Three things to Know: Towns hits game-winning free throws in night of stars returning

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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) Karl-Anthony Towns returns and hits game-winning free throws

Karl-Anthony Towns could not have been happier.

“This is what movies is made of,” Towns said postgame (via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic). “You come back, 51 games missing, sellout crowd, Target Center and you get the ball with seven seconds left, no timeouts. You’ve got to make it. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Towns did make it, well the free throws, anyway. The Hawks’ John Collins fouled Towns on his final shot — something upheld by a review — then KAT sank both free throws to give Minnesota the 125-124 win.

Towns finished with 22 points and showed a little rust shooting 8-of-18 (but hitting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc), which is to be expected after being out since Nov. 28 with a calf strain. The Timberwolves got a needed win in the tight West playoff chase, and did it without Anthony Edwards (still out with a sprained ankle).

The Hawks got hosed on what would have been their chance on game-winning free throws.

There were 3.6 seconds left on the clock after Towns’ free throws and the Hawks called time out to set up an inbounds play. That ended up being a Collins 3-pointer that did not hit the rim, but Atlanta’s Saddiq Bey was in position for the offensive board and appeared to be fouled by Taurean Prince. After the game, referee crew chief Ben Taylor told a pool reporter his crew missed the call.

“On postgame review we see it. It appears that Prince moves back into Bey’s space, and we should have assessed a foul on the play.”

Trey Young finished with 29 points and eight assists to lead Atlanta. The Hawks remain the No.8 seed in the East, one game up on Raptors (they are now three back in the loss column from the No.7 seed Heat, who will be next to impossible to catch).

2) Ja Morant comes off bench in return from suspension, scores 17

Ja Morant was welcomed back with a standing ovation and a roar from the Grizzlies faithful Wednesday night.

“Obviously, I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who has been supporting me during this time,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “It definitely helped me a lot. Definitely made me feel a little better. Eased everything that’s been going on. Felt good to be back. Super excited and glad we were able to get the win.”

Morant had missed nine games (eight due to a league suspension) following an incident where he flashed a gun in a club and broadcast it on social media. Morant took time away and got counseling in Florida on how to better manage the stress in his life.

He didn’t play hoop or workout much during that time, so he came off the bench and had a minutes limit in his return while he plays himself back into shape. Time away or not, the explosive hops are still there.

Morant finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting in a 130-125 Grizzlies win over the Rockets. Jaren Jackson Jr. continued his hot play with 37 to lead Memphis.

The win put the Grizzlies two full games up on the Kings for the No.2 seed in the West.

3) Luka Dončić scores 30 in return, it’s not enough to beat Warriors

Luka Dončić returned after missing five games with a left thigh strain and it didn’t look like he missed a day — 30 points,17 rebounds, and a couple of ridiculously good assists.

It just wasn’t enough, not with Kyrie Irving out (foot soreness).

In a defense-free game — the losing Mavericks had a 127.6 offensive rating— Stephen Curry and the Warriors had a couple more buckets and picked up the 127-125 win. Curry finished with 20 points, while Jonathan Kuminga led the Warriors with 22.

That’s not what anyone is talking about out of this game. Instead, it’s the bizarre inbounds play that gave the Warriors two easy points.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Golden State’s Anthony Lamb missed a straight-on 3-pointer and the rebound caromed out of bounds. The baseline referee points it would remain the Warriors’ ball, but then instantly transitions into pointing the other direction to call a Mavericks timeout. That confused the Mavericks, who thought he signaled their ball. After the timeout came the inbounds play.

The Mavericks thought it was their ball (although why nobody came down to take the ball out is confusing), and after the game owner Mark Cuban sent out this angry Tweet and said he would file a protest over the game.

Referee crew chief Sean Wright explained the call postgame.

Initially on the floor the original signal was in fact Golden State ball as this can be seen on video. There is a second signal but that signal is for a mandatory timeout that was due to the Mavs.

The Mavericks’ loss drops them a game below .500 and tied with the Lakers for the 9/10 seeds in the West play-in. The Warriors remain the No.6 seed.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks hold on to top spot but 76ers, Celtics close

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Not much movement at the top of the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings this week as teams racked up wins as they jockeyed for playoff seeding. A few teams, such as Miami, are climbing.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (51-20, Last week No. 1). If you believe the MVP should be the best player from the best team, then Giannis Antetokounmpo is your guy — and he has been gaining support in recent weeks (helped in part by the Nuggets’ slide). Antetokounmpo himself is less focused on that award and more on securing the No.1 seed in the East and its easier path through the playoffs. The Bucks have a cushion (three games in the loss column over the 76ers and Celtics) and just have to hold on to it through the four-game road trip that starts Friday in Utah. The most interesting game of that trip is Saturday in Denver, a battle of No.1 seeds.

