Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) It’s Lillard time. Damian Lillard’s 15 straight and 19 in fourth buries Lakers. The Lakers had quietly gone 17-8 in their past 25 games and have done so with a combination of good defense using their athleticism and length to challenge shooters, and playing at the fastest pace in the league and getting better in transition. It had the Lakers up double-digits over Portland at home on Monday night
Then suddenly it was Lillard time, and the Lakers had no answer.
Damian Lillard scored 15 straight points and 19 total in the fourth to spark a comeback and beat Los Angeles 108-103.
Portland is one of the teams fighting to stay off the playoff bubble in the West and this is their seventh-straight win, moving them all the way up to the three seed in the conference (as San Antonio and Minnesota stumble, but Portland is still just three games ahead of the nine-seed Clippers in the crowded West). Fivethirtyeight.com now has Portland with a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs, something that didn’t seem nearly as certain a couple of weeks ago.
Fueling that run is Lillard, who in his last 10 games is averaging 33.5 points and six assists per game, shooting 38 percent from three in that stretch. When Portland has needed him most this season, he has played at a near MVP-discussion level, and that — plus an improved defense this season — makes Portland a tough team in the first round come the playoffs.
2) Too much Bojan Bogdanovic (you read that right) lifts Pacers over Bucks in a key game for Eastern playoff seedings. This sums up Monday night in Indianapolis: In a game featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bojan Bogdanovic was the best player on the court.
On a night where both teams were on a back-to-back and it showed — both Victor Oladipo (14 points on 19 shots with 10 turnovers) and Antetokounmpo (18 points on 16 shots) were off their games — Bogdanovic’s dropped 29 points on 13 shots, hit 5-of-7 from three, and with the game in the balance stole a tip-off ball headed to Eric Bledsoe then drained clutch free throws to secure the Pacers’ win.
With the Pistons crumbling (keep reading down to item three) and the Hornets out of it, the playoff teams in the East are set, but the seedings are not and key games like this between Eastern playoff teams go a long way in determining the order. With the win, the Pacers remain the four seed, just half-a-game back of the Cavaliers for the three seed. Meanwhile, Milwaukee falls to the eight seed — they are tied with Miami record-wise but have lost all three head-to-head meetings so the Heat have the tiebreaker. Starting the playoffs on the road in Toronto would a tough way to go for Milwaukee.
3) Larry Nance Jr. goes off as Thompson-less Cavaliers get a win over crumbling Detroit. Tristan Thompson is out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle, and with that Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue tweaked his starting lineup: Cedi Osman went to the bench and Larry Nance Jr. got the start at center with Rodney Hood also in the starting lineup.
It worked on Monday night — Nance had 22 points 22 on 9-of-15 shooting plus 15 rebounds, both career-best figures.
Now comes the real test for this Cleveland lineup: the team heads out on a six-game road trip without Thompson where they will face three teams fighting for the playoffs (Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers) plus a Lakers team playing well. Can they hold on to the three seed with a hot Pacers team just half a game back?
Meanwhile, Detroit has fallen apart. The team is 2-8 in its last 10 games, being outscored by 8.7 points per 100 possessions, with the 27th ranked offense and 23rd ranked defense in the league in that stretch. The Pistons have yet to beat a team not on the second night of a back-to-back since the Blake Griffin trade. In those 10 games Griffin is averaging 18.3 points on just 40.2 percent shooting overall and 30.2 percent from three — not exactly team leader numbers.