There is a Kram Session about the NBA and the playoffs

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Embiid’s return, however, changes not only Philadelphia’s postseason outlook, but also the entire complexion of the Eastern Conference.
In his first game back, Embiid didn’t reach his typical standards for excellence.
He attempted only 14 field goals, his lowest figure in a game all season.
Zacht of the Week: Are 50-Point Games Special Again?
Brunson also became the first player with a 50-point game since Stephen Curry reached 60 in early February, nearly two full months earlier.
High-scoring playoff games might seem less frequent just because there are fewer playoff games overall, so the raw number of 50-point playoff performances is lower.
Pacers at Cavaliers (Friday, April 12) Finally, we’ll end on a game leading into the final day of the season.
1 spot, but just about everyone else is still fighting for home-court advantage, a playoff berth, or better play-in odds.

NEUTRAL

Throughout the NBA season, we analyze a variety of subjects from across the league every Thursday. This week, we rank the most crucial regular season games, look closely at the Philadelphia 76ers’ prospects in the East with Joel Embiid back in the starting lineup, and assess the status of the 50-point game in the NBA’s changing offensive landscape. The Kram Session is currently underway.

What Joel Embiid’s Comeback Means for the Sixers and the East is being reviewed.

Whatever the outcome of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers emerged victorious. The real triumph was Embiid’s triumphant return after knee surgery and a two-month absence; forget about the team’s comeback in the fourth quarter and the actual win in the standings.

After being benched from the 76ers’ two previous games due to controversial circumstances, the reigning MVP hadn’t participated in a game since Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga hurt his knee on January 30. When Embiid began missing games, Philadelphia had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. However, since then, a string of injuries has cost the team dearly, as Tyrese Maxey, another All-Star, and steady guard De’Anthony Melton have also sustained injuries.

However, the return of Embiid alters not just Philadelphia’s prospects for the postseason but the Eastern Conference as a whole. In short, the 76ers were not a real contender to surprise any of the best teams in the East and go far in the postseason without Embiid. Embiid’s 76ers finished 11–21 and tied for 23rd in net rating between his final game (on January 25 against the Pacers) and his return. This was by far the worst margin among playoff- or play-in-eligible teams.

However, the 76ers pose a serious threat now that they have Embiid. Embiid has a well-known history of never making it to the conference finals, but regardless of his team’s playoff seed, he unquestionably makes his team a much more formidable opponent capable of going that far. With Embiid in the lineup, the 76ers have a plus-9.9 net rating and a 27-8 record (though, prior to Tuesday, that record did not include any games against midseason additions Kyle Lowry, Buddy Hield, or Cameron Payne). Out of all the rotation players in the league who are not on the Celtics, that winning percentage is the highest.

Had Embiid not been hurt, he could have easily won MVP for the second time in a row. With a point total greater than his minutes played, Embiid is the best player in the NBA this season per minute, finishing in the 99th percentile on both the offensive and defensive boards, according to the advanced stat estimated plus-minus. (EMP places so much value on Embiid’s dominance that it claims he has contributed more in 35 games than Domantas Sabonis in 75, Rudy Gobert in 70, and Bam Adebayo in 64, the three All-NBA candidates. ( ).

It’s too soon to tell how close Embiid is to playing at his MVP level, but a large portion of Philadelphia’s postseason potential obviously depends on his ability to reach that level.

Embiid fell short of his usual high expectations in his first game back. It was his fewest field goal attempts in a game this season, with just 14 made. In addition to his seven assists, he also had six turnovers while occasionally finding it difficult to handle the Thunder’s swarming help defense. As his team bounded forward in transition, he predictably appeared worn out throughout the game, missing several jumpers and occasionally failing to cross half court.

But even Embiid in a lesser capacity greatly enhanced the 76ers, particularly during crucial moments. The new officiating emphasis put in place during Embiid’s absence didn’t seem to affect one of the NBA’s best foul drawers as he attempted 12 free throws against the Thunder and made all of them. In the final 30 seconds of a one-point game, he stripped Josh Giddey, which served as a deterrent at the rim for defense. He also posted three steals. And he played for thirty minutes, which is more than a lot of players can muster when they gradually reenter the game following a protracted layoff.

Given Philadelphia’s position in the standings, Embiid’s heroics in the closing minutes of the game were essential to the team’s win. Embiid would make the eighth-seeded 76ers overwhelming favorites to win the play-in competition. But scheming their way up to the refusal. Sixth seed would be ideal because it would mean Embiid and Maxey—who have missed the previous two games due to hip tightness—would have more time to rest in addition to guaranteeing an automatic playoff berth and a more favorable matchup.

