Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Nuggets tie Warriors for top seed in West after win

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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) Denver wins, Warriors lose, Nuggets tie Warriors for the top seed in West after win. We know the Warriors are bored with the regular season, but will the potential of losing the top spot in the West spark something in them?

Denver isn’t bored and has things to celebrate — for the first time in five years, the Nuggets are headed to the playoffs. This was a team that has been good for a couple of years — they won 46 games last season, one game short of the dance — but made a leap this season, mostly through continuity. Coach Mike Malone had the right attitude, “I told the guys after: ‘We should feel good about this. Life is about celebrating moments.’” (Via Mike Singer of the Denver Post.)

But this win was more than just a ticket to the dance — at 47-22, the Nuggets are now tied with the Golden State Warriors for the top seed in the West.

Denver did its part going into Boston and getting the win. The early part of this game was telling: Kyrie Irving tried to take over but started 1-of-5 shooting, while the Nuggets moved the ball, shared the load and raced out to a 13-4 lead. Irving would get hot in the second half and finished with 30 points (on 10-of-23 shooting), but Denver had seven players in double figures, led by another night from Nikola Jokic, who had 21 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. More than just the numbers, he impacts every aspect of the game when on the court. He just seemed to make the right decisions all night.

The Warriors fell back to the Nuggets, although this Golden State loss was understandable — on the road against a red-hot San Antonio team that has won nine straight, and the Warriors were without DeMarcus Cousins (although Andrew Bogut had his moments in his debut). The Splash Brothers had more of a perfect Greg Louganis Olympics dive on the night — no splash at all. Klay Thompson shot 5-of-18, while Stephen Curry had 25 points but needed 25 shots to get there, although Curry did hit this.

The Nuggets have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way, which is why fivethirtyeight.com predicts they will finish second in the conference, three games back of the Warriors (the teams play again April 2). But if the Warriors continue to be bored and the Nuggets keep going into places like Boston and getting wins, anything can happen.

2) Isaiah Thomas feels the love in return to Boston. This was the real highlight out of the Celtics-Nuggets game.

Celtics fans never got to give Isaiah Thomas the send-off tribute he deserved. They did on Monday when he returned as a member of the Nuggets.

Thomas was undersized, relatable hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He loved the city and was active in the community. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

It was good to see him get that emotional moment.

Thomas was scoreless in seven minutes on the court. Hopefully, he can come back next season fully healthy in a situation where he can showcase his talents.

3) Dirk Nowitzki passes Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on NBA all-time scoring list. Nowitzki — the greatest shooting big man the NBA has ever seen and its best-ever European player — can now add another accolade to his long list of them.

With 8:33 left in the first quarter, Nowitzki took a handoff from Luka Doncic‘s handoff, backed down New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams to get to his spot, then drained a turnaround from the midrange. It was a signature move that gave Nowitzki 31,420 points in his career, one more than the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.

Nowitzki is now sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan).

By the way, the Pelicans won the game in overtime behind the fifth straight triple-double from Elfrid Payton, who had 19 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Doncic had a triple-double of his own on the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse leaves mouth agape a loooong time after odd call (video)

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The Raptors got called for an extremely quick three-second violation during their Game 4 win over the Magic yesterday.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse couldn’t believe it.

Really couldn’t believe it.

Just couldn’t believe it one bit.

Bucks on brink of first playoff series win in 18 years

Associated Press
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Milwaukee Bucks can wipe away 18 years of frustration on Monday night.

They haven’t won a playoff series since the 2000-01 season, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals. That drought can end in Detroit if they complete a sweep of the Pistons.

The top-seeded Milwaukee cruised through the first three games, winning by an average of 24 points. If they lose in Game 4, the Bucks would have three more chances in the best-of-seven series to end their streak of eight straight first-round exits. The earlier the Bucks eliminate eighth-seeded Detroit, the more time they’ll have to prepare for the conference semifinals.

“It’s going to be nice if we can finish it here and get six days of rest,” superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said.

In Game 3 on Saturday, Antetokounmpo had a quiet night and the Bucks still led by double digits most of the way. Antetokounmpo finished with 14 points, three assists and four turnovers and only played 27 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pistons couldn’t take advantage of his off night, though, as Milwaukee had six other players in double figures in its 119-103 victory.

“It’s good to see my team doing really well out there without me,” he said. “It means a lot to me. There’s going to be nights like this. My teammates did a great job of picking me up.”

The Bucks were up 13 points when Antetokounmpo sat early in the third quarter after getting whistled for his fourth foul. When he re-entered late in the quarter, they were leading by 22 points.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to build all year,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re a team that plays together, tries to take what the defense gives us. Guys have a lot of confidence to make plays. It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is. If and when we need more from other people, it’s a credit to Giannis to let his teammates carry him some nights, carry him some stretches.”

The Bucks will try match their regular-season feat against the Pistons. Their four-game sweep was the first by either team in the all-time series. They have met in the postseason four other times, with Detroit winning each time.

“We might be the number one seed and best team in the NBA (record-wise) but at the end of the day, we haven’t won a playoff series in a while,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re hungry, everybody’s hungry.”

The Pistons’ best player, power forward Blake Griffin, made his debut in the series after sitting out the first two games with a sore left knee. Griffin toughed it out for 31 minutes and posted 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. His teammates let him down, as Detroit shot below 40 percent for the third straight game.

“That young man is giving us everything he has,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He said he was feeling good. I was concerned about his conditioning with as much time as he’s missed. You can’t really simulate 5-on-5 basketball when you’re rehabbing. But he came in and gave us what he could. He just has a presence that we can’t replicate.”

The Pistons haven’t shown enough of a defensive presence against a team that averaged a league-high 118.1 points.

