With two weeks left in the NBA regular season, the race for the top seeds in each conference is getting intense. In the West, the no. 1 and 2 teams flipped in the conference standings for the third straight day. In the East, the Brooklyn Nets’ hold on the top spot ended with a pair of buzzer beating-finishes. And with the play-in tournament coming up, LeBron and the seventh-place Lakers are NOT happy. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s talk about it.
Top seeds flip-flop as Suns, Sixers win close ones
Much has been made about the rise of the Phoenix Suns this season, led by veteran Chris Paul and BBNBA Player of the Week Devin Booker. They’re chasing their first no. 1 seed in the Western Conference since 2006-07, when Steve Nash & co. lost to the Spurs in the conference semis. They claimed their stake at the top spot with a big win on Friday over their primary competition, the Utah Jazz. With Phoenix idle on Saturday, the Jazz retook first place. Then on Sunday, the Suns stole it right back, holding on for a surprisingly close 103-100 win over the Thunder.
They were led by none other than Booker, who scored 32 points on 11-22 shooting in the win, along with six assists and two steals. Paul finished with 18 and 11 assists against his former team. Despite a slow start, the Suns led most of the way, including by as much as 18 in the fourth quarter. However, Oklahoma City — who has been the worst team in the NBA without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and lost by a record-breaking 57 points at home on Saturday — didn’t quit. They made a final push late, led by Darius Bazley and Theo Maledon, who made an ignominious buzzer-beating three while trailing by six. The win brought Phoenix dead even with Utah for the NBA’s best record at 46-18, but the Suns hold the tie-breaker thanks to Friday’s victory.
Across the league, there was a power change in the East as well, thanks to Brooklyn’s 117-114 loss to Milwaukee. This game was an awesome battle of superstars, as Kevin Durant caught fire for 42 points in his second straight game, while Giannis Antetokounmpo erupted for a season-high 49. The Greek Freak also had three blocks, none crazier than this one late in the game on KD:
This whole sequence is WILD. pic.twitter.com/delOV17Mzh
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 2, 2021
Giannis got the last laugh, as Durant ultimately missed the potential game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds. It was a fortuitous bounce for Joel Embiid and the Sixers, who have been staring up at Brooklyn in the standings for nearly two weeks, but passed them after a dramatic 113-111 win in San Antonio. Embiid finished with 34, but it was Ben Simmons who saved the day with this buzzer-beating tip-in in overtime:
BEN SIMMONS FOR THE WIN
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 3, 2021
Tyrese Maxey didn’t make it off the bench in this one, but Keldon Johnson had a nice all-around game for the Spurs, posting 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the loss. The 76ers now lead Brooklyn by one game in the loss column at 43-21, seeking their first one-seed in the East since 2001. Meanwhile, the Bucks sit in third at 40-24, just ahead of another team from New York, who we’re getting to next…
Knicks roll past Rockets for 11th win in 12 games
Despite losing their nine-game winning streak last week, the New York Knicks are still one of the hottest teams in the league. They proved that with a big 122-97 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the 11th win in the last 12 tries for the East’s no. 4 seed. Julius Randle led the way as usual, finishing with an easy 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists in just 30 minutes. The All-Star big man sat out the whole fourth quarter as the Knicks’ lead ballooned as high as 35 points.
Immanuel Quickley chipped in 13 points with three treys, including this one that looks to have been fired from the Houston suburbs.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) May 3, 2021
Nerlens Noel only played 11 minutes, as Tom Thibodeau opted to rest him in the blowout in favor of Taj Gibson and Obi Toppin. Kevin Knox missed all three shots he took in his five minutes off the bench, but did earn two from the free-throw line. John Wall continued to sit with the hamstring injury that’s now expected to keep him out for the rest of the season.
Lakers drop another, Heat beat Hornets in play-in tourney battles
As we all know by now, the real drama as the 2021 NBA regular season winds down will be at the bottom of the standings — and no, I’m not talking about the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes. It’s the race to get into, and avoid, the first-ever NBA play-in tournament. This year, the seven-, eight-, nine- and ten-seeds in each conference will be invited to participate in a three-game mini playoff for the right to get into the real playoffs. And as of Monday morning, that invitation list could include both of the two winningest teams in league history, the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers.
Despite getting both Anthony Davis and LeBron James back from month-plus injury absences this week, the Lakers have been skidding. They lost their third straight game Sunday night, 121-114 to the Raptors, and dropped into a tie for sixth place with the Blazers as a result. That means the only thing between the defending champs and the May 19 play-in is a measly tie-breaker, which L.A. currently holds thanks to a February win.
