Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: James Harden drops 51, stirs pot on MVP race

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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 being thankful you weren’t in the wrong place at this auto race

1) James Harden drops 51 reasons he should be MVP. More and more it feels like the MVP race is down to two men (although Russell Westbrook keeps making his case, keep on reading this post). Tuesday night Stephen Curry put on a show and sent a vine viral (and created a Chris Paul meme). Wednesday night it was the James Harden show as he scored a career-high 51 points, going 8-of-9 from three to get there. It was vintage efficient Harden — he only took 25 shots, but he hit his threes and got to the free throw line 13 times. He had 16 points in the first quarter, 17 in the third and 10 in the fourth to help hold off a feisty Sacramento team that had DeMarcus Cousins going off (keep reading).

We’ve got to acknowledge Cousins, who took advantage of Dwight Howard being out (resting half a back-to-back) and scored 24 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and dished out 10 assists on a monster night. That’s just a second career triple-double for Cousins.

2) Chris Paul takes over, drops 41, may have earned Clippers home court in the first round. This was maybe the Clippers best win of the season — second night of a back-to-back on the road, having just lost to Golden State, and needing this game to both maintain their playoff seed and keep home court in the playoffs. The Clippers were down by as many as 19 in the second quarter, but Los Angeles went on a 25-7 fourth quarter run — something partially inspired by Chris Kaman shoving Chris Paul to the ground — to take the lead and get the 126-122 win. The Clippers didn’t do it with defense, they did it with an unstoppable offense, and that was led by CP3 in point god mode, scoring 41 and dishing out 17 assists.

3) Russell Westbrook scores his 10th triple-double of the season, but Dallas wins a 1980s throwback game, 134-131. Up tempo, high scoring, not a ton of good defense? It must have been 1980s throwback night in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder playing the role of Doug Moe’s Nuggets. Westbrook did his best, giving us another triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It wasn’t efficient — he shot just 31.3 percent — but Westbrook put up the numbers that kept OKC in the game and spark a comeback that had the Thunder ahead in the fourth. They just couldn’t stop Chandler Parsons, who had 13 in the fourth quarter for Dallas.

4) Evan Turner records triple-double, and Boston wins…. but so do the Nets thanks to Brook Lopez. Almost lost in all the other big performances Wednesday night, Evan Turner recorded a triple-double for Boston — 13 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. Boston easily beat the fading Pacers, 100-87. The problem for the Celtics is the Nets got a put-back bucket from Brook Lopez with two seconds left to lift Brooklyn past New York 100-98. The Nets/Celtics/Heat race for the final couple playoff slots in the East remains fascinating — Brooklyn and Miami are tied for the seven and eight seeds at 34-40 (with eight games left) while Boston is half-a-game back at 34-41. This could go any way the last couple weeks of the season.

5) Nowitzki reaches 28,000 points. Congratulations to the greatest European player ever in the NBA, and the best shooting big man ever. Only seven players have reached the 28,000 point plateau, and Dirk Nowitzki is one of them.

Collin Sexton says he’s going to wear fan-designed shoes this season

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Cleveland Cavaliers second-year point guard Collin Sexton is already a fan-favorite in northeastern Ohio. This year, it appears that Sexton is trying to deepen that connection.

In a message posted to Twitter on Sunday, Sexton reached out to his followers to design a new set of shoes for him this year. The Cavaliers sophomore said that he will take the top five designs that fans submit and then wear them throughout the course of the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season.

Via Twitter:

This is a pretty cool idea, and a great way to have a direct link between fans and players. Social media is in an era of extreme personal branding, and even if this is a thinly-veiled Nike marketing thing, it at least has a twinge of genuineness to it.

The only thing left now is to see what designs people submit, and whether Sexton’s taste is any good.

James Harden plays in Rico Hines games at UCLA and destroys people

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Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam max extension?

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In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.