Kevin Durant: ‘I can do a lot more’

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Anyway you slice it, Kevin Durant is doing a lot for the Thunder.

Traditional stats say Durant is averaging 34.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals in 44.3 minutes per game since Russell Westbrook’s injury.

Advanced stats say Durant has 2.2 win shares for a team that has won five playoff games, which means Durant alone has accounted for 44 percent of his team’s wins – the highest mark on a team still playing. Stephen Curry is closest at 32 percent. (Though the incredible Chris Paul accounted for 65 percent of the Clippers’ two wins.)

The eye test says Durant is playing exactly like a superstar should when his team is shorthanded.

Via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“I can do a lot more,” Durant said Sunday. “It’s always things you can do more. I talk to one of my good friends and he said no matter how good you’re playing you always can do more.

“That’s how I look at it. I just got to find ways to help them out and put them in great positions and continue to just be a vocal leader, a positive leader on the bench and every single time down the court and we’ll be fine.”

I can’t help but think of LeBron James. In 2005-06, LeBron became arguably the best player in the NBA. That was the first season he got a first-place MVP vote, at least.

Anyway, beginning with that season, LeBron spent five years in Cleveland as arguably the league’s best player. In those five years, the Cavaliers were more likely to lose before the conference finals than reach them. The point being, carrying a team at this level is hard – really, really hard.

But it’s also an opportunity for Durant.

Durant just had the best season of his career, maybe the best season by anyone other than LeBron since the mid-1990s. But Durant got no MVP support, and LeBron again ran away with the award. As we all know, LeBron – not Durant – is the best basketball player in the world right now.

LeBron took a team that started Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic to the NBA Finals. Two years later, he took a team that started Mo Williams, Delonte West, Ilgauskas and Varejao back to the conference finals.

If Durant can carry the Thunder – a team that still has a better supporting cast than LeBron’s Cavs but plays in a much-tougher Western Conference – to the NBA Finals, the feat could vault Durant into the peripheral of the best-player discussion.

I don’t know whether Durant can do more, but I look forward to watching him try.

Karl-Anthony Towns shoots down trade rumors, and was that a dig at Jimmy Butler?

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Karl-Anthony Towns was back on the court for the first time in a month Friday night, dropping 27 on the Pacers and looking every bit one of the best big men in the game (even as he shook off a little rust).

Towns’ name was in the news while he was out, with reports about how the Knicks dream was to trade for him and Warriors were monitoring his situation. There has been zero Towns trade talk around the league — he is in the first year of a five-year contract extension and wants to give the new Timberwolves’ new management a chance to build around him — but that hasn’t squashed the speculation.

So Towns tried to do that after Friday night’s game — and takes a little dig at Jimmy Butler in the process. Via Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

“I think you’ve been around me long enough to know I don’t go for all the s***,” Towns said. “I just do my job, go home and I know what the real story is. There’s a reason those stories are made because people need to sell papers, sell links and clicks, whatever the case may be. I’m here to be a Minnesota Timberwolf. Very fortunate I have a head coach like [Ryan Saunders], a President and friend like [Gersson Rosas]. I’m not worried about all that nonsense.

“Whatever we have to deal with in house, we’ll deal with in house, but this ain’t the circus like it used to be. This is something that’s going to be done as a family. If we have a problem or anything, we’ll deal with it internally. We won’t have any external forces here adding anything.”

The circus/family comments are clearly a little dig at Jimmy Butler.

The circus was at the start of the 2018-19 season, when Butler wanted out of Minnesota and went full diva to create a massive distraction and force then coach/GM Tom Thibodeau’s hand. Butler was traded to the Sixers, and then last summer left Philadelphia for Miami (where he has played at an All-NBA level). Butler may not have loved how he perceived Towns (and, more so, Andrew Wiggins) commitment to the game, but Towns was no fan of how Butler handled his business. Towns doesn’t like things dealt with that publicly.

Towns was playing at an All-NBA level himself this season before his injury, including shooting 41.5 percent on 8.5 threes a game — KAT has been an offensive force. Rosas, however, has a lot of work to do to build a quality team around Towns. Towns committed to Minnesota with this new contract and, while he may be frustrated with the losing this season, he’s not going Anthony Davis.

A couple of years from now… who knows? That’s a couple of lifetimes away in the NBA. Until then, teams will monitor Towns’ situation and mood, he will shoot down trade rumors, and the cycle will go on.

Somehow, Ja Morant highlights keep getting better (video)

Ja Morant
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Ja Morant is special.

He has already produced a few amazing plays during his rookie year. He has even taken over full games with his flashy play.

But the performance he put on during the Grizzlies’ win over the Cavaliers last night was something else.

Thrice, Morant elevated for show-stopping dunks. He scored only once. But each time, something incredible happened.

First, Morant way up to catch a lob from Jae Crowder, adjusted mid-air and found Jaren Jackson Jr. for a dunk:

Then, less than a minute later, Morant finished a lob from Crowder with a beautiful one-handed slam:

Finally, Morant leaped to posterize Larry Nance Jr., realized that wouldn’t work then threw a spinning behind-the-back pass to Jackson. Though Alfonzo McKinnie blocked Jackson, Morant’s move was dazzling:

If Morant is going to keep putting on shows like this during games, maybe we can forgive him for skipping the dunk contest.

Trae Young gets ankles absolutely destroyed by Dejounte Murray (video)

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The Hawks got Trae Young his desired help, trading for Jeff Teague.

Maybe Young will do his part and step up on defense.

That didn’t happen on this possession against Spurs guard Dejounte Murry.

At least Young continued his breakout season on the other end, scoring 31 points and dishing nine assists in Atlanta’s rare victory in San Antonio.

Tristan Thompson slaps Jae Crowder’s rear end, gets ejected (video)

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What is it about Cleveland athletes slapping butts and getting in trouble?

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. faces a simple battery charge for slapping a police officer’s backside in LSU’s locker room after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last night, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson got ejected for slapping Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder‘s behind.

Thompson and Crowder got double technical fouls earlier in the game. So, Thompson got ejected with a tech for this incident between free throws.

Though the two are former Cleveland teammates, Crowder didn’t look amused. Crowder doesn’t play.

The Cavs rallied without Thompson, but Memphis won, 113-109.