“We had some situations where we make a mistake or miss a shot, now we go down to the defensive end and don’t carry out our assignments,” Casey said. “That’s part of growth. That’s a team that makes you pay for mistakes that you make.”

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Not just Lillard, CJ McCollum outplaying OKC, too

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) It’s not a one-man show, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum outplaying Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Coming into the series, both Portland and Oklahoma City faced a question: Could their stars help overcome weakness with their depth and support players. Through four games, one team’s stars are outplaying their counterparts.

That played out again on Sunday: Russell Westbrook was 0-of-7 shooting in the second half, 5-of-21 for the game, finishing with 14 points. Paul George was 8-of-21 shooting but at least was getting to the free throw line on his way to 32 points. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard had 15 points in the third quarter alone when Portland started to pull away, CJ McCollum hit some critical threes in the fourth (he was 5-of-9 from three for the game) to help the Trail Blazers stay ahead on his way to 27 points.

Portland went into OKC and won 111-98, taking a commanding 3-1 lead heading home for Game 5.

After the game, Jusuf Nurkic (sidelined with a leg injury) couldn’t resist taking a little shot at Westbrook and his postgame antics.

A lot of the attention this series has gone to the heads-up matchup of Westbrook vs. Lillard duel — and with good reason, it’s been bad blood and entertaining. However, that has left McCollum in the shadows and he deserves some spotlight for averaging 26.3 points, shooting 51.6 percent from three, plus having 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game against the Thunder through four. Oklahoma City has not had an answer for him.

Oklahoma City has had to play a lot of Dennis Schroder this series because he’s been efficient on offense (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting Sunday) but either Lillard or McCollum can just take him in isolation whenever they want and get buckets. It also helps Portland when Al-Farouq Aminu is giving them 19 points, as he did Sunday.

The big picture lesson in this series: Shooting matters. Oklahoma City’s stars are not finishing well enough inside, settling for more midrangers than they should, and unless it’s from the right corner the Thunder struggle from three. You’re not going to win a lot of games with the shot chart the Thunder had on Sunday.

2) Boston sweeps past Indiana to advance, East races shaping up as expected. The playoffs in the East are going to be a dynamic show, but we knew that was really going to start in the second round. One could make a case for Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Boston to come out of the conference, but after those four there was a talent drop off. There was the first round to get through before the real fireworks began.

Boston advanced Sunday with a sweep of the Pacers, winning 110-106 behind 20 points from Gordon Hayward, who had himself a night.

Frankly, this series was decided back in January when Victor Oladipo went down with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Without him the Pacers — who played hard and smart in his absence, and were brilliantly coached by Nate McMillan — just did not have the firepower to score enough to make this series interesting.

Also in the East on Sunday, Toronto overwhelmed Orlando 107-85 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead as things head back north of the border for Game 5. That loss by the Magic all but sealed this series, which might have been a sweep if not for the rider in every Toronto player contract that they have to stink in the first game of every playoff series.

Milwaukee likely sweeps Detroit out of the playoffs on Monday night, setting up their showdown with Boston in the second round. Brooklyn has put up a fight against Philadelphia — down to their GM breaking NBA taboos and going into the referees’ locker room to discuss how they officiate Joel Embiid — but with the Sixers up 3-1 and having game 5 at home Tuesday, this series also feels inevitable.

Then we can get on to the main course in the East.

3) Klay Thompson goes for a swim, comes out of the ocean and destroys the Clippers, Warriors go up 3-1. Klay Thompson hadn’t played poorly through the first three games of the Warriors’ first-round playoff series with the Clippers, he’d played impressive defense and averaged 13.7 points on 44.4 percent shooting. But he hadn’t had a breakout game, the kind we expect from one of the game’s best shooters.

So he went for a swim (via NBC Sports Bay Area and Monte Poole).

“I told Jonas [Jerebko] yesterday when we went to the beach to play some volleyball, like, ‘Yo, I’m just going to jump in the ocean. I know that will reset my mind.’ And it worked.”

Sunday Thompson had 27 points in the first half, going on to finish with 32 on 12-of-20 shooting (6-of-9 from three). The Warriors won 113-105 to take a 3-1 series lead heading back to the Bay Area for Game 5.

“The Pacific Ocean is undefeated,” said Stephen Curry after the game (he struggled with 12 points on 14 shots, the Clippers have defended him well this series).

Golden State has a showdown with Houston coming. With all due respect to the other teams still in the dance in the West, that is your Western Conference Finals, it’s just taking place in the second round. Houston has dominated Utah and can sweep them out of the playoffs Monday night.

Houston is playing its best basketball of the season, it is defending at a high level, and the Rockets have a shot against the Warriors. They believe they can win, but we’ll find out starting next weekend (most likely, dates for the second round are not public yet).

Road, sweet road! NBA away teams go 8-0 over weekend

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Road, sweet road.

There were eight NBA playoff games this weekend, and all eight were won by the road team. It’s the first time in NBA history there were eight road playoff wins in a two-day span.

“Road wins are the best, especially in the playoffs,” Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard said.

The Raptors were one of the eight road winners this weekend, prevailing at Orlando on Sunday. Other Sunday road winners included Boston over Indiana, Golden State over the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland over Oklahoma City.

On Saturday, it was Philadelphia over Brooklyn, Denver over San Antonio, Houston over Utah and Milwaukee over Detroit.

Through 30 games of this year’s playoffs, road teams are 16-14. Home teams went 3-0 on Wednesday, and went 2-12 in the four days that followed. Since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984, there has never been a first round where road teams won more than home teams.

Home teams won 71 percent of playoff games last season, the NBA’s highest such clip since 2008.