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NBA Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin can still dunk, Clippers are legit

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Clippers ace first real test, silence Jazz. And if you think Blake Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore… The Clippers came into Tuesday night 2-0, and we all shrugged because they had beaten the Lakers and the Suns. It was little more than extended training camp. Blake Griffin had looked like a maestro running the Clipper offense, Patrick Beverley talked a lot, but how do we judge that against two of the worst defensive teams in the league?

Tuesday night the Clippers owned a good Jazz team in the second half, and Griffin dropped 22 points with nine rebounds and 6 assists — given their first test the Clippers aced it. Griffin set the tone in the first quarter with a throwback dunk over the best defensive big man in the game, Rudy Gobert. Tell me again how Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore.

Griffin has always been an underrated passer, but he has added a legit three-point shot to his arsenal this season, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc so far. More importantly, he is now their best playmaker and they need him for Doc Rivers pass-and-cut offense to be effective — against Utah it was clear how much the Clippers missed Milos Teodosic to create with the second unit (Lou Williams was off and just 3-of-10 shooting, he has to lead that second unit now). Griffin has been at his peak to start the season, and he’s getting some help — DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 18 rebounds outplaying Gobert, Patrick Beverley had 19 points and was 4-of-7 from three, and Austin Rivers added 16 against Utah.

Three games in, the Clippers also have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 86.1 points per 100 possessions. We’re going to take a wait-and-see on how good the defense really is — the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz are not exactly offensive powerhouses — but it’s a promising start.

From the opening of training camp the question with the Clippers was not “do they have talent?” because they had plenty, the real question was “can they keep that talent on the court?” There are a lot of guys with long injury histories on this team, starting with Griffin. When healthy, however, this is a good Clippers team. Very good.

2) Anthony Davis gives everyone a scare, but MRI is clean and he is day-to-day.
That sound you hear is GM Dell Demps, coach Alvin Gentry, and the entire city of New Orleans exhaling.

Just five minutes into Tuesday night’s game against Portland, Anthony Davis left it with a sore knee. He had banged it in knee-to-knee contact with Damian Lillard, then we saw it buckle a little in a position battle with Maurice Harkless, and we were worried — Davis has been his usual, brilliant self to start the season and the basketball gods have already robbed us of enough talent to start the season. They can’t have Davis, too.

They won’t. An MRI came back negative and Davis is considered day-to-day. Without him on the court DeMarcus Cousins took over scoring 39 points and grabbing 13 boards, and keeping it close. However, Portland closed the game on a 9-0 run, and with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 24 points in the fourth quarter it was too much for New Orleans to match. Portland got the 103-93 win, and the Pelicans fall to 1-3 to start the season (the Blazers are 3-1).

3) LeBron James takes over as Cavaliers point guard, he can play that, too. Isaiah Thomas will not step on the court in a Cavaliers uniform until 2018. Derrick Rose is out with a tweaked ankle. That left Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue with a choice: Start Jose Calderon or LeBron James at the point?

Is that even a question? Actually, it was when Lue started Calderon against Orlando, and Cleveland lost. Lesson learned. LeBron played the point Tuesday and was his MVP-level self: 34 points on 20 shots, 4-of-6 from three, and he racked up 13 assists.

Kevin Love had 10 of his 20 points on the night in the fourth quarter, and the Cavaliers moved past a game Bulls team for the 119-112 win.

This was also the game where J.R. Smith moved back into the starting lineup, but he stumbled shooting 1-of-8 from the floor in this one (he had missed shootaround with a sore back). Dwyane Wade was 5-of-7 off the bench and boosted a Cavs bench that could use it, scoring 11 points. Tristan Thompson also slid into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers in this one, but that was more about Robin Lopez being at center for Chicago and Lue wanting to match up. The Cavaliers are versatile and veteran enough to make all these changes and just keep on winning.

It also helps to have LeBron James.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.