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Three Things is NBC’s five-day recap of the night before in the NBA. Visit NBCSports.com each weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before, plus the rumor, drama and dunks that make the NBA a must-watch.

1) Chris Paul returns, Celtics don’t care and beat up Suns

There are no statement games in December, but if there were, this is what they would look like.

This could have been billed as a potential finals preview – the top team in the east, the Boston Celtics, versus the west-leading Phoenix Suns, who got Chris Paul back (he showed his gridiron after losing 14 games, with as many Turnover as points, four). The reality, however, is that there is currently a gap – based on Wednesday evening, quite a large gap – between the top of the East and the top of the West.

The Celtics picked up 25 points each from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while the Boston defense kept Phoenix under a point per possession on their way to a stunning 125-98 win on offense. Boston led by 27 at halftime and the last 24 minutes felt like garbage time.

“Feels like this game should count for two losses,” Devin Booker said after the game (about Duane Rankin).

It felt more like — especially when coupled with the Suns’ recent 130-111 loss to the Mavericks — that Phoenix are the same team they were a season ago: A regular-season standout team with some playoff-like flaws (or actual playoff games.

The loss has put the Suns at No. 2 in the West for now — read on to check on the Pelicans — but whether Phoenix or New Orleans or Memphis are at the top of the conference right now, they’re on a different level than that Teams at the tip of the east. Boston and Milwaukee are just better.

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The West’s preseason favorites — the Warriors and Clippers — both suffered ugly losses on Wednesday: The Warriors ended up falling apart against the Jazz (read on to learn more about them) and a Clippers team with its two stars falling against an Orlando team that had lost nine in a row. The Clippers and Warriors are staying afloat and both are playing the long game, but we’re getting into a third of the season, neither has pulled it all together and looked like a threat for an extended period (injuries play a role). that in both cases).

Phoenix had looked like the best team out west and now we see the gap between them and Boston.

2) Pelicans take the lead in the West with a win over Pistons

The New Orleans Pelicans are the new #1 seed in the west.

While the Suns brought down the doors from the Celtics, the Pelicans dealt with a resolute Pistons team 104-98 behind Zion Williamson’s 29 and 10.

The Pelicans are legit: Sixth in the NBA on offense, third on defense (the real surprise and a sign of the work coach Willie Green is doing), and second overall behind only the Celtics. New Orleans strikes a balance between veterans and youth, athleticism and brains. Having a dressing room manager like CJ McCollum getting everyone to pull the rope in the same direction was crucial in the Big Easy.

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The Pelicans have a 54 win pace. If that seems high to you, know that Cleaning the Glass thinks that underestimates the Pelicans’ current performance, saying they played more like a 57-win team. The more conservative estimate from fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR model puts the Pels still winning 50 games.

Part of that is that Pelicans have also done what great teams do: keep winning even though their stars are out. McCollum, Herbert Jones and Brandon Ingram all missed time recently, but New Orleans has won five in a row and 10-of-12 despite changing lineups. They have depth, balance and an identity that carries them.

The next few weeks will be a real benchmark for New Orleans: they host the Suns for two games, travel to Utah for two, then face the Suns again, followed by the Bucks. Six games against high-class teams.

Expect plenty of New Orleans victories at this track. This team didn’t make it to the top of the table, and while we can debate how far they could go in the postseason, they’ve earned the right to join the discussion about who could come from the west.

3) Jazz scores four points in the last 07 seconds, defeats Warriors

The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, so they can shrug off that loss if they want, but when you’re four by 13.3 seconds — and Utah’s Jordan Clarkson had just ejected on a soft Flagrant 2 – This is a game you should finish.

The warriors don’t. At first they let this happen.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker curled up off a pickaxe and drove to the basket, and the Warriors wisely wanted to let him have it, but as he drove Klay Thompson “fell asleep” on (his words) Malik Beasley, who was wide open at the bow. Alexander-Walker passed from an easy two to Beasley, who dumped the 3 and made it a one-point game, 123-122.

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Still, the Warriors should have ended this – they were ahead with 6.9 seconds left and the ball. Ball in, hit free throws, out with W. Instead, this happened after a hiatus.

Golden State played the ball to red-hot Jordan Poole – he finished the night with 36 points – but Alexander-Walker pulled it out, the ball raced to Beasley, who rushed his way in the transition, and he found Simone Fontecchio for the game-winning dunk .

Steve Kerr was understandably frustrated afterwards.

“We didn’t care about the ball,” Kerr said on NBC Sports Bay Area. “We turned it around and they took the game and it’s a shame because our guys did a lot of great stuff.

“I thought up to that point they were really fighting and earning the right to win the game and then we didn’t finish it. And you have to close it. You have to be rock solid with the ball. You have to be defensively smart. And we were neither in the last 13 seconds.”

The Warriors are 13-13 and sitting as a 10 seed in the West. It’s easy to say they’ve looked better lately and are playing the long game after an NBA title — both are true — but there are games like this that serve as a reminder that this Warriors team is different and not quite as deep like the one from a season ago.

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