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Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid injury changes playoff vibe in Eastern Conference

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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) Joel Embiid injury changes playoff vibe in Eastern Conference. Wednesday morning, you could chart a very plausible path for the Sixers to reach the Conference Finals (they climb the half game past the Cavaliers for the three seed, beat the six seed in the first round, then face the banged-up Celtics or whoever beat them in the first round, and then it’s the conference finals).

Forty-eight hours later, the Sixers season has been tossed upside down.

Joel Embiid has a fractured orbital bone (the eye socket) that requires surgery to repair, and he has a concussion. He’s out for 2-4 weeks. That means the rest of the regular season and likely at least the start of the playoffs, maybe the entire first round.

Embiid is handling this in the most Embiid way possible.

What does that mean on the court? The Sixers are in trouble. When Embiid has been out of the game this season (either missing the game or just on the bench), the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions worse. Embiid’s presence impacts both sides of the ball — when he’s out the defense gets six points per 100 possessions worse, while the offense is 9.6 per 100 worse. Or, look at it this way: the Sixers outscore opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Embiid but when he sits the Sixers get outscored by 3.6 per 100. With Embiid on the court the Sixers look elite, without him they look like a team that misses the playoffs entirely. He makes that big a difference. If Wednesday is any indication, look for some combination of Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes, and Dario Saric to play the five.

How hard will Philly push to get him back? Yes, their playoff seeding and how long they last in the postseason largely hinge on Embiid playing, but for a young team with long-term aspirations this playoff run is not the goal. It’s not worth long-term risk to try to win a playoff series this season. The vision has to be bigger than that, both for Embiid and the franchise.

So where do the Sixers land now?

Philly is currently the four seed in the East, percentage points ahead of the Pacers for the five slot, with both of them just half a game back of the three-seed Cavaliers. Indiana has a brutal schedule the rest of the way, the Sixers have the softest remaining schedule in the league (just two of their eight remaining games are against playoff teams), but the Pacers could well still pass them for the four seed. Catching the Cavaliers is almost out of the question now, and with a little gap back to the Wizards at six, the Sixers likely finish with the four or five seed and take on the Pacers in the first round. With Embiid Philadelphia is the favorite in that series, without him… not so much.

2) Kevin Durant ejected again, Golden State loses again, and with that the Rockets lock up the No. 1 seed. After missing six games with cracked ribs, Kevin Durant returned to the Warriors lineup Thursday night against the Bucks and with that (and the return of Draymond Green) the Warriors were supposed to get back to normal.

They did — the new normal where Durant gets ejected. That’s the fifth time this season. Just before the half Durant drove the lane and thought Giannis Antetokounmpo came over the top and fouled him, but there was no call. Durant got up, ignored the play that was going on, walked straight over to referee Tre Maddox and dropped a series of F-bombs on him (you can hear it in the broadcast), and that got KD tossed.

First, Durant earned the ejection. Players complain that officials have a quick trigger, but Durant showed Maddox zero respect and got in his face yelling obscenities — what did KD think was going to happen? Players are frustrated with officials this season, they want the ability to vent a little on calls and have a conversation about how things are officiated, and that’s completely fair — but it has to be done with respect. On both sides. If you ignore the play and go up to a referee dropping F-bombs you’re going to get run. That’s on Durant, not Maddox.

Without Durant, there was no second-half comeback for Golden State, and the Bucks picked up a much-needed win for them as they fight for seeding with Miami at the bottom of the East (the seven seed and Boston in the first round, minus Kyrie Irving and all the other Celtics’ injuries, is a coveted spot). Antetokounmpo had 32 points to lead Milwaukee.

That’s three-straight losses for Golden State, which is enough to give Houston the No. 1 seed officially. The Warriors are locked into the No. 2 slot. Expect both teams to rest their stars a lot the last couple weeks of the season.

3) Spurs knock off Thunder with equal parts defense, LaMarcus Aldridge, move into four seed. On paper, the Thunder look like they should be a serious threat in the Western Conference playoffs, a team that can put a real scare into even a healthy Golden State or Houston team. But then you watch them play and they are something less than that.

