Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: Durant is back and so are Thunder

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It’s Monday, and all you can think about is turkey and football on Thursday. But you have to get through a few work days, and the NBA machine does not stop. Here is what you may have missed Monday night while trying to figure out what to do with 600 Chris Denorfia Padre bobbleheads:

1) Kevin Durant is back and he is still a bad man. Russell Westbrook is elite. Kevin Durant is elite. But pair them and you quickly see why Oklahoma City has to be considered a potential title contender — when Durant and Westbrook are on the court together this season, the Thunder have an offensive rating of 117.5 points per 100 possessions and are beating opponents by 19.1 points per 100. Nobody can stop those two together (throw Serge Ibaka in the mix and it’s +17.1 per 100).

The Utah Jazz couldn’t stop them Monday night. Durant returned from a strained hamstring after missing six games — where the Thunder were an inconsistent 3-3 — and scored 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Behind him, the Thunder had no problem with Utah, winning 111-89 in Utah. KD has returned, and so have the Thunder.

2) Kemba Walker is having a huge season. Just ask the Kings. If you’re looking for a guy having a huge season yet flying under the radar, it’s Kemba Walker in Charlotte. If you don’t believe me, ask the Sacramento Kings, who watched him take over the fourth quarter (9-of-10 shooting, including hitting three threes in the final frame) and finish the night with 39 points. Walker is scoring 16.3 points per game this season, shooting 37 percent from three and is just being more efficient in a more up-tempo system with a little space to work. He’s playing at an All-Star level (whether he makes the game is another matter, the guard spot in the East is loaded). Walker also thought he had the game winner Monday night to beat the Kings, but Rudy Gay had other plans (the Hornets did win in OT).

3) While everyone watches Kristaps Porzingis, the Heat keep right on winning, beating Knicks. Here is your required-by-law Porzingis Hype update — he had 20 points and 14 rebounds, having another impressive game on Monday night. Oh, and by the way, the Heat won the game. Everyone wants to look past Miami but they just went 6-1 on their recent homestand, and while games such as the need to come from way behind to beat Philly raise an eyebrow, the fact of the matter is Miami is 9-4 this season, second best in the East, with the best defense in the NBA allowing just 94 points per 100 possessions (stats via NBA.com). If their offense comes together like you would think it should, the Heat become a dangerous team.

4) LeBron James passes the Big O for another milestone. It happened with five minutes left in the second quarter. LeBron drove the lane and kicked it out to the corner, finding Kevin Love who drained the three. That assist moved LeBron passed Norm Nixon into 25th all-time in scoring.

With that LeBron joined the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only players in the top 25 all-time in scoring and assists in the NBA. Later in the game, LeBron moved past Reggie Miller for 18th all-time on the scoring list. At this point in his career, LeBron is just going to rack up milestones seemingly every time he steps on the court.

5) Just a reminder: Philly has lost 25 games in a row dating back to last season. Nobody is really going to count it because it stretches across two seasons, and we don’t like those kinds of records, but after a loss Monday night to Minnesota (where Jahlil Okafor outplayed Karl-Anthony Towns), the Sixers are now 0-15 this season, which when combined with the 0-10 finish to last season makes them an ugly 0-25. The NBA’s longest losing streak is 26 games. Just consider this a little reminder that the Sixers remain just awful.

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.