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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

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.