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.