Carter, Nelson ready for homecomings
Vince Carter is returning to Toronto, and the Golden State Warriors are headed back to the postseason.
The Warriors clinched their first playoff spot since 1994 by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 120-98 on Wednesday night. Golden State (42-40) beat out the Clippers to grab the No. 8 seed and will open against league-best Dallas in a matchup of coach Don Nelson against his former team.
The Dallas fans probably won’t be as rough on “Nellie” as the Toronto ones will on Carter.
The New Jersey Nets beat the Chicago Bulls 106-97, clinching the No. 6 seed in the East and preventing Chicago from finishing second.
New Jersey will open the postseason against the Atlantic Division champion Raptors in Toronto, where Carter is likely to hear boos every time he touches the ball. He starred for the Raptors for more than six seasons before his unhappiness forced Toronto to trade Carter to the Nets in December 2004.
“That matchup, I welcome it. I’m sure that he wants to play here. I don’t mind seeing him, either,” said Toronto’s Chris Bosh, a former teammate. “It’s a turning part for this organization. Who better to play than the guy who helped build this place up?”
A Chicago victory would have set up a Bulls-Nets series in the first round. Instead, the Bulls fell to the No. 5 seed and will open the postseason against the defending champion Heat.
Miami took the first step toward its title last year by beating Chicago in six games in the first round. But the Bulls had the better overall record, so they get the extra home game this time.
“Chicago feels that they can beat us,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said as he watched the final minutes of the Bulls’ loss at the Nets. “Kirk Hinrich came out and said it. We’ll find out.”
Cleveland capitalized on Chicago’s loss to vault into the No. 2 spot after beating Milwaukee 109-96 earlier in the day.
That means the Cavs will face No. 7 Washington, minus injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, in the first round.
“They’re a team that gave us trouble last time we played them,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “Eddie Jordan is an experienced coach with an experienced team. They’ve been to the playoffs the last three, four years, so we have to make sure we have the right mind-frame, the right mental focus, physical focus and try to get a win against that team.”
The bottom two spots out West were finalized late in the day.
The Los Angeles Lakers beat Sacramento 117-106, earning a rematch with the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Suns beat the Lakers in seven games last year, also in a No. 2 vs. No. 7 series.
Also, Washington’s victory in Indiana sent Orlando to the No. 8 seed in the East and a first-round series against Detroit, which swept the season series.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. “But like I kept saying all season: We accept all challenges, and I think we can beat anybody in a seven-game series.”
The only series that had already been determined entering the day were No. 3 San Antonio against No. 6 Denver, and fourth-seeded Utah against No. 5 Houston. The Rockets will have home-court advantage because of a better record.
The playoffs open Saturday.
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