San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green (14) celebrates as Houston Rockets' Nene Hilario (42) walks behind during the closing seconds of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, in Houston. The Spurs won 102-100. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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Three things we learned Tuesday: Once again, we’re sleeping on the Spurs

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If you had to pick up the in-laws at the airport, or start your holiday shopping, or just generally were busy Tuesday, I’m sorry. This was as good a night of NBA games as we’ve had this season. Your loss. Here are the big takeaways.

1) In an annual tradition, everyone is sleeping on the San Antonio Spurs.
There are dynamic and exciting teams at the top of the NBA food chain. Golden State is blowing good teams out — they beat the Jazz by 30 Tuesday — and Kevin Durant is blending in seamlessly. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are the clear best of the East and seem destined for the Finals. Toronto’s incredible offense — better than the Warriors or Cavaliers — makes them must watch and a threat. Then there is the offensive blur that is the Houston Rockets, with James Harden leading a sharpshooting offense to 10-straight wins.

Dazzled by all the bright, shiny objects, we once again are looking right past the Spurs.

That would be the 23-5 Spurs, probably the second-best team in the NBA right now (at least by our power rankings), a team that put on an impressive three-point shooting display late Tuesday night — 8-of-10 in the fourth, including Patty Mills wide-open game winner — to snap the Rockets 10-game winning streak.

The Spurs have the sixth-ranked offense in the NBA, the fourth-ranked defense, and just continue to execute better than anyone in the clutch, finding the mismatches and exploiting them nightly. San Antonio is 15-1 on the road. Their defense has improved as the season went on. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate (yes, statistically the Spurs defend better with him off the floor, but he’s usually out there with both Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, and he can only make up for so much on that end, plus there’s the decoy issue). LaMarcus Aldridge remains nearly impossible to guard averaging 16.6 points per game and shooting 45.5 percent from three. Gasol has adjusted to his role and is scoring 11.8 per game. Manu Ginobili is still making plays off the bench — one of the better benches in the game.

Can the fading athleticism of the Spurs, along with the defense of Parker and Gasol (dragging them into pick-and-rolls) be exploited in the playoffs? Teams are going to try, but how many have the personnel to pull it off? In the West there’s the Warriors, the Clippers when healthy, and… it’s a short list. The Spurs are legit contenders, and we should be talking about them more.

2) DeMarcus Cousins goes off. First during the game, then after. Tuesday was the most DeMarcus Cousins of days.

First, he gets a $50,000 fine from his own team for berating a Sacramento Bee columnist (a fine that was well deserved, there are much smarter ways to handle that). A frustrated Cousins takes the court Tuesday night and takes all of it out on the overmatched big men of the Portland Trail Blazers (sorry Mason Plumlee) dropping 55 points.

But the sequence everyone is talking about is Cousins getting ejected — then quickly unejected. The referee said postgame he thought Cousins threw his mouthpiece. Clearly, he didn’t, but did he spit it out intentionally? Either way, the refs changed their tune.

Cousins was adamant that the mouthpiece only came out accidentally — he was barking at the Blazers bench and it just fell out. Cousins was going off on his “ridiculous” rant that was pure gold — “gold Jerry, gold” — when the mic just cuts out.

It looked like the broadcast cut him off, although the reporter involved said they would never cut away from something that good, this was just an issue with the battery pack for the mic malfunctioning. Either way, it’s a perfect end to Cousins’ day.

3) Tuesday was the night of the close finishes.
Tuesday was the most entertaining night of League Pass this season. For example, Boston went into Memphis and got an overtime win on the road because Isaiah Thomas was doing his best unstoppable Allen Iverson imitation — a career high 44 points.

There was the Cavaliers and Bucks going to overtime, where LeBron James had the shot of the night — from Stephen Curry range — to put the Cavs ahead for good.

Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum had a driving bank shot over Nick Young to give the Hornets a win over the Lakers in the final seconds.

Of course, there was the Kings beating Portland and DeMarcus Cousins putting on a show (see above). And then there was Carmelo Anthony dropping 35 in a Knicks win. It was a good night to be an NBA fan.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.

Jabari Parker held out of Bucks lineup vs. Heat for breaking team rule

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MIAMI (AP) Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is out of the starting lineup for the first time this season Saturday night at Miami after breaking a team rule.

Parker will play coming off the bench, coach Jason Kidd said.

Kidd declined to elaborate on the move, which came after the Bucks held a long players-only meeting following a loss Friday at Orlando. The meeting got heated at times, and Parker said he wasn’t well received when he expressed his point of view.

Parker has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Thon Maker, making his first career start.

Gregg Popovich on Trump: “Can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth” (VIDEO)

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Today across the country many hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets as part of the Women’s March to protest Donald Trump, his misogyny as demonstrated in prior comments made about women, and policies he’s promised to put in place to weaken women’s health including defunding Planned Parenthood and gutting the Affordable Care Act. Gregg Popovich, no stranger to speaking his mind about Trump, was asked about the marches today and how he felt about the former reality TV star’s first hours in office.

Popovich responded for around four minutes, spanning a wide breadth of topics including Trump’s maturity level, respect for the presidential office, and Trump’s cabinet members waffling on implied meaning when he insulted a handicapped reporter in November of 2015.

Via Cleveland.com:

I wish that he was more — had the ability to be mature enough to do something that really is inclusive rather than just talking and saying ‘I’m going to include everybody.” He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it, but so far we’ve got a point where you really can’t believe anything that comes of his mouth.

Popovich also expressed his frustration with Trump’s insecurities, referencing his need to discuss the size of the inauguration crowd from Friday — reported widely by major news outlets in both text and video/photographic evidence — as far smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.

“I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity, psychological, and emotional level of somebody that was his age,” said Popovich, adding, “It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist, and make fun of handicap people.”

It’s an interesting period in American history to be sure. Things are at such a fever pitch after Trump’s election that whether people like it or not — and no doubt many won’t like Popovich’s comments or this article about it — the lines between diversion and real life, including politics, has begun to blur.

It’s great to see that coaches and players in the NBA are able to speak their minds about topics openly like this, perhaps surprisingly so when you consider the amount of money involved for the league and teams.

If you’d like to read the full comments you can do so here:

Ricky Rubio will miss Nuggets game for personal reasons

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ricky Rubio has left the Minnesota Timberwolves for personal reasons and will miss at least the next game on Sunday against Denver.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau says he expects Rubio to get back into town late Sunday and rejoin the team for practice on Monday.

Rubio did not play in the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night because of tightness in his left hip. Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones filled in admirably, helping the Wolves defeat the Clippers, 104-101.

Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the season, with the belief that Thibodeau would prefer a point guard who shoots better from the perimeter. In his previous five full games, Rubio was averaging 13.2 points and 14.0 assists.