NBA insider takeaways – What issues most from a stacked weekend slate

This weekend options 5 high-stakes NBA showdowns on ESPN and ABC.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers confronted off in an enormous Eastern Conference tilt Saturday evening in a recreation that got here right down to a last-second 3-pointer by Jayson Tatum — and a three-quarters-court Hail Mary by Joel Embiid that will have despatched the sport to additional time if it was made only a tenth of a second earlier.

On Sunday, the Milwaukee Bucks topped the (nonetheless Kevin Durant-less) Phoenix Suns to increase their successful streak to 14 video games — even with Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined with a quad damage.

The Los Angeles Lakers efficiently mounted a 27-point comeback in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon on the again of a monster 30-point, 15-rebound recreation from Anthony Davis, persevering with their late-season push into the playoff image.

Behind Klay Thompson’s 32 factors, the short-handed Golden State Warriors rallied within the fourth quarter to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 109-104.

The Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers will end off the weekend Sunday evening at 10 ET on ESPN. In this 12 months’s wide-open Western Conference, this matchup could possibly be a possible playoff preview.

ESPN NBA insiders are breaking down the highest storylines from a stacked weekend.


With the Western Conference standings congested, Sunday’s matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves was vital for each groups. They entered the evening each with .500 information and only one recreation again from sixth place — the coveted final spot to keep away from the play-in match.

The Warriors defeated the Timberwolves, 109-104, and are a half-game up on the Utah Jazz for the seventh seed and only a half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks for sixth.

“This is a huge win, not only for the standings, but for the confidence of the guys,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr stated. “That was a team win. Everybody came in there and competed and played well … against the team we’re tied with in the standings, just an enormous win.”

The Warriors wanted this win, not simply to offer them a little bit extra of a cushion within the standings, however as a result of their upcoming schedule would not give them a lot room for error.

Eighteen of their last 21 video games are in opposition to Western Conference opponents. Eight are in opposition to groups already in a playoff spot, and 6 extra are in opposition to groups combating for the play-in. Eleven are on the highway, the place the Warriors have struggled all season lengthy (7-23).

Golden State can be lacking three key gamers. Stephen Curry has been out since Feb. 4 with a decrease left leg damage. Andrew Wiggins has missed the final 4 video games because of a household matter. Draymond Green was dominated out of the final two video games with a proper knee contusion. The Warriors are additionally with out Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala.

While Curry is scheduled to be re-evaluated this week, there is not any replace on a return date. Wiggins’ absence is indefinite, with the workforce giving him the area and time he must resolve when he is able to return. Green underwent testing on his knee Sunday evening, however his standing stays unknown. Timelines for Payton and Iguodala are additionally undecided.

The Warriors are counting on Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Donte DiVincenzo to offer them an offensive increase. The trio secured them the win over the Timberwolves. The Warriors proceed to wrestle with consistency from evening to nighttime, and typically a quarter-to-quarter foundation.

But Sunday noticed them lastly shut out a decent recreation. That can be wanted shifting ahead as their margin of error continues to shrink.

“It’s huge,” Thompson stated. “Every game matters, but especially from here on out. The West is jammed packed right now.”

Kendra Andrews


With All-NBA facilities Rudy Gobert (sickness) and Karl-Anthony Towns (calf pressure) each sidelined, a much less heralded Minnesota massive man took heart stage Sunday. Making simply his eleventh begin of the season, Naz Reid had a career-high 30 factors on 12-for-22 capturing, 9 rebounds and 5 steals in opposition to the Golden State Warriors.

Even earlier than Sunday evening, Reid was averaging 15.6 PPG and seven.2 RPG as a beginning heart. Of Reid’s begins, only one has come at energy ahead alongside Gobert. The different 10 have been as a middle with each Timberwolves star massive males unavailable. And it is not simply empty stats. Despite Sunday’s loss, Minnesota has gone a exceptional 7-4 in these video games, with Reid’s manufacturing a key issue — which can make the 23-year-old Reid an interesting free agent this summer time.

