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Three things we learned on Wednesday: Knicks, Sixers seem headed in opposite directions

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA while trying to put out the fire your pet tortoise caused

1) The Sixers have won 3-of-4 and look confident; The Knicks on the other hand… 
It’s amazing how one shot, one comeback can change perceptions, alter the feelings around an entire franchise. Or in this case, two franchises.

The shot was Philadelphia’s T.J. McConnell’s game winner Wednesday night to beat the Knicks. Of course, it was preceded by the Knicks blowing a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Joel Embiid banking in a three-pointer, then Kristaps Porzingis — New York’s best player — air balling a wide-open corner three to give the Sixers a chance. Credit due to Sixers coach Brett Brown here — most coaches would have called a timeout on this final play and tried to assert some control by setting up a play, but a defense scrambling in chaos is the best time to score and Brown kept his hands in his pockets and trusted his team. It worked.

The Knicks are a mess. Derrick Rose was back from going AWOL and had an efficient 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting — he was still -21 for the game (that stat can be misleading, but here it speaks to problems on the defensive end). The Knicks have lost 9-of-10, have fallen out of the playoffs, and are five games below .500 with their next five games being against teams in the playoff chase — the Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, Celtics, and Wizards. New York needs wins in there or it’s going to get ugly. And when it gets ugly James Dolan tends to step in. There’s some old-school Chicken Little “the sky is falling” going on amongst Knicks fans right now, and it’s hard to blame them. What exactly is the reason for hope right now?

The Sixers, on the other hand, have won 3-of-4 and there is a growing confidence about them. Having Joel Embiid does that. If a franchise is going to tank like nobody has ever tanked before through the process and struggle for a few years, it needs to come out on the other end with a franchise cornerstone player or two. Embiid, after a long wait, seems to be that guy. Ben Simmons may be as well. Hopefully, we get to find out this season and see them together. There are a lot of questions about how all the pieces fit together in Philly, there are other draft picks and prospects yet to arrive, but this feels like a team that has turned the corner and is heading in the right direction. There is a reason for hope.

2) Russell Westbrook racks up 18th triple-double of season, Thunder win again. I’ve run out of ways to praise Russell Westbrook. Remember how last season we said it was crazy how many triple-doubles he was racking up? After Wednesday, he now has 18 this season — the same number he had all of last season. The Thunder have 42 games left. Westbrook had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists on Wednesday, and more importantly the Thunder won again, this time against a Memphis team that has been playing well of late and brings with it one of the best defenses in the NBA. There just is no defense for Westbrook.

3) We’ve got upsets: Timberwolves end Rockets win streak at 9; Trail Blazers comfortably beat Cavaliers. There were a couple other games of note, from the “good teams can’t win every game” category. For one, Minnesota was playing good enough defense, getting 28 from Andrew Wiggins, 23 from Karl-Anthony Towns, and 20 off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad. Oh, and the Timberwolves were racking up highlights.

Portland looked like a playoff team — something that hasn’t happened consistently of late — playing its best game of the season and thrashing Cleveland 102-86. The Blazers dominated this game from the start and got 27 points and another strong game from C.J. McCollum, and when the Cavaliers worked to take the ball out of his hands, Allen Crabbe stepped up with some quality playmaking. Considering the travel problems both teams had just getting to snowy Portland for this game, the Cavs can write this one off and not think about it. The Blazers (who had a harder time getting back home for this game, they landed in Seattle and took a bus) get a quality win out of it.

Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Kevin Durant YouTube comment presaged Twitter/Instagram fiasco

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Kevin Durant admitted he went too far on social media, though he didn’t quite admit to the clear revelation: He has additional Twitter and Instagram accounts he used to anonymously fire back at his critics.

Who does that? More specifically, what kind of millionaire NBA-champion superstar does that?

Durant provided a glimpse into his mindset last week, when he replied to this YouTube comment about the insoles of his Finals shoes:

Who cares what people think . Just do you. Someone of stature, shouldn’t worry about stuff like that.

Durant:

of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

That Durant was interacting in YouTube comments – YouTube comments! – says plenty on its own. That’s the cesspool of internet commenting.

But the content of the reply is also illuminating. Durant is insecure. I think that’s pretty clear at this point.

There will always be people who accept nothing less than the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan from NBA stars. But maybe, once this scandal passes, some will find Durant’s vulnerability endearing.

Steve Kerr: Warriors haven’t been invited to White House, to meet on plan

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Steve Kerr reportedly stated a plan for the NBA-champion Warriors to decline an invitation to visit President Donald Trump’s White House. Then, Kerr espoused the virtues of going.

Kerr, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“We will meet as a team to discuss it and make a decision,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN.

“The league isn’t going to tell us what to do. They know it’s our decision and that, for me, really, it’s the players’ decision.

As yet, Kerr confirmed that no such invitation has been extended by the Trump administration.

If the Warriors commit to attending, they’d probably get invited. It seems the White House just doesn’t want egg on its face by extending an invitation that could get declined.

Regardless, Golden State almost certainly isn’t going.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have publicly stated their opposition. Even if there’s a player in that locker room who wants to go – and I’m not sure there is – who has the clout to stand up to those three? The tone has already been set.

Knicks say they expect Carmelo Anthony to open training camp with them

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Carmelo Anthony trade rumors have picked up steam the last couple days, the talk centered on the Knicks trading him before training camp opens Monday.

They clearly want to move on. He wants to move on – at least if he can join the Rockets. But a Houston deal appears to have dead-ended.

So…

Ian Begley of ESPN:

This is, by far, the most likely outcome.

There’s always a chance Anthony, who holds a no-trade clause, approves a trade to a team outside Houston. The Knicks might be attempting to gain leverage for that scenario. But I’m unconvinced he’s eager to leave the New York market for just anywhere, and that’d still require two teams agreeing to terms. It’s a lot to overcome.

Anthony has remained professional amid the chaos, and I expect he’ll remain so. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Anthony would still hold a major role on the court, even if the focus is long-term (the reason Mills gave for omitting Anthony from his offseason write-up).

It’s not ideal to have a highly paid 33-year-old who can still contribute at a high level on a rebuilding team, but that’s where Anthony and New York are – and probably will be next week.