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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic returns, scores 33, and basketball is fun again

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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) Luka Doncic returns, doesn’t miss a beat, scores 33 in Dallas win. It’s just fun to watch Luka Doncic play basketball.

Maybe not if you’re the Kings trying to stop him. Luke Walton started the game small — a three-guard lineup with De’Aaron Fox, Cory Joseph, and Bogdan Bogdanovic — and has Joseph on Doncic. That didn’t work. Walton got frustrated watching his team try to defend Doncic and fail all night, but at least he was funny while doing it.

This was the best the Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis pick-and-roll has looked all season and it led Dallas to a 130-111 thrashing of Sacramento. Doncic, back after missing seven games with a sprained ankle, didn’t miss a beat, scoring 33, with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Porzingis had to be more aggressive offensively with Doncic out and that carried over against the Kings. Also, he was not going against much size all night against the small-ball Kings (they started Nemanja Bjelica at center), so Porzingis just pushed them around and got where he wanted on the court. KP had 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus 13 rebounds.

The other reason it’s good to see Doncic back out there? It means he’s good to go for the All-Star Game Sunday, where he will be a starter.

2) Damian Lillard strains groin, out for All-Star Game. Damian Lillard will be in Chicago, he is performing during the Saturday night festivities as Dame D.O.L.L.A. — he remains the unquestioned best hip hop artist among NBA players. (Shaq is a close second *cough*.)

Lillard, however, will not be knocking down shots in the 3-Point Contest Saturday as planned. Nor will he be in the All-Star Game on Sunday after injuring his groin on Wednesday night.

The timing sucked. With less than four minutes to go before the All-Star break, Lillard drove the lane against the Memphis big man Jonas Valanciunas, landed and was in instant pain, grabbing his groin. He soon fouled to stop play and went straight to the locker room.

He suffered a strained groin, with an MRI coming tomorrow. However, Lillard said he knew instantly he was out of the All-Star Game, where he was set to be a reserve on Team LeBron.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver picks Lillard’s replacement, and traditionally he takes the guy with the next most votes on the coaches’ All-Star reserves ballots (we don’t know who that is, that vote is not public). Lillard said he hopes the spot goes to someone deserving “like Devin Booker.”

3) Toronto’s win streak ends at 15 as the sleepwalk into the break against Brooklyn. NBA players often treat last night before the All-Star break like you treated the last day of school before spring break — they are just watching the clock, waiting for their vacation.

That was the Raptors on Wednesday night. Winners of 15 in a row coming in, they were just sloppy on offense, messing up on their standard plays, setting soft screens, and in general just going through the motions on their way to shooting 37.8 percent on the night.

Do that against another NBA team and you lose, which is what happened, the Nets won 101-91. Caris LeVert had 20 points and looked sharp to lead the Nets.

A clunker of a game was bound to happen for Toronto, and now the streak is over. It doesn’t take away from what an amazing season they are having, and now for Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry it’s on to Chicago for the All-Star Game.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Lakers pick up an impressive road win in Denver behind LeBron James triple-double. Unlike the Raptors, LeBron and the Lakers did not take the night off mentally.

“I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could,” James said, via the AP. “I know the break was coming, but I wasn’t going to take this opportunity for granted.”

The Lakers went on the road to take on a Nuggets team that had won 6-of-7, and LeBron led the way and had 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds.

Throw in 33 points from Anthony Davis and the Lakers picked up a 120-116 overtime win. That is a quality road win for the team on top of the standings in the West.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.