Three things to know: Nets drop fourth straight making road through playoffs rougher

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA regular season has less than two weeks remaining, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Nets drop fourth straight, making road through playoffs rougher

James Harden said Thursday he is “very confident” he will be back for a couple of game before the playoff start, giving the Nets big three a chance to get a few more games together before everything gets real.

They need him.

Brooklyn’s offense without him is stagnant — very little passing, a lot of isolation. They’re predictable, and even with all their talent that makes them defendable. It was that was Thursday night against Dallas, a solid defensive team (19th in the league for the season, but top 10 defensively the last 8 games), and the Mavericks were able to get enough stops to earn a 113-109 win. Kyrie Irving had 45 points on the night, Kevin Durant scored 20 but shot 1-of-10 in the second half.

It also helps when Dallas has Luka Doncic and he’s doing this.

This is four straight losses for the Nets. The loss drops the Nets 2.5 games back of Philadelphia for the top seed in the East, a lot of ground to try and make up the final five games of the regular season. Brooklyn is half a game up on — and tied in the loss column with — Milwaukee for the three seed.

The stagnant offense and losses are making Brooklyn’s playoff road look a lot rougher.

As of today, Miami and Boston are tied for seeds No. 6 and 7 in the East. Whatever order that shakes out to be, the Nets would get the No. 6 seed if they fall to third and face the winner of the 7/8 play-in game — likely the other team of Miami/Boston — as the No. 2 seed.

Meaning Brooklyn’s likely playoff path looks like this: Miami or Boston, Milwaukee, then Joel Embiid and Philadelphia. That’s a gauntlet. Even with Harden back it will be tough to pull off.

As for Dallas, the win has them as the No. 5 seed in the West, a position they should be able to hold with a few more wins the rest of the way.

2) Anthony Davis leaves game with back spasms, Clippers rout Lakers

The Lakers were already in trouble in this “hallway series” showdown. Without LeBron James, Dennis Schroder, or Talen Horton-Tucker — the team’s three best halfcourt shot creators — the Lakers struggled to create space and were taking contested jumpers late in the shot clock in the early minutes of this game.

Then Anthony Davis had an awkward fall after backing up into the signage on the scorer’s table. He left the game five minutes later, went to the locker room, and did not return. The Lakers said back spasms kept him out of the game.

“[My] Ankle is fine, it wasn’t bothering me, but my back locked up pretty bad…” Davis said after the game, adding there was no one specific play that caused his back issues. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow morning. I should be good to go tomorrow based on how it’s feeling now.”

That tomorrow game Davis is talking about is Friday night’s showdown with the Trail Blazers in Portland. The Lakers and Blazers are tied for the No. 6 and 7 in the West, and this game will go a long way to determining which team is No. 6 and which one has to enter the play-in games (and in the West, the No. 8 seed for that first play-in game looks like it could be Stephen Curry and the Warriors).

Davis expects to play in Friday’s game, and what happened to the Lakers the rest of the way without him on Thursday night against the Clippers showed why they need him.

The Lakers have one of the top defenses in the NBA but they struggled to contain the Clippers’ dribble penetration all night, which led to kick-outs, an extra pass, and open threes for the Clippers — they hit 11 of 19 from deep in the first half. The Lakers dug themselves a hole and didn’t have the offensive firepower to climb out of it, eventually falling to the Clippers 118-94 in a game that was never in doubt in the second half.

The good news for the Lakers is it appears LeBron will return and play a couple of games at least next week, before the postseason starts.

3) Wild ending ends Raptors longshot playoff dreams

The Toronto Raptors playoff dreams are dead because of… Raul Neto and Robin Lopez?

Turns out, yes. Sure, Russell Westbrook racked up another triple-double — 13 points, 17 rebounds, 17 assists — but he shot 5-of-19 overall, committed seven turnovers, and made a play out of frustration with :15 seconds left and his team up four, intentionally fouling out because he was pissed off at a call he didn’t like on the other end of the court. It was not Westbrook’s finest hour, but he’s now got 180 triple-doubles, one short of Oscar Robertson’s record.

However, it was 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting from Neto, and 24 points off the bench from Lopez, that keyed the Washington win.

Bradley Beal took over late and scored 28 on the night; his ability to create shots and score efficiently separated these teams.

With the win, the Wizards are four games ahead of the Raptors with five to play for the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the East. Chicago is 3.5 games back of Washington and isn’t catching them either. The Wizards are in the play-in and they will be dangerous there.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.

https://twitter.com/CallieCaplan/status/1619016699289956353

Boban? Crowder? Holmgren? Exploring player votes for All-Star starters

CrawsOver Pro-Am
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Four NBA players — not one as a joke, but four… as a joke — voted for injured Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to start the NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA All-Star Game starters were announced Thursday, chosen from a weighted vote of fans (50%), media (25%) and current players (25%).

