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Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard drops 44, drops Warriors to second in West

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Durant drops 50, but Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers get win. The malaise — I’ve been calling it “senioritis” — that the Golden State Warriors have had of late (they have gone 4-4 in their last eight, with their defense falling to the middle of the pack in the league in that stretch) has finally cost them.

The Warriors have fallen to the second seed in the West after a loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers 123-117, where Damian Lillard went off for 44 points, and Kevin Durant had 50. It was one of the most entertaining fourth quarters of the season to see two of the best scorers in the game go back-and-forth.

Portland needed the win because they are playing for their playoff lives. With the win, the Blazers are now the six seed in the West — just one game up on the nine-seed Clippers and two up on the 10-seed Jazz, who won their 11th straight game Wednesday. The back half of the West is one of the most interesting races to watch for the final 20+ games of the season, just two games separate six seed Portland and 10 seed Utah. Evey win counts.

If the Warriors finish with the two seed, that doesn’t matter to them too much (it would matter more to the Rockets in a likely Western Conference Finals showdown). Steve Kerr has tried to find ways to spark his team of late — such as letting the players coach time-out huddles — but this is a veteran team that has been to three straight Finals and won two. They know when it’s time to flip the switch. After the All-Star break and some time away from each other, expect them to get their focus back. There is nothing wrong with the Warriors, let’s not go there.

2) Celtics fall to Clippers, is it time to worry about Boston’s offense? Here’s a little-discussed fact: While the Boston Celtics have the best defense in the NBA over the course of the season, their offense is bottom 10 in the league (21st). Remove garbage time from the equation (as is done at Cleaning the Glass) and the Celtics move up to 20th in offense, hanging around the likes of the Pistons and Knicks in the rankings. While the Boston offense is pretty good when both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are on the court together (and they will be more in the playoffs), the lack of a secondary playmaker is going to be an issue when teams can really dial in on what the Celtics do during the postseason.

Right now, like the Warriors, the Celtics just look a little mentally tired and in need of a break — Brad Steven’s team is all about effort and execution, and that has not been the same recently. For example, in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers the Celtics gave up 129 points, the second consecutive game they have given up the most points they have allowed this season. The Celtics have dropped four-of-five, and Steven said after the All-Star break he will consider rotation changes to turn things around with his squad.

The seeming turnaround in Cleveland after the trade deadline provides a little urgency to Boston’s moves. Expect the team to be a little more focused when they get back to work next week.

Let’s give the Clippers some credit here — DeAndre Jordan owned the paint and scored a career-high 30 points, Montrezl Harrell make key plays late, Tobias Harris had 21 points, and the Clippers made good play after good play to get this win. Los Angeles is part of that clump of five teams within two games of each other battling for three playoff spots in the West, and they have a tougher schedule than most the rest of the way out. That makes wins like this — beating a top team in the East on the road — all the more crucial. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Clippers a 61 percent chance of making the postseason after this win, but it’s going to be close — Cleaning the Glass projects the Clippers, Pelicans, and Nuggets each to have 43 wins when the season ends while the Trail Blazers would have 42 (the Jazz are seen with 45, they have the softest schedule the rest of the way of the group). Every win matters. This was a big one for a Los Angeles team that looks good and deep enough to get into the dance.

3) Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo ejected after getting tangled up. Was this really worthy of an ejection? Maybe the players said something, but it didn’t look that bad.

That said, there is a history of bad blood here — Rondo questioned if Thomas even deserved a tribute video in Boston. On Wednesday night, Rondo was guarding Thomas on an inbound pass — getting in his face — and the two got tangled up. That led to a couple of technicals, but Rondo (and both players) continued talking after being separated, and that was enough to get them tossed.

Still not sure that was ejection worthy.

Lakers coach Luke Walton was ejected later in the first half after storming on the court to protest a call against Kyle Kuzma. That was not enough to spark the Lakers’ defense, which was a mess and the Pelicans got the needed win 139-117.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.

Report: Knicks to interview Kenny Smith for head-coaching job

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The Knicks are casting a wide net in their coaching search.

It’ll apparently include a familiar, though surprising, name.

ESPN:

TNT analyst Kenny Smith will interview for the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job on Friday, a source told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

A quality organization, the Rockets, interviewed Smith (in 2016, before hiring Mike D’Antoni). So, this isn’t proof of the Knicks’ oddball thinking. (There are plenty of better examples, if you wish).

Steve Kerr opened the door for former players to go straight from TV to being an NBA head coach without having any coaching experience. He’s been a smash hit with the Warriors.

But Kerr was also the Suns’ general manager before Golden State hired him. Smith has no front-office experience.

So, it’s tough to judge Smith, whose role on television is more to entertain than inform (though he does both). He’ll have to really wow in his interview to get the job.

But at least he has that opportunity.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.