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) Greek Freak makes MVP case, Bucks lock up home court with a win over Sixers. The road to NBA Finals goes through Milwaukee.
At least as long as the Bucks stay alive in the postseason. Which, the way they looked Thursday night in Philadelphia, could be a very long time.
Giannis Antetokounmpo made an MVP closing argument scoring 45 points, pulling down 13 rebounds, and five blocks, all while outdueling Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter — when the Bucks scored 46 as a team — to beat the Sixers 128-122.
The win gave the Bucks the best record in the NBA for the season (59-20 with three to play), which means they have home court the entire way. That matters for a younger team not accustomed to making deep playoff runs. Yet.
The last time Milwaukee had the best record in the NBA? 1974. That year Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the MVP while leading the Bucks to the NBA Finals (where they lost in seven games to the Celtics).
Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP. It was a game where he needed to have that kind of night because his supporting cast was limited. Malcolm Brogdon is still out with his foot injury, and All-Star Khris Middleton was limited to just 25 minutes coming off his groin injury. Then Eric Bledsoe got himself ejected for throwing the ball at Embiid.
It was a night Embiid had a monster game of his own, a triple-double of 34 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists. He showed some rust on offense, but Philly’s defense is vastly improved having him in the paint. Philadelphia simply is much better with him playing.
The Sixers were without their closer Jimmy Butler (back tightness). For all the immense talent on that Philly roster, it’s hard to develop a rhythm — or for Brett Brown to test out lineups and rotations he may want for the playoffs — when someone is always sidelined. The 76ers are going to use their first-round series, against whoever it ends up being (probably Detroit) to try to find a groove.
The Bucks are in a good one.
The only question left is can Antetokounmpo and the Bucks carry that groove over to the playoffs? And how far will it take them?
2) Stephen Curry gets contacts, now can see clearly how his Warriors dismantled the Lakers. As someone who didn’t need glasses for most of his life (no doubt staring at a computer screen much of the day helped end that), I can attest to this: You don’t realize things aren’t sharp and clear without glasses until you put your first pair on. You are used to your own “normal” and when you put on glasses it’s a revelation. Things suddenly come into sharp focus that you didn’t realize were out of focus.
That is how Stephen Curry has reacted to getting contacts. Since he got them his shooting had gotten better… well, until Thursday, when he was 1-of-9 from three and 3-of-14 overall against the Lakers. Although Curry still had the highlight play of the game with this pass to Kevin Durant.
Curry’s shooting didn’t matter much as the Warriors were up 20 in the first quarter and coasted to a win over what is left of the Laker lineup, 108-90. DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors are playing good ball again and their magic number is three (Warriors wins or Nuggets losses) to lock up home court through the West playoffs.
3) Best highlight of the night was… and Alex Caruso dunk? Yes. Yes it was. Alex Caruso for the dunk contest!
I did not know the guard who has bounced between the Lakers and G-League had this in him — and neither did LeBron James.