A surprise No. 1 seed out West? Plus, Malachi Flynn’s 50-point night joins exclusive list

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Jerry West is a three-time Hall of Famer — no wonder he’s the logo. Shams has more below.

Playoff Self Talk

Let’s talk about the open playoff races!

How often do you talk to yourself? I do it all the time, occasionally masking it as talking to my dog when I’m really just talking to myself. Did you know it’s also the best way to discuss what’s happening with the NBA Playoff picture? We have 11 days left in the regular season, so I’m going to illustrate this theory and ask myself what to expect.

Who will get the No. 1 seed in the West? Right now, the Wolves (first) and Nuggets (second) are tied at 53-23 on the season, with the Thunder (52-24) one game back of both. Minnesota holds the No. 1 seed position due to currently holding the tiebreaker over Denver. Both squads have a showdown next Wednesday.

So, you’re saying Minnesota is getting the No. 1 seed? Not so fast, myself. The Wolves have that game against the Nuggets, two against the Suns (45-31, sixth in West) and one against the Lakers (44-33, ninth in West). Denver has the Clippers (47-28, fourth in West) as its only remaining playoff-caliber opponent the rest of this season. OKC (52-24, third in West) still has games against the Bucks (47-29, second in East), Pacers (43-34, seventh in East), Kings (44-31, eighth in West) and Dallas (45-30, fifth in West). I think Denver probably grabs it.

Are the Clippers locked into the No. 4 seed? No. They’re two games ahead of Dallas and also hold the tiebreaker over the Mavs. But the Clippers have games left against Denver, Houston (38-37, 11th in West), Cleveland (46-31, third in East) and Phoenix (twice). It’s worth mentioning Kawhi Leonard’s knee is sore.

Let’s say the Clips hold onto fourth. What happens to the West? It’s a traffic jam on Fury Road. Dallas is fifth. Phoenix is a half game behind but has the toughest remaining schedule (all winning teams). New Orleans (45-31, seventh in West) has the same record but doesn’t own the tiebreaker. Sacramento is a half game behind the Pelicans with remaining matchups against Phoenix and New Orleans. The Lakers are one game behind Sacramento but trail by two in the loss column.

Is the West’s last Play-In spot up for grabs? Technically, yes. Practically? No. Houston sits three games back of Golden State with seven to play. One of those is tonight against the Warriors, though.

What about the East? Boston (60-16) is locked into the No. 1 seed. Milwaukee should’ve been locked into the No. 2 seed but lost to Washington (15-62, 14th in East) and Memphis (26-50, 13th in West) this week. The Bucks have a 1.5-game lead on Cleveland and might not have the division tiebreaker.

Isn’t Cleveland about to lose the No. 3 seed? Maybe! Orlando (45-31, fourth in East) is a half game back and should end up with the tiebreaker. New York (44-31) is a game back of the Magic and has the tiebreaker over Cleveland but not Orlando.

Who is avoiding the East Play-In? Miami (42-33, sixth in East) is currently sixth due to its tiebreaker over Indiana (43-34, seventh in East). Miami plays Indiana and Philadelphia (41-34, 1.5 games back of Indiana) again. Philly has the easiest remaining schedule, but I think Miami keeps the sixth seed. Chicago (36-40, ninth in East) and Atlanta (36-40, 10th in East) are locked into the Play-In, but we don’t know who will be the home team.

The Latest From Shams

Carter, Billups elected to HOF

Vince Carter and Chauncey Billups are the headliners of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2024, league sources tell The Athletic.

Carter, 47, was an eight-time All-Star with the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets and was the 1999 Rookie of the Year. He retired with 25,728 career points, which ranks 21st all-time in NBA history, and played a league-record 22 seasons.

Billups, 47, the current coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, was a five-time All-Star and won NBA Finals MVP in 2004 when the Detroit Pistons defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the title.

The full 2024 class is set to be announced Saturday in Phoenix as part of men’s Final Four festivities.

Dick Barnett (Veteran Committee) and Jerry West (Contributors Committee) also will be part of this class, per league sources. The full 2024 class is set to be announced Saturday in Phoenix as part of men’s Final Four festivities.

Who Did What?!

Incredible list of random 50-burgers grows

Malachi Flynn scored 50 points in a loss last night. I know what you’re asking yourself. Who is Malachi Flynn? Flynn is a San Diego State University legend, meaning he’s one of 15 players from SDSU to make the NBA. Now, let me clue you into who he plays for, seeing as he’s on his third team of this season.

Currently with the Detroit Pistons, Flynn’s career night came in last night’s 121-113 loss to the Hawks. Flynn also did it coming off the bench, joining Jamal Crawford (2019) and Nick Anderson (1993) as the only other reserve players to score 50-plus. Flynn is the 165th NBA player to ever drop 50 in a regular-season game.

