Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: The Clippers top six are good. After that….

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while worrying about what too much wealth would do to your soul….

The Clippers’ top six is good enough to beat Portland. Right now, if Doc Rivers wants to win a big game, he has to lean on the top six guys in his rotation and not much else — that’s what happened in the Clippers win against Portland Wednesday. When it was just the Clippers’ starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — or when Jamal Crawford subbed in for Redick the Clippers were +13. They won by 6. This trend isn’t new — on the season the Clippers starting five is +15.6 per 48 minutes, sub Crawford in for Redick and it’s +21.7. Once you get past the top six on the Clippers roster it just drops off a cliff. Spencer Hawes looked like a great addition on paper but his shot has gone AWOL. Nobody else is stepping up, and Doc Rivers is busy on the phone lines trying to find depth (Austin Rivers is not the answer) but the Clippers don’t have the kind of assets that will likely net much in return. So it’s the top six and pray for the Clippers, but that was enough as they knocked down their midrange shots and got the win in Portland Wednesday.

It’s not just a Bulls slump, the Wizards are legit. The playoffs are all about match ups and if the Bulls draw the Wizards this postseason they should be concerned. Washington beat Chicago 105-99 Wednesday. It’s because the Wizards have the size and athleticism to match up with the Bulls. Nene is an underrated player and his physical play frustrated Pau Gasol. Nobody was going to slow Derrick Rose in the first half (20 points on 8-of-10 shooting) but John Wall did a good job on him in the second half and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce gives Washington more versatility on offense and he had 22 in this one. Remember this, the Wizards have the seventh most efficient defense in the NBA and third in the East. The Wizards are a team that — so long as Nene is healthy the Wizards are going to be a tough out in the East.

After the game, Marcin Gortat had the tweet of the night.

DeMar DeRozan is back. Fear the Raptors. Rust? What rust? DeMar DeRozan returned to the Raptors lineup after missing 21 games and fit in smoothly with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting in a win over Philly. When the Raptors came out flat to start the third quarter he made the sits so the Raptors did not have a repeat of their come-from-ahead loss to Detroit. Toronto is just a far more dangerous team with DeRozan back.

Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo could develop into something interesting in Orlando. It’s games like Wednesday night, when the Magic beat the Houston Rockets, that you think this backcourt in Orlando really could work out. Payton and Oladipo outplayed Patrick Beverley and James Harden down the stretch. Payton is a terrible jump shooter (and will never be great, maybe someday with a lot of work he could be an average shooter) but he attacks the rim well and shows a real comfort level just running the offense, plus he’s going to be a good defender. Oladipo on the other hand can shoot and more than that just flat-out score — he had 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting (plus six rebounds and assists). The Magic have scored better than 120 in consecutive games now and this is a team that is starting to look like it’s finding an identity.

The Atlanta Hawks won again. Yawn. I’m not sure what we really learned here — that the Hawks are really good? We knew that. That they are better than the Celtics? We knew that, too. But this win makes it 10 in a row for Atlanta and that needs to be recognized. Maybe the most interesting question about them right now is who makes the All-Star team from the Hawks? You can make a case for Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford, but the reality is one, maybe two, make the roster (and they will be voted in by the coaches). Maybe the only sure thing for the Hawks is that Mike Budenholzer will coach the team because the Hawks are going to be on top of the Eastern standings for a little while.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls’ starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.

Rui Hachimura gets destroyed by kid in Pop-A-Shot-like game (video)

Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura
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Rui Hachimura got kicked so hard in the groin by a teammate, the Wizards rookie needed surgery.

That’s pretty awful. Yet, there’s still a new contender for the worst moment of Hachimura’s season.

At All-Star Weekend in Chicago for Rising Stars, Hachimura faced a kid in a Pop-A-Shot-like game. It didn’t go well for Hachimura.

Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News:

An NBA player losing to a kid is bad enough. Twice, we’re entering troubling territory.

But claiming the game is cheating, demanding to switch sides and still getting routed?

That’s a ROUGH look.