Breakfast Special: Prelude to a Masterpiece

Several outcomes had to happen just right on Monday to set up the greatest last day of the regular season in recent NBA history.

And all of them happened exactly the way they needed to.

Three Western Conference season finales will be winner-take-all contests for playoff seeding; Utah plays Portland with the winner getting the 3 seed and the loser dropping into Tiebreaker Hell.

San Antonio plays New Orleans, winner could place as high as fourth, loser as low as eighth. They’ve both clinched playoff berths, but they haven’t clinched playoff seeds.

And finally, Denver plays Minnesota, winner gets at least the 8 seed. Loser goes home and misses the playoffs entirely; the Timberwolves are the only team in the top eight in either conference not to have clinched a playoff berth; meanwhile the Nuggets have won six in a row.

And over in the East, Cleveland plays the Knicks. Win, and the Sixers need to beat the Hawks in Atlanta and then win the SEGABABA at home against Milwaukee in order to get the three seed.

Choke, and Philly’s the 3 guaranteed and Cleveland’s the 4.

And the Wizards, Heat, and Bucks have their own would-be ties to sort out.

We’ll get to all the playoff scenarios later today. For now, let’s talk setting the table:

The Choking Portland Trail Blazers

The Nuggets are now level with the Wolves for eighth thanks to winning six in a row.

The Trail Blazers are at risk of losing the three seed thanks to losing four straight games, winning any two of which would have given them an insurmountable lead.

So it went that the Blazers just couldn’t put Denver away and lost 88-82 Monday night, shooting a horrendous 33 percent from the field and 21.2 from long range.

Denver, meanwhile, wasn’t exactly great, but shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc while getting a triple-double (15 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 assists) from Nikola Jokic was enough to keep them alive for one final for-all-the-marbles showdown with Minnesota.

Spurs and Pelicans Double Feature!

San Antonio played an ugly game against Sacramento, down 66-60 after three quarters and playing a dreadful third quarter that ended 17-16 Spurs on the linescore.

Then the Spurs got serious. They outscored the Kings 38-19 in the fourth quarter, grabbing the win that they needed to stay in the hunt for a top four seed and home playoff game.

Rudy Gay led San Antonio scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line, the Spurs attacked the basket and shot 24-of-29 (82.8 percent) from the line compared to just 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) for the Kings, and the Spurs took care of the ball, turning it over just eight times to Sacramento’s 12.

That’s enough to guarantee them a spot in the playoffs.

Manu Ginobili and his 17 points is your man of the match:

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Clippers’ crash out of the playoffs down the stretch has devolved into a full-fledged rout into tenth place, which may well cost Doc Rivers his job.

The Pelicans went bonkers at Staples Center, winning 113-100 behind 28 points from Anthony Davis and 24 from Nikola Mirotic.

New Orleans won the turnover battle 15-7, held the Clippers to just 2-of-17 from three, and showed the world just how bad the Clippers’ offense can be when Lou Williams is an injury DNP.

They also set up that winner-take-all with the Spurs and ensured their own place in the playoffs.

Highlights:

Russell Westbrook Vs. History

Westbrook is averaging 9.9 rebounds per game this season, and against the Heat, he crashed the boards with great gusto, grabbing 18 of them to go with 23 points and 13 assists.

If Westbrook gets 16 boards against Memphis in the last game of the season, he’ll average a triple-double for the second consecutive year…and become the first player in NBA history to do it twice after Oscar Robertson spent 55 years as the only player to do it even once.

The Heat kindly obliged Oklahoma City the 115-93 win by losing the turnover battle 15-9, the three-point battle (14-of-35 for OKC, 5-of-22 for Miami), and the free throw contest (31-of-38 for OKC, a pathetic 8-of-14 for the Heat.)

We might be watching history in the making Wednesday. The game has seeding implications, but the Thunder might just get out of the way and let Russ crash the boards against a Memphis team that has nothing to gain by rolling over and losing; they’ve wrapped up the 2 spot in the draft lottery.

Oh, and did we mention this game contained a 40-point swing in fortune?

Aye, Miami led 23-5 in the first quarter…and lost the rest of the game 110-70.

Westbrook was, of course, the man of the match:

Lightning Round!

The Cavs beat the Knicks because LeBron James plays home games in Madison Square Garden while wearing the opposing team’s uniform.

Bron had 26 points, 11 assists, six rebounds…and Kevin Love actually led scorers with 28, including 6-of-13 from long range.

Oh, and LeBron played 39 minutes because he is on a G-League team and they need him to play like a workhorse just to tread water.

Minnesota beat Memphis 113-94. They didn’t really need the game because the matchup with Denver was win-or-go-home regardless, but this puts them in position to grab some tiebreakers should they win on Wednesday.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague had 24 points each, KAT shot 11-of-14 from the field, and Towns added 18 rebounds as well:

Toronto stayed on track to potentially get their first 60-win season in franchise history, marching into Detroit and beating down the now-eliminated Pistons 108-98.

Jonas Valanciunas had 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting to lead all scorers, adding nine rebounds as well:

Milwaukee, once in danger of choking away the playoffs entirely, now stand sixth; sure, they’re a mile behind the Pacers for fifth, but they looked at one point like they were keeping Detroit’s hopes alive by themselves.

Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t even play in the 102-86 win over Orlando; the Magic are just that bad.

Eric Bledsoe led the Bucks with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists for the triple-double:

And finally, Allen Crabbe scored 41 points, shooting 12-of-15 from the field, 8-of-11 from long range, and 9-of-9 from the line because why not have a big game when you want to make sure your team screws Cleveland down to a lower pick? How’s that whole trading Kyrie Irving for the 2018 Nets pick thing working for you, Cavs? Danny Ainge strikes again!

Oh, and the Nets beat Chicago 114-105.

We’ll have that playoff breakdown update later today; Pacers Tuesday, urging the team to keep a prodigal draft son out of town, comes on its heels.

Stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading!