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Three Things to Know: Fan goes on court to confront Russell Westbrook

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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) Wild ending in Denver: Gary Harris drains game-winner, then fan confronts Westbrook. What we should be talking about is Denver getting its signature win of the season — they outplayed the Oklahoma City Thunder all night, including putting up 72 first-half points. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 14 assists, making his case for a future All-Star game. Jamal Murray had 33 points and absolutely broke Steven Adams‘ ankles. Gary Harris had 25, but it was the final three — off a Jokic pass — as a buzzer-beating game winner that we should be highlighting. We should be debating if Jokic violated the rules by taking a step before throwing his inbound pass to Harris for that game winner (I would argue he didn’t, we’ll see what the last two-minute reports says).

We should, but it’s what happened after that — when a fan came on the court to taunt and confront Russell Westbrook as he tried to leave the court — that everyone will be talking about.

Credit to Westbrook for not losing his cool here. He pushed the fan back before the late-to-the-scene security arrived, but he could have done much more and chose not to.

The NBA should not punish Westbrook here, this should be a no-call. For obvious reasons the league does not want to see players shoving fans, but this isn’t some Malice in the Palace moment where a player went into the stands, this fool (too kind a word) came onto the court after an emotional game, blocked Westbrook’s path to the locker room and taunted him. Westbrook gets a free shove there, it showed some restraint not to haul off and deck the guy. The league’s discipline system has all the consistency of a roulette wheel at times, so who knows what flows out of Kiki Vandeweghe’s office. But Westbrook should get a pass for this one.

2) Blake Griffin makes his debut in Detroit, and Pistons get the win. For all the questions about whether Stan Van Gundy should have made the trade for Blake Griffin, and whether that was good for the franchise or a sign of desperation, one thing was never in doubt:

Blake Griffin is an outstanding basketball player.

He’s healthy and showed that Thursday night in his debut against Memphis: 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Detroit got a quality 104-102 win.

That’s a big win for the Pistons — they have won two in a row now after their eight-game losing streak. Detroit is one game back of Philly for the final playoff slot in the East (two games in the loss column) and has seven-of-eight at home coming up — this is when the team needs to make its push into the postseason. These are crucial games for the team, and the Pistons need more of this Griffin.

One other interesting note: Van Gundy played Griffin through crunch time as the center guarding Marc Gasol, while Andre Drummond sat on the bench. The move worked as Anthony Tolliver was on the court in his place and hit a key late three, a couple of clutch free throws, and dived on a loose ball on the floor — having Drummond on the bench for the end of this game may well have been the right choice to win this game. However, if this becomes a trend it’s going to be an issue with Drummond.

3) Malcolm Brogdon has to be helped off the court after potentially serious injury. Hey, basketball gods, would you please lighten up on the injuries? Things have gotten out of control the past couple of weeks.

The latest is reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who apparently suffered an injury to the same tendon that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have been dealing with in San Antonio. And it’s not good.

Let’s hope it’s not that bad and he’s back on the court soon.

Also in that game, the Timberwolves looked good on their way to a 108-89 win.

Jeremy Lin: I believe J.J. Redick

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained then apologized for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people, claiming he was tongue-tied.

Nets guard Jeremy Lin:

Lin’s Asian-American heritage helps make him very popular with the same people most offended by Redick. Lin vouching for Redick will likely go a long way in diffusing tension.

Hornets dropping GM Rich Cho, will reportedly pursue Mitch Kupchak

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Update: Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will not extend the contract of General Manager Rich Cho. The Hornets will begin a search for a new general manager immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

 

Last spring, the Hornets exercised their option on general manager Rich Cho for this season. It wasn’t exactly a strong vote of confidence without a contract extension.

Now, it’s becoming even more clear he’s a lame duck.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cho has had plenty of hits and misses as general manager, including a year with the Trail Blazers. But the misses have added up in Charlotte. The Hornets’ next general manager will inherit:

Kemba Walker helps, but he can’t do it alone. This bloated payroll leaves little flexibility for roster upgrades – necessary to lift Charlotte into strong playoff contention. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and affording him could be tricky.

This is not a good job (relative to the other 29 NBA general manager jobs, of course).

Hornets owner Michael Jordan certainly plays into that. In one of the biggest gaffes of the Cho era, Charlotte rejected the Celtics’ offer of four first-round picks for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, just to pick Frank Kaminsky. (Boston wanted Justise Winslow.) Was that Cho’s call or Jordan’s?

Cho takes the fall, though. That’s how this works.

