Three things to know: Jokic scores 24 in first quarter on Knicks, he is your MVP
The NBA regular season has less than weeks remaining, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Jokic scores 24 in first quarter while leading Nuggets past Knicks; he is your MVP
The Knicks have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having won 12-of-13 coming into Wednesday night.
Nikola Jokic cooled them off. Fast.
Jokic was dominant early, scoring 24 of his eventual 32 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the first quarter, and leading the Nuggets’ to a comfortable 113-97 victory over the Knicks on Wednesday night. It was the kind of win where Jokic never set foot on the court in the fourth quarter. They didn’t need him.
Nikola Jokic is your MVP. It’s not a debate. He didn’t need this game to secure the award, but spanking the Knicks helps remind a few talking heads with an East Coast bias how good he is. Some pundits will try to create drama where there is none because it’s good for ratings, but the MVP race is in the refrigerator (to quote the late, great Chick Hearn).
With the win, the Nuggets move back into a tie with the Clippers for third in the West (those teams could do some serious jockeying over the next couple of weeks to avoid the Lakers in the first round).
New York’s loss and a surprisingly easy Atlanta win over Phoenix Wednesday has the Hawks just half a game back of the Knicks for the four seed in the East (Atlanta is one back in the loss column). New York has the toughest remaining schedule in the East, Atlanta the easiest. The Knicks are going to have to play some inspired ball to hold on to the four seed.
2) Could Pacers freefall right out of the postseason?
Indiana lost at home Wednesday to a Sacramento team without De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton, and the game wasn’t close from the middle of the third quarter on. The most telling moment in the game for Indiana was when assistant coach Greg Foster called out Goga Bitadze for a blown defensive assignment, Bitadze came down to the other end and drained a three, then told Foster to “sit the f*** down,” and Foster had to be held back from going after him.
The Pacers are in a freefall. It’s hard to describe an identity for this team or pinpoint a franchise culture. Nate Bjorkgren appears to be a dead coach walking with both star players and assistant coaches unhappy with him. Bjorkgren has overplayed his stars (Domantas Sabonis has had nine 40+ minute games this season), and the creative adjustments he was supposed to provide have rarely materialized. Like nearly every team in this condensed season, Indiana was hit hard by injuries, but they have shown little resilience.
Indiana has lost 4-of-5 and sits as the nine seed, and it needs to be asked: Could the Pacers fall out of the playoffs?
Probably not, because the 11-seed Raptors are 3.5 games back with seven to play. Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Pacers as the 10 seed in the East with a 33-39 record, holding off the Raptors but getting passed by a surging Wizards team. That sounds about right, but nothing is off the table the way things are going in Indiana.
Whatever happens the rest of the season, this offseason is going to see changes in Indiana. It will be a different team entering next season, maybe very different. But some things need to change if the franchise wants to be more than just okay.
3) Anthony Edwards and Ja Morant put on a show
Are you not entertained?
Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards put on a show Wednesday.
Edwards finished with a historic 42 points.
Morant had 37 points, 10 assists, and plenty of his own highlights.
Memphis got the win 139-135 and remain the eighth seed in the West, one game up in the loss column on the Warriors. Getting eighth matters — the eighth seed needs to win one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs, the nine seed needs to win two in a row.