Thoughts on Jontay Porter and the NBA + the ideal Western Conference playoffs

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The Lakers should never play LeBron against the Bucks again.

Ideal Playoff Series

How are the matchups looking?

We have a couple weeks left, so I’m already wondering about the best playoff series for each conference. Today, we’re going to break down the West as I share which first-round matchups I want to see the most this April. We’re also going to use Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report for the seeding likelihood of each team.

(1) Denver Nuggets vs. (8) Phoenix Suns: Phoenix (42-30) gave Denver (51-21) its toughest series last postseason. If the Suns have any chance of taking down the champs, it will be early in the playoffs. I also love the contrast between the duos of Nikola Jokić–Jamal Murray and Kevin Durant–Devin Booker. Denver No. 1 seed likelihood: 40.7 percent | Phoenix No. 8 seed likelihood: 22.9 percent

(2) Minnesota Timberwolves vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks: I love the idea of a great defense and struggling offense going against against the total opposite. I’m also into the idea of Anthony Edwards trying to matchup against Luka Dončić – and seeing what Jaden McDaniels can do guarding Luka or Kyrie Irving.  Minnesota No. 2 seed likelihood: 35.6 percent | Dallas No. 7 seed likelihood: 24.8 percent

(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Sacramento Kings: Give me seven games of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander going against De’Aaron Fox and Chet Holmgren taking on Domantas Sabonis. This would be a great showcase for all this talent. OKC No. 3 seed likelihood: 37.3 percent | Sacramento No. 6 seed likelihood: 37.0 percent

(4) New Orleans Pelicans vs. (5) LA Clippers: These are two of the deepest teams in the league. They’re also two teams that always have bad luck with health, so something’s got to give. This could lead to a massive referendum on either potential loser. NOP No. 4 seed likelihood: 55.1 percent | LAC No. 5 seed likelihood: 47.8 percent

So, what does that mean? I’m very sorry to the Warriors (37-34, 10th in West) and Lakers (40-32, ninth in West), but we no longer require your services this season in this scenario. I know it’s sacrilegious to not have LeBron James or Steph Curry in this “Ideal Playoff Series” section, but we’d just be projecting résumés over reality in that case. Of course, either omitted team could make this look real dumb in the next month.

(We’ll tackle the East series tomorrow.)

Happy Wembsday!

Nobody wants to try Wemby anymore

As we’ve discussed before, Victor Wembanyama is leading the NBA in blocked shots (217) and blocks per game (3.4) – that’s not bad for a rookie. Aside from that beatdown Alperen Şengün gave him a couple weeks ago, we’re seeing fewer and fewer opponents try Wemby around the basket. The Memphis Grizzlies recently got that memo, which suggests holding onto the ball unless you’re certain to get a clean shot.

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Wemby is on pace to be the first rookie in almost 40 years to lead the league in blocked shots (Manute Bol in 1985-86).

It will be interesting to see how players and teams adjust. You’ll still get people trying to bully him physically or freak athletes like Ja Morant still trying to dunk on him. But it’s funny seeing grown professionals scared to shoot around him.

Games from last night: 

Lakers 128, Bucks 124 (2OT): Milwaukee (46-26, second in East) was up 94-75 in the fourth quarter. Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell led the Lakers back to force overtime before outlasting the Bucks for the four-point win. AD finished with 34 points, 23 rebounds and four blocks in 52 minutes. Reaves got his second career triple-double. DLo had 29 points and 12 assists. All of this came without LeBron James, who sat out both Lakers wins against the Bucks this season.

Thunder 119, Pelicans 112: New Orleans (44-28, fifth in West) led 112-107 with 3:11 left in the game. Lu Dort locked down Zion Williamson as OKC (50-21, second in West) ended the game on a 12-0 run. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey combined for 75 points and 17 assists. The Pelicans really missed Brandon Ingram.

Warriors 113, Heat 92: No Jimmy Butler for Miami (39-33, seventh in East) meant life was much easier for Golden State (37-34, 10th in West). Klay Thompson had 28 points in the start as Golden State got a much-needed win to create a one-game cushion against 11th-place Houston.

Mavs 132, Kings 96: Dallas couldn’t be stopped. Sacramento (42-30, seventh in West) couldn’t stop Luka in the first half (26 of his 28 points) nor impede Kyrie Irving (12 of his 24 points) in the third quarter. The Mavericks moved a game ahead of the Kings for the No. 6 seed. The latter can secure the tiebreaker with a win in Friday’s rematch.

Don’t Bet On It

Are Johntay Porter’s accusations good for NBA?

For those unaware, Raptors big man Jontay Porter is under investigation by the NBA for some curious prop bets surrounding his play over the last couple months. ESPN reported that betting services were flagging Porter over/under prop bets as the biggest payouts for multiple games. Porter has been away from the team the last couple of games due to “personal reasons.” He’s also apparently done some college betting and financial advice in the past. (It’s worth noting that Porter is also the brother of Michael Porter Jr., forward for the Denver Nuggets.)

On the night of those prop bet payouts for taking the under, Porter checked out of the games after a short amount of time due to injuries. How would something like this work? 

  • On Jan. 26 against the Clippers, Porter played just 4:24 in the first quarter before leaving with a “reaggravated eye injury.” His zero points, three rebounds, one assist and zero 3-pointers all hit the under on 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 0.5 3-pointers made. He didn’t even attempt a three.
  • On March 20 against the Kings, Porter played 2:43 in the first and then checked out for good with an illness. He finished with zero points and two rebounds. His over/under bets that night were 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Naturally, that raises some red flags with a league that has not only embraced betting but swaddled it in the softest, most comfortable blankets imaginable. For the sake of argument, let’s operate in the rest of this space like these allegations do have merit and Porter was involved in this. The cynical part of me would wonder if this is the best possible betting scandal to hit the NBA’s desk. Walk with me on this one.

No offense to Porter, but he’s highly replaceable/expendable/forgettable as an NBA player. He’s on a two-way contract for one of the worst teams in the NBA. And, if these allegations are to be believed, his alleged pattern of behavior affected only his stats and not the outcomes of those respective games (although injuries have left Toronto bereft of giants to put on the court). This could be the perfect balance of scandal without further undermining the integrity of the NBA game. 

If Porter’s actions are deemed illegal, Adam Silver and the league office could drop the hammer down on the 24-year-old and likely ban him from the league forever while terminating his deal. It would send a message that any betting scandals will be handled with no mercy. (And it will also not be the NBA’s last betting scandal, as the league unrelatedly asks you to wager on games in its app next season.)

Bounce Passes

Speaking of gambling, my Week 23 Power Rankings star the over/under bets that will hit.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. is not a normal rookie in the slightest.

Tyrese Haliburton and the Pacers are confident they’ll be all smiles soon.

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Main Screen: Suns-Nuggets (10 p.m. ESPN). The Suns are battling to avoid the Play-In Tournament as Denver seeks the No. 1 seed.
  • Second Screen: Warriors-Magic (7:30 p.m.). Who had the Magic as the better team this season? Everybody’s hands should be down.
  • League Pass Game of the Night: Rockets-Thunder (8 p.m.). The Rockets can’t lose, but the Thunder need the win for the No. 1 seed pursuit. Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Chris Coduto / Getty Images)

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