Associated Press

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

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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 Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.