The 5

The Five: Everything to know for Week 24

More MVP candidate showdowns, Sacramento set to end longest playoff drought in NBA history, key matchups and more.

The Kia MVP race between Giannis, Jokic and Embiid is one for the ages.

Every Monday we will tell you what you need to know heading into a new week of NBA action.

1. More MVP contender showdowns on deck

The Kia MVP race is coming down to the wire, with the top three contenders — Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo — all making their closing arguments over the final two weeks of the season. This includes some key head-to-head matchups that can leave a strong final impression.

Last Saturday (March 25): Milwaukee at Denver (Nuggets win 129-106)

The first one came Saturday in Denver between Jokic’s Nuggets and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The two MVP candidates each finished with 31 points but it was Jokic and the Nuggets that earned the 129-106 win. This will be the only head-to-head matchup between the two players that have won the past four Kia MVPs as Jokic missed the first meeting back in January.

Nikola Jokic

  • March 25: 31 PTS, 10-20 FG, 1-6 3P, 10-11 FT, 6 REB, 11 AST, 1 STL, 3 TOV, +19

Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • March 25: 31 PTS, 13-22 FG, 0-3 3P, 5-7 FT, 9 REB, 4 AST, 4 STL, 4 TOV, -15

Monday (March 27): Philadelphia at Denver, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV

This week was supposed to offer two head-to-head matchups between these candidates beginning Monday in Denver when the Sixers face the Nuggets. However, Embiid has been ruled out due to a calf injury. That leaves only the Jan. 28 matchup as the only Embiid vs. Jokic head-to-head matchup of the season, when Embiid poured in 47 points to lead the Sixers to a 126-119 win, nearly doubling up Jokic’s 24 points.

Joel Embiid

  • 28: 47 PTS, 18-31 FG, 4-7 3P, 7-10 FT, 18 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK, 6 TOV, +14

Nikola Jokic

  • Jan 28: 24 PTS, 8-12 FG, 2-2 3P, 6-6 FT, 8 REB, 9 AST, 0 STL, 2 BLK, 7 TOV, -1

While we won’t get another matchup between the winner and runner up of the last two Kia MVPs, we could get a fourth and final face-off between Embiid and Giannis on Sunday, assuming Embiid is healthy by then.

Sunday (April 2): Philadelphia at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass

We close out Week 24 with the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between Embiid’s Sixers and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks.  While Giannis has a slight edge in scoring and a significant advantage on the glass, it is Embiid and the Sixers that lead the season series 2-1.

Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Joel Embiid

  • 3 games: 26.7 PPG, 47.5 FG%, 18.2 3P%, 57.9 FT%, 13.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 4.3 TOV

Joel Embiid vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • 3 games: 26.0 PPG, 42.0 FG%, 42.9 3P%, 66.7 FT%, 9.7 RPG, 7.0 APG, 0.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 3.3 TOV
  • Notes: Embiid’s third-lowest PPG and FG% against any opponent this season; tied for his highest APG against any opponent this season

The Bucks enter Week 24 with a 1 1/2-game lead over the second-ranked Celtics and a four-game lead over the third-ranked Sixers. A Sixers win would clinch the tiebreaker and bring Philadelphia closer to striking distance entering the final week of the regular season. A Bucks win will earn a split on the head-to-head tiebreaker and create more separation in the standings.

2. Key returns highlight tight West playoff races

This past week saw a number of players in key Western Conference playoff races make their return to the court.

Ja Morant

Near the top of the standings, Ja Morant returned from his eight-game suspension and nine-game absence last Wednesday in the first game of a two-game series with the Rockets in Memphis. The Grizzlies went 6-3 without Morant and enter Week 24 riding a league-high six-game win streak while holding a two-game lead over Sacramento for the No. 2 spot in the West.

The Grizzlies have already clinched the Northwest Division and have a four-game slate this week: Tuesday vs. Orlando, Wednesday and Friday vs. LA Clippers, Sunday at Chicago.

Spotlight matchup: Memphis vs. LA Clippers (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass)

While the Grizzlies have already wrapped up their playoff berth, the fifth-ranked Clippers enter the week with a tenuous half-game lead over Golden State and a one-game lead over Minnesota as they look to maintain their hold on a guaranteed spot and avoid the play-in tournament.

