NBA campus intel: Rivals get set to meet in the first round of the playoffs

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The NBA’s oldest rivalry will be renewed in its newest setting.

By virtue of the Indiana Pacers beating the Houston Rockets on Wednesday afternoon, the Boston Celtics will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The two teams met four times during the regular season, with Philadelphia winning three of those games, largely because the Celtics had no way of slowing down 76ers big man Joel Embiid. That part hasn’t changed, but one very significant piece has: The Sixers won’t have Ben Simmons, who is expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee.

Even without Simmons, the Sixers have tremendous size across the board. Among Embiid, Al Horford (who will be going up against his former team), Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle coming off the bench, the Sixers have long, athletic defenders who can overwhelm teams when they are in sync in the half court.

But there’s no question Philadelphia is a far lesser team without Simmons and will go into this matchup with the Celtics still trying to figure out who it is without him. The Sixers completely changed their look upon arrival in Orlando, dropping Horford from the starting lineup in place of Shake Milton and moving Simmons to power forward.

Of all people, however, it was reserve guard Furkan Korkmaz who perfectly summed up the Sixers heading into this series.

“I think we are ready to fight against everybody,” Korkmaz said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We all know every time, Philly against Boston, is a big deal, it’s a big game. And then we start talking about matchups, how we can guard them, how they can guard us.

“But I think the most important thing is what are we going to do on the court … how are we going to show up? I think that’s more important than how they play. So I think that’s going to be key for us, and we all know that. So we are all ready. We are all ready to fight.”

Nothing better sums up this Philadelphia team than those seven words: “How are we going to show up?” The Sixers have been inconsistent all season and have been a middling team in Orlando. Even without Simmons, Embiid’s presence — assuming his injured wrist checks out OK — will be enough to give Boston headaches.

After all the meetings and matchups between these franchises over the decades, it will be an unprecedented series as they square off against one another inside the bubble.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Brad,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, referring to Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We have had tons of experiences, regular season, playoffs, over the years. I think their team is very unique, in that they have so much firepower at so many different positions. You know the Philly-Celtics rivalry is historic.

“We are excited, and treat this series with tremendous respect. We are excited to compete against them.” — Tim Bontemps

Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Thursday and everything you need to know. Check back for highlights and updates throughout the day.

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Latest buzz

First-round matchups take shape



Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combine for 53 points in the Clippers’ 124-111 win vs. the Nuggets.

The Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers tipped things off on Wednesday in a game that helped decide the remaining seeds in the East. The Pacers’ win locked them into the No. 4-No. 5 matchup with the Miami Heat, with Friday’s meeting between the two to decide the final seeding. The Philadelphia 76ers are locked into the No. 6 spot with Indiana’s victory. With that, all four Eastern Conference first-round matchups are set.

The playoff picture in the West, however, will come down to Thursday’s action. The Clippers secured the No. 2 seed with a win over the Nuggets on Wednesday. The Nuggets are now locked into the No. 3 seed and will meet the No. 6 Utah Jazz in the first round. The Rockets’ loss to the Pacers secures a No. 4-No. 5 matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, with final seeding still to be decided in the final regular-season games. All four West teams competing for the final two play-in spots will play Thursday to close out the playoff picture.

Mike Muscala hits winner for the Thunder



Mike Muscala drains the 3-pointer that gives the Thunder the game with 5.2 seconds left over the Heat.

Tyler Herro scored a career-high 30 points against the Thunder, but Mike Muscala sealed a victory for Oklahoma City.

Grizzlies will not face Giannis in final seeding game



Giannis Antetokounmpo says he had built-up anger from the lack of foul calls during the restart, which is what led to him head-butt Moe Wagner.

If the Memphis Grizzlies can take care of business on Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks, they might need to send Moe Wagner a thank-you note.

The Grizzlies are 1-6 in the bubble and are at risk of falling out of playoff contention, but they caught a break on Wednesday when the NBA announced that Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss Thursday’s game while serving a one-game suspension for head-butting Wagner on Tuesday.

Memphis’ situation is simple: Win and the Grizzlies are in the play-in. Lose and it’s out of their hands.

The Bucks are locked into the East’s top seed and don’t have a lot of incentive to play their best players anyway, and Antetokounmpo’s suspension made at least one decision easy for coach Mike Budenholzer.

