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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 Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors took Game 4 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, 120-102.

Things started off okay for Milwaukee but started to peter off as the hometown Toronto crowd got behind their Raptors. The bench continued to show up for Leonard’s squad, and it was Kyle Lowry dueling it out with Antetokounmpo in the first quarter.

Leonard scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, and perhaps his most impressive play of the night came early in the third quarter. Running a little two-man game with Marc Gasol, Leonard cut to the basket and wound up dunking all over the Milwaukee star.

Via Twitter:

Leonard appeared to hobble a little bit after his dunk, but he should be ready to go for Game 5 on a Thursday night. Meanwhile, the series heads back to Wisconsin all tied up at 2-2.

The victor of this series will get to take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala says Stephen Curry is the second-best PG ever

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The Golden State Warriors are moving on to the NBA Finals yet again, thanks in large part to the efforts of Stephen Curry. Golden State’s point guard is now heading to his fifth-straight finals, and without Kevin Durant he was a big reason why the Warriors were able to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in just four games.

Of course there is a real worry that Durant won’t be able to play in the NBA Finals, either partially or fully, thanks to a calf injury. If that’s the case, and the Warriors can take home another championship trophy, it could mean great things for Curry’s legacy.

Curry is currently chasing Magic Johnson as the best point guard ever in the eyes of many folks. What might help solidify Curry’s place in history would be an NBA Finals MVP, which he would likely wind up with if Durant is unable to impact the Finals the way he has.

At least for Andre Iguodala, Curry is already the second best point guard of all-time.

Via The Athletic:

“I think he’s the second best ever,” Iguodala said. “I always thought that about him. I knew but other people didn’t know. So I wasn’t surprised when he took over that series. But I always gave Tony Allen credit. Playing against him made you understand the grind of how hard it is to win. It’s supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to have to find another way. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. He just embraced that. Just ingrained that into his system and it’s been there ever since.”

The real question is what Curry’s legacy will be after these Finals, particularly if they win without Durant. Some people aren’t keen to compare eras, and might never move off of Johnson for that spot. It seems reasonable to say that Curry is already the best shooter of all-time, but June could elevate him even further.

Raptors’ halfcourt defense, big games from Gasol, Lowry evens series with Bucks

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Slow your roll on “these Bucks can challenge Warriors” takes…

They are going to have to get out of the East, first. And that is proving to be more difficult than it looked after two games.

Back home in Toronto, the Raptors slowed the game’s pace down and used an impressive halfcourt defense — sure, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Khris Middleton had 30 points, but outside those two the Bucks shot 35.4 percent and had just 13 fast break points — to keep the Bucks offense relatively in check.

Relatively is good enough when everyone is hitting their shots.

Kawhi Leonard had a relatively quiet 19 points, although he did have the dunk of the playoffs all over Antetokounmpo.

Leonard didn’t have to carry the team because everyone in white seemed to be knocking down their shots. Kyle Lowry had 25 points on 11 shots, Marc Gasol had 17 (and his aggressive offense the last two games has stressed the Bucks defense), Nick Powell had 18, Serge Ibaka 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Fred VanVleet had 13 points on six shots.

All that led to a 120-102 Raptors win that wasn’t even that close.

The series is now tied 2-2 and heads back to Milwaukee where the best-of-three left starts.

Milwaukee and Mike Budenholzer have leaned on Nikola Mirotic more in recent games, and the Raptors are now attacking him.

Combine that with an aggressive Gasol — he has started taking the shots from three that he hesitated on in the first two games — and his 3-of-6 from deep has become a big problem for Toronto.

Toronto had this in hand much of the second half, so much so that Drake was helping Nick Nurse relax on the sidelines.

The Bucks will also need their other players — Eric Bledsoe, who had 5 points on 7 shots, and Brook Lopez, who had 8 points — to step up in the final games.

The Raptors have found a formula that works, it’s on the Bucks now to adjust.

Kyle Korver says the copier Nets bought with cash from his trade is broken

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Kyle Korver was taken by the New Jersey Nets with the 51st pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was traded on draft day by the Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers for cash considerations. The Nets famously — or infamously — used the cash from that trade to purchase an office copier.

More than a decade and a half later, Korver is still playing in the NBA at age 38. And now, thanks to Korver giving the commencement speech at his alma mater Creighton, we have an update on the status of that copier.

Via Twitter:

Kyle Korver does not have a depreciation expense method. He is timeless.