Ja Morant finishes with 27 points against the Hawks.

Karl-Anthony Towns

After missing nearly four months with a calf injury, Karl-Anthony Towns returned for the Timberwolves on Wednesday and helped Minnesota close out the week with wins over Atlanta (game-winning free throws) and Golden State (game-winning 3-pointer).

Spotlight matchup: Minnesota vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Friday, 8 p.m., NBA TV)

The Wolves and Lakers enter Week 24 ranked seventh and ninth in the West, respectively, but with how tight this race is, there is no telling where each will stand when these two teams meet on Friday in Minneapolis. The Wolves have already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker (2-0) entering this final regular season matchup, but every game played between teams in this cluster of playoff/play-in contenders – No. 6 Golden State and No. 12 Utah are separated by just two losses – has added significance down the stretch.

Karl Anthony-Towns talks with NBA TV about his game-winning free throws, the joy of playing again and being back on the court.

LeBron James

LeBron James made a surprising return to the Lakers’ lineup on Sunday, finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench, but it was not enough as Chicago prevailed 118-108. The Lakers enter Week 24 holding the nine spot in the West as they embark on their final road trip of the regular season, a five-game run that includes Chicago, Minnesota, Houston, Utah and the LA Clippers.

Spotlight Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass)

Patrick Beverley began the season with the Lakers before being traded at the deadline, having his contract bought out and signing with his hometown Chicago Bulls. After signing with Chicago, Beverley said his goal when playing his former team later this season was to knock them out of the playoffs. The Bulls took Game 1 on Sunday – which included a “too small” celebration from Beverly against LeBron. Can they do it again on Wednesday to continue to damage the Lakers’ playoff hopes?

Patrick Beverly gets in the paint, hits the hook over LeBron and adds some theater to the play.

Gary Payton II

After letting Payton leave in free agency after being a key piece of their championship run last season, the Warriors re-acquired Payton from the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline. However, Payton was still on the mend from an abdominal injury that limited him for much of the season. Six weeks after that deadline deal. GPII made his return to the court for Golden State on Sunday, scoring nine points in 15 minutes off the bench in the Warriors’ loss to Minnesota. While the Warriors are still missing Andrew Wiggins, getting Payton back on the court gives Steve Kerr a strong perimeter defender to unleash on teams as the Warriors look to hold their top-six playoff position.

Spotlight Matchup: Golden State at Denver (Sunday: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV)

The Warriors enter the week ranked sixth in the West – a half-game behind the No. 5 Clippers and a full game behind the No. 4 Suns. Even though Golden State has a shot at reaching the No. 4 seed and earning home-court advantage in the opening round, they will still need to win on the road if they have hopes of successfully defending their title.

Golden State is just 9-29 on the road so far this season – a 21-win gap between their home record of 30-8. The Warriors have a great test in front of them to close out Week 24 as they go to Denver to face the West-leading Nuggets at a mile-high altitude. Can the Warriors finally get on track on the road, or will the Nuggets continue to dominate at home, where they are 31-6 on the season?

Kevin Durant

It was reported late last week, that Kevin Durant is progressing toward a potential return to the court for Phoenix on Wednesday when the Suns face the Minnesota Timberwolves (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). After going 3-0 in Durant’s first three games since joining the team at the trade deadline, the Suns have gone just 3-6 since, with their grip on the No. 4 seed getting looser and looser with every loss. If Durant is able to return Wednesday, it would give him and the Suns their final seven regular season games to prepare for the postseason.

Spotlight Matchup: Phoenix vs. Denver (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV)

If Durant is able to make it back on Wednesday, he would have a game under his belt before the Suns host the West-leading Nuggets in a great test for the new-look Suns.

Sacramento is on the verge of ending the longest playoff drought in NBA history.

3. Kings’ drought set to end

The longest playoff drought in NBA history is set to come to an end this week as the Sacramento Kings need just one win to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2006.

Spotlight games: Sacramento vs. Minnesota (Monday, 10 p.m. ET, League Pass)

The Kings’ first chance to clinch their spot in the postseason came on Sunday as a Minnesota loss to Golden State would have put the “-x” next to the SAC in the standings. However, the Timberwolves prevailed to keep the Kings’ magic number at one. Now, the Kings have their fate in their own hands against the Wolves on Monday in Sacramento. If the Kings can get a win, they will not only light the beam for the 46th time this season but also exorcise the demon that has hung over this franchise for over a decade.

