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 β€” they beat the Thunder Monday to make it nine wins in their last 10 β€” 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 β€” 3-4 in their last seven, and two of those wins required overtime β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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 β€” 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