The non-national season ends with a strong flurry of games with meaningful ramifications. While the landscape will change dramatically before Wednesday, we should see some fun and important matchups this week.
Heat @ Wizards: The combination of Miami’s loss at Atlanta, and Indiana beating OKC totally changed the dynamics of this game. Now, the Wizards need to win to avoid facing the Heat in the first round while Miami’s only shot at getting the top seed seed is a combination of wins and good fortune since the Pacers would have to lose to the magic.
Celtics @ Sixers: One of the last games featuring two teams heavily in the lottery mix. A Boston win likely pushes them “behind” the Lakers into sixth while the Sixers are one win or Bucks loss away from being locked into the second-most ping pong balls.
Bobcats @ Hawks: The Hawks have the East’s final playoff spot locked up, but would like to carry momentum from the win over the Heat into a likely series against the Pacers. At the same time, beating the Hawks plays a pivotal part in any chance Charlotte has of jumping into the six seed.
Lakers @ Jazz: The other Monday game with huge lottery implications, this time with both teams having something to lose by winning. Right now, Utah has fourth by themselves but a win would push them into some sort of tie (depending on what Boston does earlier in the day). The Lakers have the same incentives as the Celtics but with the added bonus of knowing that a loss pulls another team into their win total.
Grizzlies @ Suns (Game of the Week): Just a gigantic game for the last two contenders for the final spot in the playoffs. Memphis could even push ahead to the sixth seed if they win here and against Dallas. Look for Goran Dragic to play a major role while Mike Conley has the chance to cement his defensive reputation with a strong performance.
Bulls @ Bobcats: Another game with changed incentives after the Miami loss. While the three seed provides a better first round matchup for Chicago, a second round series against the Pacers would give them a significantly greater chance of making the conference finals. At the same time, Charlotte may still have an opportunity to avoid the top two seeds in the first round with a win here.
Jazz @ Timberwolves: The last game of the 2013-14 season with a meaningful effect on the top five picks. The Wolves have been feisty throughout April and this carries the added weight of likely being Rick Adelman’s last game as their head coach as well as the chance to clinch a .500 season.
Raptors @ Knicks: Since the Bulls game starts an hour earlier, we should have a clear view of the importance of this one by halftime. Even though they have been eliminated, the Knicks could view their final home game of the year as a chance to make a statement, especially since they have no structural incentive to lose because their draft pick will be going to Denver.
Warriors @ Nuggets: We do not know how important this one will be but ending the season with a rematch of their electric playoff series could be fun. Stephen Curry gets one last shot to try and secure a spot on the All-NBA First Team while the Nuggets can play spoiler against the team that shocked them a year ago.
Non-National Games of the Week Awards
The NNGW Awards center on non-national games- they are not my choices for the full league, though there absolutely will be some overlap.
NNGW Most Valuable Player- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: His remarkable stretch without Russell Westbrook combined with the heavy dose of the Heat on national TV makes Kevin Durant the runaway winner of the NNGW MVP. He made even games against lowly opponents watchable and helped elevate the entertainment level of even the heavily injured Thunder squads.
NNGW Defensive Player of the Year- Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: More than just the key defensive cog on the best defensive team, Roy Hibbert deserves NNGW DPOY because opponents shot just 41.5 percent at the rim against him this season. That stands out as the best for any big man who played substantial minutes this season.
NNGW Rookie of the Year- Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets: As much as I wanted to give this award to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the middle Plumlee had a strong season and brought it from the entertainment standpoint as well.
NNGW Coach of the Year- Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns: The Suns went from a potential bottom feeder to a team fighting for a playoff berth in the stacked Western Conference while playing some of the most fun basketball in the entire league. Hornacek deserves plenty of credit for these developments and the team’s performance while missing key pieces speaks volumes of his impact.
NNGW Sixth Man of the Year- Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: While other non-starters may have played more minutes, Manu wins NNGW Sixth Man of the Year because of the excellence he showed while on the court. His quality play this year also struck me because of the depressing way he ended last season in the Finals. He also deserves credit for being a key piece on a Spurs team with the best record in the league despite so little consistency in personnel.
NNGW Most Improved Player- Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns: At 27 years old with five NBA seasons under his belt, Goran Dragic’s best NBA year was 2011-12 when he averaged 23 and five for a Rockets team that narrowly missed the playoffs in the post-lockout season. He became a star this year by being the focal point on the most surprising team. Heck, Phoenix has a top-10 offense despite carrying one of the weakest swingman units in the league and Dragic is the biggest reason why.
NNGW Most Entertaining Player- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: While there are numerous legitimate candidates for this award, Stephen Curry takes it because he enhanced his must-see status from the 2013 playoffs. In many games this season, Curry was the Warriors offense either as a scorer or distributor. He also had huge game-winners against Boston and Dallas while providing some of the most memorable scoring explosions of the year, including 47 Sunday in a loss to Portland. Honorable mentions go to Kevin Durant, Goran Dragic, and LeBron James.
G- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G- Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
F- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F- LeBron James, Miami Heat
C- Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls