2022 NBA playoff picture: Mavericks clinch top-four seed; Celtics vs. Bucks for No. 2 seed on Thursday

The Brooklyn Nets rallied past the New York Knicks on Wednesday and continue to control their own destiny for the No. 7 seed. The Nets trail the Cleveland Cavaliers, the current No. 7 seed, by one game and they play each other on Friday. If Brooklyn wins, it would also secure the tiebreaker. 

Also in the East, the 2-seed Boston Celtics hit the 50-win mark and remain tied in the loss column with No. 3 Milwaukee and No. 4 Philadelphia. The Celtics play the Bucks on Thursday in a game that will go a long way in sussing out this three-team logjam. 

We’re going to be keeping close tabs on the playoff race with daily updates the rest of the way. Below is where things stand entering play on Thursday, April 7.

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times and is constantly updating to reflect changing circumstances to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Phoenix has clinched the No. 1 overall seed. 

  • Current first-round matchup: TBD (play-in results)  

The Grizzlies have clinched the No. 2 seed. 

The Warriors remain one game up on No. 4 Dallas in the loss column with three to play. Golden State has clinched a top-four seed. 

  • Projected seed: 3
  • Current first-round matchup: Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

4. Dallas Mavericks 

The Mavericks clinched a top-four seed with their win over Detroit on Wednesday. Dallas is one game back of No. 3 Golden State in the loss column with two to play, and

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How much could LeBron James impact son Bronny’s NBA draft stock? Probably more than you think

LeBron James Sr. was the top-ranked NBA prospect in his class from practically the moment he could pick up a basketball. He was a prodigy identified as a future superstar years before he was eligible to become a professional and about as close to a sure thing as young athletes ever get. LeBron James Jr., on the other hand, is something a bit more conventional.

Midway through his junior season at Los Angeles powerhouse Sierra Canyon, 247Sports ranks James as the 34th-best player in his high school class. His standing as a prospect has slipped since he reached the high school level, as 247 ranked him No. 19 in the class of 2023 as recently as September 2020. Now? He’s not even the highest-ranked son of a former Cleveland Cavalier in that class, as the 2023 crop is headlined by DJ Wagner, son of LeBron’s former teammate DaJuan Wagner. A four-star ranking is nothing to sneeze at for most prospects. It’s fairly low for a prospect literally named “LeBron James.” 

Were a prospect of that caliber not named “LeBron James,” he would probably be expected to spend multiple years in college developing his skill set and preparing to transition from collegiate star to professional role player. That might not be a luxury Bronny has, though, because his more famous father is already tying the end of his own career to the beginning of his son’s.

“My last year will be played with my son,” James Sr. told The Athletic Saturday. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son

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NBA MVP Rankings: Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic battling for top spot; Stephen Curry still in striking distance

We’re well past the halfway point, nearing the trade deadline and less than three weeks out from All-Star Weekend. Every year I say this, but the season just always goes faster than you expect. The playoff race is taking shape and so are the awards. Below is where, in my opinion, the MVP race stands entering play on Friday, Feb. 4th. 

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Joel Embiid is the new betting favorite (+225 at Caesars Sportsbook), but I’m sticking with Jokic (second at +300) at the top for now. Jokic has been the best player all season, plain and simple. Embiid is going to be tough to beat with the aid of everyone rooting for him because Ben Simmons left him in the lurch, but Jokic, let’s not forget, has been without his second-best player in Jamal Murray all season, too. And Denver’s third-best player, Michael Porter Jr., only played in nine games. 

Jokic’s case rests on the same on-off foundation that has supported it all season: When he’s on the floor, the Nuggets are elite; when he’s off the floor, they’re literally one of the worst teams, statistically speaking, of the past 20 years. 

To put a number to it, the Nuggets are a staggering 26.7 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass (plus-10.7 when he’s on, minus-16.1 when he’s off). Take Jokic off the floor, and the Nuggets post an offensive and defensive rating that would register as the worst in the league. 

Yet here they are — with Jamal Murray having missed the entire season and Michael Porter Jr. all but nine games — sitting at No. 6 in the West just two losses back of a top-four seed. Absolutely remarkable. 

