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Three Things to Know: Thunder win third straight, are they figuring it out?


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) Thunder come from behind to win third straight, are they turning a corner?
This was the kind of game playoff teams — and teams that believe they are top four seed in the West — win. Put more directly, it was the kind of game the Thunder should win. Oklahoma City was rested, and while Utah had won six straight it was coming in on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz play as a unit and get as much out of their roster as coach Quin Snyder can squeeze, but the Thunder have way more talent.

Yet at the end of three quarters, Utah was up by 12.

This is the kind of game the Thunder have lost all season but not on Tuesday, coming back to win 100-94. What turned it around for OKC was elite defense and Russell Westbrook — a combination the Thunder can ride into the playoffs. Maybe deep into the playoffs.

The Jazz scored 12 points on 30 percent shooting in the fourth, going 1-of-8 from three. Part of that was tired legs on the back-to-back — Joe Ingles has been nailing threes all night, and suddenly his shots were short and hitting the front rim — but part of it was a more aggressive Thunder defense. OKC had been on its heels in the first half (in part due to a lot of turnovers) but now was pressuring Jazz shooters and taking away easy buckets.

Westbrook had dominated the third quarter and finished the night with his seventh triple-double of the season — 34 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists — but in the fourth he got help from his fellow stars and deferred to them. Carmelo Anthony entered the fourth shooting 2-of-13 but hit 4-of-6 in that final frame, while George hit 3-of-4 and found his rhythm in the quarter. Steven Adams was a beast in the paint all night and finished with 20 points and six offensive rebounds, and he outplayed Rudy Gobert (who was back but clearly not yet himself again) down the stretch.

This is three straight wins in close games for the Thunder. We can pick those games apart — Minnesota doesn’t play defense, San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Utah was on a back-to-back — these are the kinds of games the Thunder were not winning before. It feels like this team is starting to turn the corner into becoming what we expected of them, and with a fairly soft schedule coming up they can build on these wins at home and turn their season around.

They have found a combination that works — defense and Westbrook. Now they just have to bring it nightly, and play better down the stretch, like they did against the Jazz.

2) Stephen Curry out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle. When it happened, it was the kind of injury that made everyone wince — it was nasty. Curry stepped on the foot of E'Twaun Moore while going for a steal and… ouch

The good news is the X-rays and MRI showed no structural damage, but his ankle is so swollen that he is going to miss some time.

Golden State is the one team in the NBA that can lose a recent MVP and keep on winning — more Kevin Durant with the ball is a good thing. Shaun Livingston will sub in nicely (with Patrick McCaw behind him). The Warriors just can’t coast like they have been doing — not playing hard got them into overtime against the Lakers, down 20 at the half against the Pelicans — but a focused Warriors team is going to keep winning, Curry or no.


3) Bradley Beal dropped career-high 51 points on Portland. The Trail Blazers, surprisingly, have been one of the NBA’s better defensive teams all season, fourth best in the NBA allowing just 100.8 points per 100 possessions.

But Tuesday night they had no answer for Bradley Beal.

The Wizards two guard, playing at an All-Star level all season, scored 51 points on 21-of-37 shooting, doing a lot of his damage getting to the rim (6-of-9 there) and from the midrange where he was 8-of-12. Beal put on a show, and a Wizards team that has not played hard and respected every opponent this season did so on the road in Portland and got the 106-92 win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

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We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


Anfernee Simons declares for NBA draft straight out of high school (kind of)

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Anfernee Simons spent the last year playing high school basketball. But because he did so as a fifth-year prep after technically graduating from high school last year and turns 19 in June, he’s eligible for the NBA draft.

Following a path taken by Thon Maker and considered by Jonathan Isaac, Simons – as expected – is turning pro.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Anfernee Simons will forgo his collegiate eligibility and declare for the 2018 NBA draft, he informed ESPN.

Simons informed ESPN that he will sign with agent Bobby Petriella of Rosenhaus Sports Representation

Simons looks like a mid-first-rounder, though his range is quite wide considering how large of a jump he’s making. Teams can learn relatively more about him in workouts and interviews.

A 6-foot-4 shooting guard who specializes in scoring, Simons is quick on his feet with a quick release off the dribble – with range from beyond the 3-point arc to an impressive floater game. Those floaters will be important, because Simons isn’t nearly strong enough for the NBA. He’s also a lackluster passer, though because of physicality concerns, no team will count on Simons to run an offense anytime soon, anyway. He’ll have time to develop as a distributor.

By signing with agents, Simons loses his college eligibility. Drew Rosenhaus, a big-name football agent, isn’t certified with the National Basketball Players Association. Petriella’s only NBA client has been Diamond Stone, a 2016 second-rounder who’s out of the league. They’re all in this bold venture together now.

As the NBA considers changing its draft rules for young prospects, Simons will be an interesting case study. He obviously meets the draft-eligibility requirements in the one-and-done era, but he’s also jumping from prep-school competition to the NBA. The league’s strength and nutrition programs should serve him well. His overall development could influence the wider debate.