Because the Timberwolves exercised Reid’s minimal wage workforce possibility for this season, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Minnesota can provide an extension of as much as $58 million over 4 years by way of June 30, or pay him any quantity utilizing full Bird rights in free company. However, that call is sophisticated if the Timberwolves do not wish to pay the posh tax.

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If Minnesota waives ahead Taurean Prince, whose $7.65 million wage is non-guaranteed by way of June 28 in response to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, that will give the Timberwolves between $23 and $24 million to spend with out going over the projected 2023-24 tax line. Minnesota might wish to use a few of that to re-sign two different free brokers — Nickeil Alexander-Walker (restricted) and Jaylen Nowell — or on an outdoor free agent utilizing their non-taxpayer midlevel exception.

As a outcome, if a workforce with cap area just like the San Antonio Spurs views Reid as a starter, his free company might get fascinating in a rush. On Sunday, Reid offered but extra proof that he’s adequate to start out within the NBA.

Kevin Pelton


It should not be so exhausting for a workforce with two of basketball’s finest creators to get a shot off on the most crucial second of a recreation. But it has been a giant drawback for the Dallas Mavericks within the infancy levels of the partnership between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

There is an extended listing of causes the Mavs blew a 27-point lead Sunday afternoon in opposition to the Lakers, who pulled off the largest comeback of the season on Dallas’ house courtroom. But it got here right down to clutch execution, or lack thereof, and the All-Star duo failed to complete for the third time in 4 video games collectively.

This occasion was particularly egregious. Coming out of a timeout trailing by three factors with 18.1 seconds remaining, Doncic dedicated a turnover as a result of he forgot he might go into the backcourt to catch an inbounds go.

“It’s my bad,” Doncic stated postgame.

Doncic additionally took the blame after a Feb. 11 loss to the Sacramento Kings, saying he ought to have handed the ball again to a scorching Irving as a substitute of firing up a troublesome step-back down three factors with seconds remaining in additional time. They shared the blame after a Feb. 13 house loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, after they handed the ball forwards and backwards just a few occasions earlier than committing a turnover with the sport on the road, exhibiting an excessive amount of mutual respect.

“It’s just a process,” Irving stated Sunday. “I think as much as I would love for it to work and for us to be on the winning side — I think he would like to be on the winning side as well — we have only a few games together. Obviously, in the second half of this season, everything is going to be a little more heightened pressure-wise. We welcome that, but again, our mistakes and things that we’re learning are going to be in game.

“Hard classes that we’ll take, however the course of itself is one thing that I am unable to be mad at or be offended at or be confused about who’s fault it’s or something like that.”

Tim MacMahon


It was a one-point game midway through the first quarter Sunday when Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham had no choice but to pull Jarred Vanderbilt, already saddled with two fouls.

In a blink, with Vanderbilt on the bench, the Dallas Mavericks pushed their lead to 12 by the end of the quarter. They got it all the way up to 27 midway through the second as Vanderbilt still sat.

With the Mavs’ cushion at 14 to open up the third quarter, Ham put the 6-foot-9, wiry-strong Vanderbilt back on Luka Doncic. Vanderbilt had four fouls to burn in the final 24 minutes before he’d foul out, so why not let him do what L.A. envisioned he would do when they traded for him: make basketball a living hell for the opposing team’s best player.

“I actually was simply attempting to up the depth, be a little bit bit extra bodily,” Vanderbilt said after the Lakers’ 111-108 comeback win against the Mavericks. “I knew we would have liked it at that time. Just attempting to convey the vitality, convey the trouble and simply attempt to change the sport momentum-wise.”

Vanderbilt had 8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals in the third, hounding Doncic, pouncing on the Mavs’ passing lanes and playing with an inertia that rubbed off on his teammates.

“I imply, to have a man like that who can have an effect on the sport in so many various methods after which guard the opposite workforce’s finest participant for nonetheless lengthy he was on the courtroom is nice,” Austin Reaves said. “I’m glad to have him.”