 
Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (48-23, LW 2). Tyrese Maxey has found his groove of late, averaging 22.1 points and 3.4 assists a game in March — his attacking offense has been a critical part of the 76ers’ hot streak (eight straight wins until a loss to the Bulls on Monday). Joel Embiid‘s play — and with its resurgent MVP case — has also been at the heart of that run, but can he keep it going during a four-game road trip. The game everyone has circled on their calendar is Monday when the 76ers travel to Denver and Joel Embiid squares off against Nikola Jokić in a game that will take on outsized importance.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (50-23, LW 3). Robert Williams III returned to the court Tuesday night in an impressive win over the Kings. This matters — Williams will be key for this Celtics team to match up with Milwaukee and Philadelphia, and maybe even in the first round if they face Miami. They simply are not the same defensively or on the glass if he is not right. The other thing the Celtics need to be changed? Jayson Tatum is hitting just 29.2% of his 3-pointers since the All-Star break. Winnable games this week against the Pacers, Spurs, and Wizards.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (46-28, LW 4). Cleveland has won 7-of-9, but the two losses (one to the Heat in Miami, the other to Philadelphia) raise some questions about what kind of playoff threat the Cavaliers really are. The loss to the 76ers was the second night of a back-to-back, and Jarrett Allen was out, but it was still troubling. The Cavaliers appear headed for a 4/5 first-round playoff showdown with a scrappy Knicks team, but Cleveland will have the best player on the court in that series in Donovan Mitchell (the one they let get away in New York), and he can do things like this.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (48-24, LW 5). Denver won 2-of-3 on the road this week, at least stemming the recent slide (although it will take more than just a couple of wins to give a jolt to the narrative around Nikola Jokic’s MVP candidacy). The real tests are awaiting when they arrive home: Milwaukee on Saturday and Joel Embiid and the 76ers on Monday. Those games are measuring sticks for the Nuggets as they prepare for the postseason, but they also will take on outsized importance in the narrative about the MVP (fair or not).

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (44-27, LW 7). Ja Morant is set to return to the court Wednesday, but Dillon Brooks will be out that night due to a suspension, and that gets at the heart of the bigger issue with the Grizzlies — they have to be disciplined if they want to make a deep playoff run. NBC Sports basketball analyst Corey Robinson talks about the Grizzlies’ “punk rock attitude” which has both been part of what fuels them and part of what trips them up. In a West open for the taking, the Grizzlies have the talent, but they must be disciplined. They also have to get Steven Adams back, they miss him badly on the court and it appears he might be back for the playoffs, but nothing is for sure.

 
Kings small icon 7. Kings (43-29, LW 6). The Kings will make the playoffs as a No.2 or 3 seed, but the ugly loss to the Celtics at home only fuels the questions about how deep a run this team can make in the playoffs with its 24th-ranked defense. (It should be noted that the Celtics game was the second night of a back-to-back for the Kings and their fifth game in seven days.) The Kings have a run in them with their versatile, impossible-to-stop offense, but it will depend on matchups — there are some dangerous teams in the bottom half of the West bracket. Who will the Kings’ face, how healthy will they be and matchups will be deciding factors. The Kings are good enough to make the conference finals, but there will be no easy paths in the West this year.

 
Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (42-31, LW 8). Josh Hart wants to stay in New York and the feeling is mutual among Knicks faithful, but the question, as always is money. The Knicks can offer four years, $51 million, but if another team comes in over the top at the restricted free agent (likely with a poison-pill Arenas rule offer) New York’s front office will have a decision to make. The Knicks appear headed for the No. 5 seed, but two of their next four games are against the Heat, New York needs a split there and not to go on a little losing streak to hold on to that spot.

 
Suns small icon 9. Suns (38-33, LW 10). Phoenix has dropped 4-of-5, and them holding on to the No. 4 seed no longer feels like a sure thing, the Clippers are just one game back and the Warriors two games. The problem over those five games has been the Suns’ offense, which is 26th in the league for those games — that’s something Kevin Durant would fix just walking in the door. Durant (left ankle sprain) will be re-evaluated next week and back for at least a handful of the Suns’ remaining games. That means the Suns need wins and they have a tough week ahead with the Lakers, Kings and 76ers on the schedule.

 
Clippers small icon10. Clippers (38-35, LW 12). The Clippers have won 5-of-7, with one of those losses coming in the game Kawhi Leonard sat out. That is not a coincidence, as Law Murray of The Athletic noted, the Clippers have lost seven in a row when Leonard sits and are 3-14 in their last 17 without him. Now the Clippers will need to win the next couple of weeks without Paul George, who will be re-evaluated from a knee sprain in 2-3 weeks. The Clippers are just one game out of four seed with some winnable games this week against OKC, the Pelicans and Bulls.

 
Heat small icon 11. Heat (39-34, LW 11). Miami is making a push to catch the stripped-down Nets for the No.6 seed and avoiding the play-in — they are only half a game back, but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker so it is more like 1.5 games. That makes the Saturday night showdown against the Nets must win. Beyond that one game, the on-again/off-again Heat — beat the Grizzles and Cavaliers, lose to the Bulls — need consistency. And they need Max Strus and some other role players to start hitting their 3-pointers.

 
Warriors small icon 12. Warriors (37-36, LW 9). The Warriors snapped their 11-game road losing streak against lowly Houston, but that “winning streak” will get put to the test Wednesday night against Dallas — most importantly, can the Warriors start getting stops on the road? Their defense is 28th in the league on the road, but third-best (and more than 11 points per 100 possessions better) at home. After Wednesday the Warriors have 5-of-6 at home and they need to take advantage of that stretch and lock in their place in the top six in the West. Really good test at home Friday against the 76ers and MVP-candidate Joel Embiid.

 
Mavericks small icon 13. Mavericks (36-36, LW 14). Dallas went 2-3 in games Luka Dončić missed with a left thigh strain, but the good news is he will be back Wednesday night in a critical showdown against the Warriors, two teams battling for the No.6 seed in the West (Golden State currently hold the spot, but the teams are tied in the loss column). The bad news for Dallas is Kyrie Irving will be out with right foot soreness after Dillon Brooks stepped on his foot in the Memphis game. The Mavericks could use a big night (or few games, if Irving is out) from Jaden Harvey, who will see a minutes bump. After the Warriors the Mavs have winnable games this week against the Hornets (twice) and the Pacers).

 
Thunder small icon 14. Thunder (36-36, LW 17). Look who sits at the No.7 seed in the West — the Thunder are not tanking, they are thinking postseason. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is leading that charge and cementing his All-NBA status, scoring 40 points Sunday in a win over the Suns, then dropping 31 on the Clippers on Tuesday. One thing that makes stopping the Thunder difficult is the size of their backcourt — Gilgeous-Alexander is 6’6″ and Josh Giddey is 6’8″. The Thunder started 1-0 on their West Coast road trip (a quick-trigger referee helped with that) and they have the Clippers (again), Lakers and Blazers to round out the trip.

 
Nets small icon 15. Nets (39-33, LW 13). The Nets have dropped four in a row and can feel the Heat… sorry, that joke/line bothered even me. And I wrote it. But with Miami just one game back and eyeing the No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in, Brooklyn needs wins (and to get some stops, it’s their defense that is letting them down right now). The good news is the Nets have the third easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, but it doesn’t show in the shop term with the Cavaliers up next then a critical game against those Heat.

 
Raptors small icon 16. Raptors (35-37, LW 19). It’s the story of their season — Toronto has a +5.1 net rating over its last six games, but just a 3-3 record. For the season, they have the point differential of a team that is 38-34 (which would only move them up one spot to eighth in the East). The Raptors have a three-game cushion, and they are not falling out of the play-in, but the real target is the Hawks at No. 8 — the Raptors are just one game back of that easier path to the playoffs. They have winnable games this week against the Pacers, Pistons and Wizards, the Raptors just need to keep their focus.

 
Lakers small icon 17. Lakers 35-37, LW 18). Austin Reaves is earning the big payday he has coming this offseason (four years, $50ish million sounds about right), but the Lakers need more than that to get into the playoffs. They need peak Anthony Davis for a full 48 minutes. And they need LeBron James back from his foot tendon issue, he should be coming up for re-evaluation soon and has hinted on social media he is getting closer to a return. The Lakers have three more at home this week (Suns, Thunder, Bulls) before heading out on the road for five.

 
18. Timberwolves (36-37, LW 15). Karl-Anthony Towns is returning Wednesday after missing 51 games with a calf injury, a huge boost to the Timberwolves — but also presents a challenge. It’s hard to integrate any player who deserves a lot of offensive touches back into the rhythm of a team used to playing without him, and the fit the 21 games Towns played to open the season was clunky. It should be easier with a distributor in Mike Conley at the point (as opposed to D'Angelo Russell). Anthony Edwards‘s status is still up in the air as of this writing, but it’s good news that he will not miss much time. The Timberwolves need wins and face the Hawks, Warriors and Kings up this week.

 
Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (36-36, LW 16). Fans in Atlanta who remember the bump the team got when Lloyd Pierce was pushed out and Nate McMillan became the head coach have wondered why there hasn’t been the same thing with Quin Snyder in the door. It’s a very different situation, and Snyder hasn’t had the chance to install his offense (or tweak the roster). Snyder was a long-term hire. In the short term the goal is to hang on to the No.8 seed and hold off the surging Raptors, which means finding wins in games against the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Pacers and Cavaliers. No easy task.

 
Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (34-37, LW 23). The Chicago Bulls needed a fire lit under them this season — that’s what Patrick Beverley excels at. The Bulls are 8-4 since signing Beverley on the buyout market with the second-best net rating in the league over that stretch (+7.9), and that has moved them up to the No.10 seed and the play in with a 2.5 game cushion to keep it. Beverley is not a quiet guy who just leads by example, his voice made a difference. It also helps  Zach LaVine is averaging 29.9 points a game and shooting 45% from in those dozen games as well.

 
Jazz small icon 21. Jazz (35-36, LW 21). So much for tanking. We thought the Jazz bought tickets for the Wembanyama sweepstakes last summer, but they started the season 10-4. After trading away a lot of depth and quality at the deadline it was thought the tanking would start in earnest, but after a dip the Jazz are back into the top 10 and looking like a possible play-in team. Walker Kessler is drawing the headlines with his play this season, but guard Ochai Agbaji has stepped up in recent weeks, including 27 points against the Kings. Utah has a couple of keepers on the roster.

 
Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (35-37, LW 20). Zion Williamson will be out at least two more weeks (through April 5) while the Pelicans are making their playoff push. Not good news for a team that has fallen to the No.12 seed and needs to string together some wins to make the postseason (things have gotten so bad they have the same record as the Lakers — with whom they have a pick swap this year). The Pelicans head out on the road Saturday for four, facing the Clippers, Blazers, Warriors and Nuggets — a tough challenge for a team needing wins.

 
Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (32-40, LW 22). Washington has gone 3-11 since the All-Star break and fallen 2.5 games out of the final play-in spot in the East. They will need help from teams currently playing well in the Bulls and Raptors to have a shot at making the postseason. That’s troubling for a team that entered the season with top-six aspirations — some hard questions are coming this summer. This week the Nuggets, Spurs and Raptors are on the schedule.

 
Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (32-40, LW 25). There are bright spots on this roster — Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin — but it has just not come together, particularly on the defensive end. The Raptors are on the road for their next three, and it will be a tough trip: Toronto, Boston and Atlanta.

 
Magic small icon 25. Magic 30-43, LW 26). Orlando is playing the role of spoiler well with some quality on the court in recent wins against Miami, the Clippers and the Wizards. While Paolo Banchero draws the headlines (and will win Rookie of the Year) it’s been the backcourt of a revived Markelle Fultz along with some good nights from Cole Anthony that has these Magic looking like a team that will not go quietly into the offseason.

 
Blazers small icon 26. Trail Blazers (31-40, LW 24). While some media outlets ran with this, don’t take Damian Lillard‘s recent comments as a sign he wants out of Portland. The Blazers aren’t going to trade him unless he asks out and league sources have told NBC Sports nobody expects him to (at least for the next year). He’s just frustrated with the losing and is at least considering shutting it down for the season, which is understandable. Portland has lost six in a row and are four games out of the last play-in spot — their postseason dreams are done. Starting Friday against the Bulls, the Blazers are home for five in a row.

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (23-50, LW 27). Michael Jordan selling his majority shares of the Hornets has generally been seen as a positive for the franchise around the league. This is a team in need of new investments in practice/training facilities and more, and the new owners can step in and make a difference there right away. It’s also good for the league that Jordan will hang on to a minority ownership share of the team, it’s important for the GOAT to remain involved with the league.

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (18-54, LW 28). With a bottom three record (and with it the best possible lottery odds) locked up, coach Stephen Silas has been able to lean into his young core and turn them loose, and they picked up some quality wins against the Celtics, Lakers and Pelicans (New Orleans even that out a couple of nights later). This week Jalen Green and the Rockets head out on the road, starting with two games against Memphis, followed by the Cavaliers.

 
Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (19-53, LW 29). The 24-point comeback win against the Hawks showed some heart from San Antonio, but this has been a rough season. Which was to be expected, but this will be the Spurs’ fourth straight season of missing the playoffs and the turnaround has been slow. Some luck — first with the draft, then with health — could turn things around pretty quickly. Part of the challenge this season was all the time Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson missed due to injuries.

 
Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (16-57, LW 30). No team is poised for a faster bounce back next season — get Cade Cunningham back healthy and put him next to Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman (who has spread his wings a little in the Motor City), veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, plus whoever they draft, and the Pistons could easily be in the play-in mix. Up on the schedule this week for Detroit are the Raptors and Bucks, to tough asks.

Watch Dillon Brooks pick up 18th technical, will get suspended another game

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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Dillon Brooks sat out the Grizzlies’ March 5 loss to the Clippers after reaching 16 technical fouls this season — hit that number and the league gives a player an automatic one-game suspension. After that, with every two more technicals a player earns another suspension.

Brooks had gotten another and was up to 17 heading into a critical game Monday night against Dallas, when he did this:

Brooks will likely be suspended by the league Wednesday against Houston, the game where it appears Ja Morant will return to the court. Don’t look for the Grizzlies to appeal and try to get this technical rescinded, as coach Taylor Jenkins said, via Joe Varden of The Athletic.

“At this point, I don’t think we even try anymore,” Brooks said.

What was Brooks doing? Telling Theo Pinson he was a cheerleader.

Brooks’ rough night included him trying to do a jersey swap with Kyrie Irving after the game, but Irving not accepting Brook’s jersey (Brooks stepped on Irving’s foot during the game, aggravating an injury and had Irving leaving the building in a walking boot). After the game, Brooks admitted he needs to rein things in a little.

“I’ve got to tone it down and get back to my mindfulness practice and find ways to channel it better,” Brooks said.

Brooks needs to do this for the sake of his pocketbook — this is two game checks lost to suspension, and that doesn’t even include the $35,000 fine for shoving a cameraman.

Brooks plays with an edge, it’s part of what makes him effective — he’s the guy that gets under the other team’s skin. However, it’s one thing to walk the line and another to step over it constantly. Brooks needs to do better at knowing where that line is.

The good news for the Grizzlies and Brooks is the technical count gets wiped out for the playoffs and starts over (with suspensions starting at seven).

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks hold on to top spot but 76ers jump up to second

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The Bucks stay on top but the 76ers climb to second as the Nuggets slide and the East again dominates the top of these NBA Power Rankings.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (50-19, Last week No. 1). The Bucks are 16-2 since Feb. 1 and have outscored opponents by 9 points per game on average since the All-Star break — they have been the best team in the league. Not only has that given them a 3-game cushion for the best record in the league, but it has also fired up Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s MVP candidacy. That candidacy lagged earlier in the season when Khris Middleton (now back in the starting lineup) and Jrue Holiday missed time and Antetokounmpo had to take on a different role, but with the team finding its groove Antetokounmpo is back playing to his strengths and is an unstoppable force. He may or may not win a third MVP, but he will finish top three. Soft schedule this week for the Bucks, which should help them secure the top seed overall in the league.

 
Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (46-22, LW 5). The 76ers have won six in a row and 7-of-10, but they have done it in spite of a defense that is ranked 27th in the league over those last six games. MVP candidate Joel Embiid is carrying the offense (and getting blocks where he can), but the defensive concerns about a backcourt leaning on James Harden and Tyrese Maxey have come to fruition (the defense hasn’t been great on the wing, either). Philly is one game back of Boston for the No.2 seed in the East, but the Sixers have the second toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way, including 6-of-7 coming up on the road.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (48-22, LW 4). The loss in Houston was a shock to the system, but the concerns are bigger than that with Boston having dropped 5-of-9 and looking pedestrian on both sides of the court during that stretch. It’s concerning with the Bucks and Sixers playing much better ball over that stretch. Injuries have played a part in recent Celtics’ stumbles, with Robert Williams missing time and Marcus Smart back on the court but not looking 100%, but it is not the entire answer. The Celtics are 2-2 on their six-game road trip and they need wins to hold off a hot 76ers team aiming for the No.2 seed.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (44-28, LW 6). One thing we have seen over the recent month that could be a good thing long-term in Cleveland is the improvement of Isaac Okoro on the offensive end. He is not putting up massive stat lines — 9.2 points per game over his last five games — but he is shooting 57.1% from 3 in that stretch (2.8 attempts a game) and 56.7% overall. More importantly, he’s playing smart, taking the corner 3 when it is there, but also attacking closeouts and making smart cuts. Two interesting games coming up against the Nets in Brooklyn.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (46-23, LW 2). Losers of four in a row and they are looking passive — and MVP candidate Nikola Jokić is looking passive. He had a couple of games where he took fewer shots, but it’s also been evident on defense with him calling and playing more drop coverage rather than being up at the point of attack. The Nuggets still have a 4.5 game lead in the West and feel like a team that has just taken their foot off the gas, but that’s not what Mike Malone will want to see this time of year. The Nuggets are in the midst of a five-game road trip with the Pistons, Knicks and Nets up next.

 
Kings small icon 6. Kings (41-27, LW 7). Everyone had a laugh when Kings fan Sean Chew rolled out of a California Classic Summer League win screaming his team would get to 40 wins this season. Who’s laughing now? Saturday night, with De'Aaron Fox leading another comeback win (this time against the stumbling Mavericks), the Kings got to 40 wins. Fivethirtheight.com projects the Kings to finish with 47 wins (although that feels a little low) and be the three seed (but with the Grizzlies stumbling the two seed is in play). Finally, a stat courtesy of our friend Matt Moore of the Action Network: The Kings are the only team in the West with a road record above .500.

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (41-27, LW 9). Ja Morant was given an eight-game retroactive suspension — he can come back in theory on Monday against Dallas but will be out longer than that — and had one genuine moment in his interview with ESPN’s Jalen Rose, saying “I didn’t realize what I had to lose.” He has lost more than $650K with the suspension, lost a Powerade ad, and now could miss making an All-NBA team, impacting the size of his contract extension. Hopefully the time he reflected has helped him find the right path forward. The Grizzlies are home for 7-of-8, Morant likely returns in that window, and the Grizzlies need wins to hold on to the No. 2 seed.

 
Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (41-30, LW 3). It’s not a coincidence that the Knicks’ three-game losing streak (which was snapped Sunday against the Lakers) came when Jalen Brunson is out. Consider it the 47,356th reminder what a steadying hand the point guard has been for this offense and team. With a 3-game cushion, the Knicks should be able to hold off the Heat and stay in the top six in the East, especially if they keep playing the way they are right now. Interesting test Saturday against the suddenly slumping Nuggets.

 
Warriors small icon 9. Warriors (36-34, LW 11). The Warriors are on an eight-game winning streak at home and a nine-game losing streak on the road, but there has been enough home games lately that they have climbed into the top six in the West. For those who believe these Warriors still have a title run in them this season, this video is what you need to watch on a loop — Stephen Curry taking over the final two minutes of regulation and OT to lift the Warriors to a win over the Bucks (shorthanded Bucks without their MVP candidate, but still).

 
Suns small icon 10. Suns (37-32, LW 8). The Suns are 1-3 in the games Kevin Durant has missed with his fluke sprained ankle, which has put them at risk of losing the No.4 seed to the surging Clippers (the losses also killed any dream of catching the Grizzlies for the No.3 seed). The real key is getting Devin Booker and company going, eventually getting Durant back, and racking up enough wins to hold on to a top-six seed in the West and avoid the play-in (top four remains the ultimate goal). Interesting test against the Thunder Sunday, they are good when SGA plays.

 
Heat small icon 11. Heat (38-33, LW 12). If close games and high-pressure situations during the regular season prepare a team for the playoffs, the Heat may be the most ready team in the NBA. Fifty of the Heat’s 70 games have been considered clutch (inside five points in the final five minutes), which is insane. Miami is 28-22 in those games with a +11.3 net rating. Jimmy Butler‘s 16 second-half points against the Jazz in the 28th of those clutch wins is a reminder of what a great clutch player he is. Winnable games on the docket this week with the Bulls and Pistons, but Miami has to bring the focus every night (for a change) to hang on to the No.7 seed.

 
Clippers small icon12. Clippers (37-33, LW 16). Winners of four in a row and — as it has been all season — when healthy they look like a threat. Leonard is starting to look like his peak self, his ability to get to his midrange spots and hit is as good as anyone in the league. When Leonard and Paul George are both on the floor, the Clippers have a +7.4 net rating (add Russell Westbrook to that duo and it drops to -4.3, but that’s a topic for another day). The Clips are closing in on the stumbling Suns for the No. 4 seed and have winnable games coming up with the Magic, Blazers and Thunder.

 
Nets small icon 13. Nets (39-30, LW 13). Still looking for a little more depth at center, the Nets have moved on from Nerlens Noel and have signed Moses Brown (who had his moments with the Clippers). Brooklyn went 4-3 on a recent run of road games (including a big comeback win against Boston and topping Denver) and with that are in a good position to hold off Miami and keep a top-six seed in the East avoiding the play-in. That said, they have a tough game with the Kings, Nuggets and Cavaliers this week (and a showdown with those Heat the following week).

 
Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (35-35, LW 10). While there is no official timeline, both Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving could return to the lineup this week — and Dallas needs them. The rest of the Mavericks broke the team’s three-game losing streak, but it took overtime against the tanktastic Spurs on Wednesday to do it. Dallas is in a tie for the 7/8 seeds with Minnesota, and the Mavs need to rack up wins to hold off the Thunder and Lakers just behind them. Critical game Friday night against those Lakers, followed by the Grizzlies on Monday.

 
15. Timberwolves (35-35, LW 14). Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to return in the coming weeks, before the postseason starts, but fitting him back into a team starting to find a style without him will be a challenge. The Timberwolves are hanging in the West play-in, tied for 7/8 with the Mavericks, and they are doing it with a defense that is top 10 in the league over their last 10 games. However, they have a bottom 10 offense in those same 10 games — Towns could pump up the offense, but it’s going to feel like starting the season over again. The Timberwolves have three games on the road this week against the East: the Bulls, Raptors and Knicks.

 
Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (34-35, LW 15). Atlanta is 3-5 since the coaching change to Quin Snyder and it’s been a case of “meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks.” Not only has the offense not changed much, but this since the All-Star break this team has had the statistical markings of last year’s Hawks: Third in offense and 26th in defense. Atlanta needs to find enough D to win some games and hold off the Raptors for the eighth seed (and a much easier path through the play-in). The Hawks have winnable games this week with the road Warriors, then the Spurs and Pistons.

 
Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (34-35, LW 20). The Thunder are 4-0 in the last four games Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has played, and they are 1-5 in the six he has missed — he means that much to this team and its offense. If Gilgeous-Alexander can stay healthy, this team has a real shot at the postseason (they currently sit ninth in the West). Things don’t get easier for OKC with games at the Raptors, then the Suns and two games against the Clippers.

 
Lakers small icon 18. Lakers 34-36, LW 18). The Lakers are 5-4 without LeBron James (foot injury), and Tuesday’s blowout win over the Pelicans was a big step in the race to get a spot in the postseason. As evidenced by the win over the Pelicans — or the loss to the Knicks when he was just “good” or the loss to the Rockets when he was out — the Lakers need elite Anthony Davis to compete and get into the postseason. He has to be the team’s true No.1 option. Speaking of LeBron, he is out of the walking boot and doing some on-court work towards a return, but it is expected it will be close to the playoffs (or in them) before he returns. Winnable games this week (Mavericks, Magic) that the Lakers need to pick up in a tight race. The Lakers have one of the league’s easiest schedules the rest of the way.

 
Raptors small icon 19. Raptors (33-36, LW 19). The Raptors are 7-6 since the trade deadline and adding Jakob Poeltl, and they have been solid defensively over those 13 games but have struggled on the offensive end. The biggest concern is keeping Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet healthy and on the court — both are in the top four in minutes played per game this season. The Raptors had lost 4-of-5 on the road before coming up to an upset win over Dallas, and now they face some desperate West teams in the Thunder and Timberwolves.

 
Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (33-36, LW 23). If the Pelicans are going to get into the play-in — with or without Zion Williamson — they need to win at least three out of their next four: Two games at Houston, followed by hosting the Spurs and Hornets (four teams in tank mode). It’s a critical stretch, but the Pelicans didn’t look ready for it when getting blown out by a LeBron-less Lakers team Tuesday. Brandon Ingram is back on the court and he needs to find his groove and carry this team’s offense. And do it fast.

 
Jazz small icon 21. Jazz (33-36, LW 22). In Utah, the fans are doing the math to see how far their team can fall and how good a draft pick they could potentially land (the eighth-worst record is most likely). But in the locker room this is a team half-a-game out of the play-in that is not going to just roll over. The bad news for those in the locker room (and the good news for fans that want a tank) is the Jazz have the toughest remaining schedule in the league — this week that includes the Celtics and Kings. Jazz fans can watch Walker Kessler in those games and dream of who the team might put next to him.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (32-37, LW 21). Washington has won just two games in their last seven, and both were against the Pistons — not a good sign for a team trying to hold off the Bulls and get the final play-in spot in the East. Bradley Beal scored 36 points in that Tuesday win against the Pistons and it’s his potential for a big night — and that of Kristaps Porzingis — that makes the other teams in the play-in a bit nervous about facing the Wizards in a win-or-go-home scenario. However, things are not getting easy for Washington with the Cavaliers and Kings up next.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (31-37, LW 24). When Patrick Beverley signed with the Bulls he told Zach LaVine to stop passing so much (that was Beverley’s job) and to start shooting. Since that day LaVine has averaged 31.2 points per game on 62% shooting. That’s good news for some fantasy teams out there and also good news for the Bulls, who are 5-3 in those games. The Bulls are the 11 seed and have the fourth toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way, which includes the Heat and 76ers in the next week.

 
Blazers small icon 24. Trail Blazers (31-38, LW 19). Remember how coach Terry Stotts was shown the door because the team didn’t play defense (and the front office swore it wasn’t the roster)? A couple of years later with a new coach and a revamped roster, and the Blazers are 27th in the league in defense (and dead last in the league over the past eight games). They can’t blame it on CJ McCollum anymore. Portland sits 2.5 games out of the last play-in spot and needs to rack up wins, which will not be easy this weeks with the Celtics and Clippers on the schedule.

 
Pacers small icon 25. Pacers (31-38, LW 26). Tyrese Haliburton has missed the last two games, and while the Pacers won the first of those (against the Pistons) they are 3-12 on the season when he is out (he is questionable Thursday against the Bucks). Haliburton is in a crowded mix for an All-NBA guard spot despite the struggles of the Pacers, he has been that good this season averaging 20.8 points and 10.4 assists a game. Tough couple of games coming up against the Bucks and 76ers.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 28-41, LW 25). Paolo Banchero is a lock to win Rookie of the Year — and deservedly so — but he has some places he needs to improve his game over the coming years. Shooting 28.7% on 3-pointers is one, but that’s part of a general need to be a more efficient scorer (his 52.8 true shooting percentage is below league average). Shooting is something the Magic need almost across the board, they have a lot of cap space money to spend this summer and look for them to go after guards who can space the floor for them (and take some shot creation responsibility off Banchero’s shoulders).

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (22-49, LW 27). The Hornets may not be winning many games, but this is still a Steve Clifford team — they have the fifth-best defense in the league over their last 15 games. They aren’t winning because without LaMelo Ball and his creativity this offense can be hard to watch. Charlotte hosts Philadelphia and Indiana this week to close out a five-game homestand.

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (17-52, LW 28). Break up the Rockets, they have won two in a row, knocking off the Celtics and the shorthanded but desperate Lakers. They are winning with a balanced, team attack — nobody scored more than 30 in either game (Jalen Green had 28 against the Celtics, Kevin Porter Jr. had 27 against the Lakers). That kind of growth is a good sign a team on the rise. Next up for Houston are two games against New Orleans.

 
Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (18-51, LW 29). The Spurs are going to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which is not unheard of for a rebuilding team but is unheard of for a Spurs franchise that was the very model of consistency during the Tim Duncan years (although, it helps when you have Tim Duncan). San Antonio has won 2-of-4 and has gotten strong play of late from rookie Jeremy Sochan, who was a top-10 pick out of Baylor but has exceeded expectations this season.

 
Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (16-54, LW 30). A split of two games against the Pacers gave the Pistons their first win since before Valentine’s Day, but the upcoming schedule — Denver, Miami, Atlanta — does not give a lot of reason to hope another win is on the horizon. It’s good to see Jalen Duren back on the court.

Three things to Know: Fox is clutch, Kings are fun, roll past Knicks

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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) Fox is clutch, Kings are fun, roll past Knicks

The two best stories in the NBA — the high-scoring, playoff-bound Kings and the surging and entertaining New York Knicks — were a smart late add to TNT Thursday (replacing a Nets at Bucks game that didn’t quite have the same star power it once did). Both of these teams deserve the spotlight.

Sacramento got to show off why it is the No. 2 seed in the West, hanging on for a 122-117 “light the beam” win. The Kings are 7-1 since the All-Star break.

De'Aaron Fox got to show off why he is the most clutch player in the NBA this season — 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter, including scoring 11 straight at one point, and he was doing things like this.

And this.

Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Malik Monk continues to play well off the bench and scored 19 (Trey Lyles also had 16 off the bench, he has quietly been strong for Sacramento this season).

While the team was lighting the beam before an energized and fun crowd, Mike Brown was doing what good coaches do — thinking big picture. He is trying to get a franchise that has not been to the playoffs for 16 years ready for that world.

“That’s not how we should be playing basketball,” an unhappy Brown said postgame, via the Associated Press. “I am not happy with the way that we played tonight … 23 offensive rebounds. Happy about the win, but that does not sit well with me at all. If we don’t fix that, we’re going to get our behinds kicked come playoff time. That’s when the big boys show up.”

The Kings are the No. 2 seed in the West, they are one of the big boys now.

Knicks’ point guard Jalen Brunson returned after missing a couple of games with a sore foot, but did not play the second half as the foot soreness returned. He still had 19 points, RJ Barrett scored 25 and Julius Randle 23, but the Knicks shot 13-of-50 from 3 (26%) and couldn’t get stops or buckets when needed.

2) Draymond Green and Desmond Bane continued war of words

Memphis and Golden State played in a battle of top-five teams in the West entering the night, and the shorthanded Grizzlies gave the Warriors another road loss, this time 131-110.

The game almost felt secondary to the trash talk battle between Dillon Brooks and Draymond Green. After an ESPN feature recently on Green that compared the two players, Brooks fired the first shots:

“I don’t like Draymond at all. I just don’t like Golden State. I don’t like anything to do with them. Draymond talks a lot. Gets away with a lot, too. His game is cool — with Golden State — but if you put him anywhere else, you’re not going to know who Draymond is. He plays with heart, plays hard, knows the ins and outs of their defense. I guess that’s why they like him over there.”

Green brought the hammer on his podcast in response — “The dynasty starts after you. Not with you.”

After the comfortable Grizzlies win, Brooks took his shots at Green.

Green, of course, responded in his press conference,

Brooks could respond again, or just point at the scoreboard.

These teams play again a week from Saturday.

3) Watch Tyrese Haliburton put up 29 points with an insane 19 assists

Any list of players having great years but flying under the national radar better have Tyrese Haliburton on it. The Pacers got a win against the Rockets on Thursday night, but the show was Haliburton with 29 points and an impressive 19 assists.

It’s a crowded field in the backcourt, but Haliburton deserves to be an All-NBA guard this season.