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Three Things to Know: Raptors look like the No. 6 seed after beating Cavaliers

Tom Haberstroh talks with Michael Smith and Michael Holley about why the Milwaukee Bucks are still at the top of the Eastern Conference and where the Celtics fit in.

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) Raptors look like the No. 6 seed after beating Cavaliers

The stakes entering Thursday night’s Cavaliers vs. Raptors game were clear: One of these teams is going to win 45 or 46 games and still finish as the No. 7 seed in the East. That means said team falls into the play-in tournament and faces Brooklyn with Kevin Durant (and, for the Cavaliers, also Kyrie Irving) in the first game. Lose that, and it’s a one-game, win-or-go-home showdown with Atlanta or Charlotte, two teams where Trae Young or LaMelo Ball can trigger an offensive explosion any given night and win one game.

Those high stakes meant Thursday’s showdown between the Cavaliers and Raptors had a bit of a playoff feel — getting the No. 6 seed matters in the East.

Toronto looked much the better team Thursday. The Raptors were more physical on both ends, they executed like a team that had been in big games before — many of their core players have a championship ring from 2020 — and they had the best player on court in Pascal Siakam, who scored 35.

(Note to the Raptors hype machine: Siakam has played slightly better this season than his All-NBA campaign, but he’s not making the top six forwards this time around. Sorry. The field is just too deep with guys who had better seasons.)

Toronto was in charge from the second quarter on and won comfortably, 117-104.

The Raptors have now won 6-of-8, while the Cavaliers have stumbled to a 3-5 record in those same games.

The Raptors and Cavaliers are now tied for the No. 6 seed with nine games to play, The Cavs have the tiebreaker but Toronto has a slightly easier remaining schedule. projects the Raptors with 47 wins, the Cavaliers with 45.

Cleveland is a young team with Darius Garland, rookie Evan Mobley, and (once he gets healthy) Jarrett Allen at its core. Lauri Markkanen seems like the veteran at 24 (and he had a team-high 20 points in this game). This is a team still learning how to win under pressure.

The Raptors have been there, done that, and it shows.

2) Chris Paul returns, Devin Booker scores 49, Suns lock up No. 1 overall seed

Being the No. 1 overall seed does not guarantee a championship — just ask Gonzaga — but it’s a good place to start.

The Phoenix Suns locked up that top seed with a 140-130 win over the Nuggets on Thursday night — and it still felt like the third biggest story out of this game.

Chris Paul returned to the court after missing 15 games with a fractured thumb, beating the injury timeline announced when it happened. Paul finished with 17 points and 13 assists.

Devin Booker scored a personal season-high of 49 points to make the biggest splash of the night.

The Suns got what they wanted: The road to a championship goes through Phoenix. The Suns are the No. 1 seed.

Nikola Jokic had 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting for the Nuggets, and rookie Bones Hyland continued his strong play of late with 23 points off the bench. The loss shrinks the Nuggets lead over the Timberwolves for the No. 6 seed — and avoiding the play-in games — to just one game.

3) Ja Morant out at least two weeks with sore knee; the timing is concerning

The Grizzlies fully expect Ja Morant to be back for the playoffs.

That doesn’t make the timing of the announcement that he is out and will be re-evaluated in two weeks due to a “tweaked” knee any better. Grizzlies coach Tyler Jenkins announced the news to the media Thursday.

The Grizzlies are 16-2 without Ja Morant and are a lock to hold on to the No. 2 seed without him. Morant is not worried.

With the Grizzlies as the No. 2 seed, it sets up a possible first-round series against the Timberwolves (the current No. 7 seed) — a battle of the rising young teams in the West. We want that. We need that. The basketball gods need to make that series happen, and they need to make sure Morant is back healthy for it.

Highlight of the Night: Trae Murphy is a bad, bad man

On an evening with a few contenders, this is your Dunk of the Night — the Pelicans Trey Murphy did bad things to the Bulls.

Yesterday’s scores:

Raptors 117, Cavaliers 104
Grizzlies 133, Pacers 103
Pelicans 126, Bulls 109
Suns 140, Nuggets 130