- Forward Mike Scott has emerged as a key member of the Wizards’ second unit in their playoff series against the top-seeded Raptors, Chase Hughes of NBCSports.com notes. Scott was the only productive bench player Washington had in Game 1, as he scored 14 of its 21 points. A productive series would help Scott land a contract this summer. He signed a one-year, $1.47MM deal with the Wizards last summer.
Game 1 is in the books for all eight of the NBA’s first-round playoff matchups, and several of those games set up potentially fascinating series. Six of the eight higher seeds held their home-court advantage in the first game, but some of those favorites looked a little shaky in their victories, leading to plenty of speculation about first-round upsets.
We’ll start with the weekend’s biggest upset, which took place in Cleveland, where the Pacers dismantled LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 1. It won’t be a surprise if the Cavs eventually pull out this series, but their 98-80 loss on Sunday was something we haven’t seen since James returned to Cleveland in 2014. In their last three first-round series, the Cavs have swept the Celtics, Pistons, and – one year ago – the Pacers.
Of course, these Pacers are a much different team than the squad swept out of the postseason a year ago. Victor Oladipo looked like the best player on the floor on Sunday, and players like Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Lance Stephenson looked great in supporting roles. This Pacers team was overlooked and underappreciated all season, and appear poised to give the Cavs all they can handle in round one.
The other Game 1 upset occurred in Portland, where the Pelicans edged out a two-point win over the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis (35 points, 14 rebounds) was the best player on the court in that game, but Jrue Holiday‘s impact shouldn’t be understated. Besides posting 21 points and seven assists, Holiday also locked up Damian Lillard on the other end of the court — Lillard made just six of 23 shots.
The Pelicans don’t have a whole lot of standout talent behind Davis and Holiday, but Nikola Mirotic (16 points, 11 rebounds) stepped up as a reliable third option on Saturday. If he – or another Pelican – can continue to support Davis and Holiday throughout the series, New Orleans should have a chance.
Elsewhere, the Raptors, Rockets, and Thunder had to battle to the end to hold off the Wizards, Timberwolves, and Jazz, respectively, but came away with Game 1 victories. The Bucks pushed the Celtics to overtime before losing Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo to foul problems and ultimately losing the game. None of those four favorites is a mortal lock to advance, though Houston is probably close.
The Warriors and Sixers took care of business with comfortable wins over the Spurs and Heat, respectively.
What do you think? Will we see an upset – or multiple upsets – in the first round of the postseason? Which lower-seeded teams do you think look like the best bets to advance to round two?
Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!
2:01pm: Meeks has issued a statement to ESPN indicating that he’s surprised by his suspension and intends to fight it, as Wojnarowski relays.
“Because I have never used a drug of any kind I am absolutely heartbroken and perplexed with the news today,” Meeks said in his statement. “Let me clear: I have never taken anything whatsoever for a performance-enhancing reason. I respect the game of basketball too much.
“I look forward to exercising my rights under the (NBA’s) collective bargaining agreement to bring this matter to arbitration and to clear my name in relation to this wrongful accusation.”
12:25pm: The NBA will suspend Wizards sharpshooter Jodie Meeks for 25 games for violating the league’s anti-drug program, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Barring an unexpectedly lengthy postseason run for Washington, the ban will keep Meeks out of action until sometime in the 2018/19 season.
Meeks tested positive for two banned compounds, Ipamorelin and Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2, sources told Wojnarowski. The veteran guard intends to fight the suspension, lawyer Ben Levine told Wojnarowski.
“It is regrettable that the NBA has prematurely taken action against Jodie today,” Levine said. “Accordingly, we will appeal the suspension and vigorously defend Jodie’s rights. Unfortunately, under the CBA, a player is guilty until proven innocent and while Jodie’s appeal is pending he will be forced to sit out the playoffs.”
Meeks, 30, was a regular contributor off the Wizards’ bench this season, averaging 6.3 PPG on .399/.343/.863 shooting in 77 games (14.5 MPG). Washington will have to look elsewhere to fill those minutes during the club’s first-round series against the top-seeded Raptors.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the suspension will cost Meeks just shy of $30K per game during the postseason, with the Wizards picking up about $22K per game in tax savings. Meeks would serve the remaining games on the suspension to open the 2018/19 season. Assuming he exercises his $3.5MM player option to stick with the Wizards, Meeks would lose about $31K per game via the suspension next season, Marks notes.
