Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Warriors cranking up defense as playoffs near

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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) Warriors cranking up their defense as playoffs near, just ask the Pacers. Golden State’s defense this season has been like the team in general: There some nights and not others. Inconsistent. Blame injuries or lack of depth or just boredom, but on the season the Warriors have been a middle of the pack defensive team.

No longer. Starting to focus on good habits before the playoffs, the Warriors have cranked up the defense of late, with a defensive net rating of 100.7 in their last five games (just over a point per possession), and they are smothering teams. Such as the Pacers. A scrappy Indiana team scored less than 20 points in two quarters and the Warriors cruised to a 112-89 win Thursday night. The Warriors held the Pacers to 24 percent shooting in the first quarter, 32.7 percent in the first half.

Draymond Green remains the guy who makes the defense work, and DeMarcus Cousins now provides a big body in the paint to deter shots, but the Warriors defense really works best when players such as Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are engaged. Of late, they have been.

Offensively against the Pacers, DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 19 points and 11 boards.

One of the best moments of the night was the warm welcome Andrew Bogut got in his return to Golden State.

Thursday’s win keeps the Warriors half a game ahead of the Nuggets (who also won Wednesday) for the top seed in the West.

2) The bottom half of the West is a seeding battle royal — Jazz, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs all tied in seeds 5-8. Utah had a chance to create a little space in the standings Thursday night, but their legs just got stuck in the mud in Atlanta. After a stellar third quarter, the Jazz looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back playing their third game in four nights in the fourth, and the Hawks pulled away behind Trae Young (who did more damage with his 11 assists than his shot on the night) to get the win.

With this loss, there is now a four-way tie in seeds 5-8 in the West — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah, and the L.A. Clippers are all 42-30.

This is going to make the final 10 games fun to watch.

Seeding matters. Nobody wants to be the eight seed and get Golden State in the first round (this assumes the Warriors don’t get bored and let Denver get the top seed, but the Nuggets have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way). When I asked Portland coach Terry Stotts about trying to think about playoff matchups in the first round of the West, he said there would be no easy ones in the deep conference so sharp play and momentum are what mattered, and he spoke for pretty much every coach on that front.

How is this going to shake out? The Thunder have by far the toughest schedule, one of the most difficult in the league the rest of the way. The Jazz have the easiest schedule of any team in the West in their remaining games, the Spurs have the second easiest. But nothing about this season has been predictable, this will not be either.

3) Did Ja Morant play his way into being the No. 2 pick in the draft? The NBA world, like the sports world in general, was talking about the triple-double by Murray State’s Ja Morant in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He was impressive.

Did Morant play his way into being the No. 2 pick? (Zion Williamson is a lock at No. 1.) Actually, Morant may have done that before Thursday — he had a strong regular season — and Thursday was more of a reinforcement.

Whether Morant or R.J. Barrett or some surprise player goes second in the draft will come down to the draft lottery and who gets that No. 2 pick. Is it Phoenix or New York, teams in desperate need of a point guard? If the Hawks or Cavaliers land the No. 2 pick, are they looking more at Barrett? It’s too early to say, and it depends on those teams’ internal draft boards and how they rate players.

But Morant is in the mix, and may now be the frontrunner.

Kevin Durant helps lead Warriors past Pacers after death of Cliff Dixon

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Kevin Durant established Golden State’s defensive energy by swatting away shots early. Eventually, the Warriors got going on the other end as they almost always do.

Durant had 15 points, six assists and three blocks after losing a close friend earlier in the day, and the Warriors ran away from the Indiana Pacers 112-89 on Thursday night.

Durant led a balanced Warriors attack, playing the same day childhood friend Cliff Dixon was shot to death in Atlanta. Warriors guard Quinn Cook also was close with Dixon as they’re all from the Washington D.C./Maryland area.

Stephen Curry scored 12 of his 15 points with four 3-pointers during the Warriors’ 35-point third quarter in which they limited Indiana to 19.

“Tonight I thought our spirit and our energy were fantastic,” coach Steve Kerr said, crediting his group for being “engaged.”

Tyreke Evans scored 20 points off the bench and Thaddeus Young added 18 for the Pacers, who were without coach Nate McMillan for family reasons.

Indiana ended its four-game swing out West by losing an eighth straight road game and missing another chance to clinch a playoff berth following a 115-109 defeat at the Clippers on Tuesday night.

The Warriors, whose defense has become a greater focus with the playoffs approaching, have allowed their fewest points in two of the past four games. Oklahoma City scored 88 points Saturday before the two-time defending champions held down Indiana.

Klay Thompson began 0 for 7, missing his first five 3-pointers, and wound up with 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting. He scored his first field goal of the night, which he followed with another basket the next possession, at the 7:46 mark of the second quarter and his first 3 came in the final minute of the first half as Golden State built a 53-43 lead at the break.

“Well I finally decided to make a shot, so that felt good,” Thompson cracked.

Golden State returned from an impressive 3-1 road trip – with wins at Houston, Oklahoma City and Minnesota and a loss at San Antonio – to play its first game at Oracle Arena since a 115-111 flop against lowly Phoenix on March 10.

DeMarcus Cousins returned after missing two games with a sore right ankle and had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Andrew Bogut received a warm welcome for his home debut after re-joining the Warriors on the road. The 7-foot big man played on Golden State’s 2015 championship team and the 73-win team the following season that lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and he got hurt in Game 5 of the finals and missed the rest of the series.

“In my old age you get a bit sentimental,” Bogut said. “It’s funny how life works, right?”

Both teams had slow starts: The game was tied at 19 after the first quarter, when the Warriors were 1 of 10 on 3s.

