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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Lowe — The injury-riddled East and why LeBron deserves to make All-NBA

SportsLowe -- The injury-riddled East and why LeBron deserves to make All-NBA

This week’s eight things I liked and disliked include the NBA’s uncertainty index heading into the playoffs, Miami’s crunch-time woes, and why LeBron James — age 39 — deserves to make All-NBA this season.

Jump to Lowe’s Things:
The NBA’s uncertainty index | Miami’s crunch-time offense
Jokic and Gordon reverse roles | LeBron could do this forever
Bulls might lose another Vucevic wager | What’s this ‘L-A-C!’ chant?
First-ballot all-fun team nominee | TV timeout drama

With eight days until the playoffs, the East is embroiled in two interconnected storylines: When will Antetokounmpo return from a calf injury, and what seed will Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers snag?

If you asked 100 coaches and executives to name the East team with the best chance of pushing the Boston Celtics, I suspect Philly and Milwaukee would have combined — before Antetokounmpo’s injury — to snare around 75% of the vote. Jrue Holiday once played for both teams; he is now a Celtic by way of the seismic Damian Lillard trade that has yet to pay the expected dividends for the Bucks.

Milwaukee and Philly could face each other in the No. 2-versus-No. 7 series — perhaps a best-case scenario for Boston. The rest of the East is in injury-riddled flux. The New York Knicks at full health might have the highest ceiling of anyone other than the Celtics. Alas, Julius Randle is out for the season. But OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson are back, and if the seeds shake out right — New York is a nice spot at No. 3 — the Knicks could grind their way to the conference finals. Heck, given how New York looked Thursday in thrashing Boston, the Knicks might even make that a long series

The Cleveland Cavaliers are 12-17 since mid-February, red flags flying everywhere, the specter of last season’s first-round humiliation hovering over players and coaches. They caught fire in January with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley out, leaving Donovan Mitchell to orchestrate with shooters orbiting Jarrett Allen. But it’s not quite right to say their season tanked when Mobley and Garland returned. The Cavs won six straight with all four players before injuries torpedoed their rhythm.

They have not been able to get it back. The Mobley-Allen duo is still clunky on some nights. The Garland-Mitchell partnership seems uneasy. Mitchell has dealt with a knee issue. He had not shot 50% in a game since late February before scoring 29 points against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. It is hard to see Cleveland rediscovering its flow without something close to peak Mitchell — who has a decision coming on a max extension.

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