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


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.

Heat’s Tyler Herro remains out for Game 4. Will he play in Finals?


MIAMI — With Tyler Herro not cleared to play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and Game 4 just 48 hours later, it should be no surprise that we won’t see Herro on Friday night.

Herro is officially listed as out for Game 4. He has been out since April 16 with a severe hand fracture suffered in the first game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Herro went through a brief part of the public practice/shootaround in front of the media Thursday but didn’t speak to the press. Spoelstra said Herro has not yet been cleared for a game.

“This is just part of the process,” Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to go through stages. First part of it was just shooting, then movement, then contact versus coaches, and then the next level of contact in practice. He has not been cleared for a game, and he is still not cleared yet.”

Even if Herro were cleared for later in the series — and the Heat players and coaches say to a man he is putting in the work — how much of a role could he play at this point? While on paper he provides shooting and shot creation Miami needs this series (although he would be a target on defense), he hasn’t played in a game for nearly two months and Spoelstra can’t just throw him into the highest level of basketball in the world mid-series. Maybe he could get in a few non-Jokić minutes off the bench, but it’s a big ask for anything more than that. And maybe it’s too big an ask for even that.

Listening to Spoelstra’s tone, I wouldn’t expect to see Herro in this series.

And this summer, don’t be surprised when Herro’s name comes up in a lot of trade rumors.

Rumor: Suns could make run at James Harden this summer


James Harden is widely expected to opt out of the $35.6 million he is owed for next season because, even if you acknowledge he is not MVP-level Harden anymore, he’s worth more than that in the NBA marketplace. At least $10 million more a season. Harden is reportedly “torn” between returning to Philadelphia or going back home to Houston (the sources NBC Sports talks to around the league have Houston as the frontrunner).

Maybe Phoenix can enter the conversation. There had been talk the Suns might make another big swing this offseason, then came this from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne appearing on ESPNLA Radio (hat tip Hoopshype):

“I want you to keep your eye on James Harden [going to Phoenix]. I don’t want to report anything, but that was in the wind for the past month or so. Everybody thinks it’s Philly or Houston, but I don’t know, there have been discussions in the wind.”

Interesting. The smart money should still be bet on Houston. Phoenix is a crazy longshot because the Suns don’t have the cap space to sign Harden outright at market value.

The only way the Suns could make a direct trade work is to convince Harden to do an opt-in and trade, where he picks up that $35.6 million and the Suns extend him off that, because if he opts out — as expected — then any sign-and-trade hardcaps the Suns. With Harden, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker on the books, a hard-capped Suns team would have to round out the roster with minimum contract guys. They would have no depth.

Also, who are the Suns sending back to Philadelphia in that deal? The 76ers have no interest in Deandre Ayton, Philly is pretty set at center with the MVP. That means getting a third team involved, one that wants Ayton, and will send players back to the 76ers they want. It gets very complicated very fast. Or, can Phoenix pick up Chris Paul‘s $30.8 million for this season and do a Harden for CP3 swap? Good luck selling that.

No doubt the Suns, with aggressive new owner Mat Ishbia, want to make another bold move or two this summer, but pulling off a James Harden deal would be challenging. To put it politely.

And Harden probably wants to go home to Houston anyway.

Three things to watch, with betting tips, as Miami tries to slow Jokić, Denver offense


MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra, Michael Malone, and their staffs have been pouring over film and losing sleep, trying to come up with adjustments. Minor tweaks that can give their team even a little edge.

But four games into a series, there are not a lot of secrets left. Everyone knows what is coming. It is often more about execution and effort over adjustments.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” the Heat’s Haywood Highsmith said. “It’s definitely some things we can adjust on, and then it’s also about a little bit more effort and just doing more. You always need more, always can do more… we definitely have to make some adjustments on both ends of the floor, but you know, we’ll figure it out.”

The Heat need to figure it out before Game 4 on Friday night, because they can’t afford to go down 3-1 to the Nuggets in this series. Game 4 is as close as it gets to must-win for Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

Here are two things worth watching in Game 4, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Miami has to slow the Jokic/Murray two-man game. Somehow.

Denver’s defense has been impressive in these Finals, holding Miami to a 111.1 offensive rating through three games (for comparison, that is 7.2 below their offensive rating against Boston).

Part of the reason is that Nikola Jokić can be a better rim protector and defensive player than people give him credit for. Another key is Malone has been able to lean hard into more defensive-based lineups because the two-man game of Jamal Murray and Jokić has been all the offense the Nuggets need.