The 76ers need to pass both the Heat and the Pacers in order to get out of play-in territory as they are now behind by 1.5 games each. On that quest, they will benefit from the league’s easiest remaining schedule. The 76ers finish the season with games against the Grizzlies, Spurs, Pistons, Magic, and Nets after a pivotal game against Miami on Thursday (more on that in a later section!).

Still, with just a few games left, it’s difficult to get past two teams, especially since Miami and Indiana will probably prevail over Philadelphia in the tiebreaker. The Heat have three fewer conference losses than the 76ers, and the Pacers have already done so. Philadelphia has only a 7% chance, according to The Ringer’s NBA Odds Machine, of avoiding the play-in round.

However, the 76ers undoubtedly hope to secure home-court advantage for the no. 7 in contrast. No. 8 game, which would raise the likelihood that they would finish no instead of earning the 7-seed for the playoffs and, consequently, face the weak Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round. 8, taking on the Celtics.

Since Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are MVPs and this is their first playoff meeting, neither Milwaukee nor Boston would be thrilled to face Embiid as a reward for finishing in the top two. However, outsiders would undoubtedly enjoy an early heavyweight matchup. Boston is the clear winner. 1 seed, and despite suffering defeats to the Grizzlies and Wizards this week, Milwaukee still has a 59 percent chance of finishing at no. 2 according to the Odds Machine. ( ).

Although the 76ers wouldn’t enjoy playing those Eastern powers early in the season, that’s what happens when a team’s main player and brightest star misses half of it. A little bit of bad injury luck has made the 76ers play with house money, so any kind of success this spring would be a step up from their seeding.

However, the 76ers would also have a lot on the line if they made it to the playoffs with Embiid fully recovered. By now the big man is thirty years old, and he is nearing the end of his prime playing years. Any season that doesn’t conclude with the conference finals at this point signifies yet another losing campaign for the team. The fact that Embiid is back on the court in time for the playoffs to start gives the 76ers cause for relief, but it also increases the pressure they’ll be under to finish the season strong.

Zacht of the Week: Are Games With 50 Points Still Extra Special?

Jalen Brunson did more than just become the first Knick to record two 50-point games in a season when he scored 61 points in a loss to the Spurs over the weekend. Allan Houston did the same thing in 2002–03. Additionally, Brunson became the first player to score 50 points in a game since Stephen Curry did so in the first few days of February, almost two full months prior. For background, during the course of just a few weeks, Curry had been one of seven players to score 50 points.

Changes in pace and officiating occurred during that relatively long period without a player scoring 50 points, which had an impact on both league-wide production and individual players’ scoring attempts. There were 15 50-point games played prior to the All-Star break, or roughly one every 55 games. But that rate has dropped to one 50-point explosion per 106 games since the All-Star break—a drop of almost 50%!

Only Devin Booker (52 points against the Pelicans this week), Malachi Flynn (a startling 50 points against the Hawks this week), and Brunson have scored fifty points or more in a game since Curry in early February. Again, this indicates a higher degree of difficulty because such high point totals are uncommon.

This recent decline begs the obvious question as the postseason draws near: Should we anticipate fewer high-scoring individual games in the playoffs?

Not invariably. More playoff 50-point games have been scored than even the absurd pre-All-Star break rate this season, since the beginning of the league’s current offensive explosion in 2016–17. (Prior to 2017, they were far less common: Between Ray Allen’s 51 points in triple overtime in 2009 and Russell Westbrook’s 51 points in 2017, there was not a single playoff 50-point game. ).

50-point performances have occurred once every 36 games during the last six postseasons—or once every 42 games, excluding the high-offense bubble playoffs.

The mere fact that there are fewer playoff games overall may give the impression that high-scoring games are less common, as there are fewer games with 50 points or more. Therefore, it makes sense that the frequency of 50 points would increase, even though defensive intensity increases during the postseason for two reasons.

First off, the top players in the league have a higher chance of making the playoffs and scoring 50 points. Furthermore, players who perform better remain on the court longer during the playoffs. From 2016 to 2017, players who score 50 points in the playoffs have averaged 43 minutes per game, while those who score 50 points during the regular season have averaged 39 minutes per game.

The NBA Regular Season’s Top 10 Remaining Games.