Davis had 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the loss, the team’s fifth in six games since he returned after missing the last 30 with a calf injury. James scored 19 points in the loss while battling ankle soreness. After the game, he put the league on blast for the play-in format, saying “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired.” Interesting timing, I’ve gotta say.
LeBron has thoughts on the play-in tournament. pic.twitter.com/BfQcz8mi5m
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 3, 2021
Meanwhile, another team seeking to avoid the potential two-games-in-two-days scenario is the Miami Heat, who cruised to a 121-111 win over the Hornets yesterday. The Heat is now in sole position of sixth place, which would be good enough to avoid the play-in; the Hornets sit in eighth, just behind the Celtics and a half-game ahead of the Pacers. Both teams have been playing relatively well of late, hoping to maximize their chances come postseason time.
Bam Adebayo led the way with 20 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, one of four Miami players with 18-plus in the team effort victory (highlights below). On the other side, P.J. Washington had a game-high 21 on efficient 9-13 shooting. Things are looking up for Charlotte going into the home stretch, as they recently got LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk back from injuries. The two combined for 25 points in the loss, including three made threes from Monk in his second game back.
Whatever happens, it should be a thrilling last few weeks at both ends of the playoff picture.
– Tyler Herro didn’t travel for the Heat’s two-game road swing this weekend, as he’s still dealing with an unspecified foot injury. His status for Tuesday’s matchup with the Mavericks is uncertain.
– De’Aaron Fox is still sitting out in accordance with the league’s COVID protocols, but if the 10-14 day forecast is accurate, he should be able to return this week. The timing would be nice, since the Kings have three games against the lowly Thunder coming up over the next eight days.
– Tonight’s national TV slate features the Warriors and Pelicans on ESPN at 7:30 EST, followed by the Nuggets and Lakers. Come for the Steph show, stay for LeBron’s hysterics if they lose another one, which is entirely possible. Weirdly, the Nuggets have looked great ever since Jamal Murray‘s injury.
|Devin Booker (PHX)||123-120 W @ OKC||32||11-22 (1-4)||3||6||2||0||4||-3||26|
|Julius Randle (NYK)||122-97 W @ HOU||31||13-22 (4-9)||7||6||1||0||3||17||30|
|P.J. Washington (CHA)||111-121 L vs. MIA||21||9-13 (3-6)||6||0||3||0||2||+1||29|
|Bam Adebayo (MIA)||121-111 W @ CHA||20||9-13 (0-0)||7||10||1||0||3||+5||33|
|Keldon Johnson (SAS)||111-113 L (OT) vs. PHI||19||7-18 (2-4)||6||5||3||0||2||-4||38|
|Immanuel Quickley (NYK)||122-97 W @ HOU||13||5-9 (3-5)||2||4||1||0||1||15||22|
|Anthony Davis (LAL)||114-121 L vs. TOR||12||5-16 (0-3)||9||7||3||1||1||-11||33|
|Malik Monk (CHA)||111-121 L vs. MIA||11||4-9 (3-6)||0||5||1||0||0||-2||27|
|Enes Kanter (POR)||129-119 W @ BOS||5||1-4 (0-0)||5||0||2||0||1||-20||18|
|Nerlens Noel (NYK)||122-97 W @ HOU||2||1-3 (0-0)||2||0||0||0||1||-3||11|
|Kevin Knox (NYK)||122-97 W @ HOU||2||0-3 (0-1)||0||0||1||0||1||-8||5|
|Willie Cauley-Stein (DAL)||99-111 L vs. SAC||1||0-0 (0-0)||4||0||0||0||1||-12||9|
|Tyler Herro (MIA)||121-111 W @ CHA||DNP – Foot injury||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|De’Aaron Fox (SAC)||111-99 W @ DAL||DNP – Health and safety protocols||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|Trey Lyles (SAS)||111-113 L (OT) vs. PHI||DNP – Ankle injury||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)||120-123 L vs. PHX||DNP – Foot injury||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|John Wall (HOU)||97-122 L vs. NYK||DNP – Hamstring injury||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|Tyrese Maxey (PHI)||113-111 W (OT) @ SAS||DNP – Coach’s decision||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|Nick Richards (CHA)||111-121 L vs. MIA||DNP – Coach’s decision||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
TODAY IN THE NBA
7:00: Magic @ Pistons (Diallo)
7:00: Pacers @ Wizards
7:30 (ESPN): Warriors (Mulder) @ Pelicans (Bledsoe, Gabriel)
8:00: Trail Blazers (Kanter) @ Hawks
9:00: Sixers (Maxey) @ Bulls
9:00: Knicks (Randle, Noel, Quickley, Knox) @ Grizzlies
10:00: Spurs (Johnson, Lyles*) @ Jazz
10:00 (ESPN): Nuggets (Murray*) @ Lakers (Davis)
* – inactive