Three Things to Know: Mavericks win, move past Warriors into No. 3 seed in West

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Three Things 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 great.

1) Mavericks win, move past slumping Warriors into No. 3 seed in West

The Golden State Warriors can claim a moral victory — if you think Draymond Green would actually allow such a thing — because Thursday they played their best game since Stephen Curry went out. It just still counts as a loss in the standings because they played the Suns, who remain the best team in basketball.

The Dallas Mavericks got the kind of win good teams do: They were sluggish on the second night of a back-to-back, but in the third quarter Luka Doncic found a place to attack the Cavaliers defense (sorry Kevin Love), and Dorian Finney-Smith was the beneficiary getting open looks from 3 that he buried. The Mavs dominated the third 39-22, and from there Dallas found a way to win.

With the Mavericks’ win and the Warriors’ loss, Dallas wakes up the No. 3 seed in the West. The Warriors slide back to No. 4.

Why does that matter? Everyone wants to be on the 2/3 side of the bracket out West to avoid the Suns as long as possible.

The Warriors could use that extra time away from Phoenix to get healthy — Stephen Curry is still not back in the lineup with a sprained foot — and to get their mojo back and flowing.

That mojo looked a lot better on Wednesday night when the Curryless Warriors hung with the Suns behind a better defense than we have seen from them recently and Jordan Poole tying his career-high with 38.

How much do the Warriors trust Poole right now? Watch Green lead the fast break, have an open Klay Thompson in the corner (at the bottom of the screen) and choose to give the rock to Poole for a 3. And Draymond chose wisely.

In the clutch, the Warriors made mistakes — Green traveled, Poole took a heave from halfcourt when he had time to get a better shot — and it feels like the Suns never do. Phoenix isn’t just the best team in the NBA, it is by far the best clutch team in the NBA. Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges each had 22 to lead the Suns.

For the Warriors, this felt like a moral victory, except as Green said after the game, “We don’t do moral victories around here.” That’s four straight losses and 7-of-8 for the Warriors.

Then Green added, “But I think tonight, we found ourselves. We found our competitive spirit, we found our defense, and that’s something that we can build on.”

It’s a start. The problem is Doncic and the Mavericks have already found all that, are playing their best basketball of the season, and right now are the better team. The standings reflect that.

2) CJ McCollum gets standing ovation in return to Portland

Portland fans love CJ McCollum — his game, his leadership, his work in the community — and they let him know it Wednesday night.

McCollum — traded to the Pelicans at the deadline — got a standing ovation from the Trail Blazers crowd.

McCollum then reminded Portland fans he can flat-out ball and dropped 25 on the home team.

The outcome of the game was no surprise. The Pelicans are playing to secure the No. 9 seed and get in the play-in, the Trail Blazers are tanking, and the result was a 117-107 New Orleans win. Brandon Ingram added 19 for the Pelicans, Devin Eubanks led the Blazers with 21.

3) Heat execute in clutch, hold on to first in East with win over Celtics

This felt like a playoff game. Not just the intensity but the physicality — the referees let this play like a playoff game.

Miami’s halfcourt offense — a big question for the Heat in the postseason when the games slow down — wasn’t great (90 net rating), but it was better than Boston’s (80.7) as Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry hit some big shots down the stretch. Miami has leaned too much on Tyler Herro late in games; on Wednesday, Lowry and Jimmy Buckets made plays in the halfcourt.

This was a good win for the Heat. Not just because it secured a playoff spot and put them one game up on the surging Bucks for the No. 1 seed, but because the Heat looked like a dangerous playoff team again. The execution late was a step in the right direction.

Boston’s halfcourt offense struggled in this one — the Celtics scored two points over the final 4:15 of the game. Miami is a top-five defensive team and in the clutch Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart all had turnovers and mistakes.

Grant Williams got the start with Robert Williams out, Daniel Theis did his best with 15 points, but the Heat exploited the Boston bigs in a way they could not have if the Time Lord were out there.

There is a very real chance that Miami and Boston are the second-round matchup, and if so it will be a bruising battle — and a fun one to watch, if this game was any indication.

Highlight of the Night: Jalen Green jumped out of the building to finish this alley-oop

We have not been showing enough Jalen Green highlights in this space. The Rockets’ wildly athletic rookie has been putting them up, nightly, it seems, and has played better basketball of late. He deserves some flowers for all of that.

Here is Green jumping out of the building to bring down an alley-oop on Wednesday night.

Green is not going to win Rookie of the Year like some of us predicted, but he is deserving of a spot on one of the All-Rookie teams.

Yesterday’s scores:

Mavericks 120, Cavaliers 112
Nuggets 125, Pacers 118
Wizards 127, Magic 110
Heat 106, Celtics 98
Hornets 125, Knicks 114
Raptors 125, Timberwolves 102
Kings 121, Rockets 118
Hawks 136, Thunder 118
Grizzlies 112, Spurs 111
Suns 107, Warriors 103
Pelicans 117, Trail Blazers 107

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Nick Grace/Getty Images
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.