Atlanta Hawks wish Al Horford a happy birthday in best way possible

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Al Horford turns 28 today, and wanting to wish him a happy birthday, the Atlanta Hawks turned to Lance Stephenson for help.

[Editor’s note: The Hawks have removed the tweet and the image, apparently getting a little backlash from the league. But nothing ever dies on the Internet, so here is the image, albeit a bit small you get the idea.]

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The Spurs and Heat might be in the NBA Finals, but the Hawks are the real MVP today.

PBT Podcast: Talking big games down NBA stretch run, crumbling Mavericks

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The NBA is very good at backloading the schedule with games between its best teams, making the regular season’s final weeks must-watch.

This week the suddenly-hot Timberwolves — who have come together with Mike Conley running the point — face the Lakers with LeBron James back from his foot issue.

Also, Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets take on Kevin Durant and the Suns in what could be a Western Conference second-round preview. Just how sideways are things in Dallas and can they get critical wins down the stretch? Can the Heat beat the Knicks — and how big a threat is New York?

Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports get into all that, and while talking Mavericks, Corey’s Jukebox talks Mavericks and some classic rock from Deep Purple.

Then the conversation turns to players being shut down for the season — Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons among them — and how that sparks trade talk. Especially for Lillard, even though he has done nothing but be loyal to Portland. Then that discussion evolves into talking… karaoke? Yes, Karaoke.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Wizards, Kristaps Porzingis talking contract extension

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
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Despite the fact they are 34-42 and about to miss even the play-in, the Washington Wizards like their core of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. The Wizards have a solid +4.6 net rating when all three of them are on the court together (via Cleaning the Glass), the problem is that alone has not translated to winning (they are 4-10 in games with all three but not Delon Wright at the point; however, that trio with Wright is 12-9, notes by Josh Robbins at The Athletic).

Washington wants to lock up that core. Beal got his max contract (complete with a no-trade clause), and the Wizards have made moves to re-sign free agent to be Kyle Kuzma this offseason (there reportedly is mutual interest). That leaves Kristaps Porzingis, who has a $36 million player option for next season, and the sides are talking extension, reports Shams Charania at The Athletic.

Porziņģis and the Wizards have been seriously discussing a new deal in which he would opt out of his $36 million player option for the 2023-24 season and sign a new long-term deal, according to sources. The Wizards can offer Porziņģis a maximum of four years and $180 million if he opts out for next year and extends his deal. The deadline to reach such an agreement is in late June.

The Wizards are not going to max out Porzingis. That makes the questions what salary number and how many years do they want to give a player with his injury history? Porzingis played 65 games out of 76 so far this season (they may shut him down with no realistic chance at the play-in), but is it realistic to expect that in future years? He also put up impressive stats this season: 23.2 points a game with a 62.7 true shooting percentage, 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 blocks a night.

This is likely a case where Porzingis agrees to take less than his opt-in figure per year for the security of multiple years and more guaranteed money overall. The Wizards will want a number that keeps him as a valuable trade piece if things don’t go as planned (with Beal, specifically) and they have to pivot to a rebuild. Which if they have another season like this last one is a growing possibility.

Kevin Durant expected to make return to Suns Wednesday night

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In the three games he played for the Suns, Kevin Durant was his vintage self: 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game on an insanely efficient 80.8 true shooting percentage. Not so coincidentally, the Suns won all three games.

The Suns have gone 4-6 with Durant sidelined after he sprained an ankle in warmups before his fourth game (although that was good enough to hold off the Clippers and Warriors and keep the No. 4 seed and home court in the first round). Now Durant is expected back on Wednesday night against the Timberwolves — he is officially questionable, but multiple reports out of Phoenix say he will play if there is no setback in warmups.

A setback in warmups is how we got here in the first place.

Phoenix would have seven games left to hold on to that No.4 seed (they are five games back of the Kings at No.3, that’s not happening). More importantly, they would have seven games to build chemistry with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, for Monty Williams to look at lineups and tinker with rotations — they have seven games to figure it out before things get very serious.

Seven games could be enough in a wide-open West where plenty of teams are trying to figure things out. That road starts Wednesday night against a Timberwolves team playing its best ball of the season.

Three things to Know: Warriors’ comeback puts them back in top six

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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) Warriors’ comeback puts them back in top six, Heat loss to Raptors does opposite

There were three games last night that impacted the playoff chase.

• Golden State was down 17 at the half to New Orleans and had looked sloppy again, with turnovers and missed opportunities. Then, giving life to the “they can flip the switch” crowd, Draymond Green lit a fire under the Warriors by getting chippy with Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones. Plus Stephen Curry — who finished with 39 points, eight rebounds and eight assists — started doing things that left Steve Kerr shaking his head (also, notice Klay Thompson‘s off-ball movement here, trademark Warriors stuff).

The Warriors picked up the 120-109 win and moved back into the No.6 seed in the West for a day by half-a-game over the Timberwolves (the two teams are tied in the loss column, and Minnesota has the tiebreaker). New Orleans, at 38-38, sits as the No. 8 seed but just half a game up on the Lakers (these teams are tied in the loss column). Every win will matter down the stretch for seeding in the bottom half of the West.

• Miami entered the day tied with Brooklyn for the 6/7 seed in the East but with a couple of problems. First, the Nets had the tiebreaker after beating the Heat last weekend. Second, Brooklyn has the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. The Heat need some big wins down the stretch to overtake the Nets.

This is why a 106-92 loss to Toronto is a blow to the Heat’s chances to avoid the play-in. Jimmy Butler was out with neck soreness, and while Tyler Herro scored 33 on 13-of-21 shooting, the rest of the Heat shot 32.2% for the game and they took the loss. Now they head to New York for a tough road back-to-back.

With the win, Toronto (38-38) is tied with Atlanta for the 8/9 seed in the East. Scottie Barnes had 22 points and a career-best 12 assists in the win.

• Charlotte continues to wreak havoc on the West playoff chase — they beat Dallas twice last weekend, then on Tuesday helped out Dallas by knocking off the Thunder 137-134. The Thunder and Mavericks are now tied for the final play-in spot in the West.

2) Wade, Popovich, Nowitzki headline legendary 2023 Hall of Fame class

Saturday it will become official, but none of this is a surprise.

The 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class is stacked: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Gregg Popovich, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Becky Hammon. That is a very deep class out of the NBA/WNBA division, and there is no questioning the credentials of anyone in that class.

Wade is arguably the greatest shooting guard in NBA history (if you count Jordan as a small forward), winning three rings as a member of the Miami Heat, plus making eight All-NBA teams. Nowitzki is the guy with his statue outside the arena in Dallas, is an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. Popovich, the legendary coach of the five-time champion San Antonio Spurs, also coached Team USA to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Parker was the point guard for much of that Spurs run, is a four-time NBA champion and was Finals MVP in 2007. Gasol is a two-time NBA champion, four-time All-NBA and led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006.

3) Lillard, Simmons officially shut down for season (Beal probably is, too)

Everyone knew it was already happening, but a couple of things became official on Tuesday.

The Trail Blazers have shut down Damian Lillard for the season. The Blazers are five games out of the final play-in spot, and are tied for the fifth-worst record in the league. We know where their focus should be.

No. We are not doing the Lillard trade speculation here. Until he asks for a trade — and he has never done so, in fact saying the opposite multiple times in this past year — it will not happen.

Also, Nets’ coach Jacque Vaughn made the worst kept secret in the NBA official, saying the Nets are shutting Ben Simmons down for the season, officially for his back impingement. He reportedly does not need surgery and will be ready to go by training camp next fall.