Nothing ever happens as expected in the NBA. Just as the playoff seeding seemed to be falling into place Tuesday night, James Harden missed one free throw. Paul George responded with a last-second three-pointer, and the West is thrown into chaos. And what’s more? The Blazers announced that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are resting tonight. Let’s get started.
Blazers 104, Lakers 101
Jazz 118, Nuggets 108
Rockets 111, Oklahoma City 112
When Moe Harkless’ buzzer-beating three-pointer swished through the net, the Blazers sealed home-court advantage in the playoffs. But their seed and opponent is still unclear.
2. Nuggets: 53-28
3. Rockets: 53-29 (0.5 games back)
4. Blazers: 52-29 (1 game back)
5. Jazz: 50-31 (3 games back)
The big news: Portland still has a shot at the third seed. Thanks to the Rockets’ last-second loss, the Blazers have an opening. But everything needs to go just right Wednesday. And they have to want it.
What Can Happen Wednesday
Whether they wanted a choice or not, the Blazers will have a decision to make.
First, let’s talk about the sixth seed. Only San Antonio or Oklahoma City can be sixth now, and their games should be complete before Portland tips off. The Spurs can only get the sixth seed If they win and OKC loses to Milwaukee. Otherwise, Oklahoma City finishes sixth.
After the sixth seed is likely decided, Denver and Portland both have games in the late 7:30 p.m. time slot. If Denver loses to Minnesota, Portland is locked into the 4th seed and a date with the Jazz. But Denver will probably not rest their starters, since a win against Minnesota would seal the 2nd seed. Denver needs a win.
That leaves Portland in the rarest of positions: They can attempt to “choose their opponent”. If they sit the starters (which they are doing with Lillard and McCollum), they’ll likely lose and play Utah in the first round. Or play the starters, hope Denver wins, and try to beat the Kings and face the newly-determined 6th seed (either OKC or San Antonio).
But there’s more! If both Denver and Portland win, there’s a huge side effect: They would force West favorites Golden State and Houston to face off in the second round if they advance, instead of the Western Conference Finals. These final games will have massive ramifications on the West playoffs.
This will play out over the five hours from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm Wednesday night. Get ready.