Three Things to Know: With about 10 games to go, NBA playoff/play-in races tight


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

1) In East, 10 playoff/play-in teams set, but race for seeding is on

Here are the standings in the East as of Tuesday morning.

Despite its stumbles, including an ugly loss to Philadelphia on Monday night, the Miami Heat are still in the driver’s seat and likely finish No. 1.

Then it gets insane: The 76ers, Bucks, and Celtics are in a virtual tie for seeds 2/3/4. Philadelphia is in that tie because on a night Joel Embiid and James Harden were both out Monday, Tyrese Maxey scored nine in a row in the clutch and had 13 of his 28 points in the fourth to lift the 76ers past the Heat.

Boston remains the hottest team in the NBA — they beat the Thunder Monday to make it nine wins in their last 10 — but they have the toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. The Bucks also have a brutal 11 games left, while the 76ers have by far the easiest schedule of the three. That said, the 76ers also have had some ugly losses of late. Boston/Milwaukee/Philadelphia could finish in any order 2/3/4, but the team that finishes No. 2 stands a very real chance of getting Brooklyn in the first round. Will teams jockey to avoid that?

The Bulls beating the Raptors on Monday night keeps Chicago as the No. 5 seed. It feels as if the Bulls will win enough to avoid sliding back to No. 7 and falling into the play-in. Cleveland has been slipping of late — 3-4 in their last seven, and two of those wins required overtime — and that includes a loss to their old friend LeBron James and the Lakers on Monday (keep scrolling down to see how LeBron James dunked all over Kevin Love).

There is good reason for the Bulls/Cavaliers/Raptors to avoid the play-in — whoever finishes No. 7 likely hosts the Nets in the first round, meaning both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving… unless it’s Toronto, then no Irving. A loss to Brooklyn in that first play-in game would mean one game to make the postseason, a fate teams want to avoid.

Big showdown Thursday when the Raptors host the Cavaliers. That could go a long way to determining who ends up in the play-in.

Despite its flaws and questions, Brooklyn should finish eighth, but the Hornets are going to make them work for it as they keep picking up dramatic wins, like Monday over the Pelicans. LeMelo Ball is clutch.

3) Out West, the race to avoid the play-in is real

Here are the standings in the West as of Tuesday morning.

Phoenix will finish with the best record in the NBA, and it’s going to get Chris Paul back sooner than expected from his fractured thumb. The Suns have been the best team in the NBA this season and the road to the championship goes through Phoenix. That is the team to beat.

With Stephen Curry out, it will end up the Memphis Grizzlies No. 2 and the Golden State Warriors No. 3 (they are still a threat if Curry is healthy for the postseason, as expected, but does Golden State have the time to build the postseason chemistry it needs?).

Utah and red-hot Dallas look locked in for a 4/5 playoff series that will be the best in the first round, either conference. The Jazz have not looked like a contender down the stretch and fell to the Nets on Monday, while Dallas picked up a win over a red-hot Timberwolves team despite Karl-Anthony Towns dunking all over Luka Doncic (Doncic got his revenge later).

The biggest race in the West is if the Timberwolves can overtake Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets and get the No. 6 seed, avoiding the play-in. Minnesota has a tougher schedule the rest of the way, but mark your calendars, the two teams play April 1 in Denver. That will be a huge game.

The Lakers will not fall out of the play-in, especially after their win in Cleveland Monday behind LeBron James getting 38 in his old home. Everyone is talking about how LeBron did his old friend Kevin Love wrong with this poster dunk.

The friends were joking about that at the half, then after the game on social media.

The Spurs keep getting enough wins that it’s possible they catch the Pelicans for the final play-in spot, but they will need to win on March 26 (Saturday) when the two teams face off to make it a reality.

3) Jamal Crawford officially retires and he will be missed

After 20 NBA seasons, and at age 42, Jamal Crawford officially retired from the NBA Monday.

I have a soft spot for unrepentant gunners off the bench who play with confidence and flair, and few if any filled that role better than Jamal Crawford. I simply loved to watch him play, to watch him use his insane handles to create space and treat the NBA game like it was the asphault at the local park. The court was his playground.

He also racked up plenty of hardward during his career, including three Sixth Man of the Year trophies.

There were also few around the game who were as genuine and down to earth as Crawford — everyone loved him for it. He was real, he was comfortable with himself regardless of the situation, and he just loved playing the game. He will be missed.

Highlight of the Night: LaMelo Ball sinks dagger in Pelicans

We could have gone a lot of different directions with this highlight tonight, but it’s worth noting as the games get tight that LaMelo Ball is clutch for such a young player. Just ask the Pelicans, he stuck the dagger in them Monday with a beautiful floater.

Also out of this game — no way Herb Jones should have been ejected for this. Offensive foul? Yes. Flagrant One because it was a blow to the head? I guess, the league has told officials to guard against concussions. But ejection? Come on now.