While most NBA players may take their All-Star Game starter votes seriously, some do not — they vote for friends, college teammates, guys with the same agent, or just whoever they feel like.

Which is comedy gold once we comb through the public vote (Note: names are not attached to who cast a vote, but we do see who got votes). This season, that list of players getting at least one vote to be an All-Star starter include:

Bol Bol (Orlando Magic, he got six votes)
Willy Hernangomez (New Orleans Pelicans, he got five votes)
Juancho Hernangomez (Toronto Raptors, he got three votes)
Omer Yurtseven (Miami Heat, he got three votes)
Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers, he got five votes)
Ochai Agbaji (Utah Jazz, he got four votes)
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Oklahoma City Thunder, he got three votes)
Bismack Biyombo (Phoenix Suns, he got three votes)
Jae Crowder (Phoenix Suns, he got two votes)
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat, he got two votes)
Blake Griffin (Boston Celtics)
Boban Marjanovic (Houston Rockets)
Kemba Walker (Dallas Mavericks)
Kendrick Nunn (Los Angeles Lakers)
Ish Smith (Denver Nuggets)
Torrey Craig (Phoenix Suns)
Luka Garza (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings)
Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers)
R.J. Hampton (Orlando Magic)
Johnny Davis (Washington Wizards)
Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers)
MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee Bucks)
Paul Reed (Philadelphia 76ers)

That is just a fraction of the entire list.

Three things to Know: Knicks win another in clutch, beat Celtics in OT

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Knicks win another in clutch, beat Celtics in OT behind 37 from Randle

It will surprise Knicks fans, but New York has been a good clutch team in the tightest of games this season: In games within three points in the final three minutes, they are 11-9 with a +7.8 net rating.

The Knicks didn’t look like a clutch team — but did what Knicks fans expected — when they blew a 13-point lead by scoring just four points over the final 5:20 of the fourth quarter. Combine that with Jayson Tatum scoring 11 in the frame, and the Celtics came back to tie the game and force OT.

However, in the OT, the Knicks had RJ Barrett knocking down big shots.

And, with the game on the line, they had Jalen Brunson with the block.

With that, the Knicks went into Boston and pulled out the 120-117 OT win over the East-leading Celtics. Julius Randle had 27 points and nine rebounds (and hit the free throws that put the Knicks up for good in OT), Brunson scored 29, and Barrett added 19.

There are promising signs for Knicks fans:

Brunson and Randle just out-dueled Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

The Knicks have now racked up back-to-back wins against the Cavaliers and Celtics.

New York will need more wins like this because they will be battling the Heat, and maybe the Pacers, for that No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in the rest of the season. But don’t sleep on a couple of quality wins.

2) Luka Doncic leaves game with ankle sprain; Mavericks win anyway

Name the team that could least afford to lose its superstar.

The Mavericks — with their heliocentric offense built around Luka Doncic — have to be at the top of the list.

Dallas could be without Doncic for a few games after he sprained his ankle just minutes into Thursday night’s contest against the Suns. Doncic drove on Cameron Johnson but when he couldn’t get to the rim he stopped, spun, tried to step back, stepped on the foot of Mikal Bridges and rolled his left ankle.

Doncic left the game and he did not return. Dallas can’t afford to be without Doncic for long, it gets outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits. He is an All-Star starter and in the MVP mix. He averages 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Just to prove that last paragraph wrong, the Jazz went out and beat the Suns 99-95 without Doncic behind a season-high 36 points from Spencer Dinwiddie, plus Dorian Finney-Smith chipped in 18 points and 12 rebounds.

3) LeBron, Antetokounmpo captains as All-Star starters named

Last season, Team LeBron won the All-Star Game partly because LeBron James had Giannis Antetokounmpo on his team.

Not this year. It will be Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis, they received the most fan votes in their conferences and will be the captains for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth time LeBron is a captain, and his teams are 5-0.

In a new twist, James and Antetokounmpo will choose their teams right on the court before the game — true playground style. The captains will draft from a pool of starters announced Thursday — selected by a vote of fans, media, and current players — and then the backups from a list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week).

Here are this year’s starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players from each conference):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
Luka Doncic
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic
Zion Williamson

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
Donovan Mitchell
Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jayson Tatum

Joel Embiid was the odd man out of a tight race for the final frontcourt spot in the East (because the fans voted him fourth, the media and players each had him third, but the fans count for 50% of the weighted vote). This will be the first start for Williamson (if he’s healthy enough to play) and Mitchell.