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Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard tweaks shoulder, Spurs fall to Blazers

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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) Kawhi Leonard injured again. Apparently not seriously, but still. C.J. McCollum beats Spurs without him.
Much like Odysseus just trying to get home, the basketball gods apparently are not done messing with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season due to a quad injury, but the last few games he was starting to round back into “top 5 NBA player” form.

Last Friday in Phoenix Leonard tweaked his shoulder again. He was out Sunday in Portland, but after the game coach Gregg Popovich played down the severity of this injury. Let’s hope so. Leonard’s status against the Lakers for Thursday is up in the air. Still, the team is 23-10 without Leonard this season (remember he missed games for rest after his return), they will be just fine.

No Leonard. No Damian Lillard when the Spurs and Trail Blazers met in Portland Sunday, so how about a C.J. McCollum game winner:

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 14 rebounds on the night, but he missed the game winner and the Portland fans loved that.

2) Josh Richardson completes a late comeback against Jazz with a game-winning layup for Heat.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making a serious Rookie of the Year case of late. The young Jazz guard dropped 27 on the Heat Sunday, including a driving layup that had the Jazz up three with :47 seconds left.

He’s also a rookie, and that means sometimes he makes defensive mistakes. He fouled Kelly Olynyk in the act of shooting late, making it a one-point game. Then on the deciding play veteran Josh Richardson shook him with a change of direction in the paint, then Mitchell got hung-up on an Olynyk screen, allowing Richardson to get the ball and essentially go one-on-one with Derrick Favors. Richardson uses a nice little change-of-pace move to create space and gets the shot.

Miami has won four in a row now, all by single digits.

3) Do I have to? Ugh. Okay. Let’s talk Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball.
I mostly try to avoid writing about anything LaVar Ball, because I have little use for the Kardashians of the NBA. However, sometimes what he says — no matter how outlandish — becomes something that needs to be addressed because it becomes a thing. His recent criticism of Luke Walton falls into that category — he tapped into a vein of some Lakers fans, ones not used to the ups and downs of rebuilding, watching young teams lose and lose their way a little, who think Walton needs to be more demonstrative and old-school. I’ll give you my thoughts on all this — and what I know from sources and reports — in bullet points.

• Luke Walton’s job is safe.

• I mean completely safe. As in he is not going anywhere, not now and not this summer. Honestly, plenty of people around the league see his uptempo offense, saw this team defend earlier in the season, and think he’s doing a good job.

• LaVar Ball is only as big a distraction as the players in the locker room let him be. Being around the team some this season, my impression is people outside the locker room care far more about what Lavar thinks than people inside the locker room.

• So you’re saying players on a bad team that had lost nine straight (before Sunday) may be frustrated with the coach? Shocking.

• I can guarantee the coach is frustrated with the players’ too.

• Walton should be frustrated with his players. The idea that on an NBA team it’s the coaches job to be some sort of rah-rah motivator is wrong — the players are pros, they are getting massive paychecks, they have to motivate themselves nightly. That is part of their job. The players have to bring it nightly, be professionals, and put in the effort before and during games. The Lakers started to come apart when the trade rumors around the squad flared up — welcome to the NBA life. That can’t get in your head (or KCP’s legal issues for that matter). If the players don’t put in the effort it’s on them far more than the coach. It speaks to a lack of leadership among the players in the locker room who are not holding each other accountable. The coach can vent a little, management should take some blame, but at the end of the day this is mostly on the players.

• Also, well played by Walton to joke he sat Lonzo Ball earlier than usual in the first and third quarters Sunday because his dad “talked s—-.”

• If you are LeBron James, Paul George, or any other big Laker free agent target over the next two years, and you’re looking at LaVar Ball and the impact his noise creates, do you want to still want to sign on?

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.