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NBA ICYMI: Nothing Goes As Expected Out West

Minnesota righted its ship against Atlanta, and Memphis apparently waited until late March to turn it on. Plus, records go down in Charlotte, the Celtics starters have no respect for their elders, and everything else you may have missed from Wednesday’s action.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Takeaway: The West Is Getting Weirder

Call him KAT, call him Karl, call him kitty [Jimmy Butler voice], call him the Liger of unicorns. There’s little Karl-Anthony Towns has not taken on since Butler went down. In Minnesota’s 126-114 win against Atlanta, he did more than pick up the extra slack, clawing his way to a career-high and franchise-record 56 points. But Ben Simmons could have predicted that:

Roasting a team on PUBG the night before playing them is the new pregame PB&J. Towns’s house party was efficient, too: The big man went 6-for-8 from deep and shot 59 percent overall, adding 15 boards, four assists, and a block. (A quick Sit Down, Be Humble for Wolves fans who didn’t watch the game—the Hawks were within nine with three minutes left.)

Minnesota being a few late-game turnovers away from losing to Atlanta wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened in the West on Wednesday. Tankers are haunting the conference this week. The Grizzlies closed out Portland, 108-103, after beating the Wolves on Monday. The Blazers were without fourth-quarter honcho Damian Lillard, who was home for the best DNP reason ever, the birth of his child. They had C.J. McCollum, who unloaded 42 points, but were still beaten. (Five of Memphis’s remaining games are against Western Conference playoff teams. According to Ringer Stats & Info, that’s five W’s.)

As a result, the standings in the West changed once again. Utah’s loss and Minnesota’s win flipped the Wolves to seventh place and the Jazz to eighth. The Thunder (fourth) are now only two wins behind the Blazers. The Clippers are still creeping as the first team out; beating the Suns 111-99 on Wednesday put them just one game outside of the big dance. Minnesota has the NBA’s sixth-easiest schedule from here on out, but L.A. has a greater chance to pass the Jazz, who still have to face the Wolves, the Clippers, the Warriors, and the Blazers. Let’s turn to Ringer pet Trina for a visual:

The Cheat Sheet

  • Markelle Fultz’s notoriously flimsy shoulder didn’t keep the rookie out of the Sixers’ 118-101 win over the Knicks—his second game back—but it did knock Joel Embiid out of it with a facial contusion:

JoJo dispatched an Instagram update from the hospital captioned “not good.”

  • LeBron James gave millennials another bullet point to use against their uncles in the MJ vs. LBJ debate. James finished with 41 points against the Hornets, marking his 866th consecutive game in double-digit scoring. He not only tied Jordan’s record, but tied it in Charlotte while receiving MVP chants playing against a franchise MJ owns. LeBron also racked up 10 boards, eight assists, and a 118-105 win.
  • The man called Swish stepped up for Cleveland in Kevin Love’s absence. After a monthlong cold streak, J.R. Smith contributed 19 points off the bench, the most he’s had since his first game in March.
  • LeBron tied a record, but Kemba Walker broke three. Walker snatched the franchise record for career free throws made (1,999) and consecutive free throws (44) from Dell Curry (who was working the game as an analyst) on the same shot. Kemba also entered the matchup 19 points shy of Curry’s franchise scoring record, but opened 1-for-8, and ended the first half with three points. (The Hornets broadcast casually took the scoring-watch graphic off the screen.) Walker ultimately passed Curry (9,841 points) after driving it in with 18.9 seconds left. For someone already being included in trade rumors, the night was a validation of what Walker has done for the franchise.
  • The kids are all right: Boston beat the Jazz, 97-94, without Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, or Marcus Smart. The average age of four of their starters on Wednesday—Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele—is younger than 22, but that group (and 23-year-old Semi Ojeleye) managed to close out a veteran Jazz lineup. Shout-out especially to Brown, whose go-ahead 3-pointer hit the net with 0.3 left on the game clock:
  • Suns rookie Shaquille Harrison caught fire for a career-high 17 points, while also adding four rebounds, two assists, and four steals off the bench. The loss was Harrison’s 17th NBA game since Phoenix called him up from the Northern Arizona Suns of the G-League a month ago.

Plays of the Night

Guarding John Collins is begging to get on the wrong end of a highlight:

Does a moose have ankles?