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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Clippers make their best free agent pitch, beat Warriors

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Clippers make their best free agent pitch on court, beat Golden State Warriors to force Game 6. It’s hard not to root for these Clippers — they are passionate, feisty, believe in themselves, are not afraid of the big moment, they play hard every night, and they do not ever give up. Ever. They are the kind of underdogs fans can get behind. It’s just fun to watch, and it’s not just fans who are taking notice.

It is a team that plays with passion on the court and gets along off it. They have a popular player-friendly coach. They are young — the Clippers are starting two rookies this series — and energetic. They are the kind of team that looks to be just one piece away. The kind of team a major free agent (or two) would want to take a long look at.

Los Angeles best free agent pitch — to Kawhi Leonard, or Kevin Durant, or both — has come on the court in these playoffs.

Durant has gotten an up-close look at these Clippers. He scored a playoff career-high 45 in Game 5 at Oracle, but he didn’t get near enough help. The onslaught of threes from Golden State early was not enough to shake Los Angeles. The Clippers would not roll over and accept their fate (even after a late run gave the Warriors the lead inside three minutes left in the game). Los Angeles kept making plays, kept getting buckets — 33 points from Lou Williams who took over the game late, Danilo Gallinari broke out with 26 points, Montrezl Harrell owned the paint and dunked his way to 24 points — and would not go away.

The result was a 129-121 Clippers win in Game 5 that forces a Game 6 the Warriors did not want to be in on Friday night in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has won two games in Oracle Arena this series, and suddenly them forcing a Game 7 in the first round looks to be a real possibility. The last time the Warriors lost two games at Oracle in a playoff series? The 2016 NBA Finals to the Cavaliers.

The Warriors got caught looking ahead and brought their bad habits — a lack of caring on the defensive end in particular — from the regular season to the playoffs.

After the win on Easter Sunday to go up 3-1, Klay Thompson said: “We see our opponent, they’re up 3-0 [the Rockets]. So we don’t wanna give them any more rest days.”

“It’s their mistake for looking ahead. So that’s on them,” Williams said after the Clippers win Wednesday.

The Warriors made little secret this was the first-round matchup they wanted — because of the easier travel — but they have not respected their opponent and now have paid a severe price for that.

The was a time, years ago, when the Warriors played every night with the passion we see from the Clippers. Now Golden State just looks comfortable.

The Clippers looked hungry and played with desire.

If you were a free agent, which team would you want to join?

2) Houston Rockets win twice. Once to eliminate Utah, then again with Clippers win. The Houston Rockets believe they can beat the Warriors. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports noted on the PBT Podcast this week, they have the formula: Win a couple of games because of an onslaught of threes, have James Harden take over a game and be unstoppable, put themselves in position — as they did a year ago — and this time catch a couple breaks.

Breaks like getting more rest while the Warriors keep on playing.

While the Warriors forgot to defend at Oracle, the Rockets went home and took care of business, closing out a Jazz team that found itself the past couple of games and put up a real fight. Houston won Game 5 100-93 behind 26 points from James Harden, but more importantly another strong defensive performance.

The Rockets showed in this series why they are a threat to the Warriors, or anyone else. A defense that struggled to start the season is all the way back now and did a good job not letting Donovan Mitchell take over (although nobody can completely contain him). That defense also caught a break as the Jazz struggled from three in this game — 9-of-38 from behind the arc — and all series, even when they got open looks.

It’s more than the defense. Clint Capela is playing with energy in the paint. Chris Paul is playing closer to the guy we saw last season. The Rockets are moving the ball. Oh, and they have Harden.

The other thing they have is rest. It’s the first of a few breaks they will need to beat the Warriors in the next round.

3) Watch Montrezl Harrell owns the paint down the stretch. Harrell is going to be on a lot of Sixth Man of the Year ballots this season, because he and Lou Williams had great chemistry, because he brought great energy off the bench for the Clippers every night, and because he could just take over the paint down the stretch of games.

