Three Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: The Thunder are back to .500 and making their run

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while having a hippo charge your river boat

1) The Oklahoma City Thunder are .500 and coming on fast. Phoenix is not going to roll over — they still have a three game lead over the Thunder and are making moves to add talent to the roster. But the Thunder are coming on — they reached .500 on Sunday with an emphatic win over Orlando. This game was a blowout from the opening tip — OKC opened on a 13-0 run and took off from there. The Thunder led by as many as 38 before winning by 28, 127-99. Kevin Durant had 21 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists and only played 28 minutes. Russell Westbrook did this.

The Thunder are on an Eastern road swing — Miami, Washington, Atlanta and Cleveland — and if they are going to catch a Suns team that has a home-heavy schedule the rest of the way these are the kinds of games the Thunder need to win most of.

2) Alexis Ajinca isn’t Anthony Davis, but he can pretend to be for a day. The Pelicans went into Toronto and sat Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis (that’s two games out in a row for Davis with a toe injury), but nobody noticed because Ajinca came off the bench for 22 points. Okay, that’s not true, Davis was still missed, but Ajinca had a quality game filling in, scoring 10 of those in the decisive fourth quarter when the Pelicans came from behind to beat the Raptors in dramatic fashion.

3) The Toronto Raptors failed at defending a final shot. The game was tied and with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday sidelined it was obvious what the Pelicans would lean on Evans here here… oh, who are we kidding, Evans would have taken this shot even if Davis was on the court, they ignore AD down the stretch anyway. It’s a nice shot by Evans, but watch the Raptors defend this poorly.

First off, if you know Evans is going to take this then why is Greivis Vasquez guarding him? Especially since James Johnson is actually in the game. Everyone knows Evans wants to get to his much preferred right hand, but Vasquez doesn’t really try to force Evans right at all. Why is Jonas Valanciunas so late on his rotation? Why is Amir Johnson chasing Ajinca out to the three point line?

That is just not how one should defend a final shot.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.