San Antonio used the same formula it has used all season — great defense and enough LaMarcus Aldridge to get the job done — to beat Oklahoma City 103-99. OKC was all Westbrook down the stretch but this was not his night — 2-of-8 shooting in the fourth with a couple air-balled threes and a couple of turnovers. While the Thunder clamped down on Aldridge in the second half (just four of his 25 points came after the half), it opened up things for other players who stepped in with buckets.

San Antonio and Oklahoma City are tied for the four/five seeds in the West with both at 44-32, however, the Spurs have the tiebreaker right now (the teams are 2-2 head-to-head this season, so it goes to conference record and the Spurs currently have a one-game lead).

I want to believe in Westbrook, Paul George, and the Thunder, but I watch their bench get torched in this game and I wonder (bench play matters less in the postseason but it still matters some). I watch teams target Carmelo Anthony on defense, something that will only get worse in the playoffs, and I see vulnerabilities. The Thunder can get out of the first round, but it will not be easy, not in this deep West. And beyond that, it’s just hard to envision after watching a game like this.

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

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Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103 (Lakers lead series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Anthony Davis drains game-winner at buzzer to put Lakers up 2-0

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It looked like Nikola Jokic, the All-NBA Second Team center, was going to be the star of the game — he scored Denver’s last 11 points and had them up with 2.7 seconds to go.

Then Anthony Davis — the All-NBA First Team center — drained this game-winner, a three over Jokic at the buzzer to win the game.

This is why the Lakers got Anthony Davis (and gave up a lot to get him).

That shot gave the Lakers the 105-103 win to put them up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Davis carried the Lakers at the end of the game, hitting a couple of clutch threes, and finished with 31 points and nine rebounds. He has been the best Laker in this series, with 68 points and 19 rebounds through two games.

For the Lakers, it was a dramatic win in a game where they were sloppy with 23 turnovers, and where their defense came apart for stretches of the game. Good teams win ugly games, that’s how the Lakers have to view it.

Denver supporters may want to spin this as “look how much better we played” — and they did, slowing the pace down (97 possessions, via NBA.com) and getting inside more, taking advantage of switches — but the reality is the Lakers are only going to have bad outings once or twice a series and the Nuggets needed to take advantage. They didn’t, and this loss stings.

“This is the Western Conference Finals. No moral victories, no silver linings,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame.

Davis’ good look to win the game came on the kind of defensive breakdown Denver has at times that other teams have not exploited these playoffs. Mason Plumlee was inserted for his size and defense, and he was on Davis, who simply runs across the top of the arc. Plumlee doesn’t stick with him, instead running over by LeBron James, who is just hanging out at the elbow (but Denver fears), and acts like there should be a switch. Torrey Craig can’t switch, if he does that LeBron has a free lane to the rim and an easy two. If it was an X-out style switch then Plumlee needed to trail Davis all the way to Jokic, he didn’t, leaving Jokic a ridiculously long closeout. Jokic read the play and got there to contest, but Davis had gotten a clean look.

Jokic had 30 points and nine rebounds for Denver, taking over the game when it mattered most and looking like an elite playoff performer. Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting and (as The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted on Twitter) was +16 in 44:14 minutes, meaning Denver was -18 in the 3:46 he was on the bench getting some rest. Denver got 15 points from Michael Porter Jr. and good minutes out of P.J. Dozier (although his five missed free throws in six attempts came back to bite the team).

Los Angeles got 26 points and 11 boards from LeBron and 11 points each from Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Lakers came out flat in this game except for LeBron, who had the team’s first 12 points. It looked like a close game until the Lakers went on an 18-3 run in the second quarter, with 8-0 of that coming with LeBron on the bench. The highlight of that was an Alex Caruso dunk that had the Lakers bench up and yelling.

Los Angeles stretched the lead out to as many as 16, but the Nuggets never quit.

Anthony Davis had to shut the door on them.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.