Jordan’s ownership also means he gets to pick the replacement. It’s surely not a coincidence he’s leaning toward Mitch Kupchak (who played at North Carolina) and Buzz Peterson (who played with Jordan at North Carolina).

Kupchak fizzled late, but his overall tenure with the Lakers was a success. Has the game passed him by, or did recency bias unfairly paint him unfavorably? We might get to find out.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: I told players we’re better off losing

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitted the Mavericks tanked last season, but said they wouldn’t this season until they’re eliminated.

Apparently, he’s loosening the restriction – and getting even more brazen about discussing it.

Dallas (18-40) is not officially eliminated, but with the league’s third-worst record, it’s only a matter of time.

Cuban on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J:

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me.

But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability.

This is why it’s not completely accurate to say players don’t tank.

Sure, they don’t go on the court and try to lose. Some would have their job for the following season jeopardized by a higher draft pick.

But when management wants to lose, that flows throughout the entire organization, including to players. Workers don’t perform as well when their boss prefers failure. A feeling of apathy (or wore) sets in, intentionally or not.

The message isn’t always this direct, and it’s practically never publicly revealed like this. Cuban marches to his own drum, and he’s absolutely right: NBA commissioner Adam Silver – who disliked last year’s comments – certainly won’t like these.

However Silver responds, Cuban can at least take solace in being right. The Mavericks are better off tanking, and telling the players can build trust. They would have figured it out for themselves, anyway.

Kevin Love says about a month until he’s back on court with new-look Cavaliers

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LOS ANGELES — Kevin Love had some of the best seats in the house for the new-look Cavaliers and their 2-0 push before the break, and he wants back on the court to be part of it.

“I’m probably about two weeks out from getting this movable cast off for good, and then from there about a few weeks after that before I get back,” Love told NBCSports.com about his recovery from a fractured left hand. “So I have a good amount of time, about a month.”

Love was in Los Angeles all last weekend, where he had been voted onto the All-Star team by the coaches for the fifth time, but for the second consecutive year had to sit out due to injury. Love seemed to be at all the events in his former home Los Angeles — working with Kevin Hart for the “Closer Than Courtside” with Mountain Dew Kickstart, at the Beats by Dre party in Hollywood, and courtside for the All-Star Game itself sitting next to Kyrie Irving and LeBron James — but not on the court where he wants to be.

When he does get back on the court, it will be a very different team in Cleveland he’s playing with — and he thinks that’s a good thing.

“Just clearing out… I shouldn’t say that, just getting new faces and getting new energy in the locker room has been big for us,” Love told NBC Sports Saturday. “Even in the last two games, you can just see the energy is different, you can see guys are really competing on both ends of the floor, and that bodes well for us the second half of the season.”

The changes were needed.

“It might not have been a bad thing to get some fresh faces in there and guys from situations where they really wanted to win,” Love said during media day. “I think first and foremost, seeing those (new) guys in Atlanta, they didn’t play, but they got there right after the trade and they just said they want to win.

“You can tell when somebody says it, you can tell when somebody means it. They really meant it and it felt good to have that there.”

In Los Angeles, Love was having fun working with the other guy who seemed to be everywhere all weekend, comedian Kevin Hart. Love was working with Hart on the Mountain Dew Kickstart “Closer Than Courtside” Contest – a nationwide search to find Hart new “CourtsideKick” where fans tell Hart on social media why they think they’re courtside ready for a chance to sit with him during the NBA Playoffs.

“I’ve been drinking Code Red Mountain Dew, and Baja Blast forever,” Love said of this partnership. “My friend and I were just talking about how long we’ve been drinking Code Red, which is kind of a throwback flavor now.”

He’s just drinking it with his right hand. His left — his off, non-shooting hand — is still in that soft cast.

But having been down the injury road before, Love knows what it takes to get back.

“Just look at it from an optimistic point of view,” Love said of his mental process. “Even last year I missed the New Orleans All-Star Game because I just had my knee scoped, so just knowing that I’ve been there before, knowing that I’ve had success coming back, and just getting over that mental hurdle of coming back from an injury.

“Looking at it glass half full, it’s my left hand, so I can still do a ton of stuff out there on the floor and be ready to play in a month.”

A ton of stuff includes both cardio work and being able to do some strength and lifting with bands so that when the cast does come off his return to the court is faster. Once he gets there, Love expects that even with the new players he’ll be back in the same roles playing both the four and a lot at the five with these smaller, speedier lineups.

“I know we will supplement different guys in the lineup,” Love said. “I’ll hopefully be able to come back quite easily, I’ll have my legs under me — like I said, just because it’s my left hand — and I’ll be able to get back into rhythm here really fast.”

The Cavaliers hope so, too.