Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) Breaking down East playoff race
Unlike the wide-open West, the Eastern Conference has settled into pretty clear tiers in the playoff race. Still, there are some races to follow with just three weeks until the play-in tournament starts. Let’s break it down, and start by looking at the standings.
• No.1 seed: The Milwaukee Bucks have this as long as they don’t trip on the way to the finish line. The Bucks have a 2.5-game lead (three in the loss column) over Boston with 11 games to play, and the Bucks don’t have a particularly difficult schedule. The road to the Finals will go through Milwaukee this season, and maybe more importantly, getting the top seed keeps the Celtics and 76ers on the other side of the bracket.
• No.2-3 seeds: Boston and Philadelphia are in a race for the two-seed and home court in the second round (although the two seed could have the more dangerous first-round matchup if Miami is seventh, more on that later). The 76ers have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, another advantage for the Celtics in holding on to the No.2 seed and being home in the second round.
The 76ers slipped to third after their double overtime loss to the Bulls on Monday where the teams combined to shoot 25% from 3. It was not James Harden‘s night (2-of-14 shooting, but with 12 dimes) and when Joel Embiid fouled out in the second overtime the game was all but over.
• No.4-5 seeds: This appears locked in — we are going to have New York vs. Cleveland in the first round. The Cavaliers have the No.4 seed by three games and the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, they’d completely have to fall apart for the Knicks to get home court in the first round. The gritty Knicks, with Jalen Brunson back in the rotation, have a two-game cushion to hold on to the No.5 seeds, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Tom Thibodeau deserves credit for getting as much out of this roster as possible — and the Knicks will be a tough first-round out.
• No.6-7 seeds: Brooklyn is clinging to the final playoff spot, but the Heat are just one game back (two in the loss column). There are games one watches the Heat and thinks, “this team is catching the Nets,” like the recent win over Memphis. Then they go out and look flat against the Bulls and it’s hard to picture this team avoiding the play-in. The Nets after the trade deadline are a .500 team, but can the Heat play up to their potential and pass them? Or will Miami keep shooting itself in the foot?
• No. 8-10 seeds: The Hawks, Raptors and Bulls are all within a game of each other and it’s going to be a race to see who gets the eighth seed and has to only win one game to get out of the play-in and into the playoffs. Atlanta has the easiest schedule of the three, but the Bulls have been the hottest team with wins over the Heat and 76ers recently. All three are destined for the play-in unless one collapses, but getting the eighth seed matters.
• No.11-12 seeds: The Wizards and Pacers will need some help — and to help themselves — to get into the play-in. Making up a couple of games with 11 to play is a big ask and it means getting on a run and winning games, and Indiana has the second toughest remaining schedule in the East. fivethirtyeight.com gives the Wizards a 5% chance of making the playoffs, so it’s not impossible, but they need Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis to carry them to a lot of wins the rest of the way, then get a little help from a team above them.
2) Julius Randle puts on a show with 57, it’s not enough against hot-shooting Wolves
This game was a shooting clinic.
The night’s high scorer was the Knicks’ Julius Randle, who finished the game with 57 points, while hitting 8-of-14 from 3, knocking down shots that should have come with extra points for the degree of difficulty. He was impressive.
Then there was the Timberwolves, who were more balanced but equally hot, shooting better than 70% as a team in the first half. They also had Taurean Prince — getting the minutes of the injured Anthony Edwards — who was 8-of-8 on 3-pointers and finished with 35 points.
It was close and dramatic late, but the Timberwolves held on for a 140-134 win. This is a quality win for a Timberwolves team fighting to hand on to a top-eight seed in the West (and an easier path out of the play-in).
3) Warriors win on the road! (It still counts if its Houston)
The Warriors needed a road win, they got a road win. Who cares if it came against the team with the worst record in the West, it counts just the same. Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things on his way to 30 points and the Warriors got the 121-108 win in Houston.
Klay Thompson added 29 for Golden State, which slid above Dallas (losers in Memphis) and into the No.5 seed in the West with the victory. Big showdown is coming Wednesday when the Warriors head to Dallas and face those Mavericks (Luka Dončić could be back for that game).
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