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Three things we learned on Monday: Otto Porter, Wizards figuring out how to win

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We know you didn’t keep up on all 11 NBA games Monday night because you were busy checking on a meat pie floating out in space, so we’ve got you covered with the big stories.

1) Otto Porter drops 32, Wizards win and starting to look like a playoff team. This July, you will be able to tell people who follow the NBA closely from the casual fan by how they react to what Otto Porter gets paid. Because he’s going to get PAID. Like north of $20 million a year, near the $24 million max number. People who follow the league closely know it’s coming.

Porter is having a breakout season, averaging 14.1 points per game, shooting 43.5 percent from three, and grabbing 7.1 rebounds a night. His PER has jumped to 18.1. He’s become the steady glue guy on a Wizards team where John Wall is the star and Bradley Beal is paid to get buckets.

Monday night Porter was the man keeping the Wizards close to the Bucks for three quarters — he had 26 points in the first 36 minutes of the game, and with that the Wizards hung around with a team that blew them out just before Christmas. Porter was getting most of his looks (13 touches) as a floor-spacing spot up guy, and he’s a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat from three, but he also now has the handles to spend time as a pick-and-roll ball handler (as he did eight times Monday, according to Synergy Sports). Porter was also the guy guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo most of the night and he did as good a job as could be expected (the Greek Freak finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists). Milwaukee stretched their lead to double digits early in the fourth — the Wizards bench strikes again — but Beal had 10 of his 22 in the fourth, Wall was dishing out assists (16 for the game and was mostly driving and kicking in the fourth), Porter added another six — including a key three — and the Wizards got the 107-102 win.

That was exactly the kind of win the Wizards need if they are to make the playoffs, beating one of the teams they are chasing in the crowded third tier of the East — just three games separate Charlotte as the four seed and Orlando at 12. Washington has won 7-of-10 and at 14-16 on this season has turned around their slow start to be just half a game out of the playoffs. The Wizards are all offense right now, but the defense has picked up to average, and that has been good enough most nights.

Washington can be a playoff team if they can stay healthy and keep playing this way. And if Porter can continue to be the glue that holds the odd-fitting Wizards roster together.

2) Jeremy Lin injures hamstring again, but Randy Foye steps up and saves the day.
Jeremy Lin had played seven-of-eight games for the Nets since returning from a left hamstring injury that sidelined him for 17 games.

Which is why Nets fans (and Lin fans) got a punch to the gut when Lin left the third quarter of the Nets game against Charlotte with a left hamstring problem. Lin had driven the lane, was fouled, and landed awkwardly in the third and limped after that point. He stayed in the game for a play, but quickly took himself out of the game. There are not a lot of details yet, but expect Brooklyn to be cautious with their star point guard, not rushing him back.

Lin on the sidelines meant Randy Foye was getting run and was in on the final play of the game, with the Nets down one to Charlotte. Foye had taken and missed one shot all game, until this happened.

The Nets have scored more than 100 points in 11-of-12 games (and they scored 99 in the other) but haven’t been winning because they struggle so much on the defensive end. For one night, that didn’t matter and Brooklyn celebrated.

3) DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid mutual admiration society expressed through butt slaps. It was some old school basketball down low in Sacramento Monday — DeMarcus Cousins and Joel Embiid where pushing, bodying up, and going at each other in the post. Cousins likes what he sees in the young Sixers star.

Cousins and Embiid expressed that admiration through slapping each other’s behind.

Of course, when it mattered Cousins was sinking threes.

And blocking Embiid’s attempted game winner (Embiid and the Sixers wanted a whistle on this one, they may have a point).

Bonus thing we learned, stat of the night: ESPN’s researchers with an interesting nugget pointing to LeBron James’ importance (after the Cavaliers lost with him resting Monday).

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.