Three Things to Know: Portland comeback makes Denver’s gambit work

Associated Press
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Even on the final day of the regular season, there can be a lot to unpack around the NBA, so here to help are the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Portland comeback makes Denver’s gambit work, drops Rockets to four seed (and the other side of the bracket). Last Sunday, the Denver Nuggets — having just clinched at least the three seed in the West — decided to rest Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray against Portland (a team they had beat Friday night).

Except rest wasn’t really the goal of that move: Denver wanted Portland to rack up wins and climb past Houston to get the three seed in the West. Why? The Nuggets expected to get the two seed and they wanted the Rockets — the team most people see as the second-best team in the West heading into the playoffs — on the other side of the bracket. The Warriors side of the bracket. The hope for the Nuggets was that Portland would get the three seed and Denver would only need to face one of Houston or Golden State, not both.

Denver’s gambit worked. Barely.

It required the Thunder coming from 14 down in the final 10 minutes on Tuesday to beat the Rockets on a Paul George game-winner. It required Denver itself coming from 11 down in the final 3:30 on Wednesday night to beat Minnesota. It required Portland’s end-of-bench guys (they rested everyone) to come from 25 down in the second half to beat Sacramento Wednesday. (Portland’s management put out a team it thought would lose, trying to pick the Jazz as their first-round opponent, only to watch the bench mob play well when the game was on the line.)

It all worked out for Denver the way they wanted and set up these Western Conference playoffs (see the schedule here):

• Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers
• Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio Spurs
• Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
• Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets

2) The East playoffs are set, too, and they are wide open. If you picked any one of the top four seeds in the East and said, “This team would make it to the NBA Finals,” the general reaction around the NBA would be, “Sure, I could see that.”

Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston all have distinct strengths, all have weaknesses, and all have questions only the cauldron of the playoffs can answer. There’s a certain “rock, paper, scissors” element to the top of the East — teams are a matchup problem for one of the four, but another causes trouble for them — but really any of those top four could represent the East in the Finals and it would not be a shock.

Before those four faceoff, however, they have to get through the first round, which was finally set on Wednesday. The big game was Detroit beating the Knicks, which secured a playoff spot for the Pistons and sent Kemba Walker and the Hornets home for the summer.

Here are the East playoff matchups (see the schedule here):

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Detroit Pistons
Toronto Raptors vs. Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Difficult to see an upset in that group, but that is why they play the games.

3) One final farewell to Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade — and one last show from both of them. Magic Johnson’s theatrics upstaged the final home games for Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki on Tuesday. However, both of those stars had to play their final games on Wednesday, on the road, and it led to emotional moments.

Nowitzki teared up after an emotional Spurs video tribute:

Nowitzki scored 20 points in his final game, then got some love from Gregg Popovich.

Dwyane Wade’s final game was in Brooklyn, and look who showed up:

Then Wade went out and put on a show, dropping a triple-double of 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists (Wades first triple-double of the season).

The game will not be the same without them.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Check out Frank Kaminsky’s “The Office” shoes. If you miss Dunder Mifflin and the crazy crew that worked there in Scranton, then you need to get yourself a pair of the Nikes that Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky wore Wednesday. The shoes featured the “Prison Mike” version of Michael Scott and the assistant to the regional manager Dwight K. Schrute.

Brilliant.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.