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Three things we learned Sunday: Amid trade rumors ‘Melo is brilliant, but Knicks still lose

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Sunday you were probably busy playing reggae music for your dog — you certainly weren’t watching the Pro Bowl — so here is what you missed around the NBA while all that was happening.

1) The frustration builds: Carmelo Anthony is fantastic scoring 45 for Knicks, but they still fall in 4 overtimes to Hawks. Phil Jackson apparently is so set on trading Carmelo Anthony that he may be willing to take Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and whatever flotsam from the Clippers it takes to make the salary numbers work out, then Jackson doesn’t want to keep Crawford. (Not that Jackson is wrong in wanting to retool around Kristaps Porzingis, but why wasn’t this the drive last summer when every Knicks fan and most around the NBA were thinking they should go down that road? Now the Knicks are looking at bad deals just to get it done fast. Amazing.) No doubt Porzingis is the future in NYC, and Sunday was making plays like this against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks.

But it was Carmelo Anthony who the Knicks best player on Sunday — he put aside the off-court distractions and played like Olympic ‘Melo. It was a veteran, professional performance. It just wasn’t enough as the Knicks fell in quadruple overtime 142-139.

Anthony came out scorching hot with 17 first quarter points on just 11 shots, and he still had it at the end with 11 points in the four overtimes. He was doing it from the midrange — Anthony took just two shots in the key, but was 13-of-25 from the midrange (particularly killing it on the right baseline) during the game.

It felt like the Knicks wasted a great Anthony game, but the game itself was one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the season — 23 lead changes, 21 ties, and a dozen players scoring in double-digits (with five fouling out, including ‘Melo). Paul Millsap played 60 minutes (37 points, 19 rebounds), one of six players to log at last 48 minutes. That showed on guys, particularly Courtney Lee, who was fantastic all game but didn’t seem to have the legs on his shots when he missed a game-winner opportunity in the third OT and a couple of chances to send it to a fifth.

I can’t describe this game’s wild final 20+ minutes, so just watch the video of every made bucket late in regulation and overtime.

2) Portland almost got Golden State. But not quite. Golden State was on the second night of a back-to-back, playing without Stephen Curry, and Portland was desperate for a win to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets for the final playoffs slot in the West. The recipe was in place for the upset.

It wasn’t enough. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now for a reason. With the game on the line a cold-shooting Klay Thompson (6-of-21) drained a three with 37 seconds left, and when Evan Turner got the chance to give the Trail Blazers the win late, he couldn’t. It ends 113-111 Warriors. Kevin Durant dropped 33 like it was nothing.

3) Donald Trump’s immigration ban leaves NBA world unhappy, scratching its head. Safe to say there’s not a lot of love for Donald Trump around the NBA, but his executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations left the NBA league office looking for clarification from the State Department. Sudan — including the independent South Sudan — was on the list of seven countries where people from that nation were restricted entering the USA, and there are two NBA players from there: the Lakers’ Luol Deng and the Bucks’ Thon Maker. Their situations are a little different: Deng has dual citizenship with England, Maker the same with Australia, and both have lived in the USA for many years. Still, the NBA had questions, particularly with the Bucks playing in Toronto and questions about whether Maker could get back in the country. He did.

Still, the NBA world was part of the massive backlash against the ill-conceived executive order. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — a former Air Force man, don’t forget — had this to say (via ESPN):

“As you already know, I have lots of thoughts about what we’ve done to ourselves as a country and what we’ve allowed to happen. But we’ll see where this goes. Obviously the rollout today was Keystone Kops-like by any measure with objectivity. Whether you want to say it’s good or bad is irrelevant. But it was Keystone Kops, and that’s scary.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the order was “really going against the principles that this country is about.”

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.