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Three Things to Know: MVP showdown between Harden, Giannis won by Eric Bledsoe

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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) MVP showdown between James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, won by Eric Bledsoe. And Bucks. Chris Paul is right: No self-respecting MVP voter should base his or her decision on the winner of a season-long award on what happens in one game.

Because if you did that for this game Eric Bledsoe is your MVP.

In a much-hyped showdown of elite teams led by the front running MVP candidates James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe was the best player on the court. The Milwaukee guard scored 23 points on the night — 16 in a critical third-quarter run when the Bucks pulled away — leading Milwaukee to a 108-94 win over Houston.

For the record, The MVP candidates had good if unspectacular nights. Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Harden had 23 points.

However, Harden’s 23 came on 9-for-26 shooting and just 1-of-9 from three. Bledsoe’s hounding defense was part of that. As he did the first time these teams met in January, Bledsoe parked himself on Harden’s left shoulder and gave him an open driving lane to the rim (where Brook Lopez or Antetokounmpo waited to try to block or alter the shot). What that does is take away the step-back three (specifically the preferred step back to the left) that has fueled Harden’s run this season. What Bledsoe and the Bucks also did well was not foul, Harden attempted only five free throws in a game where the referees let the teams play a little. (There were Rockets fans complaining about that on Twitter, to which I would say welcome to playoff basketball.)

There are two takeaways from this game. One is that Chris Paul’s crossover is still nasty.

The more important takeaway is the Bucks have a better team than the Rockets.

That was evident when the sides met in January, another Milwaukee victory. Antetokounmpo and his team can win a game with defense. Also, the Greek Freak has help with not just scoring but also playmaking duties, plus the system Mike Budenholzer installed in Milwaukee leads to buckets when well executed. Harden’s workload and burden with these Rockets are insane, while Antetokounmpo can trust teammates such as All-Star Khris Middleton (or even a good shooting night from Pat Connaughton, who had 14) to step up in the clutch.

How MVP voters factor all of that into their decision is the more challenging question.

2) Orlando moves into playoff position with a win over Miami. Look at the playoff chase at the bottom of the East, where 2.5 games separate the six seed Nets and the 10 seed Hornets

Orlando took a big step toward securing one of those playoff spots by knocking off Miami on Tuesday, with Nikola Vucevic’s 24 points (and 16 rebounds) leading every Magic starter in double-figure scoring.

That win — on a back-to-back for the Magic no less — moved Orlando into the eight seed (and the final playoff spot), half a game ahead of Miami. Because of Orlando’s softer schedule the rest of the way, fivethirtyeight.com’s projection model gives the Magic an 80 percent chance of making the postseason (it has Orlando and Brooklyn tied at 40-42 for the final two playoff spots).

Charlotte, however, will not go away. Led by Kemba Walker — 38 points, 11 in overtime — the Hornets came from behind to beat the defenseless (at least on the road for some reason) San Antonio Spurs, 125-116 in overtime.

That’s four straight wins for Charlotte, which is projected to have just an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this team has defied the odds all season. In a tightly bunched East, anything can happen.

3) Chris Bosh gives an emotional speech as his jersey is retired in Miami. In Toronto, Chris Bosh was The Man. He was scoring 24 points a game, was the focal point of the team’s offense, was the marketing face of the franchise, and he was an All-Star.

He gave all that up to win.

Bosh came to Miami with LeBron James to join Dwayne Wade, and it was Bosh more than the others who had to make sacrifices. He radically changed his game. That final season in Toronto Bosh got 35 percent of his shot attempts around the rim and took one three about every three games. However, Miami needed floor spacing around the slashers in LeBon and Wade, so Bosh worked on his game to become a good three-point shooter. Bosh worked on his defense to become one of the best pick-and-roll stopping big men in the game. He did what it took to win, to bring two championships to Miami.

Tuesday night, Miami rewarded him by retiring his jersey. Bosh, always a class act, was clearly moved and gave a thoughtful and touching speech.

Blood clots in his legs ended Bosh’s career prematurely, and that was understandably hard to deal with for him. Bosh has finally come to peace with that, he has moved on to other things in his life and focused on his family.

It’s good to see the 11-time All-Star recognized. It was well deserved.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.