“I thought our defensive intensity was good in the first half, and what happens in this league is when you’re not scoring points the flood gates can open,” Pacers assistant Dan Burke said.

BOGUT’S RETURN

Kerr still expects Bogut to make an impact even with Cousins healthy again and despite “an insurance-policy role.”

Bogut had seven rebounds and four points – shooting 1 for 8 – in nine minutes.

And Bogut was greeted exactly how Kerr figured – with “a raucous reception.”

The big man waved and smiled as fans cheered when video highlights were shown on the big screen with “Welcome back Andrew Bogut.”

“I think our fans recognize that, in many ways, Andrew represented the shift in the Warriors organization and its emphasis on defense,” Kerr said. “I think that trade was really kind of the first domino to fall in terms of – well Steph’s drafting was the first one, let’s not forget that one – but shortly thereafter Andrew came over in the trade and there was an organizational shift toward a defensive mindset which I think Mark Jackson implemented and the players started to reflect that philosophy.”

TIP-INS

Pacers: G Darren Collison sat out a second straight game with a bruised right quadriceps muscle. When he missed Tuesday it snapped his streak of 71 straight starts this season. … Indiana is 4-9 on the road vs. the Western Conference, having lost the last five.

Warriors: All five Warriors starters scored in double figures for the fourth time, with Golden State winning each of those. … The Warriors won 132-100 at Indiana on Jan. 28, getting 39 assists and shooting 54.1 percent and going 13 of 31 on 3s. … Golden State is 27-4 when notching 30 or more assists (32 on Thursday). … Bogut is three regular-season games shy of 700 in 14 seasons.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Host Nuggets on Sunday.

Warriors: Host Mavericks on Saturday night having won 12 straight at home in the series.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Before James Harden, how many players scored 30 points against every other team in a season?

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James Harden became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points against all 29 opponents in a season.

But the NBA has had 30 teams for just 15 of its 73 seasons.

Obviously, the larger league makes Harden’s feat more impressive. He had to score 30 against more teams. The Rockets also play most opponents, those in the Eastern Conference, only twice. In previous eras, players had more cracks at scoring 30 against fewer teams.

Still, anyone to score 30 points against every opponent has a certain immunity to bad matchups. It’s special.

How many players have done it?

We must start with Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 30 points against all nine teams in the 1964-65 NBA. He began the season with the San Francisco Warriors and, with them, scored 30 against the 76ers. Then, he got traded to Philadelphia and scored 30 on the Warriors. He also dropped 30 on every other team.

Including that season, there have been 85 times a player scored 30 points in a game against every opponent in a season.

Only Harden, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have done it since the NBA-ABA merger. Jordan (1986-87) and Bird (1984-85) did it against 22 teams.

Everyone else did it against 17 or fewer teams.

Here’s everyone to score 30 in a game against every opponent in a season with the player’s highest-scoring game against each team listed, starting with Chamberlain doing it against every team then following in chronological order:

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Bucks avoid luxury-tax exposure as Pelicans reportedly claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks’ mission: Win enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term.

This summer will present an inflection point. Three Milwaukee starters – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – will be free agents, and the luxury tax looms. (The Bucks recently signed Eric Bledsoe to an extension, providing some cost-certainty.)

Will Milwaukee pay the luxury tax to keep this team intact? If so, how much tax and for how long? It’s a long way off, but the Bucks ought to start considering the possibility of the repeater tax down the road.

That’s why it was so risky for Milwaukee to waive Christian Wood and sign Tim Frazier. That put the Bucks in jeopardy of paying the luxury tax this season if they won the championship (triggering bonuses in Tony Snell‘s contract) and Wood went unclaimed. Obviously, Milwaukee would probably gladly pay the tax, miss out on payments to non-tax teams and start the repeater clock to win a title this year. But it’s still better to win without those downsides.

Thankfully for the Bucks, they’re off the hook.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1108474930688155650

This is a nice pickup by the Pelicans. The 23-year-old Wood has looked good in limited NBA minutes and in the NBA’s minor league. His 2019-20 minimum salary is unguaranteed until that regular season begins. So, this is a low-risk addition with solid upside.

Maybe Milwaukee could use Wood in the frontcourt right now. Nikola Mirotic just suffered an injury that will sideline him a few weeks, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for tonight’s game against the Cavaliers with an ankle injury.

It’s unclear how quickly Wood will report to New Orleans, but he could step into the lineup if Anthony Davis misses more time.

Bucks’ Nikola Mirotic reportedly out 2-4 weeks with sprained thumb, fracture

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The Milwaukee Bucks have been hit hard by the injury bug lately. Giannis Antetokounmpo did not play against the Lakers Tuesday due to an ankle sprain. Malcolm Brogdon is out likely until some time in the playoffs with a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Sterling Brown, Pau Gasol, and George Hill also are all listed as out on the Bucks’ Wednesday injury report.

And now this:

This likely means 2-4 weeks on the shelf, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. This likely means Mirotic is out until about the start of the playoffs.

All those injuries — with Brogdon likely stretching into the postseason — makes one wonder how deep a playoff run the Bucks can make? They need to get healthy to have a shot with how little margin for error there is among the big four in the East.

Mirotic was injured against the Lakers Monday, which might have been his most complete game since coming to Milwaukee with 23 points and six rebounds (for of them offensive).

Mirotic has averaged 11.6 points per game while shooting 35.6 percent from three since coming to the Bucks. Milwaukee went out and got him for what the team hopes will be a deep playoff run where Mirotic can provide floor spacing and smart play, as he did last season in New Orleans. This injury will cut into his time to mesh with his new Bucks teammates.