UPDATE: Khris Middleton listed as “out” for Game 7 Sunday

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UPDATE: The expected is not official: Khris Middleton is out for Game 7.

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The Milwaukee Bucks miss Khris Middleton. Their offense has struggled in the halfcourt against the Celtics, averaging 84.4 points per 100 possessions on their first shot in the halfcourt, the worst of any team in the second round of the playoffs and 10 points per 100 below their regular season average. Part of that is an elite Boston defense, but part of it is how much the Celtics lean on Middleton to create in the halfcourt.

Middleton remains out with a grade 2 sprain of the MCL in his left knee and the Bucks have given no official update. However, early in the week there had been rumors the Bucks were optimistic Middleton could return if the series went long enough. However, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst shot that down in a recent appearance (hat tip Real GM)

“Earlier this week, the folks I was talking to were giving me some optimism about Middleton playing this weekend, but that has not happened. That has not developed,” Windhorst said. “And now I would say there’s pessimism about Sunday, and frankly, I have been told that even if the Bucks advance to the conference finals, there’d be pessimism he’d be ready to start.”

In Game 6 on Friday, Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 44 points but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Part of that was the brilliance of Jayson Tatum, but the Bucks had an 82.4 halfcourt offensive rating in that game. If the Bucks’ defense can’t force turnovers — Boston only had eight in the game — and create some fast break opportunities, the offense can stall. That ties directly to Middleton, the All-Star and Olympian who is a tough matchup running the pick-and-roll because he is 6’7″ and can 3 or punish a smaller player on a post up. Middleton averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game this season, and the Bucks were +5.2 per 100 possessions when he was on the court.

The Bucks tanked their game against the Cavaliers on the final day of the regular season — knowing the Celtics had to win to avoid the No. 4 seed — which put Milwaukee as the No. 3 seed facing Chicago in the first round while Boston finished as the No. 2 seed and had to face Kevin Durant and Brooklyn. The price for that strategy comes now as Game 7 will be played in Boston on Sunday (although the road team has won four of the six games so far).

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.