Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis all pad MVP resumes

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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 photos of people covered in honey are pretty cool

1) It’s not always pretty, but James Harden gets the numbers, a little help, and the Ws. James Harden’s game is to attack and put pressure on everyone — the defenders to stop him and the referees not to call the contact he creates. It works. After a slow start to the game Sunday for Houston, Harden took over the final six minutes of the first half, putting up 18 of his 34 points in the quarter. It all started after Matt Barnes picked up a flagrant for throwing Harden down. It changed the flow of the game. Chris Paul did a solid job defending Harden late — Harden was 1-of-5 for four points in the fourth — but then the Clippers were undone by their own sloppiness with the game on the line. The Clippers had six fourth-quarter turnovers and seemed to go hunting for calls rather than shots. Harden forces contact, but he’s looking for his shot the whole time and finishes through that contact well.

Plus Harden got a little help.

Clippers/Rockets may a playoff series preview. I hope not. It would just be a lot of free throws and complaining to the officials from both sides. I prefer basketball.

2) Russell Westbrook keeps getting numbers — and getting his team wins they need to have. New Orleans lost to Denver Sunday, so Oklahoma City’s win Sunday moved them back into the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West. They got it because of Westbrook. He scored 36 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. But more than that, as he has done through this entire stretch of basketball, he just puts pressure on the other team. He does it attacking in transition. He does it with his defense. Sometimes it is both.

He is just a force of nature right now. He’s also getting a lot of help — Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 32 points and 29 boards against Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.

3) Anthony Davis puts up numbers to rival anyone else, can we get the man some help? Check out Anthony Davis’ final line from Sunday: 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks, and seven assists. According to Basketball-Reference.com, no other player in the last 30 seasons has posted a line with at least those numbers. Nobody. Still the Pelicans lost 118-111. There are a couple things at play in that double-overtime result. First, sometimes it’s about when you catch a team on the schedule, and interim coach Melvin Hunt has Denver playing well again. However, the Pelicans have issues. With Ryan Anderson down they lack three-point shooting (Tyreke Evans was 4-of-11, every one else on New Orleans was a combined for 2-of-11). When they beat the Nuggets recently, Evans and Eric Gordon had success posting up Ty Lawson, but the Pelicans went away from that Sunday. The Pelicans’ defense is inconsistent and while Davis blocked everything he could the Nuggets still had 64 points in the paint. Finally, the Pelicans were just sloppy with the ball in stretches. This was the kind of game they needed to get into the playoffs, and they lost. Even with Davis doing things like this.

4) LeBron tweaked knee and could sit out second return to Miami Monday. LeBron put up impressive numbers — 21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists — pretty quietly Sunday as the Cavaliers had little trouble against the Magic. But things got scary for Cleveland in the third quarter when LeBron tried to block Dewayne Dedmon’s shot, landed awkwardly and tweaked his knee. LeBron played through it, but after the game wondered if he would need to sit out a game or two to rest it, just to be safe. The Cavaliers travel to Miami Monday night, and while that game loses some luster without LeBron Cleveland should be able to beat slumping Miami. Maybe even Kevin Love will get to play.

5) Manu Ginobili can still make plays, which is why the Spurs will miss him for the next week. Manu Ginobili is showing his age this season. The Spurs’ fan favorite is shooting just 43 percent, and he’s been more of a solid role player than guy you lean on (Kawhi Leonard has taken over his spot in the Spurs big three). But give him the chance and Ginobili can still make plays, just ask Kevin Martin.

Which is why the Spurs will miss him — Ginobili sprained his ankle in the win over Minnesota and will be out a week to 10 days.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.