Three things to Know: Clippers control own destiny, Bucks top seed, latest playoff updates


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) The latest playoff seeding news out of the Western Conference

Here is a quick update on the West playoff standings after a busy Wednesday night around the league.

• This quote summarizes where the Clippers and Lakers are mentally after Wednesday night.

“Wherever we end up, that’s where we end up, For us, it’s always about health,” LeBron James said.

That’s not the song the Lakers would have sung if they had won Wednesday night. However, LeBron and the Lakers were on the second night of a back-to-back while the Clippers had three days rest. This was a schedule-makers win for the Clippers, 135-118, but they will take it and say thank you (the Clips swept the season series from the Lakers for the second straight year).

The Clippers are now tied with the Warriors for the No. 5/6 seeds in the West, a full game up on the Lakers. With both the Warriors and Clippers having the tiebreaker over the Lakers, that one game they are back is really two with three games to play The only way for the Lakers to climb into the top six is the Clippers or Warriors losing out and the Lakers winning out.

• Denver is now locked in as the No.1 seed in the West after New Orleans beat the current No.2 seed Memphis. The Kings are two games back of Memphis with two to play for that second seed — the Kings would need to win out and the Grizzlies lose out for Memphis to fall out of second.

• That New Orleans win also moved them into a tie with the Lakers for the No.7/8 seeds in the West (Los Angeles has the tiebreaker), a full game up on Minnesota for those top two spots in the play-in. That matters a lot, the 7/8 seeds just need to win one of two games to make the playoffs, while the 9/10 seeds need to win two games without a loss (at least one of those will be on the road).

Kyrie Irving going off for 19 points in the fourth quarter earned the Mavericks a win over the Kings and keeps the dream of making the play-in alive in Dallas. The Mavericks and Thunder are now tied for the No.10 seed and final play-in spot in the East, but Oklahoma City has the tiebreaker. If the Thunder win out in their last two games (at Utah, Memphis), they will be the No.10 seed. If the Thunder split those two games, the Mavericks must win both of their final games (Bulls, Spurs) to advance to the postseason. (Dallas would only need one win if OKC loses both of its last games.)

2) Bucks secure top seed, Celtics locked in as second out East

The East was always a little more settled than the West, but here are the takeaways.

• With their win over the Chicago Bulls, the Milwaukee Bucks officially secured the top seed in the East (and the NBA).

• Flowing out of that (and the Celtics’ win over the Raptors), the top five spots in the East are now locked in: Milwaukee is No.1, followed by Boston at No.2, Philadelphia at No.3, Cleveland at No.4 and the Knicks in fifth.

• Brooklyn’s magic number to secure the No.6 seed is one — one Nets win (Magic, 76ers) or one Heat loss (at 76ers, Wizards, Magic). At the same time, the Heat magic number is one to secure the No.7 seed.

• The Hawks have a one-game lead with two to play over the Raptors for the No.8 seed, and the Hawks have the tiebreaker (Atlanta’s magic number is one to secure the No.8 seed) at least.

• The Bulls are locked in as the No.10 seed.

3) Put on a pair of Jordans and go see “Air”

“Air” is worth putting on a pair of Jordans and heading to the theater this weekend.

I was fortunate to attend a screening recently of the Ben Affleck film starring Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, the former Nike executive who led the charge for the then-smallish company known for running shoes to sign Michael Jordan to a shoe deal. Here are three reasons worth going.

1) It’s an entertaining telling of the story. This is not a movie about Jordan, if you want that re-watch “The Last Dance.” This is a movie about Nike and the drive to sign Jordan, and in that sense MJ is more the end of the quest (there are not a lot of Jordan highlights, and he himself is barely portrayed). Think of it this way: Raiders of the Lost Ark is not a movie about the Ark of the Covenant.

“Air” tells the Vaccaro version of how this went down — Phil Knight, Nike, and even Jordan can tell a version where Knight and others play a larger role — yet people I trust say this is the theme to believe. That said, like any Hollywood movie on historical events, it is fictionalized to a degree and is no documentary.

What this is really is an entertaining movie and a well-done bit of storytelling.

2) The performances are fantastic. Matt Damon sands the rough edges off Vaccaro and the actor’s likability (unless you’re Jimmy Kimmell) works here to keep the story moving. Jason Bateman is great as Rob Stasser. Chris Messina, playing Jordan’s agent David Falk, has the best scene in the film (when he loses it on the phone).

However, the best performance goes to Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan (Michael Jordan himself wanted her to play his mom, he was right). The movie also tells the often-forgotten part of this story: Deloris was the one who demanded her son get a piece of each shoe sold, not just a flat fee for endorsing the shoe. That was a radical change and made Jordan the kind of money where he could buy an NBA team one day.

3) This is a great 80s soundtrack. This will take you back to the 1980s more than the clothes, cars, or anything else. My wife and I had throwback moments with the soundtrack.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.