Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade is going to will Heat into playoffs

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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 imagining your texts if an angry Yo-Yo Ma was in your living room

1) Dwyane Wade drops 40, is going to will Heat into playoffs. With just a couple weeks left in the NBA season, Miami may not yet be  a lock to make the playoffs. However, they now have a two-game cushion over the nine seed Boston Celtics, and it feels like Miami is going to find its way into the dance as the seven seed (and almost certainly face Cleveland in the first round). All thanks to Dwyane Wade. He’s been on fire of late and dropped 40 on the Pistons Sunday in a game that continued Miami’s trend of players dropping like flies. Chris Bosh is out for the season recovering from blood clots in his lungs. Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen were already out injured for the night. Then Luol Deng suffered a contusion his knee and left not to return after halftime. With all that Wade had to take charge, and he did — 40 points on 14-for-27 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. Wade did it without hitting a three. He was getting to the rim like a younger Wade, making shots in the paint, plus going 6-of-12 from the midrange.

2) The Rockets never win pretty, but they do win and are now the second seed in the West. Much like how James Harden racks up his points, how the Rockets keep racking up wins is not aesthetically pleasing. It just works. It worked Sunday as the Rockets held on to beat the Wizards 99-91, which combined with Memphis’ loss puts Houston into the two seed out west. This time it wasn’t all James Harden, rather it was Josh Smith putting up points to open the game, it was Pablo Prigioni controlling the game in the fourth quarter. The  Wizards are a floundering team right now, and the Rockets did let them hang around. But anytime the Wizards seemed to get close, Houston went on a little run. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to pick up their 50th win and get the two seed (at least for a day).

3) Oklahoma City beat Phoenix and all but clinched a playoff spot. The sun set on the Phoenix’s playoff chances Sunday — with their loss to Oklahoma City the Suns are four games back with eight to play. (The Pelicans are 2.5 games back.) Mathematically everything is possible, realistically the Thunder are going to get the eight seed in the West. Sunday’s game had the feel of a playoff game. Phoenix was desperate to get the win, hit everything early; Markieff Morris had 16 first quarter points and the Suns led by 20 in the second quarter. Then the Thunder run started. There was a 17-4 run in the second quarter, then another 17-7 one in the third and we had a ballgame. The 13-0 OKC run in the fourth was pretty much the end of it. Russell Westbrook led the way, of course, dropping 33.

4) Brook Lopez had a 30 point, 11 rebound game to put Nets back in playoffs (for a day). If the playoffs started today, we would have to suffer through a round with the Brooklyn Nets in it. Sorry. At least they will get swept by the Hawks. But as bad as the Nets are they are too much for the Lakers right now. Brook Lopez has again become the focal point of the Nets’ offense, averaging 28.8 points per game over the last six, and that may be enough to keep them ahead of Boston. Or not. I’m not going to try to predict the teams stumbling to the finish line in the East.

5) San Antonio beat Memphis as these teams continue to trend in opposite directions. The Spurs have won three in a row, seven of their last 10, Tony Parker is getting in the lane, Tiago Splitter is making plays, and the Spurs are getting some big games from Kawhi Leonard. Sunday Leonard  had 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-of-7 in that final frame, to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 win over the Grizzlies. The Spurs are healthy again and look like a team that nobody’s going to want to face come the playoffs. A team that could come out of the West. Meanwhile, Memphis has lost three in a row. Granted, to the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs, so it’s hard to read too much into that (if they lose to the Kings in their next game…). Still, if the Grizzlies are going to be title contenders, these are the kinds of games you’d think they would win some of.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.