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Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Kevin Durant saves his best games for Thunder


Here are the big takeaways from a busy night around the NBA:

1) Kevin Durant saves his best games for Russell Westbrook, Thunder. Prior to Wednesday night, Kevin Durant’s highest-scoring game this season was 39 points, something he broke out the first time his new Warriors team faced his old Thunder squad. Then Wednesday Durant an incredibly efficient 40 points on 16 shots — again against the Thunder. Just in case there wasn’t enough salt rubbed in that OKC wound (Golden State won the game 121-100).

Whatever you think of his choice, Durant’s team is way better than Westbrook’s, which is both expected and why KD made the move — he is closer to a ring now. (If you say that winning rings is the ultimate defining factor in a player’s legacy then rip his moves to make it easier to get said ring, you’re a hypocrite.) Part of the gap between the sides is obviously what Durant brings to the Golden State offense — and how efficiently he’s been doing it this season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9, his career best (for some perspective, the league average is around 52). But also he’s been bringing it on the defensive end this season, particularly of late, having a strong game against LeBron James Monday then doing well when switched onto Westbrook a couple of times in this game. Durant would be having an MVP-level season most years, but Westbrook and James Harden change the equation this time around.

Westbrook himself had a triple-double (that’s 21 this season) in the loss… actually, it was a quadruple-double when you throw in the 10 turnovers. Westbrook wasn’t efficient, hitting 8-of-23 from the field, and when he isn’t this team struggles to win, they rely on him that much. Of course, that’s not the play everyone is talking about — rather, it’s Zaza Pachulia with the hard foul, and then taunting Westbrook by standing over him.

When Westbrook saw that, he promised to “get his ass back.” These teams meet again Feb. 11 — when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time in a Warriors’ uniform.

Bonus thing we saw: Russell Westbrook had the travel of the year.
Even in the NBA, this is a travel — and a funny one.

2) The Sixers beat the Raptors and have now won 7-of-9.
When this run of wins from the Sixers started, it was easy to say “they are just beating other weak teams.” Then they beat the Bucks. Wednesday night they beat the Raptors. Brett Brown has settled on a 10-man rotation, found lineups he likes with Joel Embiid starting (surrounded by shooters) and Nerlens Noel relieving him off the bench. Plus, the Sixers are finding their defensive identity. It’s coming together.

Still, this is all about Embiid — the Sixers are outscoring teams by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. He had 26 points — including 12-of-14 from the free throw line — plus nine rebounds against Toronto. The man is a force. The only question the next couple of weeks is will he be an All-Star?

3) Rudy Gay is out for the season, which changes West playoff chase and trade picture.
This is bad news for the Kings, and it is worse news for Rudy Gay himself — trying to drive out of the right corner Wednesday night, Gay tore his left Achilles tendon (something the team announced, although it needs to be confirmed by an MRI Thursday).

Gay is done for this season and likely the start of the next one.

In the short term, that is a blow to the Kings’ playoff chances. Technically they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, but the Kings have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions this season when Gay is off the court. This isn’t the same team without him. Gay has scored 18.7 points per game, which was second-best on the team, and now that role falls to Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi (once Casspi returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks). Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, meaning don’t be surprised if Sacramento tries to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

It also changes the trade deadline. Gay was clear he wanted out of Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone on the trade block. Teams were calling about him, including the Thunder (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted what the team might do). Now obviously that is off the table, and the question becomes will Gay even opt out?

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.

Kyrie Irving out 3-6 weeks following surgery on his knee

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Kyrie Irving could be back right around the start of the playoffs, somewhere during the first round, or maybe not until the beginning of the second (if the Celtics are still playing).

Irving had his knee surgery Saturday and the timeline for his return is 3-6 weeks, the Celtics announced Saturday. This is the official press release.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving today underwent a minimally-invasive procedure to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound. Irving is expected to return to basketball activities in 3-6 weeks.

When Irving has been off the court this season, the Celtics have been 7.7 points worse per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 101, which is right at the bottom of the league. In the last five games, when Irving has been sidelined, the Celtics have gone 3-2 with an offensive rating of 100.4.

The Celtics are all but formally locked in as the two seed in the East.

