The race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference took another interesting twist Wednesday night, as the Orlando Magic moved closer to ending their seven-year playoff drought.
Riding another double-double from Nikola Vucevic and big boost from Terrence Ross off the bench, the Magic beat the New York Knicks, 114-100, for their eighth victory in 10 games.
The win, combined with losses by Detroit, Brooklyn and Miami, moved Orlando from ninth in the Eastern Conference standings into a tie for seventh, just a half-game behind the Detroit Pistons for the No. 6 seed.
“It’s still a tight race and things can change quickly, but obviously we’re in a good spot, right where we want to be,” Vucevic told reporters after the game.
The Magic, who now control their proverbial destiny, have three games remaining:
- Atlanta at home Friday night;
- On the road against Boston on Sunday;
- At Charlotte next Wednesday to close the regular season.
A lot could change over the next nine days, but given the standings entering Wednesday, we just had a sneak peak at three first-round playoff matchups.
And in each game the higher seed won cruised to an easy victory:
Raptors 115, Nets 105
Pascal Siakam tallied 28 points and 10 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard added 26 points and nine boards in Toronto’s fifth straight victory. Brooklyn, meanwhile, fell into a tie for seventh in the East.
Nuggets 113, Spurs 85
Nikola Jokic scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out nine of Denver’s season-high 41 assists as the Nuggets rebounded from a key loss to the Golden Star Warriors.
Rockets 135, Clippers 103
James Harden and Chris Paul combined for 60 points, and Houston showed little fatigue in routing the NBA’s hottest team while playing its final back-to-back of the season. Paul stunned the crowd by hitting a deep 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer, capping a 34-20 advantage for the Rockets in the period.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich boiled over just 63 seconds into a game against Denver and was ejected.
Popovich appeared to be upset over a non-foul call and was given a technical by official Mark Ayotte. He kept it up and was handed another from fellow official David Guthrie, which triggered automatic ejection. The Spurs were trailing, 5-0, as Popovich made his way to the locker room.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a coach was ejected within the first 2 minutes of a game was Washington’s Flip Saunders on Jan. 2, 2012, at Boston, when he made it 1:46 into the game before being tossed.
Popovich also was ejected Sunday during the third quarter of a loss to Sacramento. Popovich made light of the situation after Wednesday’s game, interrupting Michael Malone’s press session with some classic Popovich sarcasm.
Gregg Popovich gets tossed 63 seconds into tonight’s game, then joins Michael Malone in his postgame presser. pic.twitter.com/OgskeZuwHn
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) April 4, 2019
“What was the record, what happened?” Popovich asked.
“Someone got thrown out in 63 seconds,” Malone responded.
“Are you serious?” Popovich said. “That person must have hit somebody. Did somebody get hit tonight? Did somebody get cursed at or anything?”
Vince Carter got the night off after playing 28 minutes in San Antonio on Tuesday night and spent the Sixers-Hawks game as an analyst on Atlanta’s TV broadcast.
Carter, 42, said before the game that he’s leaning toward coming back next season for what would be an unprecedented 22nd in the NBA. He also added he’s “1,000-percent certain” he will become a broadcaster after retiring.
Perhaps the best moment of the broadcast came late in the first quarter when Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce jokingly tried to sub in Carter.