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Three Things to Know: Forget the top seed, Celtics need to rest, get healthy


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) Injury bug hits Celtics hard, focus now needs to be on getting healthy, not top seed. The Boston Celtics are 3.5 games back of the Toronto Raptors for the top seed in the East, four games back in the loss column. That’s very hard to make up with 15 games left on the schedule.

That’s also not near the Celtics biggest problem right now.

A team where the whole has been greater than the sum of its parts all season — the reason Brad Stevens is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year — has been hit hard by the injury bug. Right now, Boston just needs to rest guys and get right before the playoffs. Forget chasing the top seed. Look at this list of guys out.

Kyrie Irving will miss a few games with knee soreness. He’s had tendonitis, especially since fracturing his kneecap in the finals a few years back, and some rest/maintenance of that is an annual necessity. Boston will be the antelope lagging at the back of the herd if he’s not close to 100 percent for the playoffs, his rest needs to be the priority.

Daniel Theis is out for the season following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. This means a much bigger role for Greg Monroe.

Jaylen Brown will be out a while in the league’s concussion protocol after his nasty fall.

Marcus Smart has a right thumb injury — some reports say a torn ligament although Danny Ainge denied that — that may require surgery. This is his shooting hand, and both he and the team are evaluating treatment options. It’s not clear if he can ultimately get a little rest and then play through it, or if the surgery needs to be immediate and he is out for an extended period.

Gordon Hayward is out for the season after his gruesome injury five minutes into the season. I know what he keeps saying and posting, but players are the worst judges ever of their own recovery times. Both Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge say he’s out, so I will take their words for it.

Boston has been special this season because of how this jigsaw puzzle of pieces fit together to form a team that has a shot at coming out of the East (and 11 percent chance according to However, that chance only exists if this team is close to fully healthy. Stevens and the Celtics need to take a page out of the Gregg Popovich/Steve Kerr book, rest guys down the stretch, get right, and be ready to go as the two seed in mid-April when the games really matter.

Just take a deep breath, relax, the Celtics can get through this and be a force in the playoffs. It’s going to be fine. They just need to focus on health for a little bit.

2) Brandon Jennings returns to Milwaukee like it’s 2009. Brandon Jennings is back in the NBA, and after a long, strange trip he’s returned to the place where he had by far his greatest success as a player — Milwaukee.

It took all of a couple of minutes for Jennings to make it feel like it was 2009 again (but without “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas, good lord please do not bring that song back). Jennings was on triple-double watch fast in his return and he finished the game with 16 points (he was 3-of-6 from three), 12 assists, and eight rebounds. All that in 23 minutes.

Yes, it still counts if you do all that against the Memphis Grizzlies (now the losers of 18 in a row after this one).

We’ll see if Jennings can sustain this, but for a night the prodigal son was back in Milwaukee and the celebration was on.

3) West playoff update: Rockets thump Spurs (who fall out to 10th), Thunder and Trail Blazers get easy wins. Every game, every day in the crowded Western Conference playoff chase is going to shake up the standings. Here’s a brief little recap out of Monday.

Houston had little trouble with a San Antonio team without LaMarcus Aldridge, winning 109-93 behind 28 points from James Harden. For the Rockets, it’s another win to keep them a couple of games ahead of the Warriors in the race for best record in the NBA. For the Spurs, the loss drops them to 37-30 and a three-way tie with Denver and Utah (right now Utah would win the tiebreaker, but there’s a number of games that would have a say in that before the last day of the season). Technically, the Spurs fall to 10th. Add to that the Spurs have a brutal schedule the rest of the way and it’s tempting to say they will fall out and miss the playoffs, but I would respond with two words: Kawhi Leonard. He is expected back on Thursday, and that could change the game.

Portland helped secure its hold on the three seed with a 115-99 win over Miami, and Oklahoma City remained the four seed (two games back of the Blazers) with a 106-101 win over Sacramento. Guess what? Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in that one, his 20th of the season.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win


The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.