Five Things We Learned In NBA Wednesday: One half of Durant, Westbrook is all you need

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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 thinking maybe you don’t want to go swimming in Australia

One half of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook is all you need. Okay, maybe we didn’t learn that so much as get reminded on Wednesday. Oklahoma City has now won four in a row and, finally with everyone healthy, are starting to play like the legit title contender we thought they were. And all of that is because of Westbrook and Durant, who turned it on in the second half after a sloppy second quarter from the Thunder when they shot 4-of-22 as a team (OKC was down a dozen at the break). In the second half the best one-two punch in the NBA just took over — Westbrook had 25 in the second half, Durant 21. When Westbrook was using his athleticism to attack he was dangerous, when he settled it was a win for Washington — in the second half Westbrook was 8-of-9 shooting in the paint and 2-of-11 outside it. Which is why when he attacked and didn’t settle he got the overtime game winner.

No matter how well Durant and Westbrook are playing it’s not going to be easy for Oklahoma City to catch Phoenix. The Thunder are just three back of the Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and if you look at Phoenix’s schedule and see eight quality playoff teams in a row lined up you think they will lose a few and OKC will close that gap easily. Nope. The Suns started out this gauntlet beating Portland Wednesday night to make it four straight win. The three guard attack of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas combined for 76 points, while Gerald Green scored another dozen. Oklahoma City may well catch Phoenix at some point but this is not going to be easy for them.

Kyle Korver can dunk. The Hawks sharpshooter is a borderline All-Star because he’s having as good a shooting season as anyone has in the history of the NBA — he’s shooting 53.5 percent from three this season. But what he really wants to do is dunk — for the first time in two years Korver threw it down on Wednesday. We wouldn’t believe it either, but there is video evidence.

Andre Drummond vs. Nikola Vucevic could be a fun matchup for years to come. Brandon Jennings was the story in the Pistons’ win over the Magic — 24 points and 21 assists — but what I was watching in this game was a matchup of potential All-Star centers from the East in Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic. It’s a contrast of styles (which is why they weren’t matched head-to-head all game long). Vucevic scored a couple times on Drummond (and missed a couple) on traditional post ups but the strength of his game is that he can pop out and hit the 15-18 foot jumper, something Drummond didn’t always contest (to be fair he had rim protecting duties on a lot of those and needed help rotations). Drummond on the other hand got the ball in the post more and was 4-of-5 by my count on Vucevic in that setting. The bottom line is Vucevic ended up with 26 points and 15 boards, Drummond 26 points and 17 boards. These are two of the best young centers in the game and we would be watching them battle for many years.

Head-to-head, the Sixers are tanking harder than the Knicks. The real losers here? Anyone who paid for tickets to this game. Philadelphia met New York and unfortunately for two tanking teams someone had to win. Sure, the players didn’t see it that way but you can be sure parts of the fan bases (and front offices) did. The Sixers sat Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel and that was enough to give the Knicks the edge and the win behind 27 from Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have a two-game winning streak and they are just half a game (two in the loss column) behind the Sixers.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.