Three things to Know: With one week to go, breaking down playoff pictures in East, chaotic West


Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) With one week to go, bottom half of West playoff race remains chaotic

What Adam Silver and the league office wanted with the play-in tournament was for teams, fans, and the media to focus on who was getting into the postseason and not on who was tanking for Victor Wembanyama (or any particular year’s No.1 pick). What he wanted was this — there is chaos and a great race for the 5-8 seeds and Dallas struggling to even make the play-in despite having one of the game’s best players and a second superstar.

Let’s break it down:

• After this weekend, the top four spots are locked in. That’s not mathematically official yet, but it might as well be.

Denver was still without the injured Nikola Jokić Sunday but still beat the Golden State Warriors (who lost again on the road), the Nuggets have a three-game lead over the second-place Grizzlies with four to play. The Grizzlies, who fell to a Bulls team playing well, has a couple of game cushion over a Kings team that is stumbling toward the finish line after clinching — they lost to the tanking Spurs on Sunday. The Suns are now 4-0 when Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Devin Booker play and might be the team to beat out West right now, but they enter the playoffs in fourth.

• Seeds 5-8 are chaos, with all four teams having 38 losses. The two spots to avoid the play-in — and the better two seeds of the play-in — are wide open.

The hottest team in this group might be the Lakers, who are finally healthy, have Anthony Davis playing like it’s the bubble again, and have won three straight including beating the nine-seed Timberwolves on Friday (and the hapless Rockets Sunday). The game to circle on your calendar: Lakers at Clippers on Wednesday night; the winner of that one has the upper hand in getting a top-six seed. The Pelicans have the hardest remaining schedule of this group (games against the Grizzlies, Kings and Knicks, but how hard are those teams trying this week) but also are playing well behind a resurgent Brandon Ingram, who outdueled Kawhi Leonard in a Pelicans win on Saturday.

If you believe in the Warriors, you believe in the muscle memory of the playoffs. And Stephen Curry. (I remain unconvinced based on this season’s performance.)

• Seeds 9-10 have a team that expected better and one that did not. This is not where the Timberwolves expected to find themselves (or we expected them to be, for that matter), but they finally have Karl-Anthony Towns healthy, have a better fit at the point in Mike Conley, and they are a legitimate threat to come out of the play-in, even if they have to win a second game on the road.

Oklahoma City continues to impress — especially Jalen Williams (smart people are making his case for Rookie of the Year) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Honestly, I am debating SGA or Luka Dončić for fifth on the MVP ballot, the Thunder guard has been that good. First-team All-NBA also is reasonable.

The Dallas Mavericks look like a broken team. Could Dallas climb into the play-in? Sure, but they are a game back and it is essentially two because the Thunder have the tiebreaker. Mathematically it could happen, the Thunder have the tougher remaining schedule (Grizzlies, Warriors, Jazz) but Luka and Kyrie Irving need to get hot enough to cover up the Dallas defense and win out (Kings, Spurs, Bulls). The Mavs do not look like a team ready to string together three wins.

It is going to be a wild off-season in Dallas.

2) The East playoff chase is far more settled, except the bottom of the play-in

There is far less drama in the East playoff chase, where things are largely settled except for a few seeds. Let’s take a look.

• Boston could get the top seed — and getting the top seed matters. The Heat have the inside track on being the No.7 seed and the No.2 seeds first-round matchup, then the two seed likely faces the 76ers in the second round. That is a gauntlet. The path for the top seed to the conference finals is far less daunting (sorry, Cleveland).

Boston is two games back of Milwaukee with four to play, but the Celtics have the tiebreaker. Both teams play the 76ers this week — Philadelphia could have an impact on who it faces in the first round. The bottom line, the Celtics can catch the Bucks but will need some help from Milwaukee to get there.

• Seeds 3-7 are pretty much set. The 76ers are the third-best team in the NBA and legit title contenders (in my view), but they are still third in the East. Cleveland is fourth and not an easy out in the playoffs (three straight 40+ point games for Donovan Mitchell, making his All-NBA case), but they need Jarrett Allen back consistently and healthy to solidify the defense. Credit to the Knicks, who clinched a playoff spot with Sunday’s win over the Wizards — it’s going to be hard to leave Tom Thibodeau off Coach of the Year ballots or not have Jalen Brunson as an All-NBA guard, but both are in brutally deep fields and deserving men are going to miss the cut.

The Nets have a two-game cushion and the tiebreaker against the Heat, they would need to lose out and Miami win out to give up that spot. The Heat can start selling tickets for the first play-in game, they will host it.

• Seeds 8-10 are where the chaos is in the East. The Hawks, Raptors and Bulls could end up in any order — Atlanta sits eighth now after an OT win over Dallas Sunday, but the Raptors and Bulls are playing better basketball (both 7-3 over their last 10). Look for the Bulls to climb up, they have a much easier schedule (they do face the Bucks, but also have the Pistons and Mavericks) while the Raptors have the Bucks and Celtics left, and the Hawks have the Celtics and 76ers on the docket.

The game to circle on the calendar is Tuesday: Atlanta at Chicago. That will have a big say in how things play out.

3) Why Victor Wembanyama is unlike any other

LeBron James said Victor Wembanyama “is more like an alien” than a unicorn.

If you want evidence, here you go. Watch the 7’3″ player out of France take a comfortable step-back 3 — and when it clanks off the front rim, he gets his own rebound for the putback dunk.

That is your No.1 pick come June. No questions asked.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White


You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“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. “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.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?


Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.