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Three Things to Know: West is bunched up

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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) We knew the West would be bunched up but… damn. This is just insane. We are a quarter of the way into the NBA season and 14 teams in the Western Conference — every team save Phoenix — can legitimately think they have a shot at the postseason.

And that will have implications.

Here are the standings as of now:

Look at that. In the West, 5.5 games separate seeds 1-to-14.

The 14 seed Utah Jazz are just 1.5 games out of the playoffs (and I think the Jazz will shake out of their slow start and still make the postseason). The top-seeded Clippers (did not see that coming) are just 4 games from being out of playoffs entirely, ahead of 9 seed Spurs and Mavericks (the 8-10 seeds all tied).

Just for comparison, in the East top-seeded Toronto is 5 games up on Detroit, the No. 5 seed, and the Raptors have an 8.5 games cushion on making the playoffs over the No. 9 seed Wizards. (The “lowly” Suns out West are 9.5 games back of the Clippers, and they are dead last in the conference by a long shot.)

Two big things will come out of this tight West.

First, it means a depressed trade market at the deadline because there are fewer sellers. We thought Sacramento, Dallas, maybe San Antonio, and other teams might be looking to move veterans and take on salary for young players or picks to jump-start a rebuild once they were out of it, but all of those teams are now thinking playoffs and not going to throw in the towel. If anything, more teams in the West may be buyers, which also could lead to a bubble in the market.

The other thing to watch is seeding for the playoffs, and how much it matters. Certainly there are advantages to being at home (even in the first round) but in a West where every team in the postseason (outside of a healthy Golden State) could potentially beat any other team, being healthy and getting the right matchups will matter more than where the games are played. It might be better for some team to be the six seed and get a better matchup for them than to be the four seed, have home court but a tougher matchup.

2) James Harden goes for 54 but the Rockets still lose… to the Wizards? MVP James Harden showed up on Monday night in our nation’s capital and put on a show — 54 points on 32 shots, knocking down 7 threes, and scoring seemingly at will against the Wizards. With 13 points and 11 turnovers, technically Harden had a triple-double.

But it wasn’t just Harden. With Chris Paul out, Eric Gordon got the start and he scored 34 points (on 23 shots) for a backcourt total of 90 points — second most by a backcourt tandem in a game ever. You’ll never guess one of the two ahead of them on that list, by the way:

And yet it wasn’t enough. John Wall had 35 points and 11 assists (Wall passed Wes Unseld on the Washington all-time scoring list during the second quarter), Markieff Morris had 22 points off the bench, and those Harden turnovers — a couple late in the game, a couple more in overtime, he struggled late when forced to go right — were enough to get Washington the win in OT, 135-131.

Let’s not go so far as to say the Wizards have fixed their woes, but they are now 3-1 since coach Scott Brooks moved Thomas Bryant and Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup, then sent Markieff Morris to the bench.

3) What controversy slowing him down again? Kevin Durant in a groove, drops 49 on Orlando. Kevin Durant is the best pure scorer in the game and he has found his groove again. In his last three games — all Warriors wins — he has 125 points, shooting 52.5 percent.

Orlando was the latest victim, Durant dropped 49 on them to spark a comeback win for the Warriors, 116-110 over Orlando.

Klay Thompson had 19 of his 29 in the fourth quarter to help with that comeback. And the Warriors might get Stephen Curry back Thursday in Toronto. You can stop worrying about this team, if you were for some odd reason

Pistons claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks waived Christian Wood late last season to ensure avoiding the luxury tax. The Pelicans claimed him. Wood had played well in limited minutes with the 76ers, Hornets and Bucks and in the NBA’s minor league since going undrafted in 2015.

New Orleans gave him his biggest opportunity yet. In 24 minutes per game over eight games, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds.

But the Pelicans filled their roster for next season and waived Wood.

Detroit will take advantage.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons announced today that the team has claimed forward/center Christian Wood off waivers.

Wood’s $1,645,357 minimum salary is unguaranteed until the regular season. So, Detroit could still waive him before the season. But it seems he’ll at least go to training camp and get a shot at a regular-season roster spot.

The Pelicans also could’ve kept him through the preseason then waived him before the regular season. They seemingly did him a favor of allowing him to get somewhere he has a realistic chance of sticking.

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will start in the frontcourt for the Pistons. Markieff Morris and Thon Maker appear to be first in line is backups.

But don’t be surprised if Wood earns playing time. At minimum, the 23-year-old should provide nice depth at both power forward and center.

The Pistons have also now acquired four members of last year’s Bucks – Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Tim Frazier and now Wood.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.