Per the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, most suspensions only cost a player 1/145th of his annual salary per game, but bans that exceed 20 games – like Meeks’ – cost the player 1/110th of his salary per game.
The Wizards have signed Ty Lawson to the fill the final open spot on their roster, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. Per the NBA’s transactions log, the move was made official on Wednesday, the final day teams could sign players to their roster.
Lawson, 30, spent the 2017/18 season in China playing for the Shandong Golden Stars. In 46 Chinese League contests, the NBA veteran averaged 25.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 2.2 SPG, shooting 40.1% on three-point attempts.
The Wizards were linked to Lawson two months ago when John Wall was sidelined with his knee injury, but the team signed Ramon Sessions to help provide point guard depth. Even with Wall back in the lineup and Sessions still on the roster, Washington has circled back to Lawson, who received his letter of clearance once his playoff run in China on Wednesday, per Charania.
Because he wasn’t waived by an NBA team after March 1, Lawson will be eligible to play in the postseason for the Wizards, though he seems unlikely to see much – if any – action.
The Wizards had been one of two teams with an open spot on the 15-man roster, so they didn’t have to make a corresponding move to create space for the point guard. Charlotte will finish the 2017/18 season as the only club with fewer than 15 players on its standard NBA roster.
9:38pm: The Heat have beaten the Raptors, meaning we know the playoff pairings and seeds for the Eastern Conference.
- Raptors (No. 1) vs. Wizards (No. 8)
- Celtics (No. 2) vs. Bucks (No. 7)
- Sixers (No. 3) vs. Heat (No. 6)
- Cavaliers (No. 4) vs. Pacers (No. 5)
9:32pm: The Magic have beaten the Wizards. We now know the following.
- The Wizards are the No. 8 seed, which means the only seeds still up for grabs are the 6 and 7 seeds.
- If MIA wins, they are the No. 6 seed and MIL is No. 7.
- If TOR wins, MIL is the No. 6 seed and MIA is No. 7.
9:05pm: Philadelphia now leads Milwaukee by 34 points with less than eight minutes remaining. Safe to say, the Sixers aren’t losing this game. As such, we now know the following.
- The Sixers are the No. 3 seed.
- The Cavaliers are the No. 4 seed.
- The Heat will be the No. 6 seed with a win over the Raptors.
8:18pm: At halftime of both games, the Knicks lead the Cavs by 20 and the Sixers lead the Bucks by an all-but insurmountable 36 points. Barring an epic turnaround, the Sixers will be the No. 3 seed and the Cavs will be the No. 4 seed.
6:07pm: While not as undecided as the Western Conference, the Eastern Conference still has some seeding implications in tonight’s games as well. Like the top two seeds in the West, both the Raptors and Celtics are locked in to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the East, respectively.
Likewise, the Pacers will be the No. 5 seed regardless of tonight’s results. However, seeds three, four, and six through eight are still up in the air, as follows:
Sixers: 3 or 4
Cavaliers: 3 or 4
Bucks: 6, 7, or 8
Heat: 6, 7, or 8
Wizards: 6, 7, or 8
As we did for the Western Conference, here are some initial notes that are not conditional upon other game results:
- The Sixers will be the No. 3 seed with a win over the Bucks.
- The Cavs will be the No. 4 seed with a loss to the Knicks.
- The Bucks will be the No. 6 seed with a win over the Sixers.
- The Wizards will be the No. 8 seed with a loss to the Magic.
We will be updating the Eastern Conference playoff seeding scenarios as the night goes on, so stay with us throughout the evening. The playoff seeding should be set by the time we sign off.
The Timberwolves have converted Amile Jefferson‘s two-way contract to a standard NBA deal, the team announced today in a press release. The move ensures that the rookie forward will be eligible to play in the postseason, assuming Minnesota earns a spot.
Jefferson, who turns 25 next month, went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 and joined the Timberwolves for training camp. After being waived by the team prior to the start of the regular season, Jefferson headed to the Iowa Wolves for the 2017/18 season. He remained there all year, never appearing in a game for the NBA squad even after signing a two-way contract in January.