Vanderbilt finished with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting and registered season highs in rebounds (17) and steals (4).

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In a game where L.A. was already missing starting point guard D’Angelo Russell (ankle injury) and had to overcome LeBron James suffering a right foot injury in the second half, Vanderbilt seemingly single-handedly turned the tide.

“That’s why he is right here: to create havoc together with his vitality and his efforts,” Ham said.

In a way, Sunday’s comeback was a microcosm of what the Lakers hope for their entire season after starting off 2-10 and now making a push for the playoffs.

Vanderbilt, and what he represents, is at the center of both turnarounds.

While Russell has already missed time with an injury, Malik Beasley is still looking to find consistency with his shot and Mo Bamba has a more limited role in the rotation, Vanderbilt has produced just by going all out.

He said he is so amped for the opportunity that he has to calm himself down in the pregame locker room by reading or meditating, because he is usually bouncing off the walls, waiting for his chance to contribute.

“If I do know I’ve a giant matchup that evening, that already itself form of will get me going,” Vanderbilt said. “And I simply love this recreation. There’s not a lot that I have to get going. I get to play basketball for a residing and that is sufficient vitality for me proper there.”

At just 23 years old and with a cap-friendly $4.7 million contract for next season, Vanderbilt could very well be a part of the Lakers’ turnaround beyond this season.

The win — L.A.’s third in a row and fourth in five games since Vanderbilt suited up — brought the Lakers a game out of the No. 10 spot and just 2 ½ games behind Dallas for No. 6.

Vanderbilt’s immediate impact already has his team imagining what’s next, with a little more time together.

“We inform him one thing and he embraces it and picks it up and comprehends instantly,” Ham said. “We’re simply pleased to have him. He’s that tall, that lanky, bodily, stay physique that we have been in search of and now we’ve got him.”

Dave McMenamin


Despite Giannis Antetokounmpo’s recent injury woes, the Milwaukee Bucks keep on rolling. They secured their 14th consecutive victory Sunday afternoon, a 104-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns to extend the longest winning streak in the NBA this season.

Antetokounmpo was sidelined Sunday after leaving each of the previous two games in the first quarter with an injury, but Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game the team was confident Antetokounmpo’s quad injury would keep him out only for a few days.

But the Bucks have been more than capable lately of extending their winning streak without the two-time MVP, thanks to a combination of lockdown defense and a roster that is suddenly as deep as any contender in the league.

Jrue Holiday led the way with 33 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds while providing relentless defense down the stretch on Suns guard Devin Booker. The combination of Holiday’s efforts, Brook Lopez as a defensive force in the paint and Khris Middleton’s offensive execution down the stretch allowed the Bucks to respond every time the Suns made a run.

Milwaukee outscored Phoenix 13-6 in clutch time to secure the win, including six points from Holiday, a pair of timely assists from Middleton and timely rim protection from Lopez — the Suns shot 5-for-16 all afternoon when contested by Lopez.

During clutch time, Phoenix went 2-for-7 from the field for seven points while the Bucks converted 4 of 5 shots.

But it wasn’t simply the Bucks stars that confirmed as much as lead the workforce to victory Sunday.

They additionally obtained a significant contribution from commerce deadline acquisition Jae Crowder, who hit a pair of nook 3s within the fourth quarter in opposition to his former workforce. Veteran ahead Joe Ingles, who didn’t make his season debut till December whereas recovering from a torn ACL, was figured into Milwaukee’s closing lineup plans Sunday.

The Bucks returned their prime 9 rotation gamers from final 12 months’s squad and have been ready so as to add each Crowder and Ingles with out making any subtractions to that rotation. Antetokounmpo was taking part in at a stage worthy of MVP consideration in the course of the first half earlier than the damage, and as soon as he is again within the combine at full energy, this Bucks roster seems to be deep sufficient to assist their star for one more prolonged playoff run.

