, Pelicans 122
Nets’ “Big Three” expected to play Saturday
James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have all been available for just seven games (none since February 13) since the Nets acquired the former from the Rockets early the season. Injuries have proven to be problematic for each, which makes the the few opportunities to establish on-court chemistry that much more valuable. The expectation is that all three will be available for Saturday’s game against the Bulls, which may represent a final “dress rehearsal” before the playoffs. Brooklyn leads Milwaukee by a game in the race for the 2-seed in the East, with the Bucks holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
While the Nets will finish their season with games against the Bulls and Cavaliers, the Bucks will get the Heat (who they’d likely want to avoid given what happened in last season’s playoffs) and the Bulls. Axel Toupane (strained right oblique) was the only player on the Bucks’ injury report Friday night, but we’ll see if anything changes ahead of the 8:00 PM tipoff. For the Heat, Kendrick Nunn (sore left calf) is listed as questionable.
Are the Clippers angling for a particular matchup?
Even with Kawhi Leonard (rest), Paul George (rest), Reggie Jackson (sore left Achilles) and Patrick Beverley (left hand injury management) among the players sitting out Friday’s game in Houston, it was fair to expect the Clippers to take care of business. The Rockets’ injury list was even longer, and they’ve been without many of their veterans for quite some time now. But the Rockets won, and there were some interesting decisions made by Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. Marcus Morris (seven points, three rebounds and one 3-pointer) played just nine minutes, while fellow starter Ivica Zubac (three points, one assist and one 3-pointer) played three.
Rajon Rondo (9/3/13/1 with one 3-pointer) played 28 minutes, and he was pretty much the only rotation player to take on something close to his usual workload. The good news for the Clippers was that Serge Ibaka (15/7/4) played 17 minutes, and showed no ill-effects from the back injury that kept him sidelined for two months. The defeat, combined with Denver’s win over the Pistons, dropped the Clippers into the fourth spot in the West. While L.A. isn’t guaranteed to be the four just yet, as they’d need a win combined with a Nuggets loss on Sunday, they would get Dallas in the first round. Lurking for the 3-seed is a matchup with either Portland or the reigning champion Lakers.
With the Clippers still having some “work” to do if their goal is to avoid that 3-6 matchup, Sunday’s game against the Thunder could be brutal. Denver finishes its season in Portland, which will be motivated to avoid the play-in tournament.
Lakers unsure if LeBron will play this weekend
The reigning champions have two games left to play before the end of the regular season, Saturday against the Pacers and Sunday against the Pelicans. LeBron James (sore right ankle) was able to practice on Friday before the team flew to Indianapolis, and according to Frank Vogel, he’s considered to be questionable for Saturday. After missing 21 games due to a high ankle sprain, James wasn’t on the court particularly long before having to return to the bench due to soreness in the same ankle. Given the time off, who knows if he’ll be able to play in both ends of the back-to-back. And how effective will James be if cleared?
Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols) did individual work during Friday’s practice, and his status for Saturday remains up on the air. If anyone in the Lakers rotation needs some game action before the postseason it’s Schroder, as he hasn’t appeared in a game since April 30. Anthony Davis (left adductor tightness) and Alex Caruso (right foot soreness) were officially listed as questionable, but the former was said (by Vogel) to be probable. The Lakers trail Portland by one-half game in the race for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the West, and the Blazers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. In addition to winning both of their games, the Lakers will also need a Portland loss on Sunday against the Nuggets in order to grab the 6-seed.
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Conley looks good in return to Jazz lineup
Utah point guard Mike Conley (right hamstring tightness) made his long-awaited return Friday night in Oklahoma City, playing 16 minutes (none after halftime) in Utah’s win over the Thunder. Conley finished with 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and one 3-pointer. While he didn’t shoot the ball well, going 2-of-7 from the field, the veteran point didn’t look too rusty, and the hamstring was not an issue. Now the Jazz await the return of Donovan Mitchell (right ankle sprain), who (last week) was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season. Joe Ingles (5/1/5 with one 3-pointer in 26 minutes) remains the starter until that time comes, and Georges Niang (11/3/2/2 with two 3-pointers in 21 minutes) was back with the reserves due to the return of Conley.
76ers clinch the top seed in the East
Only two seeds in the East have been determined: the one (Philadelphia) and the seven (Boston). The 76ers took care of the former Friday night by blowing out the Magic, and they played the game without backup center Dwight Howard. Howard picked up his 16th technical of the season in Thursday’s loss to the Heat, which triggered an automatic one-game suspension. Mike Scott (8/2/2/0/3 with two 3-pointers) played 18 minutes off the bench, and the 76ers were able to go small for long stretches as the game was out of hand by halftime. Scott’s three blocks were the biggest surprise; he’s now up to a total of ten on the season.
Seth Curry (20/3/2/1 with four 3-pointers) led the way offensively for the winners, and no starter played more than 26 minutes (Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons). There isn’t much reason for Doc Rivers to use any of his main rotation players in Sunday’s rematch, so DFS players should get reacquainted with the likes of Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe.
Warriors rest Curry, Green and Wiggins...and win anyway
Regardless of what happened Friday night against the Pelicans, Golden State’s playoff fate was going to be determined Sunday when they host the Grizzlies. Win that game, and the Warriors will be the 8-seed, and a win over the 7-seed in the play-in tournament would vault them directly into the playoff bracket. Lose Sunday and the Warriors would be the 9-seed, needing two wins in order to reach the postseason. With that being the case Steve Kerr decided to hold Stephen Curry (tailbone contusion), Draymond Green (sprained finger, left hand) and Andrew Wiggins (left knee soreness) out of Friday’s game, which the Warriors managed to win thanks in large part to Jordan Poole and Mychal Mulder.
Both established new career-highs, as Poole scored 38 points (with four rebounds, six assists, one block and four 3-pointers) and Mulder 28 (two rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and seven 3-pointers). Also of note here was the return of Eric Paschall (left hip flexor strain), who played 19 minutes and recorded a line of 12 points, four rebounds and one 3-pointer. Poole and Mulder are both rotation players, but they’ll both take a major hit on Sunday with Curry and Wiggins back in the fold. As for Paschall, he’ll be third in the pecking order at the four behind Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson (9/9/9 with one 3-pointer in 33 minutes).
Washington locks up a play-in tournament spot
The Wizards, who remain without prolific scorer Bradley Beal (left hamstring strain), managed to pull away from the Cavaliers and guarantee themselves a spot in the play-in tournament. Russell Westbrook (21/12/17/3 with one 3-pointer) logged 40 minutes, and in recording his 183rd career triple-double he was charged with just one turnover. In the four games prior he was responsible for a total of 21 turnovers, which included two games with seven apiece.
Also noteworthy was the change to the starting lineup made by Scott Brooks, as Davis Bertans (17/1/0/1 with three 3-pointers) replaced Garrison Mathews (nine points, two rebounds and two 3-pointers). Bertans played 32 minutes to Mathews’ 17, and there were periods in which both were on the court at the same time. Bertans offers more scoring potential, which is needed with Beal still out. Washington, which trails Indiana and Charlotte by one-half game, will need a win over the latter and some help in order to move out of the 10-seed. The Hornets already hold the tiebreaker there, but the Wizards have the edge on the Pacers. There’s a huge difference between being the 8-seed and the 9-seed, so expect Westbrook to take on a heavy workload Sunday afternoon.
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