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Three Things to Know: Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to keep No. 8 seed

Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo emerging as clear favorites for the NBA MVP award as they continue to trade fantastic performances.

Three Things 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 great.

1) Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to hold on to No. 8 seed

In Atlanta, Trae Young was doing his thing, dropping 30 on the Wizards and the Hawks won going away.

That meant to hang on to the No. 8 seed in the East, the Brooklyn Nets needed to win as well — the Hawks and Nets entered the night tied for eighth, but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker.

The Nets trailed by as much as 21 to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter the Knicks were up by 18. That’s when Durant started to take over: He played the entire second half scoring 23 points, including eight straight points during one key stretch in the fourth, and he finished the night with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Nets got the win, 110-98. Kevin Durant has not lost a game to the Knicks in nine years.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and also played the entire second half of this game, a sign the Nets knew how important this win was.

The four teams in the East play-in are set; here is where they stand as of Thursday morning:

7. Cavaliers (43-37)
8. Nets (42-38, 1 game back)
9. Atlanta (42-38, 1 game back)
10. Charlotte (40-39 2.5 games back)

The big game is Friday night when Cleveland comes to Brooklyn — if the Nets win, they will move into the No. 7 seed (and can hold it by beating a tanking Pacers team in the season’s final game). If the Cavaliers win that game, they keep the No. 7 seed and open the door for the Hawks to move past the Nets into the No. 8 slot (Atlanta closes the season at Miami then at Houston).

In the play-in: The No. 7 seed hosts the No. 8 seed for one game, winner enters the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds play and the loser is done for the season, the winner stays alive. Finally, the loser of the 7/8 game plays the winner of the 9/10 game for the right to be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, the loser is on vacation.

2) Jaylen Brown is on a tear: 10 straight 25+ point games

While Jayson Tatum has been drawing all the “Should he be in the MVP race? Where does he fit in All-NBA?” attention, Jaylen Brown has been tearing it up.

Brown had a game-high 25 points on Wednesday as the Celtics cruised past the Bulls, 117-94.

That is 10 straight games with at least 25 points, going back to before St. Patrick’s Day (the first game of the streak was March 16 at Golden State). Brown is only the fourth Celtics player to reach this mark.

Boston vs. Chicago is one possible first-round playoff matchup (out of many, seedings in the East are not close to set), but it might be the ideal one for the Celtics.

3) Adam Silver says the NBA’s star players still are out too much

It’s one of — if not THE — biggest problem in getting fans interested in the NBA regular season:

The league’s stars sit out a lot of games — this year more due to injuries and COVID, but load management is a thing (teams tend to use that term less and name a bump or bruise a player needs to rest). Two players near the front of the MVP race — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid — will play fewer than 70 games. The same is true for Luka Doncic, while LeBron James and Ja Morant will not get to 60 games.

Injuries are a big part of that, but the trend of teams making sure their star players are well rested is still there — because sports science and math show them players perform better with more rest. It helps lengthen their careers and has them closer to their peak for the playoffs. But it’s not ideal for the NBA from a marketing standpoint, rarely do we see two elite teams play a regular season game at full strength. Especially after Christmas (which is when more casual fans start to pay attention).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league and the players’ union need to discuss the issue. He spoke after the Board of Governors (read: owners) meeting this week. From the Associated Press:

“I also have said in the past, if we have too many games, that’s something we should look at as well. It’s something, as we sit down and we’re looking at new media deals and looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we will be studying,” Silver said.

“There wasn’t any banging of the table or anything like that. From my discussions with players, they recognize it’s an issue, too. The style of the game has changed in terms of the impact on their bodies. I think we’ve got to constantly assess and look at a marketplace going forward and say, what’s the best way to present our product and over how long a season?”

There are too many regular season games, but cutting back on them becomes a financial issue. There are no easy answers, but the league needs to look into it, what they are doing now isn’t working.

Highlight of the Night: Luka Doncic is a wizard

How is anyone supposed to stop this? Luka Doncic drives his way into the lane, spins, gets himself in position for a contested but quality shot in the paint, then throws the no-look, backward over-the-head pass to a wide-open Dorian Finney-Smith for the 3.

That man is a wizard.

Yesterday’s scores:

Mavericks 131, Pistons 113
Nets 110, Knicks 98
Hawks 118, Wizards 103
Celtics 117, Bulls 94
Jazz 137, Thunder 101
Clippers 113, Suns 109