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Since Dec. 1, Embiid is the league’s leading scorer at 31.5 points per

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2022 NBA trade deadline: Sixers, Nets plan to discuss a Ben Simmons for James Harden deal, per report

It sounds as though the Philadelphia 76ers may not have to wait until the offseason to trade disgruntled star Ben Simmons after all. Recent reports suggested that the Sixers wanted to wait until more star players were available this summer before exploring a trade centered around Simmons, but The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Friday that the Brooklyn Nets are open to discussing a trade ahead of the deadline where James Harden would be sent to Philly in exchange for Simmons.

This is a reverse from recent reports suggesting that Brooklyn did not plan on listening to any trade offers for Harden leading up to the deadline. But according to Charania, there’s a sense of urgency within the Nets’ organization this season, as they view it as a “critical year in Kevin Durant’s prime.” This report comes at a time when the Nets aren’t playing their best basketball. Durant is currently sidelined with a sprained MCL, and during that time Brooklyn has gone just 2-7 and is currently on a six-game losing streak. 

The Nets view a potential Simmons-for-Harden swap as an opportunity to get Brooklyn more depth, with Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle all being potential add-ons to the deal. However, the Sixers reportedly would not include Maxey in a deal for Harden, per CBS Sports’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain. Philadelphia has been resistant in the past to trade Maxey, most recently when the team looked to acquire Harden originally from the Rockets. But with Joel Embiid playing at an MVP-level again, and the Sixers climbing up to the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 31-20 record, Philadelphia clearly wants to take advantage of this season and almost certainly will be a piece that the Nets ask for in any return for Harden.

Simmons has

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NBA Power Rankings: Suns keep dominating; Anthony Davis’ return gives Lakers hope; Cavs taking league by storm


1


Suns

Ho hum, another week, another four wins for the Suns, who have now rattled off eight in a row. The win over the surging Mavs was impressive, and Phoenix played all week without big man Deandre Ayton, as Bismack Biyombo, JaVale McGee and Jalen Smith filled in the center minutes. This team really does seem to be plug and play, and with Devin Booker and Chris Paul at the peak of their powers, they are incredibly difficult to beat. — 41-9
2


Cavaliers

Holy moly, Cleveland just keeps on rolling. Lauri Markkanen went down with an ankle injury and Jarrett Allen missed a game this week — pfft, so what? Three more victories for the Cavs, including a statement win over the Bucks on Wednesday. Kevin Love stepped up with Markkanen and Allen out, putting up 22.5 points and 10 rebounds on 11-for-21 3-point shooting over the last two games. Darius Garland averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 assists in three games, while Evan Mobley added 15.3 points and 12 rebounds. The Cavs are a game and a half out of FIRST PLACE in the Eastern Conference. Let that sink in. 4 31-20
3


Heat

Jimmy Butler inexplicably missed an alley-oop layup in the final 20 seconds and then clanked a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the Heat’s loss to the Hawks to start the week, but they bounced back to beat the Lakers and Knicks. Miami played all week without Kyle Lowry, who’s out for personal reasons, which allowed Gabe Vincent to step in and average 11 points and 6.7 assists per game on 41 percent 3-point shooting. Speaking of 3-point shooting, Duncan Robinson caught fire this week, going 18 for 32 from long distance en route to 23 points per game. 1 32-20
4


Warriors

After beginning the
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NBA coaching hot seat: With Luke Walton fired, Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Stephen Silas could be next to go

Luke Walton’s firing was almost inevitable. The Sacramento Kings have missed the playoffs 15 years in a row and is now on their 11th coach in that span. Monte McNair didn’t hire Walton, but he oversaw many of Walton’s failures both tactically and within his locker room. He was the obvious first NBA coach to be fired of the 2021-22 season. 

There isn’t an obvious second. Of the other nine teams currently outside of the play-in picture, six have coaches in their first two seasons, and two of the others have coaches who have won championships for their current employer. There has been no substantial reporting regarding specific coaches who are in danger, nor are their any clear situations in which a coach and his top basketball executive don’t fit. We could all predict who the first coach to be fired would be because he deserved to be fired based on what had happened over the course of multiple seasons. The next coach who gets fired will lose his job because of what happens this season, and it’s still so new that making any firm predictions would be impossible. 

Even if we can’t figure out exactly who’s coming next, we can at least speculate about who’s under pressure. Three coaches stand out as obvious hot seat choices now that Walton has been fired.

Casey fits the traditional profile of a coach on the hot seat. Detroit is now in its third season as a lottery team having won exactly 20 games in back-to-back seasons. He was not hired by top basketball executive Troy Weaver, and while he extended his

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