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NBA ICYMI: Who Needs the Playoffs When Every Night Is the Playoffs?

Thursday’s slate brought more postseason-position jockeying out West and all but ended one team’s hopes. Plus, CP3 looks ready for the playoffs, the Pacers have swept the Warriors, and everything else you may have missed from the night’s action.

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All the need-to-know info from Thursday’s slate.

The Takeaway: Nikola Jokic Is Your Savior; Donovan Mitchell Is Your Nightmare

In Denver: Nuggets-Timberwolves was a rollicking affair that delivered on the stakes it brought to the table. It produced the type of playoff-level excitement expected between two teams, separated by just a game, battling for a postseason spot. Jimmy Butler was even listed as “active,” like Mike Malone predicted, but he didn’t play a single minute. Both teams held leads throughout a game that went back and forth like a table-tennis match and culminated with one big man fouling out—Karl-Anthony Towns—while the other won the game. A put-back from Nikola Jokic over the increasingly disappearing Andrew Wiggins with just seconds left sealed the crucial 100-96 Denver win.

Jokic finished with a 16-14-9, and the Nuggets, now 44-35, are tied with Minnesota for the final spot in the West. Both teams control their playoff destiny with just three games left. All they have to do is win out. The rub: In case Thursday’s 48-minute sprint didn’t satiate you, these two teams play again in five days—on the final night of the season. The stakes should be even higher then.

In Utah: Sorry, I didn’t have time to write this because I was too busy watching Donovan Mitchell highlights:

The Jazz controlled the game from start to finish and beat the Clippers 117-95. Mitchell had an effortless 19-5-5 line and had the Clippers off-kilter all night. They couldn’t stop him. Utah now holds a firmer grasp on the 4-seed, while the Clippers are two games behind the 8-seed with three to play. They need to win out and get some help.

The Cheat Sheet

  • LeBron to the finish; Cedi to the rescue. What a game this was. The Cavs held a 15-point lead in the second quarter. Then they decided to stop playing defense as they’re wont to do, and the Wizards dropped 36 third-quarter points en route to a 16-point lead with six minutes left in the game. (Did you know that basketball is a game of runs?) But in the fourth, Washington could barely run proper offensive possessions, the Cavs shot 73 percent from the field, and John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to go 2-for-10 from the field. Cleveland won 119-115.

LeBron scored 13 of his 33 points in the final frame, added four rebounds and four assists, and made Scott Brooks look empty inside.

Wall played his best game since his return from injury and it wasn’t enough. On the final possession, he threw it right into Cedi Osman’s hands. The Cavs barely played defense and it was enough. For now, Cleveland has sole control of the 3-seed, while the Wiz, losers of three in a row, are in seventh—a reality that might not be so bad given they’d face the Kyrie-less Celtics.

  • What are the Bucks doing? Sure, Milwaukee may be locked into a playoff spot with no fear of not making it, but losing 119-111 at home, against the Nets, with the possibility of getting the 7-seed and facing the ailing Celtics in the first round? It would only be surprising if this hadn’t been the Milwaukee team we’ve seen all season: high potential only because of Giannis, but an inability to play consistently well around him. It’s costing them now and may cost them even more in the postseason.
  • Chris Paul is ready for the playoffs. Houston is playing with fire and enjoying it, too. The Rockets were up 17 points on the Blazers in the fourth quarter before Portland’s bench put together a ridiculous 17-0 run to tie it. Then the Point God shut the door and locked it just in case.

The Rockets are now 41-2 when Paul, James Harden, and Clint Capela share the floor.

  • The Pacers get a proper win over the Warriors. The last time the Pacers beat Golden State, all four of the Warriors’ All-Stars were sitting out. On Thursday, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were all back and healthy in Indiana. And the Pacers still put together an even more impressive performance, trouncing the defending champions 126-106. Bojan Bogdanovic led all scorers—even Kevin Durant!—with 28 points and Victor Oladipo added a cool 21 points.

Their season sweep of the Warriors is the first time Golden State has been shut out by a team in the Steve Kerr era. Following the game, Kerr said he was “embarrassed” and called the game a “pathetic effort.” Kevin Durant more or less responded with this:

Play of the Night: Peak Dante