Trivia: Next longest playoff drought

With Sacramento on the verge of ending the longest playoff drought in NBA history, which team will assume that scarlet letter entering next season?






Charlotte Hornets: 7 seasons

The Hornets have been eliminated from playoff/Play-In contention, which brings their streak of seasons missing the playoffs to seven in a row, with their last playoff appearance coming in 2015-16.

Entering the 2022-23 seasons, the Kings (16) and Cavaliers (4) had the first and third-longest active playoff droughts in the league. Both of those will come to an end this season as the Cavs officially clinched on Sunday and the Kings can do so as early as Monday night.

Longest active playoff droughts, entering the 2022-23 season

  • Sacramento: 16 years (last postseason appearance: 2006)
  • Charlotte: 6 years (last postseason appearance: 2016)
  • Cleveland: 4 years (last postseason appearance: 2018)

4. Marquee Matchups: Three must-see games

In addition to the MVP showdown games and the spotlight games listed above, here are three more must-see matchups for Week 24.

Wednesday: Dallas at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The top two scorers in the league – Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (33.3 ppg) and Dallas’ Luka Doncic (33.1 ppg) – meet for the final time this regular season. The two enter the second-to-last week of the season separated by just 0.2 points per game in the race for the scoring title.

The first meeting on March 2 did not disappoint as Luka (42 points) outdueled Embiid (35 points) to lead Dallas to a 133-126 win. This is the signature win of the brief Luka Doncic/Kyrie Irving era of Mavs basketball as Irving added 40 points in the win, marking the first time in franchise history that two Mavericks scored at least 40 in the same game.

Thursday: Boston at Milwaukee, 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT

The top two teams in the East clash for the third and final time this regular season. With the season series split at 1-1 – Boston won the first meeting 139-118 on Christmas Day, Milwaukee won the second meeting 131-125 in overtime on Valentine’s Day – the winner of this game will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker should it be needed at the end of the regular season.

Entering Week 24, the Bucks (53-21) lead the Celtics (52-23) by 1.5 games overall and two in the loss column. A win by Boston could make the race for the No. 1 seed in the East very interesting over the final 10 days of the season.

Friday: New York at Cleveland, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

If the playoffs started today, this would be the No. 4 (Cleveland) vs. No. 5 (New York) first-round matchup. While this matchup has appeared inevitable for a couple of weeks based on the standings, the battle for home court took a major swing over the past week with Cleveland currently riding a four-game win streak while New York has dropped three straight.

The Knicks lead the season series 2-1, with the home team winning all three matchups so far this season.

5. Technical Foul Watch

On Sunday, Dallas’ Luka Doncic picked up his 16th technical foul of the regular season, which meant he would face a one-game suspension for exceeding the maximum allowed. However, the technical was rescinded by the league office on Monday, making Doncic available for the Mavericks’ next game at Indiana.

The Mavericks enter Week 24 having lost four consecutive games to fall to 11th place in the Western Conference, which would put them outside of the Play-In Tournament field. The Mavericks are part of a cluster of teams battling for the playoff and Play-In positioning in the Western Conference as just three losses separate the eight teams spanning the No. 5 and No. 12 seeds.

With every game over the final two weeks taking on added magnitude for these eight teams, missing a star player like Doncic for a game could prove costly for the Mavericks. Dallas is 31-29 with Luka and just 5-10 without Luka so far this season.

Memphis’ Dillon Brooks (18 technicals) has missed two games, while Golden State’s Draymond Green (16) has missed one game. As a reminder, the 16th technical triggers a one-game suspension and there is an additional one-game suspension for every two technicals following No. 16.

Technical foul leaders, entering Week 24

  • Dillon Brooks (Grizzlies): 18 (missed 2 games)
  • Draymond Green (Warriors): 16 (missed 1 game)
  • Luka Doncic (Mavericks): 15 (1 away from suspension)
  • Trae Young (Hawks): 15 (1 away from suspension)
  • Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves): 13
  • No other players with more than 11