“One of the deepest teams I’ve ever been a part of,” Crowder stated after Sunday’s recreation. “We’re all aware of it and we’re all being selfless in our roles and sacrificing for one another … So I just catch myself looking like, ‘goodness gracious this is a deep team.’ We got a lot of different combinations that we can throw out.”

Jamal Collier


For a lot of this season, the Celtics have had a rotating solid of characters happening and off the damage report on a nightly foundation. Because of that, there have not been too many events when newly promoted coach Joe Mazzulla has needed to resolve methods to dole out minutes throughout the NBA’s deepest roster.

Coming out of the All-Star break, although, Boston is lastly complete. And in consequence, it is led to some exhausting selections. If Saturday evening’s 110-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers proved something, nonetheless, it is that Mazzulla would not have a selection about one factor: Derrick White has to stay an integral a part of what Boston is doing.

White completed Saturday evening’s win with a virtually flawless line: 18 factors on 7-for-9 capturing with a rebound, two assists, a block and no turnovers in 25 minutes. Even extra telling: Boston was plus-25 in these 25 minutes White was on the courtroom.

In some ways, White is emblematic of all the pieces this Celtics workforce is about.

White is not a flashy participant. He would not throw down spotlight dunks or make show-stopping passes. But what he does do — and do persistently — is stack one successful play on prime of one other. He’s performed that over and over in latest weeks, permitting Boston to maintain churning out victories even whereas Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown each missed vital time with ankle and facial accidents, respectively.

And but, over the ultimate couple of minutes of Thursday’s additional time win in opposition to Indiana and for all however the last few seconds of Saturday evening’s win in Philly, White was watching from the bench. Again, there are exhausting selections to make throughout the board — one of many apparent advantages of getting a roster just like the one Mazzulla has at his disposal.

But with the way in which White has performed, he is greater than making a case that he needs to be one of many 5 guys on the market within the recreation’s largest moments and that, it doesn’t matter what occurs with Mazzulla’s rotation, he must be an enormous a part of it.

— Tim Bontemps


When folks take into consideration Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal collection between the 76ers and Toronto Raptors in 2019, they consider Kawhi Leonard’s miraculous game-winning shot.

What they do not consider is that, in a recreation Philadelphia misplaced by two factors, Greg Monroe was minus-9 in two minutes performed.

Similarly, when folks will assume again on Saturday evening’s instantaneous traditional between the Boston Celtics and 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, they will take into consideration Jayson Tatum’s super stepback 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds to go … and Joel Embiid’s 70-foot heave that went in, solely to not depend as a result of he let it go a second after the buzzer sounded.

What they will not consider is that, in a recreation Philadelphia misplaced by three factors, Paul Reed was minus-14 in 5 minutes.

When it involves the 76ers and the backup-center minutes behind Embiid, time is a flat circle. No matter what number of other ways Philadelphia has tried to unravel the issue — and, boy, have the 76ers tried to unravel it. They are not any nearer to it at the moment than they have been when Embiid first stepped on the courtroom seven years in the past.

The irony of Saturday evening’s loss for Philadelphia is that two massive causes the 76ers blew what as soon as was a 15-point lead have been the 76ers falling aside when Reed was on the ground instead of Embiid, and Al Horford — as soon as given over $100 million to make sure Philadelphia would at all times have a great heart on the courtroom, and who’s taking part in within the last 12 months of that contract the 76ers gave him — hitting 5 second-half 3-pointers.

Embiid was dominant all through Saturday’s recreation. He completed with 41 factors, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and three blocked photographs in 39 minutes, 49 seconds. He was one of the best participant on the courtroom, and he was unstoppable at any time when he obtained the ball.

And but, like so many occasions earlier than, Philadelphia could not handle to carry on within the couple of minutes he wasn’t on the courtroom. If the 76ers wish to write a unique ending than having a fifth second-round exit in six seasons, they will must lastly discover a answer to their everlasting dilemma: surviving the handful of minutes Embiid wants to sit down.

— Bontemps