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Three Things to Know: Forget the top seed, Celtics need to rest, get healthy

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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) Injury bug hits Celtics hard, focus now needs to be on getting healthy, not top seed. The Boston Celtics are 3.5 games back of the Toronto Raptors for the top seed in the East, four games back in the loss column. That’s very hard to make up with 15 games left on the schedule.

That’s also not near the Celtics biggest problem right now.

A team where the whole has been greater than the sum of its parts all season — the reason Brad Stevens is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year — has been hit hard by the injury bug. Right now, Boston just needs to rest guys and get right before the playoffs. Forget chasing the top seed. Look at this list of guys out.

Kyrie Irving will miss a few games with knee soreness. He’s had tendonitis, especially since fracturing his kneecap in the finals a few years back, and some rest/maintenance of that is an annual necessity. Boston will be the antelope lagging at the back of the herd if he’s not close to 100 percent for the playoffs, his rest needs to be the priority.

Daniel Theis is out for the season following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. This means a much bigger role for Greg Monroe.

Jaylen Brown will be out a while in the league’s concussion protocol after his nasty fall.

Marcus Smart has a right thumb injury — some reports say a torn ligament although Danny Ainge denied that — that may require surgery. This is his shooting hand, and both he and the team are evaluating treatment options. It’s not clear if he can ultimately get a little rest and then play through it, or if the surgery needs to be immediate and he is out for an extended period.

Gordon Hayward is out for the season after his gruesome injury five minutes into the season. I know what he keeps saying and posting, but players are the worst judges ever of their own recovery times. Both Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge say he’s out, so I will take their words for it.

Boston has been special this season because of how this jigsaw puzzle of pieces fit together to form a team that has a shot at coming out of the East (and 11 percent chance according to fivethirtyeight.com). However, that chance only exists if this team is close to fully healthy. Stevens and the Celtics need to take a page out of the Gregg Popovich/Steve Kerr book, rest guys down the stretch, get right, and be ready to go as the two seed in mid-April when the games really matter.

Just take a deep breath, relax, the Celtics can get through this and be a force in the playoffs. It’s going to be fine. They just need to focus on health for a little bit.

2) Brandon Jennings returns to Milwaukee like it’s 2009. Brandon Jennings is back in the NBA, and after a long, strange trip he’s returned to the place where he had by far his greatest success as a player — Milwaukee.

It took all of a couple of minutes for Jennings to make it feel like it was 2009 again (but without “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas, good lord please do not bring that song back). Jennings was on triple-double watch fast in his return and he finished the game with 16 points (he was 3-of-6 from three), 12 assists, and eight rebounds. All that in 23 minutes.

Yes, it still counts if you do all that against the Memphis Grizzlies (now the losers of 18 in a row after this one).

We’ll see if Jennings can sustain this, but for a night the prodigal son was back in Milwaukee and the celebration was on.

3) West playoff update: Rockets thump Spurs (who fall out to 10th), Thunder and Trail Blazers get easy wins. Every game, every day in the crowded Western Conference playoff chase is going to shake up the standings. Here’s a brief little recap out of Monday.

Houston had little trouble with a San Antonio team without LaMarcus Aldridge, winning 109-93 behind 28 points from James Harden. For the Rockets, it’s another win to keep them a couple of games ahead of the Warriors in the race for best record in the NBA. For the Spurs, the loss drops them to 37-30 and a three-way tie with Denver and Utah (right now Utah would win the tiebreaker, but there’s a number of games that would have a say in that before the last day of the season). Technically, the Spurs fall to 10th. Add to that the Spurs have a brutal schedule the rest of the way and it’s tempting to say they will fall out and miss the playoffs, but I would respond with two words: Kawhi Leonard. He is expected back on Thursday, and that could change the game.

Portland helped secure its hold on the three seed with a 115-99 win over Miami, and Oklahoma City remained the four seed (two games back of the Blazers) with a 106-101 win over Sacramento. Guess what? Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in that one, his 20th of the season.

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.