The Murray/Jokic pick-and-roll has been a masterclass in this series — the Nuggets have a 126 offensive rating this series when running that play. In Game 3, the Denver stars ran 32 pick-and-rolls, and those plays were the foundation of each of them getting a 30-point triple-double (the first teammates to have a 30+ point triple-double in any NBA game).

“I mean, the Murray/Jokic two-man game is a pretty hard action to stop,” Haywood Highsmith said. “But we got great defensive players, got some of the great two-way players in this game, Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo], so we’re gonna figure it out. We got a lot of different bodies we can throw at Murray as well.”

Miami may need to sell out to stop Jokić and Murray and force any other Nugget to beat them. The Heat did blitz the pick-and-roll more in the fourth quarter of Game 3, but that led to Christian Braun cuts to the basket and Denver buckets. Miami may have to live with some of that, they have to keep Murray in particular in check (it feels like Jokić will get his no matter what).

“Whatever you do, you just can’t do it all the time,” Spoelstra said of defending the Nuggets duo. “There’s no absolutes when you get to this level. It’s the highest level of competition. You’re getting the highest level of execution. Understanding what they’re trying to get to, and we try to get them out of their comfort zones as much as possible.

“The first half, they really got to that two-man action quite a bit. They were getting a lot of traction, so they didn’t need to go to any other part of their playbook.”

Miami needs to see the rest of that playbook.

2) Miami has to make shots, rebound, set defense

The best way for Miami to limit the Jokic/Murray action and the Denver offense in general is to slow the game down. Make them go against a set defense every time down. That didn’t happen enough in Game 3 — Denver was free-flowing on offense when Miami needs the game played in the mud.

For the Heat to change that dynamic two key things need to happen.

First, Miami has to make shots. It’s simplistic but it’s true. Denver isn’t going to run if they are taking the ball out of the net.

That starts with 3-pointers, because as has been noted everywhere the Heat are 6-1 when they shoot 45% or better from 3 this postseason (including Game 2 against the Nuggets), and unreasonably hot shooting has sustained their run to the Finals. The Heat starters were 5-of-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc in Game 3, which is simply not good enough — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the rest of the role players must step up and knock down shots. However, the bigger concern in Game 3 was the Heat shooting 38.2% within eight feet of the basket. The Nuggets’ size is clearly bothering the Heat. Jimmy Butler needs to get downhill and then make the shots, Bam Adebayo has to get the floater to fall, and the Heat need to attack and get to the free throw line.

Second, the Heat can’t let the Nuggets win the rebounding battle by 25. Denver’s size advantage has played out in this series in many ways (including how they contested 3s in Game 3), but it is most clearly on the glass. Miami is getting one shot and they’re done, but the Nuggets grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.1% of their missed shots in Game 3, and if you give them that many second chances you will pay.

It will take gang rebounding and effort, but the Heat must be stronger on the glass.

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations

Over/Under: The total continues to drop from game-by-game starting at 219.5 then going from 216.5 to 214.5 and now 210.5 for Game 4. Denver and Miami have struggled with consistency when it comes to scoring, Miami a little more than Denver. The Nuggets are shooting 51% to Miami’s 41% from the field and averaging 10 more free-throw attempts per game. The pace and tempo of this series has barely changed through three games and if it wasn’t for Miami’s 38-point fourth quarter in Game 2, the Under would be 3-0 in this NBA Finals. I will keep riding the Under.

Player Props: In this series there have been four players worth betting overs; Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. On the other hand, there have been some very good fade prospects for unders such as Kevin Love, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who are all shooting 31% or worse from the field. When betting player props in the NBA Finals, keep it simple stupid (KISS).

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

PBT Podcast: Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals talk, Vogel to Suns


After three games of the NBA Finals, there are still so many questions. Can the Heat stop the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokić pick-and-roll? Will Miami find 3-point shot again and will that be enough? Is Denver the team that does not wilt under the pressure Miami puts on them? Is there a better player on the planet than Nikola Jokić?

Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin from NBC Sports get into all of that, then talk coaching hires. Is Frank Vogel a good hire in Phoenix? speaking of coach talk, Corey’s Jukebox talks Monty Williams and how a classic Aretha Franklin song sums him up.

Finally, the conversation turns to Team USA and the roster headed to the Philippines for the World Cup this summer — a lot of young, athletic talent, but will any of the American NBA elites join them? Also, who is your favorite NBA mascot?

You can watch the video of some of the podcast above or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

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