Let’s close out today’s Kram Session with a sneak peek at the crazy scramble that lies ahead, with just one and a half weeks remaining in the regular season. The regular-season schedule’s final ten games are crucial as they determine the playoff and play-in seeds for each conference.

Notably, games played on the last day of the regular season were not taken into account because, although some may be highly significant for both teams—Milwaukee vs. Orlando, Phoenix vs. Minnesota, Dallas vs. Oklahoma City, for example—it is more likely that at least one of the teams will take Game 82 lightly and save its best players for the postseason.

Heat vs. 76ers on Thursday, April 4.

Philadelphia must prevail in Miami to have a chance to advance out of the play-in bracket. Miami will also most likely need to win this game if it hopes to avoid the play-in round. Any loss throughout the remainder of the season could be disastrous because three teams—this pair plus the Pacers—are vying for just one top-six spot.

Embiid’s ongoing efforts to get back into game shape are bad news for Philadelphia. The good news is that, as discussed above, if the 76ers beat the Heat, their schedule means they have a real chance to run the table the rest of the way, in which case they’d need only one additional Heat loss and two Pacers losses to grab the no. 6 seeds.

Warriors vs. Rockets (April 4, Thursday).

The Warriors have gained some breathing room at the bottom of the play-in standings, thanks to their own five-game winning streak and the Rockets’ two-game skid. Houston enters a crucial matchup against Golden State on Thursday needing to win after closing the gap to three points.

The Warriors would be overwhelming favorites to advance to the play-in round even if Houston wins this game because they would have a two-game advantage and have already won the tiebreaker. Nevertheless, with only six games remaining for each club, a Golden State victory in Houston would put the Warriors up by four games—actually five with the tiebreaker. This outcome would guarantee the identities, if not the order, of the 10 Western teams advancing past Game 82 and all but eliminate the Rockets from the running.

Heat vs. Pacers on April 7, Sunday.

A pair of simple victories at home against the struggling Raptors cap off Miami’s regular-season schedule. But the Heat’s schedule is packed with intrigue before then: the team will play a pivotal game against the Pacers in Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back after hosting Philadelphia, and then they will travel to Houston. Not long after is an ESPN televised game against the Mavericks.

However, Miami’s games against Indiana and Philadelphia will have the biggest bearing on which of those three teams advances to the play-in round and which two teams face off in the 7 vs. Eight games. Their only other meeting this season ended in a split of a baseball-style series in Miami shortly after Thanksgiving, so the game against Indiana is especially important because the winner will also secure the tiebreaker between the two clubs. Stated differently, Heat vs. Pacers in this race basically counts twice (either for the no. either for home-court advantage in the 7 versus. 6 spot itself. 8 game, should the 76ers win it. six for oneself.

On Sunday, April 7, the Pelicans will play the Suns.

Thursday, April 11th, Pelicans at Kings.

This Friday, April 12, Suns vs. Kings.

We have a mess of standings for the Western Conference. There is a close competition between three teams for the no. One seed. I’ll talk about that more in a moment. ) The Clippers have the no. 4 seeds kept for themselves. After that, things get really confusing because there are only two games separating the Mavericks, Pelicans, Suns, Kings, and Lakers.

Thus, despite the fact that the order isn’t chronological, I’m combining three games into one lengthy discussion. Though the Suns, Pelicans, and Kings all have 31 losses—and they all happen to play each other in the upcoming days—I believe I have good reason to make this decision.

With victories over the Nuggets, Pelicans, and Cavaliers recently, Phoenix is the team with the most momentum of the group. However, the Suns’ remaining schedule is the toughest: the Pelicans, Kings, Timberwolves, Clippers, and twice; they will need to continue to defeat formidable opponents.

On the other hand, the Pelicans are the coldest. They had said no up until now. Since the All-Star break, they have been in the top five or six spots every day; however, a three-game losing streak has dropped them to seventh place (they were technically tied for sixth, but Phoenix won the tiebreaker) and eliminated from contention for the playoffs. To help stabilize a faltering offense that is only ranked 17th in efficiency since Brandon Ingram went down, New Orleans needs to stop its downward trend quickly and possibly hope that Ingram can recover from his knee injury.

Lastly, despite the injuries to a few important players—most recently, Sixth Man of the Year contender Malik Monk—the Kings haven’t faltered. The Kings are still in the running to avoid a play-in game, or at the very least, to avoid going into the 9 vs. 10 different games. However, the remaining games against the Thunder, Knicks, and Celtics—as well as the closest rivals mentioned here—may put Sacramento’s ability to stay up to speed under strain.

