The Dallas Morning News

East playoff race is wide open

Bucks, Raptors, Celtics and 76ers are favorites now that James is gone

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The Golden State Warriors are set to begin their quest for a third straight title, and this time it’s up to someone else to try to stop them.

With Lebron James gone to the West and this year gone entirely from the postseason, the Eastern Conference headquarte­rs for the NBA Finals won’t be in his home for the first time since 2010.

He played for the title for eight straight years, which may have been great for the TV ratings but lately wasn’t much good for the competitio­n. The Warriors swept Cleveland last year after winning 41 in 2017.

Teams are lining up to seize his old spot atop the East, all capable of providing the intrigue that was absent the last couple years.

There’s Milwaukee, with Giannis Antetokoun­mpo in position to exit June fully atop the NBA with a title and an MVP award.

Or Toronto, humiliated by the Cavaliers in the last two years but armed now with a former NBA Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard.

It could be Philadelph­ia, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons anchoring perhaps the most talented starting five outside of the Bay Area.

And don’t forget Boston, the presumptiv­e East favorite in the preseason that can still live up to expectatio­ns.

The long road to get to the finals begins Saturday with four games, including the topseeded Warriors against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West. No. 2 Denver faces No. 7 San Antonio in the other West opener, while No. 3 Philadelph­ia meets No. 6 Brooklyn, and No. 2 Toronto takes on No. 7 Orlando in the East.

On Sunday, the overall No. 1 seed Bucks face No. 8 Detroit, and No. 4 Boston hosts No. 5 Indiana in the East. In the West, No. 3 Portland and No. 6 Oklahoma City meet in a matchup of Northwest Division rivals, and No. 4 Houston and No. 5 Utah square off in the opener of a series between two of the strongest teams in the second half of the season.

NBA sets record with 760 sellouts: The NBA sold out a record 760 games in 201819, including a Nets crowd that included Lebron James on the final night of the season.

The league said its final attendance of 21,964,447 was its fourth highest.

That was down from last season’s record of 22.1 million, after new or renovated arenas resulted in more than 141,000 fewer available seats this season.

The sellout total surpassed the previous record of 741 sellouts last season.

James sat courtside along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony on Wednesday in Brooklyn to watch Dwyane Wade’s final game.

Kings fire Joerger after 3 losing seasons: The Sacramento Kings fired coach Dave Joerger after three losing seasons.

Joerger had a 98148 record since joining the Kings, but also helped the team reach its best record in 13 seasons this year with 39 wins.

Cavs begin coaching search after parting ways with Drew: The Cavaliers’ next coach will inherit a better situation than the one Larry Drew got handed.

Drew and the Cavs parted ways after a challengin­g, 19win season that followed LeBron James leaving for Los Angeles and included a rash of injuries to a young roster.

Grizzlies fire Bickerstaf­f, reassign GM to scout: The Memphis Grizzlies started the offseason with plenty of questions to answer, then controllin­g owner Robert Pera added to the todo list by firing coach J.B. Bickerstaf­f as part of a frontoffic­e shakeup that demoted GM Chris Wallace to scout.

The Grizzlies announced the moves following a second straight season outside the playoffs.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Chicago: F Lauri Markkanen (18.7 ppg and 9.0 reb.) has been cleared to resume full basketball activities after missing the final two weeks of the season because of a heart problem.

Phoenix: The Suns have removed the interim tag from GM James Jones and hired Jeff Bower as senior VP of basketball operations.

Sacramento: The Kings extended GM Vlade Divac’s contract through the 202223 season.

 ?? Frank Gunn/the Associated Press ?? Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors hope to emerge from the Eastern Conference playoffs that begin Saturday.
Frank Gunn/the Associated Press Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors hope to emerge from the Eastern Conference playoffs that begin Saturday.
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