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Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Up-and-down Blazers were up against Spurs, get key win

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Wether you were filling out your March Madness bracket for the office, or hiding bottles of steak sauce around a library, if you missed the night around the NBA we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways.

1) Damian Lillard, Portland offense overwhelms Spurs in game with playoff implications for both sides. Teams that play poor defense tend to be inconsistent. Enter the Portland Trail Blazers, who are 26th in the NBA giving up 108.9 points per 100 possessions on the season, and have been worse in their last 10 games (109.6). That’s how you get a team that can be blown out by the Pelicans by 23 in its previous game then come out Wednesday night and beat the Spurs on their home court.

Damian Lillard had 36 points, C.J. McCollum added 26, and Jusuf Nurkic added 16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists (it was Nurkic who was getting the ball down the stretch, he had 10 points in the fourth quarter). That was enough to get Portland a 110-106 win.

The game was also notable because while the Blazers stumbled a little with execution in the clutch, so did the Spurs. Which almost never happens. Even the rock-solid Manu Ginobili was off in the clutch: he threw away an inbound pass, then at the free throw line late he missed one he intended to make, then made the one he intended to miss.

The win has playoff implications for both sides. The Spurs are now a full game back of the Warriors for the best record in the West (and the NBA) — and possibly a chance to play Portland in the first round (which teams want, Portland is pesky and has offensive talent, but the two seed likely gets a physical, grinding series with Memphis that can wear a team down). For Portland, the win has the Blazers just two games back of Denver for the eighth and final playoff slot in the West (but Denver has a much tougher schedule the rest of the way).

2) Bucks hold on to beat Clippers in Los Angeles in another game with playoff implications for both sides. The Bucks beat the Clippers a couple of weeks ago in Milwaukee when Los Angeles made the cardinal sin of playing the Bucks by turning the ball over 23 times, letting them get out and run (41 points off those turnovers). At home Wednesday the Clippers did better, turning the ball over just 15 times, and that led to a close game where Los Angeles got the ball to Blake Griffin with a chance to win it, but it’s a make or miss league and…

This was a key win for the Bucks, because the fight for spots 6-8 in the East is tight. The sixth-seed Pacers may be in the best spot, two games over .500 after thrashing the Hornets Wednesday, but they are just two games clear of the nine seed. With the win, the Bucks remain the seven seed, but just half a game up on the nine seed. Detroit and Miami are tied for the final playoff spot (eight and nine seeds) after Detroit lost to Utah on Wednesday while Miami won again. On paper that feels like it should be Detroit’s slot, and Miami has a tough stretch of the schedule left, but the Heat just keep finding ways to hustle and win, it’s hard not to see them making it in. One game back of the nine seed is slumping Chicago, which lost again Wednesday (to Memphis) and seems to be falling apart at the wrong time (which is what happens when you trade a glue guy like Taj Gibson at the deadline).

As for the Clippers, they have lost two straight and are not even taking DeAndre Jordan or Griffin on the plane to Denver for a Thursday night game. The Clippers are now three games back of the Jazz for the four seed and they are not going to catch Utah. Los Angeles is going to start the playoffs on the road. Their bigger concern is that Oklahoma City is just 1.5 games back of them — Los Angeles needs some wins to hold on to the five seed.

3) Skal Labissière has 21 points in fourth quarter, 32 for game, leads Kings past Suns. Sacramento may have found something in the rubble of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Labissière was a very highly ranked high school recruit who stumbled at Kentucky and fell to No. 28 in last June’s draft. Even at Summer League he showed promise, and getting more run after the trade he is showing off his potential.

Labissière had 32 points on 15 shots, scored 21 of those in the fourth quarter, and chipped in 11 boards in he win.

(By the way, best new nickname in the league: Aaron Bruski has taken to calling Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein the “thin towers.” Brilliant.)

There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but Labissière looks like he is a part of whatever the future holds in Sacramento.

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).

Sixers enter camp with Joel Embiid not cleared for 5-on-5, Jahlil Okafor on trade block

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This is the season the 76ers make the leap from team with potential to playoff team fast on the rise.

Maybe.

That’s the plan in Philly, but there are a lot of questions for this team to answer. While a couple of these issues are answered already — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are cleared to play and practice with teammates — a couple big ones still hang around. At the top of the list is “how healthy is Joel Embiid?” Coach Brett Brown doesn’t even have that answer yet, reports Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

It’s this simple: The Sixers outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court last season, he was a dominant force defensively who scored 20.2 points a game. When he was off the court the Sixers were 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse. They need him to play and play consistently if the Sixers have playoff dreams. It’s unclear when Embiid will return, but know that the Sixers will be cautious with his minutes again when he does get cleared (he has played just 31 games in three seasons).

Does that mean more Jahlil Okafor? Maybe not, the Sixers are still willing to trade him.

The Sixers have shopped Okafor for most of a year and found no deal they like. Okafor battled knee issues last season and, after a summer working to get healthy, other teams will want to see him play a little before talking trade. If he comes to camp slimmed down and his knee looks right, it could revive trade talks. Using a back-to-the-basket game, he averaged 11.8 points a night shooting 51 percent last season, he’s efficient, and some teams could use what he does (off the bench).

It’s going to be an interesting season in Philly. Are they playoff bound?

Report: Warriors “perplexed” by Kevin Durant’s offseason fighting old battles

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Kevin Durant made his move to Golden State last summer — it was an emotional, wrenching decision for him — and it went as well as he could have dreamed. He felt at home. He’s got a ring (or will have one on opening night), he was Finals MVP, and he not only strengthened his legacy with a title, but also helped it out by taking a paycut that made it easier for the Warriors to keep their core together this summer.

So why is he living in the past? Why release a shoe line taking shots at his detractorsWhy did he blast his former organization on Twitter? Sure, he apologized, but why slide back down that rabbit hole? For that matter, why take a shot at Stephen Curry’s shoe line?

Chris Mannix at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said some with the Warriors are wondering the same thing.

But make no mistake: Many in Golden State, team officials and players alike, have taken note of Durant’s oddball offseason and are perplexed by it. They see a bright future for Durant in Oakland, league and team sources told The Vertical, and are bewildered as to why he is still addressing his past.

Oklahoma City will always be in Durant’s DNA, but it’s time for him to move on. Slapping around a team that was loyal to him, even in rejection, is a bad look. He’s a Warrior, and the possibilities for this Golden State team are endless. He can win championships, can win awards, can build one of the great dynasties in NBA history. The Thunder are doing their thing. Durant should forget about them, and do his.

This will all blow over. Soon the season will start, Durant and the Warriors will look dominant, and this will all seem like a minor distraction in the deadest part of the offseason. The focus will be on the rings.

But if you want an answer as to why, Durant’s response to a YouTube comment to someone who told him “who cares what other people think, just do you.” (Hat tip For the Win.)

…of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

Durant still can be a little immature, still wants to be a regular guy, and just like a regular guy he wants to be liked. And like a lot of people, he snaps at people when he knows he should just let it go and rise above. Maybe that will come with the lessons of this offseason.