Listen to the Hornets broadcasters react to that call. You know a call is wrong when the on-air people for the team that benefited seemed shocked.

Yesterday’s scores:

Charlotte 106, New Orleans 104
LA Lakers 131, Cleveland 120
Portland 119, Detroit 115
Philadelphia 113, Miami 106
Brooklyn 114, Utah 106
Chicago 113, Toronto 99
Houston 115,Washington 97
Boston 132, Oklahoma City 123
Dallas 110, Minnesota 108

NBA investigating if referee Eric Lewis had burner Twitter account defending himself

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

About the last place an NBA referee should want to spend time is Twitter — pictures of puppies and ice cream can draw dark and cruel reactions in that social media space. One can only imagine fans’ reactions to the people making calls against their team (the legitimacy of those calls is moot).

Yet the NBA is investigating if referee Eric Lewis had a Twitter burner account where he defended himself, something first reported by Marc Stein. The account — now deleted — had the username “Blair Cuttliff” with the handle @CuttliffBlair.

The NBA has a rule that referees cannot comment on officiating publicly (outside of specific, authorized moments).

There was some commentary on Twitter that Lewis’ brother, Mark, ran this account, not Eric. That will be part of the league’s investigation.

Lewis has been an NBA official for 19 seasons and is highly rated by the league, having worked an NBA Finals game along with numerous playoff games. The last game he officiated was Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets on May 16.

This is not the first time the league investigated a Twitter burner account. In 2018, then 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo stepped down after Twitter burner accounts — linked to him and his wife — criticized 76ers players and more. Kevin Durant has admitted to having Twitter burner accounts in the past (which is not a violation for players).

Three things to watch in Game 7 between Miami Heat, Boston Celtics


After three games, the Boston Celtics looked done — not only did they get blown out in Game 3, they dropped the rope. They quit. This looked over. But Boston found their pride and won Game 4, then won Game 5 at home, and finally came the insane Derrick White Game and a Game 6 win to become only the third team ever to go down 0-3 and force a Game 7.

Miami was in control of this series, but some cold shooting nights — particularly from their stars — and a lot of turnovers opened the door for the Celtics. Miami and its vaunted culture, find itself in the exact place it was a year ago, having to win a Game 7 against these Celtics to advance to the Finals — if Jimmy Butler hit an open 3-pointer late a year ago the Heat would have advanced. Can they take that one more step now?

Game 7. The sweetest two words in sports, and we get one Monday night from the TD Garden.

Here are a couple of things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Butler/Adebayo or Tatum/Brown? Which stars show up?

The last time we saw Jayson Tatum in a Game 7 was just two weeks ago, when he dropped a record 51 points on the 76ers in that deciding game. A season ago in a Game 7 against these same Heat, Tatum scored 26 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points.

This item really isn’t about them. While the Celtics’ stars have to have good games, it’s reasonable to expect them to.

This is all about Jimmy Butler, and to a lesser extent Bam Adebayo. For the first 43 minutes of Game 6 these two shot a combined 7-of-35 and were not good enough. Butler had 14 points and was a non-factor in Game 5. For the last three games he has looked tired, he’s lacked some of his explosion, and he has struggled with the Celtics length as they have packed the paint and taken away his easy shots inside for buckets.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said after the Game 6 loss. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Butler turned things around in the final minutes of Game 6 — sparking a 15-4 run — mainly by attacking and drawing fouls, although he hit a 3-pointer in there as well. That Butler needs to show up Monday night in Boston, they need his points and they need his defense (he will draw Brown or Tatum as his assignment for much of the game).

If Miami is going to win, Butler has to be the best player on the floor. It’s that simple. If he struggles again, the rest will not matter.

2) Are the Celtics hitting their 3-pointers

Among the many ways the Heat have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away in Game 6 was this: Boston shot 7-of-35 from 3. The Celtics’ offense this season has been much more dependent on the 3-pointer, and the Heat did not take advantage of a bad 3-point shooting night from the Celtics.

Boston’s shooters — particularly role players such as Grant Williams and Derrick White — tend to be more comfortable 3-point shooters at home, and if this team gets rolling and hits 15 or more 3s and is shooting 40% or better on those, it’s lights out. Especially if they are breakMiami, even on a good Butler day, will have trouble keeping up.

It’s simplistic to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but when it comes to the Celtics shooting from beyond the arc it applies

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendation for Game 7

In the last 16 Game 7’s when the total moved at least five points lower than the previous Game 6 total, the Under is on a 14-2 winning streak (87.5%), which is in play here. The total for Game 6 opened at 213.5 and closed at 209.5. Game 7 opened at 206.5 and is down to 203.5, so the trend is in effect with a 10-point or 6.0 point-move depending on how you look at it.

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

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.