LOS ANGELES: The Brooklyn Nets booked an NBA playoff berth on Friday as the Eastern Conference puzzle pieces fell into place, but suspense remained in the wild West with wins for Golden State, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets beat the Orlando Magic 101-84 and clinched the sixth seed in the East, avoiding the play-in tournament in which the seventh- through 10th-placed teams will fight for two remaining playoff berths. The Nets actually knew they had secured the spot in the fourth quarter of the contest – when the Miami Heat fell 114-108 to the Washington Wizards to finish seventh in the East.
The Heat, clearly content to headline the play-in, rested six of their top players – including Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro – a strategy repeated around the league by both playoff-bound teams and those already eliminated. Even with the boost from Miami, the Nets had reason to celebrate their guaranteed berth in a tumultuous season that saw coach Steve Nash sacked after a stumbling start and Kyrie Irving suspended in an anti-Semitism row. All that before the stunning trades of Irving and superstar Kevin Durant in February.
“I think it speaks to the character of the group, the maturity and just the selflessness,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, who returned to Brooklyn from Dallas in the trade for Irving. “I think everybody came in here and tried to figure out what their job was going to be and execute it to the best of their ability and push forward.” Atlanta clinched eighth place in the East despite a 136-131 overtime loss to the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers thanks to Boston’s 121-102 victory over Toronto. Jayson Tatum scored 21 points for Boston and sat out the second half as the Celtics easily overcame the absence of Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown – who was a late scratch after needing stitches for a cut on his right hand suffered in an accident at his home.
Mavs surrender The Bulls rested DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine, but rallied to beat the depleted Dallas Mavericks 115-112. Coby White scored 24 points to lead Chicago against a Mavs team that threw in the towel, abandoning their slim hopes of making the Western Conference play-in as they held out Irving and four other key players – and pulled star Luka Doncic after the first quarter. “We were going to play until told otherwise,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said before the game. “And today is the day that we’ve been told we’re going to do something different.”
Kidd said the Mavs players who were on the floor wouldn’t “cheat the game” and indeed Dallas started off hot and led 67-54 at halftime. But Chicago clawed back and Dallas’ defeat handed a Western Conference play-in berth to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the “tanking” maneuver could bolster Dallas’ position in the NBA draft, it’s an ignominious end to the season for a team that reached the Western Conference finals last year. Elsewhere in the West, the Lakers beat the playoff-bound Phoenix Suns 121-107 and the New Orleans Pelicans downed the New York Knicks 113-105 to maintain their faint hopes of escaping the play-in.
D’Angelo Russell scored 24 points, Austin Reaves added 22 and LeBron James scored 16 for the Lakers, who took advantage of the absence of Suns stars Durant and Devin Booker. The Warriors, led by 29 points from Klay Thompson and 25 from Stephen Curry, moved a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the West with a 119-97 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The Memphis Grizzlies clinched the second seed, ahead of Sacramento, with a 137-114 victory over a Milwaukee Bucks team that rested half a dozen stars, including Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jaren Jackson scored 36 points for the Grizzlies, who trailed by one at halftime but out-scored Milwaukee 37-15 in the third quarter to take charge. “These games are important,” Jackson said. “Especially down the stretch in the Western Conference. We wanted to make sure we came out of this with a win.”- AFP