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Three Things to Know: 2017-18 Western Conference ties record with 10 winning teams

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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) This year’s Western Conference is special. The Clippers beat the Spurs last night, moving to 42-36 and clinching the 10th winning record in the West. The only other time a single conference produced so many winning teams – the 2001 Western Conference.

The standings that year:

1. San Antonio Spurs (58-24)

2. Los Angeles Lakers (56-26)

3. Sacramento Kings (55-27)

4. Utah Jazz (53-29)

5. Dallas Mavericks (53-29)

6. Phoenix Suns (51-31)

7. Portland Trail Blazers (50-32)

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)

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9. Houston Rockets (45-37)

10. Seattle SuperSonics (44-38)

The Bucks (106-102 over the Celtics) and Heat (101-98) winning last night also clinched all eight Eastern Conference playoff teams having winning records. So, there will be 18 teams this season above .500. The only other time that happened: 2005, when the 42-40 Cavaliers and 44-38 Timberwolves missed the playoffs.

All this points to a deep and fun postseason – except for the two Western Conference teams that don’t make it. Which leads to…

2) The Clippers and Nuggets aren’t going away. The Clippers trailed San Antonio by 19 and by seven with three minutes left. By snapping Indiana’s five-game winning streak, Denver has won three straight – last night’s narrow 107-104 victory and overtime wins over the Bucks and Thunder.

Just three Western Conference teams – Rockets, Warriors and Trail Blazers – have clinched playoff berths. The rest of the race:

4. Utah Jazz (45-33)

4. San Antonio Spurs (45-33)

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34)

8. New Orleans Pelicans (43-34)

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9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)

10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)

In their final four games, the Nuggets and Clippers each face three teams in the mix – including each other. Here’s the closing four for Denver and L.A.:

Nuggets:

  • vs. Timberwolves tomorrow
  • at Clippers on Saturday
  • vs. Trail Blazers on Monday
  • at Timberwolves next Wednesday

Clippers:

  • at Jazz tomorrow
  • vs. Nuggets on Saturday
  • vs. Pelicans on Monday
  • vs. Lakers next Thursday

Should be a fun finish.

3) The Cavaliers beat the Raptors, 112-106 – which means everything, nothing or something in between. Great analysis, I know.

Cleveland acting coach Larry Drew called a comeback win over Toronto a couple weeks ago a potential turning point. How big a message is another win over the first-place Raptors?

The Raptors have been the East’s best team this season, but they’ve also struggled in the playoffs the last few seasons and gotten eliminated by the Cavs the last two years. Even with Cleveland holding a worse record this year, a LeBron James team is always dangerous. Last night’s result could instill doubt in Toronto.

Or it could be an isolated event. After watching Villanova win the national championship the day before in San Antonio, Kyle Lowry scored five points on 2-of-11 shooting. He’ll be better-rested in the postseason.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers were missing starting point guard George Hill – though replacement Jose Calderon (19 points on 11 shots) played well. Of course, LeBron (27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists) and Kevin Love (18 points and 15 rebounds) did the heavy lifting.

Let’s just say not to read too much into a single regular-season game but not completely discount its importance, either.

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.

Klay Thompson back on practice court with Warriors Friday

Klay Thompson cleared
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The last time Klay Thompson was on an NBA court, it was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when an ACL tear both ended those playoffs for him and caused him to miss all of this season.

Friday, Thompson was back on the court.

The three-time champion and five-time All-Star cleared quarantine and was in the “Dubble” where the Warriors are conducting a two-week minicamp at their facility to help prepare for next season (whenever that starts).

It’s a good sign. When next season starts, the Warriors hope he, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green are all healthy and running at 100%.

Another good sign for the Warriors, Kevon Looney has been working out and reportedly looking good at the Warriors minicamp (take all the “he looks great” reports with a grain of salt, but the fact he is on the court is a good sign).

Looney played through injuries in those 2019 Finals, and has missed parts of four of his five NBA seasons due to injuries — he played just 20 games last season and had surgery on his core in May. It led to whispers around the league he may never again find his form as a quality role player. If Looney can stay healthy — coach Steve Kerr said he went “full bore” at the team’s first practice — he becomes a solid, athletic interior presence the Warriors need to balance their elite perimeter players.

 

Jamal Murray lived in “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years

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A once-rich-now-suddenly-poor family adjusting to living cramped together in a roadside motel is the premise behind “Schitt’s Creek” — the Canadian comedy that just annoyingly dominated the Emmy comedy categories. (It’s not that “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t deserving, I enjoy the show, it’s just annoying when any single show/movie dominates an awards broadcast.)

Jamal Murray watches that show and sees his former home.

Murray, Denver’s breakout superstar and a Canadian, lived in the “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years, reports Chris Halliday of the Orangeville Banner, via the Toronto Star (hat tip to Hoopshype).

The real-life motel is owned by Jesse Tipping, who also is the president of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy and Orangeville Prep.

Tipping purchased the motel in 2011 to house recruits for what’s become the most successful prep school basketball program in Canada. Former Orangeville Prep alum and budding NBA superstar Jamal Murray, of the Denver Nuggets, lived there for two years — so did Miami Heat training camp invitee Kyle Alexander.

It’s also been a filming location for a number of things, including “The Umbrella Academy” and “A History of Violence.” “Schitt’s Creek” has used the place for about a month every year for the past six years.

The popular comedy, which just ended its run, features veteran comedic actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, plus Eugene’s son Dan Levy, plus many more. “Schitt’s Creek” was first produced by the CBC for Canadian television, came to America on POP TV, but exploded when it got to Netflix and people discovered it.

Jamal Murray went from the “Schitt’s Creek” to Kentucky for a year, before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets as their point guard to pair with Nikola Jokic. Murray has had a breakout playoffs, leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. He’s made ridiculous plays on the court and powerful statements off it about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rumor: 76ers could hire Mike D’Antoni to lure James Harden

Mike D'Antoni and James Harden at Rockets-76ers game
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Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni seemingly has a good relationship with James Harden.

The 76ers are reportedly interested in hiring D’Antoni.

Coincidence?

John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

If this is the 76ers’ plan, it’s foolish. Stars don’t pick teams to play for a specific coach.

Stars want, among the things in Philadelphia’s control, winning environments. Pick the coach who can help build and maintain that.

Maybe that’s D’Antoni. He had plenty of success with the Rockets and Suns. But choose him for the right reasons – not some Harden pipe dream.

Harden can become a free agent in 2022, but he’d have to decline a $47,366,760 player option for his age-33 season. Otherwise, he’s headed toward 2023 unrestricted free agency. The 76ers would have a tough time clearing max cap space in either offseason.

A trade is possible. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are intriguing chips if Philadelphia becomes willing to trade one. Harden has the cachet to have some say in a trade destination. But Houston has been committed to winning around Harden. With an older team built around Harden, the Rockets couldn’t simply pivot into a new direction with Simmons or Embiid.

In fairness to the 76ers, this is the type of rumor that spreads baselessly. People see D’Antoni’s awkward fit with Philadelphia’s roster and make wild guesses about the team’s motivation. That doesn’t necessarily match the 76ers’ internal reasoning.