The Bounce: The 5 Biggest Stakes of the Final Weekend of the NBA Season + Middleton, Zion Updates

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It’s time to settle the MVP discussions. Let’s make it relevant.

55 hours of chaos

Five things to watch this weekend

The 2022-23 regular season is coming to a close, and we still have a lot of things up in the air. We’re down to 21 teams in 20 postseason spots. The Dallas Mavericks are the only outside team that still has a chance of making the Play-In Championship.

Let’s rank the top four remaining, plus one fun card:

4. Will the Wolves go down in the 9-10 game? Minnesota traded in its future for Rudy Gobert to fix its present, and the Wolves still find themselves at 40-40, 9th in the West, hoping for a small fortune coming their way. It’s been a poor but resilient season for Wolves. On Saturday, they will play San Antonio, which should be an easy win, but they have lost to the Spurs twice this season. On Sunday, they play New Orleans, and that could determine whether they have a safety net in the Play-In tournament.

The Wolves are tied 1-1 against New Orleans, and this game will decide the tiebreaker. They are one game behind the Bills, who play the Knicks tonight. If Minnesota beats the Pelicans, they can still survive if they lose their first Play-In game.

3. Do we get Kevin Durant vs. the Warriors? In a word? please. In three words? I hope so. The Warriors try to battle the Clippers and Lakers in this latest installment. The Clippers and Lakers hold their own tiebreakers, so they really need wins against Sacramento tonight and Portland on Sunday. Doing so would guarantee them at least a sixth in the West. They could get to fifth place, but the Clippers must lose to Portland or the Suns (on the last day when they had nothing to play for). So the Warriors need some help here, especially if the Suns bench their stars against the Lakers tonight for the second night of a back-to-back game.

The Warriors need to get past the Clippers to get their first round series with Phoenix. It is possible, but they need help.

2. Will Dallas make it? The good news for the Mavs is that they don’t have two games left to win – two home games against Chicago and San Antonio. Even though they’ve been pretty rough since acquiring Kyrie Irving, the Mavs are still very talented and star-driven to get into those two games and don’t feel like they have to win. However… they are at the mercy of the rest of the NBA.

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Suppose they take care of business and win both games. They need the Thunder to lose to Memphis with nothing to play for on Sunday.

1. Can the Lakers avoid playing? The Lakers have been concerned all season about being healthy and getting the right mix of players on the floor. They finally did and figured it out, but a loss to the Clippers this week put them at the mercy of the universe. They do not control their own destiny. They play Phoenix and have to hope the Suns decide to sit out their key players. Then they play a Jazz team that has recently given up and is only focused on lottery balls.

The Lakers are at least in better shape this tournament play than they were two years ago, as long as they’re healthy. Are you going to play as the seventh seed, win and then try to defeat Memphis in the first round? You can talk about it yourself. But they need a lot of help this weekend to get into sixth place and reignite their rivalry with the Kings.

Wild Card: Will the Knicks end up attacking one of the top three spots ever? This is a bit tricky to figure out fast, but we know the Knicks have an elite offense this season. NBA.com/stats has the Knicks in a three-way tie with Denver and Philadelphia for third-best offense this season. Basketball Reference has the Knicks with Third best attack everslightly ahead of Philly, Boston, and Denver (as well as 2021 Portland).

These are not standardized between the two sites due to how possessions are calculated differently, but even so, the Knicks could end up with the third-best offensive season in NBA history. They face the Pelicans (6th in defense) and Indiana (26th in defense) the rest of the season.

The latest from Shams

Infestation updates in Middleton, Zion

As the regular season draws to a close, there are two injury updates on notable players:

  • pax star Chris Middleton He underwent an MRI on his right knee Thursday and the results came back clean, according to sources.Middleton is expected to use the next week or so for knee rehabilitation Hoping to prepare for the playoffs beginning April 15, the Bucks clinched the top seed and best record in the NBA in the regular season this week, led largely by another MVP-caliber campaign from Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Middleton contributed 15.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. He’s been a huge part of the Bucks’ success over the past few seasons.

    Middleton suffered knee problems that kept him out earlier this season for an extended period of time. The Bucks got good news this time around, but it sure got me thinking about his honest and candid conversation earlier in the year with our very own Eric Nahm about how hard it was to rehabilitate him.

  • In the Western Conference, the Pelican star Zion Williamson – He has been sidelined since January 2 due to a hamstring strain He is unlikely to return to tournament action next weekSources tell me. The team has been careful with Williamson’s comeback process as he continues his rehabilitation process.

    The Pelicans are currently 41-39 and sitting in the eighth seed. They have the same record as the Lakers, who hold the tiebreaker ahead of them for seventh place in the top Play-In location. Both play behind the Warriors in the live final.

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Back to you, Zack.

Is Heat back?

The Heat completely destroyed the 76ers 129-101 last night, in a game the Sixers really didn’t need. Miami needed it, just in case some fortune fell its way to help it sneak into the top six. Brooklyn will have to lose their last two games (Orlando and Philly), and Miami will need to beat Washington and Orlando to clinch the sixth seed.

Even if the Heat’s disappointing season keeps them in Championship Play-In, a performance like last night seems to be in keeping with Miami’s cheerleading trend. This team can really score again. This is what has been missing all season. The Heat inexplicably missed wide open three-point shots all season. And he grieved their humiliation fiercely.

Over the last 16 games (10-6), the Heat offense has caught up. They finished sixth in the NBA in offensive ratings during this stretch, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions with the second-highest true shooting percentage. In their previous 64 games (33-31), the Heat has finished 26th in offensive rating (110.7). They’ve gone from hitting 35.0 percent on their three wide open pitches to hitting over 45.0 percent in a 16-game stretch.

Now, the defense has been awful (118.0) over these past 16 games, but we know they can shut down defensively. It’s an encouraging trend to show the good looks you generate with attacking and timely ball movement. Much like the team we saw a season ago, when it was the top seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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More from Miami: Jason Quick explores the competitiveness and empathy of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

More from last night:

  • Could Phoenix have a bad win? The Suns did just that by defeating Denver last night. The Nuggets didn’t play at first, and the Suns still barely got a win. but The Suns are 8-0 with Kevin Durant playing.
  • the Jazz was officially eliminated of the Play-In Tournament with their 114-98 loss to OKC.

Bounce passes

John Hollinger knows who his best player is this season.

Mike Forkunov has some thoughts on what’s to come in the new CBA.

Excellent profile on Quentin Grimes by Jackson Frank of DIME.

Nikkeas Duncan has five young players to watch, including Markell Fultz who plays as a big guy.

Check out the live action via The Athletic NBA Show.

Wait, LeBron James is a Level 2 player now?! Who’s in Level 1?!

Screen game (all times eastern)

  • main screen: Sun Lakers (10:30 p.m. NBA TV). The Lakers must win if they want to avoid being played.
  • Second screen: 76ers-Hawks (7:30 p.m.). The Hawks have a chance to go three games above .500 for the first time since Dec. 2.
  • League Pass of the Night game: Warriors Kings (10 p.m.). The Warriors can’t let go of this and let the Lakers catch them.
  • Check out the full schedule here.

(Photo by Kyrie Irving: Dale Zanin/USA Today)

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