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Three things to Know: This is why nobody wants to face Miami in first round

A. Sherrod Blakely joins Brother from Another to explain why he thinks the Denver Nuggets will finish at the top of the Western Conference ahead of the Golden State Warriors.

Three Things To Know 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 must-watch.

1) This is why nobody wants to face Miami in the first round

Playoff Jimmy Butler is a real thing.

For that matter, playoff Miami Heat is a thing — this is a team better built for the physical grind of a playoff series than the regular season.

All of that was on display Thursday night, when the focused Heat took charge early behind 24 points (on 9-of-12 shooting, with six assists) from Jimmy Butler and blew out the 76ers 129-101.

The reality is this was a game where the Heat had something to play for and the 76ers — locked into the No.3 seed no matter what they do over the season’s final games — did not, and it showed. It was a listless Philadelphia effort and don’t be shocked if their stars sit the last couple of games of the regular season.

Miami still has something to play for, an outside shot at the No.6 seed. Miami remains one game back of the Nets (who sit in sixth) but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker so their magic number is just one. Miami has to win out (tonight at Washington, then Sunday hosting Orlando), which is very possible. However, Brooklyn would need to lose its last two against Orlando tonight, then Sunday against these same 76ers. That’s less likely.

This win ensured the Heat will at least be the No.7 seed and host the first play-in game Tuesday (currently that would be against the Hawks).

Miami hasn’t been consistent this season, but their highs show why Philadelphia and Boston want to avoid them. As noted above, playoff Jimmy Butler is a thing, an All-NBA player this season (almost certainly) who can raise his game in the physical play of the postseason. They have an elite and versatile defensive big in Bam Adebayo. Tyler Herro can get hot (he had 24 points against Philly, attacking their defense since the 76ers didn’t blitz him as they have in the past). Erik Spoelstra is as good a tactician as there is in the league.

Miami came within a missed 3-pointer of making the Finals last season, and while they haven’t been nearly as consistent this year they are dangerous and a first-round opponent that can push the best teams in the East. Such as Boston or Philadelphia.

Just ask the 76ers, they saw those Heat on Thursday night.

2) Pelicans give the ultimate non-update update on Zion

There is no way you release this statement if Zion Williamson is anywhere near a return to the court from his hamstring injury.

That reads like one of my high school English papers where I didn’t read the book and was just trying to fill space. It is taking in circles.

Which means Zion can’t be close to returning for the postseason. The Pelicans currently sit tied with the Lakers for the 7/8 seeds in the West (the Lakers have the tiebreaker). New Orleans has won 8-of-10 without Zion and is doing it with defense (second-best in the NBA over that stretch) and an offense led by a resurgent Brandon Ingram.

With Zion the Pelicans would be scary. But for now he’s continuing his rehab (as if he was going to stop it).

3) Thunder win, magic number one to make play-in, eliminate Mavericks

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one win away from an unexpected climb into the postseason.

The Dallas Mavericks are one loss away from an epic fall from the Western Conference Finals a year ago to missing the postseason entirely.

The Thunder beat the tanking Jazz 114-98, moving half a game up on the Mavericks for the No. 10 seed in the West.

That loss officially eliminated the Jazz from postseason contention.

OKC has the tiebreaker with Dallas, so if it can win Sunday against the Grizzlies (who likely will be locked in at No.2 by then and have nothing to play for) or the Mavericks’ lose one more game (tonight against Chicago, Sunday against San Antonio) the Thunder make the postseason.

That would be an impressive run for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and company, this was a team seen as tanking this season — especially after Chet Holmgren was injured and out for the year — but players stepped up. Jalen Williams has been one of the best rookies in this class, Josh Giddey has taken a step forward, and they have gotten solid play from Luguentz Dort, Isaiah Joe and others. All while SGA has played at an All-NBA level and will make the bottom of some MVP ballots this season. Mark Daigneault will get some Coach of the Year votes as well.

It’s going to be a wild offseason in Dallas if they miss the postseason (and even if they don’t), but give the Thunder credit. This is a franchise on the right track that could make a leap next season.

But before that, they get some postseason experience.