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Three Things to Know: Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars

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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) Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars. The key to the Knicks winning their first game in Madison Square Garden since Dec. 1 apparently was to have superfan Spike Lee on the other side of the country.

Lee was at the Oscars in Los Angeles, winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay for ““BlacKkKlansman” (and not being thrilled with the “Green Book” best picture win) when Samuel L. Jackson informed Lee the Knicks won.

Lee appears to yell back “We’re trying to tank,” which is just what Adam Silver wants for the league on a national broadcast. Not that the tanking has gone great suddenly, the Knicks have now won 2-of-3. Don’t worry about lottery though, the Knicks still have the second-worst record in the NBA, which means a 14 percent chance of Zion Williamson and a 47.8 percent chance of picking fifth or sixth.

Early on Sunday it didn’t look like the Knicks would win, they were doing very Knicks things.

Then things turned around as the Knicks got good games from guys who could be part of whatever future is to come in New York. Damyean Dotson led the way with 27 points, knocking down eight 3-pointers along the way. New point guard Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 points and 13 assists (plus a spectacular missed dunk), and Mitchell Robinson added 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks.

Everyone talks about Sacramento and maybe the Lakers passing the Clippers for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Spurs are tied with the Clippers for the 7/8 seed and have lost 6-of-7 on the Rodeo road trip (with one game remaining, Monday in Brooklyn). They are the team in real danger of falling out in the West, although fivethirtyeight.com has San Antonio with an 85 percent chance of making the postseason. The Spurs remaining schedule is tougher than the Clippers and Kings, Gregg Popovich and company need o find some wins once they get back home.

2) Raptors fall to Magic, seem destined for the two seed… which may not be such a bad thing. Orlando is suddenly playing good basketball — they have won 8-of-10 and are now just a game out of the playoffs in the East. They have done it with the best defense in the NBA over the last 10, giving up just a point per possession, and the offense has been solid, resulting in a +13.6 net rating. Orlando has simply been good.

The latest victim, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors — without Kawhi Leonard for the night — scored 98 points per 100 in Sunday’s game. Toronto just could not finish over Orlando’s length, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint for the night. While Marc Gasol (who started) showed some chemistry with Kyle Lowry, the big man the Raptors picked up at the deadline was wholly outplayed by All-Star Nikola Vucevic all game. The holes in Gasol’s game at this point in his career are showing up and being exploited.

Next up for the Raptors is Boston on Tuesday, that should be a real test.

With Sunday’s loss, the Raptors are two games back of the Bucks for the top seed in the East and seem unlikely to catch them. The Raptors are also 3.5 up on the three seed and hobbled Pacers, and 5.5 up on the four-seed Sixers. Which is to say, the Raptors seem destined for the two seed — and that could be a good thing, so long as the Pacers hold on to the three seed. If the standings stay in this order for the top five, the Raptors crush the Pistons/Hornets/Magic in the first round, while the Pacers get a gritty but beatable Brooklyn team, and the Celtics and 76ers have a brutal first-round matchup. In the second round, the Raptors would face the Nets/hobbled Pacers, while the Celtics/Sixers winner gets the Bucks. Suddenly the Raptors are through to the conference finals having avoided the most dangerous teams, they should be fresh. There are 23 (or so) games left and the standings can shift, but things could be lining up well for Toronto.

3) Ja Rule’s halftime show in Milwaukee did not go as planned. On the bright side, it went better than the Fyre Festival.

Ja Rule seems a pretty good get for Saturday night in Milwaukee and a far better option than most NBA halftime shows (not Gary The Amazing Sladek chair stacking good, but good). It didn’t work out that way.

Ja Rule came out on the court wearing a Bucks’ Ray Allen throwback jersey… and after that things got weird. When he wanted to start he turned to his DJ and said “Are we ready?” Then, when the music didn’t start, “I guess not.”

Later, Giannis Antetokounmpo came out and was taking warmup shots while he was still performing… this wasn’t exactly players racing out at All-Star to see J Cole perform.

When Timberwolves official Twitter chimed in, Ja Rule cursed them.

Not sure Ja Rule’s curse is anything worse than what Jimmy Butler already did to the Minnesota franchise this season. And he’s wrong about Karl-Anthony Towns, at least for a long while — KAT’s five-year max extension starts next season. He’s locked in for a while. Now, if Ja Rule could get Andrew Wiggins out the door….

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.