Johnathan Motley

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Three Things to Know: Raptors stave off creeping doubt

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Raptors got a much-needed win over the Celtics. Toronto had lost five of eight, including two straight – to the Celtics and Cavaliers, its chief competition in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors had been the East’s best team throughout the season. A “reset” offense and a deep bench seemingly had them poised for playoff success. But this late skid instilled plenty of doubt in a team that has disappointed annually in the postseason.

A 96-78 win over Boston ought to calm panic in Toronto.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Raptors played with more purpose. They defended more aggressively, kept the ball moving and relied on balanced contributions. Kyle Lowry made a positive impact the day after his dud against Cleveland, which followed him going to San Antonio to watch Villanova win the national championship. The reserves came up big.

These weren’t necessarily the Celtics that Toronto would face in the postseason. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin were out. Boston used 11 players through three quarters.

But that only increased the impetus for the Raptors to win.

They didn’t prove anything last night. This team can’t do that until the playoffs, anyway. But at least Toronto stopped the bleeding (of a boo-boo that probably looked worse than it actually was).

2) The Mavericks out-tanked the Magic. Dallas’ 105-100 loss to Orlando might wind up last night’s most significant game on the NBA’s long-term landscape. The defeat dropped the Mavericks (24-55) ahead of the Magic (24-54) in the tight tank race.

Dallas pulled out all the stops. Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki – who all started the previous game – sat last night. Two-way player Johnathan Motley started and played 41 minutes. Aaron Harrison started and played 42 minutes. Kyle Collinsworth and Dorian Finney-Smith each played 35 minutes. Another two-way player, Jalen Jones, played 27 minutes. It’s as if the Mavericks were trying to overwhelm their already-overmatched players.

Orlando didn’t idly watch Dallas tank. The Magic rested Nikola Vucevic. Three starters – Aaron Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Bismack Biyombo – sat the entire fourth quarter. Jamel Artis played 32 minutes.

But Gordon (20 points in 26 minutes) did too much in his limited playing time and got the Magic the unneeded win.

3) The Spurs fell to the Lakers, but at least remain in playoff position. Last night’s games otherwise featured chalk between a team in the playoff race and a team not – 76ers over Pistons, Heat over Hawks, Pelicans over Grizzlies. But San Antonio fell to Los Angeles, 122-112, in overtime.

The Lakers, without their own draft picks this year, are still feisty. They’ve got nothing to tank for. Kyle Kuzma scored 30 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points on nine shots) and Channing Frye (19 points on nine shots) were remarkably efficient.

The Spurs still haven’t clinched a playoff berth, so a loss to an eliminated team is a real letdown.

The Western Conference playoff-race standings now:

4. Utah Jazz (45-33)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)

5. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves  (44-34)

7. New Orleans Pelicans (44-34)

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9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)

10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)

Tonight will feature a couple big games – Clippers at Jazz and Timberwolves at Nuggets.