Three Things to Know: NBA playoff picture update with one week to go

Lakers, Nuggets, NBA Basketball
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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) NBA playoff picture update with one week to go

There is one week left in the NBA season. There are seven days of games to go, the season ends with all 30 teams playing on Sunday. To get an idea of what games might matter, let’s take a look at the NBA playoff picture.

EAST

1. Miami (51-28)
2. Boston (49-30)
3. Milwaukee (48-30)
4. Philadelphia (48-30)
5. Chicago (45-33)
6. Toronto (45-33)
7. Cleveland (43-36)
8. Atlanta (41-37)
9. Charlotte (40-38)
10. Brooklyn (40-38)

Miami is two games clear as the No. 1 seed with three to play, they will almost certainly hang onto that spot barring an epic collapse. However, the Celtics, Bucks and 76ers are all basically tied (Boston has played one more game and has one more win, so they are half a game ahead in second right now) and could finish in any order. Boston has the toughest schedule of the three — three challenging games all on the road — and the big showdown of the week is Thursday when the Celtics face the Bucks.

Chicago and Toronto are tied for 5/6, but the Bulls have the tougher remaining schedule by far. Cleveland is likely destined to finish seventh if they can find a win or two this week (if the Hawks win out maybe they could leapfrog the Cavs). The Hawks are eighth and one game up on the Nets and Hornets (who are tied, Charlotte has the tiebreaker). The big showdown at the bottom is Cleveland traveling to Brooklyn on Friday.

WEST

1. Phoenix (62-16)
2. Memphis (55-23)
3. Golden State (50-29)
4. Dallas (49-30)
5. Denver (47-32)
6. Utah (46-32)
7. Minnesota (45-34)
8. Los Angeles Clippers (39-40)
9. New Orleans (34-44)
10. San Antonio (33-45)
11. Los Angeles Lakers (31-47)

The Suns have lapped the field and will finish first; the Grizzlies are locked into second. Golden State is one game up on Dallas for the No. 3 seed and both of those teams have soft schedules the rest of the way (both play the Spurs and that might be their toughest game). The Warriors should hold on to third, but without Stephen Curry they may stumble down the stretch. Denver is just half a game ahead of Utah, the teams are tied in the loss column in the fight for 5/6, but the Nuggets are both playing better and have an easier schedule. Denver likely hangs on to five. Minnesota seems destined for the No. 7 seed but are just 1.5 games back of Utah (two in the loss column) if they stumble down the stretch. The Clippers are locked into eighth.

The Lakers are mathematically alive for the play-in, but in reality they are DOA. Los Angeles is two games back of San Antonio for the 10 seed, but the Spurs have the tiebreaker so in practice that’s three games back with four to play. If the Spurs go 1-3, the Lakers’ only hope is to win out against a tough schedule, including the Suns on Tuesday, so good luck with that. The Spurs could catch the Pelicans for the No. 9 seed (and host the first play-in game) but San Antonio has a much tougher remaining schedule, so don’t bet on it.

2) Kyle Lowry and Toronto had a love fest on Sunday

Kyle Lowry made it clear how he felt in his return to Toronto.

“I missed everything about the city, the country, the organization,” Lowry said. “It’s a lot to miss.”

Raptors fans made it clear how much they missed and appreciated Lowry with a standing ovation. The video tribute put together by the Raptors had Lowry smiling.

Lowry is the greatest Raptor of all time, should have a statue in Toronto someday, and helped lead the franchise to the NBA championship in 2019.

“It’s a place I called home for a long time,” Lowry said. “I won a lot of basketball games here, set a lot of records here. I’ve got a banner hanging up in there. It’s just a special place. It’s not my home building anymore, but it’s a place I’ll always call home.”

Oh, there was a game, too. Lowry and his new team in Miami Heat picked up the win 114-109, and Lowry had 16 points and nine assists. Max Strus led the Heat with 23 points. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet each had 29 points for the Raptors.

3) How good are the Mavericks? They just beat a full-strength Bucks team

A Dallas run to the Western Conference Finals — if they can catch the Warriors for the No. 3 seed, see the first item above — is possible. Either way, the Mavericks may be the hottest team in the West heading into the playoffs.

Dallas beat Milwaukee 118-112 on Sunday — and that was a full-strength Bucks team that played Giannis Antetokounmpo 40 minutes (he had 28 points and 10 rebounds). Luka Doncic had 32 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds.

Phoenix has set the bar in the West and I don’t see another team that can match them if healthy. But the hottest team in the West, the team that can make a run? Doncic and Dallas. They are 4-1 in their last five thanks to an offense that is on fire because of Doncic. Just keep an eye on them.

Highlight of the Night: KJ Martin gets his elbows above the rim

Jalen Green isn’t the only high-flying dunker in Houston.

KJ Martin took a nifty little bounce pass from Daishen Nix and turned it into the dunk of the day — and he got his elbows above the rim.

Yesterday’s scores:

Celtics 144, Wizards 102
Mavericks 118, Bucks 112
Nuggets 129, Lakers 118
Pistons 121, Pacers 117
76ers 112, Cavaliers 108
Knicks 118, Magic 88
Heat 114, Raptors 109
Timberwolves 139, Rockets 132
Thunder 117, Suns 96
Spurs 113, Trail Blazers 92
Warriors 109, Kings 90
Clippers 119, Pelicans 100