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.