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Three Things We Learned Monday: Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win

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Busy Monday around the NBA, but I want to talk about Luke Cage, the Marvel comics series put on Netflix. I loved the first couple episodes, I was hooked, and then this show went for a walk in the wilderness. The clever writing and banter from the barbershop gave way to cliché or story lines that had the subtlety of an Adam Sandler film. It still was pretty good, I was just disappointed it didn’t fulfill its own promise.

1) Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win.
James Harden, one of the co-frontrunners for MVP (along with Russell Westbrook), had 39 points on 20 shots, plus dished out 12 assists. The Spurs defended him well, but he was 7-of-13 on contested shots. He was more than impressive in his leading of the Rocket offense, as he has been all season.

And he was the second best player on the court. Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs to their eighth straight win with 39 points on 18 shots, he was 7-of-10 on contested looks, but he mostly strengthened his MVP case with his clutch play in the final minute when he hit the game winner on one end and blocked Harden on the other.

That is the core of Leonard’s case for the award — he is scoring 26.3 points a game and is the focal point of the fifth best offense in the NBA (the Spurs ranking), but he is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, something the two people considered ahead of him on the list are not near. Leonard is making his MVP case, and it’s a strong one.

2) Andrew Bogut fractures tibia in first couple minutes on court with Cavaliers, likely done for season.
This just sucks. Andrew Bogut was a great pickup for the Cavaliers, someone who could come in and essentially play a better version of the Timofey Mozgov “big off the bench” role for the Cavs in certain matchups, giving them depth and versatility up front. It was a good fit.

Then in the first couple minutes on the court with his new team, this happened.

It was a fluke play. Bogut closed out on Miami’s Okaro White at the arc, and White made the right play putting the ball on the floor and trying to drive past him. However, White’s knee hit Bogut clean in the shin and fractured his leg. Bogut went to the ground clearly in pain.

The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, but this is the kind of little thing that could matter in the Finals.

3) Clippers seem back, pick up win over Celtics at home. If the Clippers can stay healthy and find their form from the first month of the season, they can make the West playoffs interesting. I’m far from sold they can do it, but they looked closer to that Monday night beating the Celtics than anything we have seen in a while.

Chris Paul‘s brilliance kept the game close in the first half, then midway through the third the Clippers took off and outscored the Celtics 63-35 to close the game and get the win. It was an offensive tour d’ force, with a combination of finding open men rolling hard to the rim, or getting the ball to open shooters who were knocking down shots. Chief among them was Jamal Crawford, who had 19 points in the game but almost all of those during the Clippers run, when he was draining threes.

Report: Duke guard Frank Jackson undergoes foot surgery before NBA draft

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Duke guard Frank Jackson declared for the 2017 NBA draft with an outside shot of going in the first round and a likelihood of getting picked in the second-round.

This won’t help his stock.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Duke’s Frank Jackson, a well-regarded point guard in the 2017 NBA draft class, underwent right foot surgery and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

When Jackson recovers will determine whether he plays in summer league, and that can affect transition to the pros as a rookie.

The bigger questions: Will this hinder his athleticism long-term? Does this put him at greater injury risk?

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard, relies on a strong first step to attack the basket and high elevation on his jumper.

Report: 76ers, with No. 3 pick in NBA draft, like PGs De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

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If there’s consensus on the top prospects in the 2017 NBA draft, it’s:

1. Markelle Fultz

2. Lonzo Ball

3. Josh Jackson

That squares nicely with the Celtics picking Fultz No. 1 and the Lakers taking Ball No. 2.

But what about the 76ers, who pick No. 3? They already have a playmaking forward with a shaky jumper in Ben Simmons. Jackson isn’t the cleanest fit. Even if they plan to deploy Simmons at point guard, they could still use a traditional point guard for support/insurance.

Enter De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

https://twitter.com/SBondyNYDN/status/867526157184491521

The 76ers could also get a workout with Ball. There will be point guard options.

I’m just unsure any of them, assuming Ball is off the board, trump Jackson.

Philadelphia’s starting small forward is Robert Covington – a nice player, but not someone who should influence draft decisions. We can lightly pencil Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into the 76ers’ starting lineup the next time the team gets good, but the rest of the lineup is open. Pondering Jackson’s fit into a half-blank canvass is overthinking. Embiid is an excellent outside shooter for a center, and Philadelphia’s eventual guards (or shooting guard and power forward if Simmons plays point guard) could be good shooters.

The 76ers’ should draft the best prospect available. If that’s Jackson, so be it. They should consider Fox’s and Smith’s fit only if those point guards are in the same tier as Jackson.

That said, don’t rule out the possibility of Fox and Smith working their way into that level. They’re intriguing players.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.