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.