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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.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.