Three Things to Know: Should Giannis try to play through sprained ankle?

Associated Press
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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo trying to play through tweaked ankle. Should he? Bring out the bubble wrap.

Seven games ago, back on March 17 against the 76ers, Giannis Antetokounmpo sprained his right ankle. He’s missed a couple of games since then but mostly has pushed to be on the court and play through it. Anyone who has sprained ankles playing hoops (or in general knows), once you sprain it the ankle is susceptible to more and worse sprains until it is fully healed. Thursday night, this happened against the Clippers.

Antetokounmpo left the game, got treatment, but was at the scorer’s table ready to return until it got so out of hand — the Bucks beat the Lou Williams-less Clippers 128-118 — that he sat the rest of the way. After the game he said he doesn’t want to sit, and coach Mike Budenholzer was non-committal.

“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play,” Antetokounmpo said, via AP.

“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”

Bring out the bubble wrap.

The Bucks have a four-game lead in the East over the Raptors for the top seed, both in the West and the NBA. That’s locked up. What matters most is that Antetokounmpo’s ankle is healed and not a lingering issue that is going to flare up again in the playoffs — he can’t miss games in the second round against Boston (or whomever) because his ankle never got right and it was easily tweaked again.

There are MVP race concerns about leaving an impression on voters (he’s played in 69 games and may want to get in a couple more), plus Antetokounmpo is just an old-school competitor who doesn’t want to stop. That’s all good. However, if the Bucks’ priority is the playoffs and showing they are a serious title contender that can come out of the East, they need Antetokounmpo at 100 percent. And that means getting his ankle healed now.

2) Clint Capela outplays Nikola Jokic, Rocket defense shows out in a big win over Nuggets. Houston is a tough matchup for Denver. It has looked that way on paper, and it certainly looked that way Thursday night. Which should worry Nuggets’ fans (and players, and coaching staff) because this appears the most likely second-round matchup for the Nuggets.

Houston thrashed Denver 112-85 and there were four areas where they owned the game.

• Houston’s defense held Denver to less than a point per possession — Denver’s offensive rating was just 90.4 through the non-garbage time parts of the game — with the Nuggets shooting 36.9 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three (4-of-24). When the Rockets defend like this they look like contenders.

James Harden had 38 points and got to the free throw line 14 times, the Nuggets had no answer for defending him.

• Clint Capela outplayed Nikola Jokic (or at least held him to a standstill). Caplea had one more point than Jokic (17 to 16) and was more efficient with his shooting, plus Capela had 15 boards (Jokic had 8). Jokic did have six assists and certainly impacted the game, but the Rockets’ center didn’t let him dominate.

• The Rocket bench absolutely owned the Nugget bench, which has been slumping recently.

Be careful taking too much away from a regular season game and applying it to the postseason, these games are poor predictors of future outcomes. However, this game seemed to confirm what looked like a rough matchup for Denver going in. If these teams meet in the postseason, the Nuggets have a lot of work to do.

3) Orlando loses, Miami wins, Heat back as the eight seed in the East. For now. The race for the final couple of playoff spots in the East remains a jumbled mess that can go a lot of different directions — five teams are within 2.5 games of each other with three playoff spots available — but things shook out some on Thursday night.

• Detroit gave themselves a little breathing room and held on to the six seed beating Orlando 115-98 (the Pistons are now 1.5 games clear of falling out of the playoffs, and fivethirtyeight.com gives Detroit a 99 percent chance of making the postseason).

• That Orlando loss combined with a Miami win over Denver means the Heat are back as the eight seed by half-a-game (and Miami is now one ahead of Orlando in the loss column).

• Brooklyn maintains the seven seed despite a loss to the 76ers that dropped the Nets to .500 (38-38).

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the East.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: The Spurs retired Manu Ginobili’s jersey in a touching ceremony Thursday night, one befitting a legendary player that was at the heart of one of the great NBA runs. The entire ceremony is nearly an hour long, but here is the jersey heading to the rafters:

And here are the speeches from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.