Regarding tiebreakers, Sacramento and Phoenix are tied 2-2, so their matchup the following week could practically count double for seeding purposes. Phoenix has already secured the season series against New Orleans, and New Orleans has already secured the season series against Sacramento. (Divisional opponents are meant to play each other four times a year, but due to the in-season tournament, the Kings and Suns played an extra game. ).

Warriors versus the Lakers on Tuesday, April 9.

Never give up on the Warriors hosting the Lakers in a possible meeting of the nine teams. Even though the latter is among the hottest teams in the NBA, they are not yet a lock for a play-in match. The Lakers and Warriors each have 33 losses to 34 victories, so if Golden State prevails in this exciting match in Los Angeles, both teams would have the same amount of losses. 1. —and because the Warriors are up 2-1 in the season series, they’d clinch the tiebreaker with a win here as well.

With three games remaining against the Jazz (twice) and Trail Blazers, Golden State has an easier schedule to close out than the Lakers. The Lakers’ remaining slate only includes L, the only team that has already been eliminated. An. will face the Cavaliers, Timberwolves, Warriors, Grizzlies, and Pelicans in their final stretch. The Lakers may find it difficult to hold off the Warriors for ninth place, much less advance into the 7 vs. eight games.

Wonders at Bucks on Wednesday, April 10.

It was a late audible to add this game; the Bucks ought to have wrapped up the no. Despite being the number two seed by now, Milwaukee still has work to do after suffering crushing back-to-back losses to the Grizzlies and Wizards. The Bucks are still favorites to finish in second place in the conference despite their unfavorable final-day schedule: following a blowout loss to Toronto, Milwaukee closes the season with games against the Knicks, Celtics, Magic, Thunder, and Magic once more.

Stated differently, there is a genuine possibility that the Magic, who haven’t won more than 42 games in a season since Dwight Howard left, will win the lottery. 2 spot, provided they can defeat Milwaukee twice in the previous week.

The Magic should also set lower goals because they are one of three Eastern teams with 31 losses, along with Cleveland and New York. Three teams will have home-court advantage in the opening round between those three and Milwaukee, and the top two will also have the advantage of moving to the non-Celtics side of the bracket.

Orlando is in the lead among those teams going into the tiebreaker. On the off chance that the Bucks stay out of the no. 2 position and the 31-losing Magic maintain their lead over the 33-losing Heat. Orlando will prevail in the tiebreaker if it concludes with the same record as the Cavaliers, Knicks, or both due to the division winners’ advantage in breaking ties. Let’s toast to the mediocrity of the Southeast Division! (The Magic wouldn’t have a chance to win home-court advantage if they didn’t maintain their lead over the Heat. ).

Wednesday, April 10, at Nuggets vs. Timberwolves.

With the 23-losing Timberwolves, 23-losing Nuggets, and 24-losing Thunder, there is yet another three-team race at the top of the Western Conference. Minnesota controls its own destiny in this race to earn home-court advantage until the Finals, while Denver must win outright rather than finish in a tie. That is the most significant difference between the two teams.

In the event that the teams split 2-2, the division record will determine the winner, with Minnesota (12-3) having the advantage over Denver (8-6). This means that the Timberwolves will retain the tiebreaker over the Nuggets regardless of the outcome of their final meeting. Furthermore, because the teams split their season series, the Timberwolves have a superior conference record, and they are unable to finish lower than the Thunder in the division, they also have the advantage over Oklahoma City in the tiebreaker.

Ultimately, with a 3-1 record in the season series, Oklahoma City has the tiebreaker over Denver. (Maybe it doesn’t matter that the Nuggets are only 2-5 this season against the other elite teams in the West, but maybe we shouldn’t assume the defending champions will return to the Finals just yet. ( ).

Cavaliers vs. Pacers on Friday, April 12.

We’ll wrap up with a game that takes place just before the last day of the season. There were other options for this spot, which was also set for April 12: Magic vs. 76ers, Bucks vs. Thunder, Pelicans vs. Warriors. However, Pacers vs. Cavaliers is guaranteed to affect both teams’ seeds. It’s difficult to judge either team because Cleveland has followed its 17-1 run with an ugly 11-15 record since mid-February, while Indiana has largely remained in neutral since Tyrese Haliburton’s injury return.

With only a few games remaining for each club, this uncertainty is a reflection of the wider range surrounding the contenders’ positions in the standings. The Celtics can’t escape the no. a playoff berth, or better play-in chances, but nearly everyone else is still vying for the number one spot.

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