Here’s how insane and improbable Flynn’s 50-burger was last night, bench status or not:

  • He entered the game averaging 5.8 points for the Pistons and 4.6 on the season. The latter is the lowest mark by a player before scoring 50 points in a game. Flynn had scored 286 points on the season, so 14.9 percent of his points this season were scored last night.
  • Entering last night, Flynn scored 98 points for the Pistons, so roughly one-third of his points with Detroit were accounted for against Atlanta. He now has as many regular season 50-point games as Donovan Mitchell (71) and Nikola Jokić (50) apiece. Fellow Aztec Leonard has never dropped 50 in a game.

This overflow of Aztec pride made me want to mention other super random 50-point scorers, so here’s my list:

  • Saddiq Bey, 51 in 2022. He shot 39.6 percent from the field that season. In the five games preceding his 51-point night, Bey averaged 11.2 points and shot 32 percent.
  • Corey Brewer, 51 in 2014. I was at this game, after which Brewer was “randomly” drug tested. His six steals were the most in a 50-point game since Allen Iverson in 2004 (seven).
  • Tony Delk, 52 in 2001. He was averaging 12.3 points per game and went off against a Kings team he played for the year prior. This outing happened in OT. Delk never scored more than 27 points in any of his other 544 regular-season games.
  • Dana Barros, 50 in 1995. This happened in a 29-point loss, but Barros did this on two free-throw attempts due to shooting 21-of-26 overall and 6-of-8 from deep. Those two free-throw attempts tie the third-fewest in a 50-point game.
  • Willie Burton, 53 in 1994. He scored 53 of his team’s 105 points and went 24-of-28 from the free-throw line.

Were any of these five players Aztecs? No. Having said that, go Aztecs!

More from last night: 

Celtics 135, Thunder 100: OKC was missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams. Kristaps Porziņģis didn’t care, putting up 27 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks to lead Boston to its 60th win. This is the 14th time in franchise history the Celtics cracked 60 wins.

Grizzlies 111, Bucks 101: That lack of professionalism on the road? It looks like the Bucks brought it home to lose to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s game-high 35 points. Milwaukee isn’t in a good place right now.

Wolves 133, Raptors 85: Toronto is now at 15 straight losses. The Raptors’ tanking efforts are going strong.

Lakers 125, Wizards 120: A game-high 35 points and 18 rebounds from Anthony Davis took down Jordan Poole’s 29 points. Since the ABA-NBA merger, only Moses Malone (61) and Shaquille O’Neal (52) have more 35-15 games than AD (41).

Nets 115, Pacers 111: Cam Thomas had a game-high 27 to drop the Pacers down to the Play-In Tournament. Miami moved up.

Blazers 89, Hornets 86: Scoot Henderson had 22 points and 10 assists in a game we’ll never speak of again.

Magic 117, Pelicans 108: Paolo Banchero had 32 points to drop New Orleans to seventh in the West, but it wasn’t as scary as Gary Harris Jr. diving and dropping Zion to the floor. Thankfully, Zion’s knee was okay.

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Goodbye, Brooklyn

The Nets are done, so … where Brooklyn at?

Brooklyn was eliminated from postseason contention last night when Atlanta beat Detroit and math stopped math’ing for the Nets’ Play-In Tournament hopes. They already parted ways with coach Jacque Vaughn, so what’s next? Let’s tie a pretty bow on Brooklyn’s season.

The Nets’ bright spot from this season? We saw good individual efforts from guys like Mikal Bridges, Nic Claxton, Cam Johnson and Thomas. These little bright spots were needed but not enough to overcome the coaching dissent and Ben Simmons only logging 15 games.

Key free agents for Brooklyn: Claxton, Keita Bates-Diop (player option), Dennis Smith Jr, Lonnie Walker IV

Biggest position to address: The Nets really need some stars. I know that sounds simplistic, but they’d ideally find a star point guard in the next offseason or two. Oh, and they also need to figure out who their coach will be. That feels important.

What’s the draft pick situation? Their first-round pick heads to Houston via the James Harden trade – worth it.

Will they have cap space? Not even close. They’re roughly $12 million under the luxury tax.

2023-24 yearbook quote: “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.”

Bounce Passes

Trust between Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert helps the Wolves win.

The Knicks will be without Julius Randle for the rest of the season.

Steve Clifford will not be the Hornets’ coach after this season.

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Main Screen: Nuggets-Clippers (10 p.m. ESPN). Hopefully, Leonard plays so we get an epic battle between two contenders.
  • Second Screen: 76ers-Heat (7:30 p.m.). Joel Embiid is back as these two teams try to climb out of the Play-In.
  • League Pass Game of the Night: Warriors-Rockets (8 p.m.). This could be a defensive clinic by both teams. Can Jalen Green maintain his recent surge? Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Bart Young / Getty Images )

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