Golden State is in the playoffs. LeBron James is heading to the play-in tournament. And the Minnesota Timberwolves lost Rudy Gobert to a fight with a teammate, then won a battle to improve their playoff hopes.
The final day of the NBA season was predictably wild — with tons of unpredictable elements as well.
It took until the 1,230th and last game of the year went final, but the Western Conference playoff and play-in bracket are finally set, highlighted by the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors getting a few days off knowing that they’re officially in the postseason.
The Clippers beat Phoenix to clinch the No. 5 seed — and a first-round matchup with Phoenix. Golden State had its highest-scoring game in almost 33 years on its way to routing Portland 157-101 and clinching the No. 6 seed, giving the Warriors an automatic berth in the playoffs and a first-round matchup with Sacramento.
Golden State led by as many as 59 in that game, the largest lead by any team all season.
“We’re playing Sacramento, obviously. They’re a great team, they’ve had an amazing season and it’s going to take everything to beat them four times — especially starting on the road,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “But we love the opportunity in front of us.”
James and the No. 7 — for now — Los Angeles Lakers will get two chances to get into the playoffs, starting with Tuesday’s play-in game against No. 8 Minnesota. If the Lakers lose that game, they’ll get another chance Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between No. 9 New Orleans and No. 10 Oklahoma City.
“For us, it’s just good that we don’t have to travel,” James said after the Lakers ended their regular season with a home win over Utah. “We’ve traveled a lot lately. It’s good that we get to stay here, but we shouldn’t get comfortable. We have to stay on edge.”
The Lakers-Timberwolves winner gets No. 2 Memphis in Round 1; the winner of Friday’s West play-in game will start the playoffs next Sunday at No. 1 Denver.
No team in the West has had a better record since the All-Star break than the Lakers, who went 16-7 down the stretch — even with James sidelined for about half of that run by injury.
Minnesota locked up the No. 8 seed (and two chances at the playoffs) by holding off New Orleans 113-108.
It was the last game to finish in the league this season, though for Gobert, it ended early. He threw a punch at Kyle Anderson — his teammate — after heated words during a first-half time-out, didn’t return to the game, and Minnesota also lost Jaden McDaniels to a right hand injury after he appeared to punch a wall.
“We made the decision to send Rudy Gobert home after the incident in the second quarter,” Timberwolves President Tim Connelly said in a postgame statement. “His behavior on the bench was unacceptable and we will continue handling the situation internally.”
There appeared to be progress on that front quickly, with Wolves veteran Mike Conley suggesting that the team is ready to move forward.
“We’re going to need all of us,” Conley said.
Gobert chimed in Sunday night as well, tweeting: “Emotions got the best of me today. I should not have reacted the way i did regardless of what was said. I wanna apologize to the fans, the organisation and particularly to Kyle, who is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate.”
If the Timberwolves lost that game, they would have been the No. 9 seed out West. There were 16 possible ways the 5-6-7-8-9 seeds on the West bracket could have gone on Sunday — and the Pelicans had a shot to finish as high as No. 5. Instead, they settled for No. 9.
The Eastern Conference postseason matchups were all set before Sunday. No. 7 Miami plays No. 8 Atlanta on Tuesday, and No. 9 Toronto plays No. 10 Chicago on Wednesday. The Heat-Hawks winner advances to play No. 2 Boston in Round 1; the Raptors-Bulls winner will play the Heat-Hawks loser on Friday for the chance to play No. 1 Milwaukee in the opening round.
No. 3 Philadelphia will play No. 6 Brooklyn, and No. 4 Cleveland will meet No. 5 New York.
FIRST ROUND OPENERS
The Brooklyn-Philadelphia series starts Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern. The rest of Saturday’s schedule has the Heat-Hawks winner visiting Boston, then New York at Cleveland and finally Golden State visiting Sacramento.
The Clippers-Suns series starts next Sunday, as will the matchups featuring Denver, Milwaukee and Memphis.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press