Three things to Know: Breaking down wild, wide-open West playoff race
Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-day-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) Breaking down wild, wide-open West playoff race
There may be no clear-cut, runaway, team-to-beat in the West, but NBA rules state one of these teams will make it to the Finals. Which one? Your guess is as good as anyone’s at this point, but let’s break down a wide-open race.
• No.1 seed: Denver has lost 5-if-7 and Nikola Jokić was right in saying “we need to be concerned” after a loss to the Knicks on Saturday… they just don’t have to be concerned about being the No.1 seed in the West. After a bounce-back win against the Nets on Sunday — behind a Jokić triple-double — they have a four-game cushion for the top seed. This losing streak exposed questions about their defense and depth for a deep playoff run, but the standings haven’t changed much.
• No.2-3 seeds: Memphis and Sacramento are tied for the No.2-3 seeds at 43-27 — they will finish as those two seeds, the only question is which one will get the No.2 spot and have home court in a potential second-round matchup with each other. Memphis has the easier schedule the rest of the way and should get Ja Morant back from suspension this week, but count the Kings out at your own peril.
• No. 4-6 seeds: Here’s where things get messy. Only four games separate Phoenix at No.4 and New Orleans at No.12 — there is a lot of volatility in these spots. With the Suns expected to get Kevin Durant back before the end of the season, they are the logical pick to hold on to home court in the first round of the playoffs, but they also have a tougher schedule than the Clippers (one game back in the loss column) and Mavericks (two games back). The Clippers can’t afford to rest Kawhi Leonard as much down the stretch, they have lost seven in a row without him. With Dallas, the question is when does Luka Dončić return? These three teams likely finish 4-6 if they can play at least .500 ball the rest of the way, but if any team 4-12 in the West gets hot for the final games it could change everything.
• No.7-12 seeds: One game separates 7-12 in the bottom of the West, any little run could have the team at least in the 7/8 spots for the play-in (and only needing to win one game to make the playoffs. The team to watch is Oklahoma City, which has gone 7-3 in their last 10, has the easiest schedule of this group the rest of the way and is a tough out whenever Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays. The Lakers sit 10th after an Austin Reaves-fueled win over the Magic on Sunday, but they have the second-easiest schedule of this group and Darvin Ham said they expect LeBron James back before the end of the season. Can Golden State get a win on the road where they have lost seven straight (their 10 remaining games are split evenly home and road)? Fortunately for Minnesota, Anthony Edwards’ ankle injury is not as severe as it looked at first, but it’s unclear when he will return and this team has been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions without him this season. Utah has the toughest remaining schedule in the West, but they have been gritty all season and will not go away, doing things like beating the Celtics over the weekend. Without Zion or a consistent offense, New Orleans may be the hardest of this group to back.
Portland sits 13th and has lost six in a row, mathematically they are not out of it but it’s hard to envision them turning things around, despite how well Damian Lillard is playing.
2) Giannis Antetokounmpo has perfect shooting triple-double in Bucks win
It feels like Giannis Antetokounmpo will have to put up triple-doubles nightly to keep up with Jokić and Joel Embiid in the MVP race, but the one he put up Sunday in leading the Bucks past the Raptors was special because he was a perfect 9-of-9 from the field.
If Wilt only did it twice, you know it’s hard to do.
We’ll dive into the East standings tomorrow, but the Bucks are sitting pretty as the league’s only 50+ win team (51-20) and have a comfortable 2.5-game cushion over the Celtics and 76ers. That matters, in part because Milwaukee will have home court for the entire playoffs, but more importantly, it puts them on the other side of the bracket from Boston and Philly and lets them fight it out in the second round.
3) Ted Lasso can hoop, too.
The Shot of the weekend goes to Jason Sudeikis. He and some others from Richmond F.C. were courtside at the Knicks game Saturday (promoting Ted Lasso, as it were) and he did this pregame:
Is there anything Ted Lasso can’t do?