With no Gordon Hayward or Daniel Theis for these playoffs, no Marcus Smart to start, and now questions about Irving’s availability, the question is how hard should Boston push to get Irving back for this postseason? Irving will push, it’s his nature, but the Celtics need to think bigger picture. Boston is poised to be a force in the East and maybe the team to beat next season, that should not be risked to make a splash this season. How motivated are the Celtics to push Irving for this season’s playoffs with a roster already decimated by injuries?

Doctor working with Kristaps Porzingis: “He’ll be better than ever”

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A disclaimer up front: I’m instantly suspicious of very optimistic people with grandiose claims. It feels like they are selling something, usually a form of snake oil.

Enter Dr. Carlon Colker, who is working with Knicks big man and franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis on his recovery from a torn ACL last season. Porzingis is targeted for a return in the middle of next season (like when the calendar flips to 2019).

Colker has a much more aggressive and optimistic outlook for Porzingis, as he told the New York Post.

“Despite the talk, ‘The sky is falling, he’ll never be the same,’ that’s a bunch of horse s–t,’’ Colker told The Post. “He’ll be better than ever. He’s going to blow people away. If you’re around people who know what they’re doing, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the world if you have the wrong people around you.”

With a doctorate specializing in sports performance, Colker’s job is strengthening Porzingis’ frame — everything but his damaged left knee….

“We have to deal with the ACL aspect in addition to the bigger picture. Rehabbing an ACL is straightforward. The important thing is be mindful of we’re rehabbing an ACL, but start establishing a power base, getting our balance, our flexibility back, working in conjunction with what the guys are doing on the ACL front. We’re bulking him up and giving him more muscle mass and strength, working on his upper body, doing a lot of hamstring work.”

Colker is part of an aggressive faction regarding ACL timetables. While the Knicks likely won’t let Porzingis play until around Christmas (the 10-month mark) at the earliest, Colker says he’ll have him ready for opening night.

Did anyone actually say the sky was falling?

Much of this makes a lot of sense — strengthening Porzingis’ base matters (it’s what has helped turn Rudy Gobert into a defensive force, the Jazz staff focused on his base, core, and hips). Functional training that strengthens muscles around the ACL matters. And with time, Porzingis can be back to what he was before and better.

The faster timeline… I’m not sold.

There’s a lot of data here. We’ve seen the recovery curve for a lot of NBA players with torn ACLs — and all of them are working with elite trainers, both with teams and personal ones. It takes 10 months or so to get back on the court, and usually another few months (at least) before the player really trusts the leg and starts to play with the same intensity and abandon.

For the Knicks, hopefully when Porzingis does get back on the court next season — whatever the date — he is close to his old self. The league is better with him in it.

Also, hopefully, there will be a coaching system in place in Madison Square Garden to maximize KP’s talents when he does return.

Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes reach out to pay for funeral of Stephon Clark

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Whatever Kings fans thought of DeMarcus Cousins on the court — it was a divisive topic with changing opinions over time — he was fully committed to the city of Sacramento. He was all in.

Still is, despite playing for New Orleans. Cousins and another former King, Matt Barnes (a Sacramento native), have reached out to the family of Stephon Clark — the unarmed young black man shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard a week ago — and offered to pay for the funeral, reports Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

It is a generous gesture. The family had set up a gofundme page and has raised enough to pay for the funeral expenses through it as well.

Clark’s shooting has sparked protests throughout Sacramento, including blocking entrance to a Kings game on Thursday night. According to reports and the Sacramento PD’s own account, the shooting occurred when police were looking for a car burglary suspect and officers had tracked the suspect through yards, then confronted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. Police allegedly thought he was armed and shot him 20 times, but he was holding only a cellphone.

The shooting has sparked reactions around the nation and from NBA players, including Barnes.

Steve Kerr and David West of the Golden State Warriors had these comments, via Logan Murdock of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I was very proud of how the Kings handled it, the way the NBA handled it,” Kerr said Friday. “I thought they did everything they could…

“The main sentiment, though, is horror and sadness for the family involved and there’s not much else to say,” Kerr said.

“You want to go through this song and dance again?” West asked. “I’m done. I stopped. I don’t have the optimism anymore.”

“We’ve been dealing with these issues for hundreds of years and so they continue.” West continued. “We won’t look at real solutions so these things continue to happen.”