In 47 G League games, Jefferson averaged 17.8 PPG and 12.8 RPG for Iowa, making shots at a 62.4% rate. He set a new NBAGL record by racking up 36 double-doubles.
Minnesota still had an open spot on its 15-man squad, so no corresponding roster move was required to make room for Jefferson. With the Cavs, Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors having also made moves to fill their roster openings in recent days, the Hornets and Wizards are the only two teams that still have open spots. It’s not clear if Washington intends to sign a 15th man by the end of the day — Charlotte’s season ended on Tuesday, so the Hornets will head into the offseason without a full roster.
Selfish play has put the Wizards in a tailspin, coach Scott Brooks told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post and other media members. Washington lost to the lottery-bound Hawks on Friday and have fallen to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. “Not passing the ball to one another. Simple as that,” Brooks said. “Nobody wanted to share the basketball (Friday). When you do that you end up taking bad shots. When you take bad shots, you end up missing. Simple game.” The Wizards have also ranked last in defensive field goal percentage since February 28th, Buckner points out.
In other developments around the Southeast Division:
- The Magic were devastated by injuries this season but that excuse may not be enough for coach Frank Vogel to retain his job, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Vogel has not received a public vote of confidence since the All-Star break and team president Jeff Weltman wouldn’t comment last month on his coach’s job security, Robbins continues. Team CEO Alex Martins was also evasive this weekend when asked Vogel’s status, saying only “We don’t deal with those issues until the season’s over,” Robbins adds.
- Buzz Peterson, the Hornets interim GM, is expected to maintain a significant role in the front office under new president and GM Mitch Kupchak, Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweets. Peterson had served as the interim GM after Rich Cho was fired. Kupchak was officially hired on Sunday.
- Wizards forward Markieff Morris was fined $15,000 by the league for “inappropriate comments” toward an official Friday night, according to an ESPN report. Morris made the comments when he was ejected during the first quarter against the Hawks.
- Magic swingman Terrence Ross returned to action on Sunday night at Toronto after a lengthy absence, Robbins tweets. The former Raptor had not played since November 29th due to a knee injury and a subsequent bone bruise.
Unless an NBA team is ravaged by injuries, it likely won’t use the 15th man on its roster very often. Many teams dedicate that spot to a prospect who spends much of his time in the G League rather than with the NBA squad. Other teams don’t even bother carrying a full 15-man roster, creating modest savings by not having to pay a player in that final slot.
Still, by the end of the regular season, most teams have filled their 15 roster spots in one way or another. If a club signs a player with one or two days left in the season, the money owed to that player for the current year is extremely minimal. Additionally, those deals often include non-guaranteed salaries for the following season, allowing a team to take an extended look at the player during the summer.
With six days left in the 2017/18 season, several teams still have open roster spots, but there’s a good chance that most – or all – of these clubs will fill those slots with free agents by next Wednesday.
Here are the teams that still have an open roster slot and are worth watching in the coming days:
- Charlotte Hornets
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Note: The Cavs have two open roster spots and will need to sign at least one player before the regular season ends.
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Toronto Raptors
- Washington Wizards
- Kelly Oubre has been buried in a shooting slump but his subpar defense is the thing that could reduce the Wizards forward’s playing time, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. Coach Scott Brooks criticized Oubre’s defense following a loss to the lottery-bound Bulls on Sunday. “He hasn’t shot the ball well, but I’m more concerned about him getting blown by on defense,” Brooks told Buckner and other media members. “Seems like every time his man is scoring on him. He has to step up and start playing some defense if he wants to continue to play.”
The Wizard are expected to have point guard John Wall return tonight against the Hornets after he missed the last two months due to arthroscopic left knee surgery, tweets Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington.
Wall had been practicing with the Wizards and his return was considered imminent. Washington has won 15 of 27 games in Wall’s absence but head coach Scott Brooks recently said that having the five-time All-Star back would be a major boost.
“He gives us that edge,” Brooks explained. “When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket… I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don’t have him around you definitely miss it.”
In 37 games before going under the knife, Wall averaged 19.4 PPG and 9.3 APG for the Wizards. With seven games remaining this season, Wall will likely on see action in a handful of them before the postseason. However, Wall will also try to steer the team in the right direction as the Wizards have dropped four of their past five games.