NBA Weekly Report: April 13-15


Russell Finelsen, Assistant Editor, Sports Editor

Anything can happen in the final week of the NBA season. And, a lot of these headlines have a big impact on the playoff race.

1. Bucks clinch playoff spot with win over Nets

The Milwaukee Bucks were pretty bad last year. A season after losing a franchise record 67 games, many thought that the next few years would be used for rebuilding the franchise. Well, I think that their plans got a little boost on Monday.

Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points, and the Bucks clinched the number six seed in the playoff spot by beating the Brooklyn Nets, 96-73.

Giannis Antetokounmpo also scored 13 points for the Bucks, who is the first team since the 2008-2009 Miami Heat to make the playoffs the year after having the league’s worst record.

The Bucks did well on defense, as they held the Nets to a season low of points in a game. In addition, the Bucks held the Nets to a 32% shooting percentage.

For the Nets, Brook Lopez scored 12 points and secured 10 rebounds.

As you will later read, the Nets got some luck to reach the playoffs.

2. Russell Westbrook gets 54 points, wins scoring title

We all know Russell Westbrook is a prolific scorer. Well, on Monday, he showed again why he is a MVP candidate.

Russell Westbrook scored 54 points, but the Oklahoma City Thunder wound up losing to the Indiana Pacers, 116-104.

Westbrook opened up strong from the start, scoring 22 points in the first quarter and 20 tallies in the fourth. However, he only scored 12 points in the middle period. In addition, he could not help the Thunder get ahead of the Pacers in the second half. He tied it with eight minutes left, and got the team within three points several times, but could not help the Thunder pull out a win, as they only scored one point in the last 1:19.

As a note, Westbrook got his 16th technical in the game, which would warrant a suspension for one game. However, it was later rescinded.

The game was huge for the Thunder, as the Pelicans also lost to the Rockets on Monday. However, the Pelicans pulled through to make the playoffs (again, see below).

This outstanding performance by Westbrook helped him secure the 2015 scoring title. (A 37-point game against the Timberwolves on the final day of the season also helped. He scored 34 points in the first half and 23 points in the first quarter.) Westbrook was neck and neck with the Houston Rockets’s James Harden for most of the season. However, Westbrook prevailed with an average of 28.1 points per game. Due to a mere 16 points by Harden in the Rockets’s win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, the last day of the regular season, he ended up with an average of 27.4 points per game this season. This is the fifth scoring title for a Thunder player in six years, as Kevin Durant won four of five before this season.

3. Celtics clinch playoff spot with Nets loss to Bulls on Monday night; Bulls clinch home court advantage

The Boston Celtics were off Monday, and needed the Chicago Bulls to win against the Nets to give the Celtics a playoff berth. Well, the Bulls helped themselves and their rivals from Beantown.

Nikola Mirotic had 26 points, including six three-pointers, and the Bulls beat the Nets, 113-86. With the win, the Bulls clinched home court advantage and helped the Celtics clinch the number seven seed.

For the Bulls, Pau Gasol raked in a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Jimmy Butler had 17 points, Taj Gibson had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Derrick Rose had 13 points and seven assists.

With the win, Chicago guaranteed themselves a four seed of higher. Later, they were able to outlast the Toronto Raptors to clinch the three seed.

For the Nets, Bojan Bogdanovic had 17 points, but he was a lone bright spot in a dark loss for the Nets.

The Celtics should be happy due to the Bulls victory, but if the Celtics can beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs (not probable, but possible), the Celtics will face Chicago in the second round. Nothing like liking someone one day and hating them the next.

4. Kings and Celtics to play in Mexico City in 2015-2016 season

It is not often that two NBA teams square off in Mexico City. In fact, it has only happened two times before in the history of the NBA that two team face off in a regular season game. Next season, though, there will be a third match-up.

Next year, in a regular season game, the Celtics and Sacramento Kings will face off in Mexico City. The game is set for December 3 of this year. This game is a part of the NBA Global Games of 2015.

In addition, the Celtics will travel to Milan, Italy, and Madrid, Spain, for two exhibition games next season.

In addition to the three regular season games in Mexico City, there has been 19 basketball games in other parts of Mexico. So, get those sombreros, and watch the Celtics and Kings face off in Mexico City next year.

5. Pelicans, Nets clinch playoff spots in final game; Rockets clinch number two seed and division title

The Pelicans and Nets were fighting for playoff spots. Meanwhile, the Rockets were hunting for a division title. Well, all of them got what they wanted.

First, the Nets. On the final day of the season, they needed a win over the Orlando Magic and an Indiana Pacers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Well, a Nets rookie helped the team dearly.

Bojan Bogdanovic had 28 points, and Nets prevailed over the Magic, 101-88.

The Nets were behind for the first two quarters, and tied the score at 75 by the end of the third quarter. However, in the final period, the Nets outscored the Magic, 26-13.

Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young had 16 points for the Nets, while Nikola Vucevic had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic.

The Nets started Wednesday a game back of the Pacers for the eight seed. And, the Nets won the regular season against the Pacers. Thus, after the Nets win, Brooklyn needed Memphis to beat the Pacers. Final result: Nets got into the playoffs after the Grizzlies won, 95-83/

The Nets will face the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, which will be nice for Johnson, since he got traded from Atlanta to Brooklyn last year. At least he can try out the new Coca-Cola drinks on his trip to the ATL.

Next, the Pelicans. They were in a similar situation to the Nets. They were tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eight seed in the Western Conference, while the Pelicans led the regular season series between the two teams. Thus, if the Pelicans won, they were in; if the Pelicans lost and the Thunder won, the Thunder would advance. However, the Pelicans did not have to worry about the latter scenario.

Anthony Davis had 31 points and 13 rebounds to help the Pelicans outlast the Spurs, 108-103. The win guaranteed the eight seed for the Pelicans and their first playoff berth since 2011.

The Pelicans led by 15 points in the first quarter, 23 in the second quarter, and 18 in the third. However, the Spurs came back to give a good fight. The game got very close with seven and a half minutes left as a four point differential separated the Pelicans, who were leading, and the Spurs. However, the Pelicans pulled it out.

Tyreke Evans added 19 points and 11 assists for the Pelicans. Eric Gordon also had 14 points, while Jrue Holiday had 11 points in his third game back from a three month hiatus due to a lower right leg injury.

Tim Duncan had 15 points and Kawhi Leonard added 14 for the Spurs. Both players also had ten rebounds. The loss ended the Spurs’s eleven game winning streak.

With the win, the Pelicans advanced to the playoffs as an eight seed and will face the Golden State Warriors.

Finally, the Rockets. They already clinched a playoff spot, but were in a dead heat between the Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies for the two seed and the Southwest Division crown. With a Spurs loss, the Rockets just needed to win against the Utah Jazz to secure their first division crown since 1994. They did just that.

James Harden secured a triple double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, and the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz, 117-91.

The Rockets never trailed in the game, and extended their lead to 30 points by the half. Utah, though, outscored Houston by four in the second half to soften the defeat by four points.

Terrence Jones had 15 points, Corey Brewer scored 14 points, and Josh Smith added 13 for the Spurs. Jones and Smith had three blocks each.

On the Utah side of the ball, Bryce Cotton had 14 points.

Houston won their division crown, not because of their victory, but because of the Spurs loss to the Pelicans.

Houston also secured the two seed in the playoffs. They will renew the I-45 playoff rivalry with the Dallas Mavericks, as it has been on hold for ten years.

6. Timberwolves and 76ers lose 10+ straight…

It is a battle between the league’s worst. It was not in one game, but in a series of games, to see what team could lose more in a row. And, the Timberwolves won by losing.

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost ten in a row. This includes losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and New York Knicks. They finished the season 18-64, good for the third worst record in the NBA.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost 12 straight. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers twice, Utah Jazz once, Sacramento Kings once, and Orlando Magic once. They ended the season with a record of 16-66, which is worst in the NBA. Who knows? Maybe the Timberwolves can do what the Bucks did this season and make the playoffs next year.

7. … while the Clippers and Celtics roll into the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics had their ups and downs this season. But, they ended their seasons on a roll.

The Celtics won six straight to continue into the playoffs. This streak includes two needed wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who the Celtics will face in the playoffs. The Celtics also beat the Toronto Raptors twice and the Milwaukee Bucks once. Both teams made the playoffs this year.

The Clippers did one better, though, as they won seven in a row. They were able to beat the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies en route to a three seed in the playoffs.

Both teams are carrying win streaks into the playoffs, and they could use this momentum for quality wins in the games to come.

Now, to recap the playoff seeds, match-ups, and the first games of the first round.


First games of each match-up in first round for Eastern Conference:

#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #8 Brooklyn Nets at 5:30 pm on Sunday, April 19 on TNT

#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #7 Boston Celtics at 3 pm on April 19 on ABC

#3 Chicago Bulls vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks at 7 pm on Saturday, April 18 on ESPN

#4 Toronto Raptors vs. #5 Washington Wizards at 12:30 pm on April 18 on ESPN

First games of each match-up in first round for Western Conference:

#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans at 3:30 pm on April 18 on ABC

#2 Houston Rockets vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks at 9:30 pm on April 18 on ESPN

#3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #6 San Antonio at 10:30 pm on April 19 on TNT

#5 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #4 Portland Trail Blazers at 8 pm on April 19 on TNT

This is the final NBA Weekly Report of the season, as the NBA shifts into playoff mode. Until next season, then, I bid adieu.