Watch him do that to the Warriors in Game 5 Wednesday. This is why the Clippers are just fun to watch.

It was never about this year for the Brooklyn Nets

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With news that Kyrie Irving is out for the season due to impending shoulder surgery, it’s worth taking a look at exactly where the Brooklyn Nets stand now.

Irving and Kevin Durant were the big-ticket items for Brooklyn this summer, as they both signed four-year, max deals. Those contracts came with starting salaries of $31.7 million for Irving and $38.2 million for Durant. That’s a combined $69.9 million for a grand total of 20 games (all from Irving).

But it was never about this season for the Nets.

Not when they signed Irving and Durant, and certainly not now.

After Durant tore his Achilles’ during the 2019 NBA Finals, it was assumed he would be out for most if not all of the 2019-20 season. Brooklyn reiterated this when they signed Durant and made it clear they would not rush him back. Durant recently said himself that he would not return this season, even with the Nets pushing for a second straight playoff appearance.

Instead of an immediate impact, Brooklyn banked on a long-term one. Now, they’ll open next season with both Durant and Irving coming off mostly lost years. And they’ll have a lot more questions than answers about the viability of building a title contender around the two stars, given the health concerns.

After this season runs its course, and he misses 62 games, Irving will have missed a whopping 27% of his teams’ regular season contests of the course of his career. Durant will be 32 years old the next time we see him play, and coming off a year without playing in an NBA game. And that’s before factoring in that very few players have returned from the torn Achilles’ at the same level they were at pre-injury.

The Durant portion was part of the plan for Brooklyn. Sean Marks knew what he was signing up for there. The Irving part was unexpected, but given his history, not exactly shocking. Now it’s about what Marks does next to try and set things on a solid path moving forward.

Before this season, Caris LeVert and Taurean Prince both inked contract extensions. This came on the heels of Spender Dinwiddie signing an extension before last season ended. With these three moves, Marks kept three valuable rotation players off the open market.

Brooklyn also has Jarret Allen and Dzanan Musa on rookie-scale deals and a few other young players under team control for next season as well. All total, the Nets have 13 total players under team control approaching this offseason.

Brooklyn is already right up against the luxury tax to start next season, and that’s before re-signing key free agent Joe Harris. Harris is in his fourth year with the Nets, and has found a home in Brooklyn. He’s improved each year since Marks plucked him off the scrap heap, but he’s probably not giving the Nets any sort of hometown discounts this time around.

In a year where the free agent class is fairly barren, Harris will have suitors. He’s the top shooter on the market and the handful of teams with meaningful cap space are in the market to add shooting. Brooklyn has full Bird rights for Harris, but signing him to a market value contract will push them deep into the luxury tax.

Even the ownership groups with the deepest of pockets have limits on how much tax they’re willing to pay. This is one spot where having DeAndre Jordan on the books for over $10 million is a complicating factor. Jordan is close with both Durant and Irving, but he’s clearly behind Allen in the center rotation, and rookie big Nicolas Claxton has shown a lot of promise as well.

The Nets also have to consider whether or not they want to bring back Wilson Chandler, who has been a rotation player since returning from a 25-game suspension. And Brooklyn has team options for Garrett Temple and Theo Pinson to deal with as well.

Given the makeup of the roster, it’s unlikely the Nets will be in the market to add impact newcomers this summer. Their best bet is probably re-signing Harris and maybe adding a veteran or two on minimum deals. That probably puts Brooklyn somewhere between $10 and $15 million in the tax.

Even with concerns over a mounting tax bill, you have to factor in that the Nets are essentially adding Durant and Irving all over again this summer. The 20 games, complete with 8-12 record, are largely forgettable for Irving. And, of course, Durant won’t have even suited up in a Nets jersey by the time 2020-21 tips off.

