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

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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.


Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.