The hustle for NBA play-off spotsFriday, May 21, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
Entering last weekend (the final days of the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season), the only sure play-off (or rather play-in) placings were the Boston Celtics (#7) in the East and the San Antonio Spurs (#10) in the West. There were 21 other teams still jockeying for final placings in this year's postseason activities as the difference in the win-column between adjacent teams was one or two games in most instance (no difference in some instances).
Following the end of the slated eight games last Friday night (May 14), the only other thing confirmed was that the Philadelphia 76ers had cemented their place as the No 1 seed in the East for the first time in 20 years, but the Utah Jazz had to withstand their regular season finale against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday (May 16) to cap their historical year.
The 121-99 win ensured the Jazz finished the regular season with a 50-22 record, giving them the NBA's best win-loss mark for the first time in franchise history and their first Western Conference No 1 seeding since 1998. Donovan Mitchell was sidelined with an injured right ankle, but a loss would have seen the Phoenix Suns end with the same number of wins and claim top spot in the West by virtue of holding the tiebreaker against the Jazz.
The Jazz finished the regular season with the NBA's fourth-ranked offence, scoring 116.5 points per 100 possessions, only trailing the Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers. They averaged 16.7 made three-points per game at 38.9 per cent becoming the first team in league history with at least 10 triples in every game during a regular season.
However, the story behind the Western Conference No 8 seed has been more intriguing than that of the No 1 seed – The Golden State Warriors opened the season with back-to-back humiliating losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks and, without the services of Klay Thompson, the days ahead looked grim. A number of blowout losses followed early in the season, but Steph Curry dug deep to close the season and ended up securing his place in this year's MVP conversation.
Curry cinched the NBA scoring title in Sunday night's (May 16) regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies after scoring only his second basket. The former two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) entered the weekend ahead of Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) by 0.4 points per game and finished with an average of 32.0 points - Beal scored 25 points in his team's 115-110 win over the Charlotte Hornets earlier the same day to average 31.3 points for the season.
With the scoring title in hand, Curry went on to unleash a mammoth 46 points with career high in both shot attempts (36) and three-point attempts (22) in a 113-101 win over the Grizzlies which sealed the Western Conference's eighth seed for the Warriors. Curry is now the first player 33 years or older to lead the league in scoring since Michael Jordan in 1997-98 (35 years at an average of 28.7 points). He also joins Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships.
In the Eastern Conference, the story behind the No 8 seed is just as interesting — the Wizards started the season 0-5 then plodded on to 3-12. They were shut down for two weeks in January for coronavirus-related issues and had to play 38 games in the season's final 67 days to make up for lost time — they were 17-32 in early April. The Wizards are 17-6 since and finished with a record of 34-38, just edging out the Indiana Pacers who finished with the same record, but the Wizards held the tiebreaker.
Wizards point guard, Russel Westbrook (aka Triple-Double King) officially bagged his third NBA assist title in the finale on Sunday (May 16) against the Charlotte Hornets, averaging a career-high 11.7 assists per game. He recently set the record for triple-doubles in a career (passing Oscar Robertson) and the last time he didn't have double-digit assists or rebounds in a game was March 12. He has posted a triple-double in 28 of 36 games since then.
Aside from Curry winning the scoring title and Russell Westbrook donning the all-time assist crown, a couple of players registered statistical season feats of their own. The New York Knicks' Julius Randle finished first in the league in minutes per game (37.6) and is undoubtedly the most improved player this year. Additionally, Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela finished with the season's top rebounding average (14.3) to claim his first rebounding crown.
The matchups for the NBA's new State Farm Play-In Tournament were set at the end of the last game on Sunday (May 16). It started Tuesday night (May 18) with the Eastern Conference: No. 10 Charlotte Hornets at No 9 Indiana Pacers (the Nine-Ten game), and No 8 Washington Wizards at No 7 Boston Celtics (the Seven-Eight game). Then action shifted to the Western Conference on Wednesday night (May 19): No 10 San Antonio Spurs at No 9 Memphis Grizzlies (the Nine-Ten game), and No 8 Golden State Warriors at No 7 Los Angeles Lakers (the Seven-Eight game).
The winners of the 'Seven-Eight' games picked up the automatic No 7 seed in each conference while the loser of those games moved on to play the winners of the respective 'Nine-Ten' games; the winners of which now occupy the No 8 seed in each conference. The play-offs start tomorrow (May 22) and the top teams in the NBA will begin the hard climb to the crown.
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Brooklyn Nets 3.40
Los Angeles Lakers 5.40
Los Angeles Clippers 5.80
Utah Jazz 7.80
Philadelphia 76ers 8.60
Milwaukee Bucks 8.80
Phoenix Suns 16.00
Denver Nuggets 28.00
Miami Heat 28.00
Dallas Mavericks 40.00
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