Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: Warriors win Pacific Division, may win much more

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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 finding Jesus in a landslide scar

1) Golden State has won the Pacific Division for the first time since 1976. They could win a whole lot more. As deep and as landmine filled as the Western Conference playoffs will be, the Golden State Warriors are the favorites. They have the most efficient offense in the NBA (109.6 points scored per 100 possessions) and the most efficient defense in the league (97.5 per 100 allowed) — the last team to have both in a season was the 72-win Jordan era Bulls. Tuesday night the Warriors pulled away in the second half to beat Portland and clinch Golden State’s first Pacific Division title since 1976. It happened because Stephen Curry had 33 points (on 22 shots) and a couple times went into his video game mode. It happened because Draymond Green — my pick for Defensive Player of the Year — had 14 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists in 37 minutes. It happened because the Warriors shot 60.2 percent as a team. It happened because LaMarcus Aldridge is out with a sore hand. It happened because Golden State had 37 assists on 50 made shots. It happened because the Warriors are the best team in the NBA this season. Bar none.

2) Monta Ellis found his shot again, it makes Dallas a much tougher out. When Monta Ellis gets going Dallas is almost impossible to stop. You still have to pay attention to Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons, and something has to give. Ellis has been up and down in recent games, but he was on Tuesday night, and the Spurs paid the price. Ellis had 38 points — 23 in the second half — and was doing it by getting to the rim and knocking down his midrange shots. Consider Dallas beating San Antonio your daily reminder that the Western Conference playoffs will be amazing. Well, amazing for us fans, I don’t envy the coaches.

3) Khris Middleton is a thing, hits game winner to beat Miami. This summer Khris Middleton is going to be a good litmus test for how closely you follow the NBA. Middleton is a restricted free agent who is going to get PAID. Like max or close to it paid. He’s the darling of a lot of front offices and every team could use a guy like him. The Bucks likely match, but he will be making bank next year. Your friends who don’t follow the NBA will say “who?” and you’ll try to explain how he’s a fantastic “3 and D” player, he’s a guy who just a huge plus for your team on the court (the advanced stats love him), and he can evolve into much more. Or, you can just show them this shot to beat the Heat.

4) Toronto’s defense is a mess (and they would seriously miss Kyle Lowry). Toronto Raptors fans are awesome — they took over the Palace at Auburn Hills and turned Detroit’s court into a Raptors’ home game. Right now, that is the only thing that is awesome about Toronto. Their defense is a disaster — they allowed Detroit to score at a 119.3 points per 100 possessions pace Tuesday (in a Detroit win). For the month of March, the Raptors are allowing 110.5 points per 100, the worst in the NBA. Their offense has bailed them out a few times, but now they could be without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry for a while. He played just 11 minutes due to back spasms and hinted he is going to miss a little time to let it heal before the playoffs.

5) Just your weekly reminder DeMarcus Cousins is a beast. Philadelphia is a pretty good defensive team this season (it’s the other end of the court that’s the real issue) but they had no answer for DeMarcus Cousins in beast mode Tuesday. Cousins had 33 points (on 8-of-27 shooting), plus four blocks and four steals. He is just so strong he can do whatever he wants down low, and if you bring the double he’ll beat you with the pass. (And this video below doesn’t even get into his strong defense on the night.)

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets: