Don’t look now, but the end of the season is rapidly approaching: the NBA playoffs begin six weeks from Sunday. That gives most teams about 20 remaining games to stake out their playoff––or lottery––chances, and the races for each of those prizes are predictably tight.
The Warriors and Hawks appear to have a firm grip on their leads atop their respective conferences, but the chase at the bottom for the playoffs is tight right now, just as the race among the Knicks, 76ers and Timberwolves is in the lottery.
With so much happening down the stretch, missing news is understandable. Just in case, we’ve got your back, so catch up here.
Nuggets finally fire Brian Shaw. – Whew. This one felt like it was a long time coming. Firing rumors have plagued the Shaw Era in Denver since at least last offseason, although they haven’t entirely been his fault, as this particular group of Nuggets players has enjoyed quite a reputation.
Shaw struggled accordingly, going 56-85 in a little less than two seasons as the Nuggets’ head coach, and this season’s issues were almost comical, with Shaw openly accusing his team of trying to lose games, then admitting to reading “How to Relate to Millenials” literature as the losses kept piling up.
As evidenced by the players who stuck up for Shaw after his firing, Denver’s issues were probably not all his fault. He was kind of a bad fit there from the start, however, and this could be considered a mercy firing for everyone involved. Perhaps his deliberate, defense-first style would be a better fit in Orlando, where Shaw allegedly has an interest in coaching, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel.
Brow returns, keeps NOLA winning. – Despite being without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson for the better part of the last month, the Pelicans entered the weekend 1½ games back of the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. After an impressive win against the NBA’s third-best team in Memphis on Saturday night, the Pellies are just a half-game back.
Obviously, Davis’s leap to becoming one of the league’s most impactful players has been the biggest reason for New Orleans’ success this season, but on a shallow team that has been riddled with injuries, coach Monty Williams and the “next man up” mentality of this squad have been just as instrumental in keeping them competitive on a nightly basis. Tyreke Evans has exploded in his return to being a ball-dominant point-wing looking to score first, and even Eric Gordon has quietly been scoring with great efficiency in his return from yet another injury, boasting a crazy-good 71 percent TS% on 4.2 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, per SportVU.
Given how competitive the West is again this year, there’s a real chance the Pellies will end up staying home for the postseason. Still, their resilience has been impressive, and their potential for results would increase greatly should Anderson or Holiday’s indefinite returns become definitely soon.
Ray Allen decides to stay home. – According to Yahoo!’s Marc Spears, 14 different teams spent at least part of this season waiting on word of a return from the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers, hoping to add his lethal shooting to their rotations in time for a playoff run.
After all that anticipation, Allen wound up letting them down and decided that he wouldn’t return this year, although oddly, he suggested he could come back next year instead. That’s a long ways away, so for now, we can stop imagining how an Allen comeback might affect this season.
Blazers lose Matthews at the worst time. – While there wasn’t much negative injury news last week––always a positive––the most significant injury was also a painful one, as Portland’s Wes Matthews suffered a torn Achilles that will cause him to miss the rest of the regular season.
For the Blazers, losing Matthews is a huge blow to their hopes of making a deep run in the playoffs. Matthews had been their most consistent wing scorer this season, as Nic Batum’s struggles have persisted late into the season. While the newly-acquired Arron Afflalo will be able to step in and replace much of Matthews’s production, Portland was hoping to use him as a swingman on the perimeter to provide strong depth, not a tit-for-tat replacement for Matthews.
Even JaVale McGee’s post-buyout free agency is goofy. – Really, ever since he entered the league, JaVale McGee has been seen and heard more for his antics than his play. Still, after the flighty big man was traded to and then bought out by the 76ers, he has attracted many suitors on the free agent market.
At first, things moved so quickly that it was outright reported McGee and the Boston Celtics had agreed to terms.
As we should have predicted, the free agency of McGee couldn’t have been that simple, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports soon reported that the two sides actually hadn’t come to an agreement, and that McGee’s desire to be in control of his destiny for next season––i.e. wanting player versus team option for 2015-16––ultimately killed the deal. That was Thursday, and with the big man still sitting on the market three days later, it’s possible this desire might have become an impediment for other teams interested in McGee’s services for this season as well.
Craig Sager returns to the sidelines. – After spending the better part of the last year away from his job battling leukemia, NBA sideline staple and sartorial savant Craig Sager returned to action last week. He looked thinner but strong and healthy as he worked Thursday’s game between the Bulls and Thunder, and Sager is expected to make a full recovery:
All of the coaches and players he interviewed Thursday were happy to see Sager return, and fans should be as well. It’s always incredible to see cancer claim one less victim, plus, now Sager will be catching nothing but gracious interviews for the rest of this season. You deserve it, Craig.
Hawks take season series over Cavaliers. – Atlanta continues to take care of business in the Eastern Conference, and they were able to check another box last week, beating Cleveland for the third time this season to take the season series, 3-1.
While the Cavaliers didn’t have what is now a totally revamped squad during their first couple matchups with the Hawks, only Shawn Marion missed this game, and ATL still took care of them. Many have started to overlook this team while they stay steady at the top of the Eastern Conference, but their team-oriented approach both on offense and defense continues to hum along to the point that it would be downright stunning if they don’t enjoy a strong postseason run.
Nate Robinson signs with Clippers. – While he wasn’t in our bargain-bin rundown of the NBA’s best remaining free-agent options, Robinson had reportedly drawn mild interest from multiple teams in the league. After Jamal Crawford recently went down, he signed a 10-day contract with LAC, the team that, per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, had been Robinson’s preferred destination all along.
It will be interesting to see if Robinson can catch on with the Clippers, who currently have Austin Rivers playing as their fourth guard and pseudo-backup point guard. While Rivers is a bigger body, he’s still not as good a defender as he should be in theory, and offensively he has remained just as unproductive in LA as he was in NOLA.
Robinson just turned 30, and his lack of size is his best-known quality, but he still might prove to be an upgrade over the younger Rivers, especially if he can provide some of the unexpected playoff magic he has provided in the past.
DUNK OF THE WEEK: Since we’ve already spilled a good deal of ink on Brow, here’s letting his play speak for itself. Tyler Zeller hears him: