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Three things to Know: Breaking down East, West playoff chase

Marc Spears discusses the latest regarding Ja Morant stepping away from the Grizzlies and why he could -- and should -- be sidelined for longer than people may think.

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) East playoff chase

Let’s take a look at the standings:

East playoffs

• By winning 18-of-19 (after beating the Magic Tuesday night) while the Celtics have stumbled, the Bucks have given themselves a comfortable 2.5 lead to grab the one seed. Milwaukee will be tough to catch.

• That matters for the Bucks not just because it means home court throughout the East playoffs, but it means Boston and Philadelphia will have to go through each other to get to the East Finals. If the standings hold as is, Boston would get a tough Heat team with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the first round, then the winner of the 3-6 series — likely Philadelphia — in the second. The Celtics’ recent stumbles have made their road harder.

• The Knicks and Cavaliers seemed destined to be the 4-5 first-round matchup and the big question is who is the home team (the Cavaliers will not be easy to catch, but it’s possible.

• Can Brooklyn hold off Miami for the No. 6 seed? Probably, especially if the Heat keep shooting themselves in the foot with bad losses. Miami needs help, and the Nets have been 2-4 since the All-Star break and now head out on the road for five. Nothing is locked in but if the Nets can hang around .500 the Heat would need a very hot hand (11-5, 12-4) the rest of the way to catch them.

• After the two losses to the Heat in the last week, the Hawks need to focus not on climbing up to seventh or higher but on holding off the Raptors, who are half a game behind them in the standings, and the Wizards are just one game back. Seeds 8-10 are up in the air and getting No. 8 matters because it means winning just one of two games to advance to the postseason (as opposed to having to sweep two games).

• The Bulls and Pacers are just two and two-and-a-half games back of the final play-in spot, but neither are playing the kind of basketball that makes you think they are about to jump into the top 10.

2). West playoff chase

Let’s take a look at the standings:

Screen Shot 2023-03-07 at 10.59.08 PM

• The only thing for sure in this conference is Denver will have the No. 1 seed.

• With the Grizzlies’ loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night — with Ja Morant away from the team and Brandon Clarke injured, they could fall sharply over the coming weeks— the Sacramento Kings move into the No. 2 seed in the West (they are tied with the Grizzlies but have the tiebreaker). The Kings aren’t just breaking their 16-year playoff draught, they are going to host at least one playoff round.

• Kevin Durant and the Suns are three games back of the Kings in the loss column but the teams play each other twice over the remaining weeks of the season. With the team off to a hot start since KD entered the lineup, the Suns seem destined to host a first-round series and the only question is how high they climb.

• Dallas jumped back to the fifth seed with a win over Utah while the Warriors racked up another road loss (this time to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, following one to the LeBron-less Lakers on Sunday).

• The Mavericks, Warriors, Timberwolves and Clippers are all within half a game of each other for the 5-8 seeds in the West. The Mavericks, starting to find a groove with Kyrie Irving beside Luka Dončić, have the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams and feel likely to avoid the play-in. The Clippers have the second easiest schedule but have struggled since adding Russell Westbrook off the buyout market — which isn’t all on Westbrook.

• The Warriors may have got Stephen Curry back from injury and sometimes look like a team that will flip the switch, but they still don’t defend consistently, don’t win on the road consistently, and have the toughest schedule of the four teams bunched together. Golden State in the play-in could happen.

• The Lakers have gone 3-2 without LeBron James thanks to elite play from Anthony Davis and added shooting and athleticism they picked up at the trade deadline. That has been enough to climb up into the play-in despite no LeBron and they have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way — the Lakers won’t make the top six, but getting the 7-8 seed is not out of the question if they can keep winning while LeBron is in a walking boot.

• The Pelicans, Thunder and Trail Blazers are all tied for the final play-in spot, with the Jazz just half a game back after their loss to Dallas Tuesday. The Pelicans have the easiest schedule of that group but are scuffling without Zion Williamson, which could open the door for the surprising Thunder, who also have a soft schedule the rest of the way. The Jazz have a brutal schedule the remainder of the season, they may be looking at Wembanyama more than the playoffs.

3) On night one former Lakers big man gets his jersey retires, the current star big steps up

Pau Gasol’s jersey is hanging in the rafters at arena, right next to Kobe Bryant. Where it belongs.

The Lakers have a legendary history of big men that runs from George Mikan through Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Gasol — and Tuesday night Anthony Davis lived up to that billing with 30 points and 22 rebounds to spark the Lakers to a needed win over the troubled Grizzlies.

As noted above, with this win the Lakers have surprisingly moved up into the play-in going 3-2 without LeBron (they have gotten help with the Pelicans and Jazz falling off the cliff, but the Lakers have taken advantage). The Lakers look like they will get their postseason chance.