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Three things to Know: Lakers blow out Pelicans for key win in West playoff chase

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Marcus Thompson calls in to discuss the Warriors’ state of mind and Steph Curry’s ornery disposition as the NBA season winds down.

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) Lakers blow out Pelicans, key win in West playoff chase

The Lakers at Pelicans was a showdown of two teams in an insanely close race for a play-in spot in the West — this game set up as the kind of late-season contest that can swing races.

So it would have been nice for New Orleans to show up. The Pelicans started 0-of-6 shooting from the field (with some questionable shot selection at points) while the Lakers were hot, raced out to a 14-0 lead, and never looked back, cruising to an easy win. Anthony Davis had 35 points and 17 rebounds — he has to play at that level for the Lakers to have a chance without LeBron James (foot injury).

Where does that leave the West playoff race? Let’s break it down.

• Denver remains in control of the top seed despite its four-game losing streak, which continued Tuesday night against Toronto. The Nuggets still have a four-game cushion over the Suns. But things are trending in the wrong direction and the Nuggets need to put their foot back on the gas.

• The Grizzlies and Kings will finish second and third, the only question is what order.

• The Suns, with a loss to the Bucks on Tuesday (skip ahead to item two of Three Things), are seeing their grip on the four seed loosen. The Suns now have a one-game lead over the Warriors and Clippers for the four seed, and the Timberwolves lurk just two games back. The Suns also have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way than the Clippers or Warriors, and those later two teams have their stars healthy while the Suns wait on Kevin Durant.

• Three games separate the Clippers and Warriors at 5-6 and the 12th-seeded Pelicans. This could go any way. Minnesota has been playing better, is above .500 and is currently the No. 7 seed, but do things continue to look smooth when they have to re-incorporate Karl-Anthony Towns soon? The Thunder win when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays, and if he can stay healthy they have a good chance to make the play-in. The Lakers look better and if LeBron can return they will be a threat. Dallas has to get Luka Dončić healthy, playing next to Kyrie Irving, and hope they can just put up so many points they can’t lose (because the Mavericks’ defense isn’t stopping anyone).

Any team that gets hot between the four seed and the 12th seed can quickly leap up the standings. It should be noted the Lakers have the easiest schedule of any of these teams.

And sorry Trail Blazers fans, but two games out of the play-in with a few teams to leapfrog makes it a long shot they make even the play-in. Damian Lillard said the next handful of games will determine if the Trail Blazers can get into the postseason, but I’m already off that bandwagon. Despite how great Lillard has been this season.

2) Antetokounmpo keeps making MVP case, Bucks keep on winning

That the Bucks beat the Suns on Tuesday night — even though Milwaukee was on the second night of a back-to-back — was not shocking. It simply comes down to this: The Bucks had Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Suns did not have Kevin Durant (sprained ankle).

After the game, Suns coach Monty Williams, Deven Booker, and others were quick to point out Antetokounmpo got to the free throw line 24 times, the Suns as a team just 16. There are reasons for that, starting with Antetokounmpo is the best downhill player in the league and forces contact while Booker and Chris Paul settle for jumpers or floaters (and Deandre Ayton has never drawn much contact). The referees were calling the game a certain way tonight and Antetokounmpo adjusted better than the Suns. We can pick out individual plays where Booker should have gotten a call or Antetokounmpo shouldn’t have, but on the whole the aggressor playing downhill got the calls. Welcome to the NBA.

With the 116-104 win the Bucks became the first team to officially clinch a playoff spot. This win puts the Bucks three games clear of second-place Boston in the East and four games up on top-seeded Denver in the West (after the Nuggets’ loss to the Raptors). The Bucks should have home court throughout the playoffs.

The Bucks’ run has put Antetokounmpo back in the MVP conversation (along with Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid, in my book, anyway). Our friend Matt Moore of the Action Network posted this interesting stat.

Recency bias has a strong pull on the human mind, and NBA awards voters are no different — Antetokounmpo and the Bucks thriving down the stretch while Jokić and the Nuggets struggle will stick with voters. How much it impacts thinking and where Joel Embiid fits in all this remains to be seen, but this is an incredibly close three-way race for the award.

3) Diamond Sports files for bankruptcy impacting 16 team’s local broadcasts

This has been expected for a while, the league has been anticipating it and preparing for it, but Monday it landed.

Diamond Sports Group — the parent company of the Bally’s regional sports networks that broadcast games of 16 NBA teams as well as multiple MLB and NHL teams — has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company announced Monday evening.

“DSG will continue broadcasting games and connecting fans across the country with the sports and teams they love,” David Preschlack, CEO of Diamond, said in a press release. “With the support of our creditors, we expect to execute a prompt and efficient reorganization and to emerge from the restructuring process as a stronger company.”

This was expected for some time, and Bally’s will not just abandon the teams and networks. But things are changing. The question for the NBA has been what’s next?

In an ideal world, the NBA would like to buy up those local rights, combine them with the rights of the 14 other teams, and be able to sell those rights in more of an NFL-style package where the league controls and sets the terms for everything. That’s also not going to happen, or at least not quickly and certainly not cheaply. There are high-value RSNs not interested in selling, such as the Lakers, who essentially have their own channel in Los Angeles at a ridiculous dollar value. Same with the Knicks in New York — does anyone think the Dolans would sell MSG Network? Then there is our parent company Comcast/NBC which currently has the local broadcast rights to a number of the best properties around the league — Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, etc. — and is not looking to sell.

Diamond is going to sell the regionals it has, including the rights to the 14 NBA teams. When, to whom, and for how much are the not-so-little questions left to answer. It’s something to watch while the NBA also is in the early stages of hammering out a new national broadcast rights deal that will begin in 2025.