But that’s not of the Grizzlies’ concern. Following Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, coach Taylor Jenkins said they’re trying to keep the focus on themselves, maintaining that they just haven’t met their own standard. Doesn’t hurt that the reigning MVP won’t be getting in the way of finally finding it, though. — Royce Young

Nick Nurse lets his assistant coach in win vs. Sixers



Stanley Johnson sinks two clutch shots in the final seconds to secure the Raptors’ win over the 76ers 125-121.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse let assistant Adrian Griffin take over the team for Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers

Griffin thanked Nurse for the opportunity during pregame media availability.

“I think [Nurse] is an awesome human being,” Griffin said. “He understands that a coach like me needs some reps at being a head coach. He knows my ambition and wants to see me grow as an individual on and off the court. It’s an awesome gesture by coach. He approached me with it. It just shows what kind of character that Coach Nurse has. We have a first-class organization for a reason.” — Andrew Lopez

Wednesday’s must-see games

Full scoreboard for Wednesday

Updated West play-in standings

8. Portland Trail Blazers | 34-39 (.466) | —
t-9. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
t-9. Phoenix Suns | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 32-38 (.457) | 0.5 GB

MORE: NBA Western Conference play-in scenarios

Thursday’s must-see games

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET

Memphis can guarantee itself a shot in the play-in tournament with a victory against the Bucks, locking up at least the No. 9 seed. A win and a loss by Portland later in the night gets the Grizzlies to the eighth spot, giving them the upper hand in the play-in. The good news for Memphis is it won’t have to face a full-strength Bucks squad. Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out as he serves a one-game suspension for his head-butting incident Tuesday against Washington. Milwaukee could opt to rest more starters heading into the playoffs with the top seed in the East already locked up. — Andrew Lopez

Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns | 4 p.m. ET

Like the Grizzlies, the Suns might also benefit from a team that is looking toward the playoffs rather than going all out in the final seeding game. With Tuesday’s loss to Portland, Dallas is locked into the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The Mavericks could look to rest Luka Doncic (32 points, 11.3 assists, 11 rebounds in six bubble games) and Kristaps Porzingis (30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in six bubble games), which could open things up for Phoenix. Even though the Suns are looking to get to 8-0, a trip to the playoffs isn’t guaranteed. They need one of Memphis or Portland to lose, combined with a victory of their own. It would be Phoenix’s first eight-game winning streak since 2010, which is also the most recent time the Suns made the playoffs. — Lopez

San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz | 6:30 p.m. ET

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked what he would have said if a month ago someone told him San Antonio had a chance to go 6-2 in the bubble and make the playoffs. “I would have had them drug-tested,” Popovich deadpanned. Popovich noted that when your team doesn’t have championship aspirations, you have to look toward development. Luckily for the Spurs, that has turned into a possible playoff berth. Because of percentage points, though, the Spurs need more help than others. — Lopez



In his second straight game scoring more than 50 points, Damian Lillard racks up 61 points and eight assists as he leads the Trail Blazers to a 134-131 victory in a wild game against the Mavericks.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets | 9 p.m. ET

You should really just be tuning into this game to see what Damian Lillard does next: 51 points? 61 points? More? Who knows. Lillard is averaging a bubble-best 37 points while also putting up 9.3 assists in 41.4 minutes. Fellow Blazers guard CJ McCollum is the only other player in Florida averaging 40.0 minutes as Portland has leaned on its one-two combo to keep the Blazers in playoff contention. Brooklyn is locked in as the No. 7 seed and Jacque Vaughn — coaching for a chance to continue on as the Nets’ head coach next season — has his team 5-2 overall with three consecutive wins. — Lopez

Additional games

  • Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics | Noon ET

  • Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers | 1:30 p.m. ET

  • New Orleans Pelicans vs. Orlando Magic | 9 p.m. ET

Full scoreboard for Thursday

Analysis and intel

NBA Power Rankings: A shake-up in the top five as playoff matchups take shape

The playoff picture is beginning to take shape as the final week of seeding games begins.

West play-in predictions: Suns perfect, Lillard spectacular, but who gets in?

Phoenix is 7-0 and Portland keeps winning. Here are the latest projections for the four-team race.

Eight games that will swing the NBA playoff race this week

To get you ready for this stretch run, our NBA experts highlight the eight games that will decide the playoff picture.

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