If the two stars are able to be stars again, Brooklyn is deep and versatile. Kenny Atkinson will have his work cut out for him finding enough minutes for everyone, especially on the wing. But that’s something Marks can alleviate in the offseason. If he believes the Nets have a hole at the four (it looks like a weak spot), Marks can trade a wing to bring in a power forward.

But Marks will need to be careful. Trade away too much of that depth, and Brooklyn won’t be protected if Durant and/or Irving goes down again. That was fine this year. Adding the two stars was never about this year for the Nets. But it is very much about next year and beyond.

Trae Young drops career-high 50 points in Hawks win

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Trae Young suffered from no All-Star break hangover. The second-year guard went for a career-high 50 points, as the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Miami Heat 129-124. Young shot 12-of-25 from the floor, including 8-of-15 from behind the arc. One of those shots was this bomb from the logo:

Fittingly, Young got his 50th point at the free throw line since he was 18-of-19 at the charity stripe on the night. This was Atlanta’s first 50-point game since Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 2001.

Young got some help from his baby Hawks teammates in the win too. De’Andre Hunter scored 17 points and knocked down a big three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. Fellow rookie Cam Reddish went for 16 off the bench, including picking Goran Dragic’s pocket for a breakaway dunk that put Atlanta up for good with 31 seconds to play.

Report: Klay Thompson ruled out for entire 2019-20 season

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Marc Stein reports that the Golden State Warriors have ruled Klay Thompson out for the remainder of the 2019-20 season:

Thompson tore his left ACL during the 2019 NBA Finals. It was always unlikely that he would return during the 2019-20 season, and it’s all but official now.

Thompson’s absence, combined with Stephen Curry breaking his left hand in the Warriors’ fourth game, has led to Golden State’s tumble in the standings. The Warriors come out of the All-Star break with the NBA’s worst record at 12-43. Stephen Curry’s return to play seems to be nearing, but that won’t be enough to lift Golden State into playoff contention. Currently, the defending Western Conference champions are 16.5 games out of a postseason spot.

After sending D’Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the trade deadline, the rest of this season is about Steve Kerr seeing what he has in Andrew Wiggins alongside Curry and Draymond Green. Golden State will also continue to develop the younger players on their roster with plenty of minutes.

Next year, the Warriors will open with a retooled roster around Curry, Thompson, Green, Wiggins and whatever talent general manager Bob Myers is able to add over the summer. Myers has a $17 million trade exception and a high lottery pick to work with. Considering that the core of Curry, Thompson and Green had played an additional 105 games over five consecutive Finals runs, a season of rest is probably welcomed, even if unplanned. They should come back rested, re-loaded and ready to go for 2020-21.

Kings’ Marvin Bagley III out at least three more weeks with foot sprain

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Marvin Bagley III, the Kings’ No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, has played just 13 games this season due to injury. That may be all he does this season.

Bagley has aggravated his foot sprain and is going to miss at least another three weeks. That’s another 11 games. Minimum.

James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area has the details.

From the official Kings’ press release:

He recently incorporated stationary shooting and partial-weight bearing conditioning activities into his regimen, in addition to ongoing strength work. 

Stationary shooting drills and working out in a pool does not sound like a guy who will be back in three weeks. Considering the Kings’ place in the standings, it’s fair to question if he will — or should — return to the court this season at all.

Bagley was the player GM Vlade Divac took instead of Luka Doncicsomething that has reportedly ticked off owner Vivek Ranadive. As it should. If, as rumored, the Kings took Bagley because they already had De'Aaron Fox and didn’t want another ball-dominant player, well, it could go down as a “Portland didn’t take Michael Jordan because they had Clyde Drexler” level of draft miss. The Kings’ drafting and player development has been an organizational issue for years, and the team is about to miss the playoffs for the 14th straight season because of it.

Bagley showed promise as a rookie in the Kings’ uptempo system but hasn’t been able to stay healthy and on the court this time around. Hopefully, he can next season.