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Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Top four in East all face off, Celtics and Wizards get big wins

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What kind of world do we live in where someone would actually pretend to be in Nickleback? Why? So many things make no sense. Fortunately, we have hoops to distract us. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday in the NBA.

1) Wizards beat Raptors in race to avoid fourth seed in the East. Amongst Boston, Washington, and Toronto there is a serious playoff seedings race underway — to avoid being the four seed. The reason is simple, nobody wants to face Cleveland in the second round of the postseason. Teams want to be on the other side of the bracket, have a path to the conference finals and take your shot at the East’s powerhouse there. The four seed means a tough Atlanta team in the first round (most likely) then the Cavs.

A home-and-home this week between Toronto and Washington could play a huge role in who avoids that four seed, and round one went to the Wizards. Washington had just knocked off Golden State the night before (the game where Kevin Durant was injured) and on the second night of a back-to-back built on that against the Kyle Lowry-less Raptors, 105-96. The real hero for the Wizards was just acquired Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a team-high 27 points and was at the heart of a 26-3 run by the second unit that blew the game open.

Also give the Wizards’ small forward Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre credit for quality defense on DeMar DeRozan all night, making him work for his 24 points. The Raptors offense is just far easier to defend without Lowry in part because the threat of the three has dropped off: in the four games without Lowry, the Raptors are taking just 6.5 threes per game and hitting 32 percent of them. That has to change or teams will just pack the paint and go under every pick.

The Wizards and Raptors move to our nation’s capital and face off again Friday.

2) LeBron James puts up triple-double, and Celtics still beat Cavaliers. It felt like a playoff game in Boston Garden. Let’s not confuse a March 1 win against a team out two starters with something that actually can be predictive about the playoffs — regular season matchups are often poor indicators of playoff series — but for Boston this was a confidence booster.

LeBron James was doing his thing —28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but when it came to late game execution is was Boston making the plays. Isaiah Thomas was impressive as always with 31 points on just 20 shots, but he got help with critical late-game plays from Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Avery Bradley was hitting big shots, too.

Of course, it was IT with the dagger in the fourth that sealed the win.

The win puts the Celtics within three games of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East. That dream is not happening for Boston without some serious help from the Cavs, but this win does help keep Boston a step ahead of Toronto and Washington (see above). It’s a quality win, and a reminder the Celtics will be a tough out come the postseason.

3) Nets win! Nets win! Their 16-game losing streak is over. Break up the Brooklyn Nets. Wait, previous management did that years ago, now a new front office is trying to put it all back together despite a bunch of missing pieces.

The Nets had lost 16 in a row before landing in Sacramento to face the Demarcus-less Kings Wednesday night, and it was all Nets from the start — they never trailed in the contest. Brook Lopez had 24 points, Jeremy Lin added 17, and the Nets got enough stops to pick up a road win. That’s Brooklyn’s 10th win of the season.

Buddy Hield had 16 off the bench for the Kings, and Ty Lawson played in spite of the Taco Tuesday disaster and added 15. Also worth noting, rookie Skal Labissiere has shown flashes the last few games, and had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Long way to go with him still, but you can see why he was so highly recruited coming into college.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.