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.

Zach LaVine reacts to Chicago hiring Billy Donovan: ‘Wow, that’ll be good’

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Zach LaVine learned about the Chicago Bulls hiring Billy Donovan as their head coach while playing Call of Duty.

Which means there is a recording of his real-time reaction to the news.

“Damn, we just got Billy Donovan as our next head coach… wow, that’ll be good.”

LaVine also Tweeted about the hire.

He wasn’t the only Bulls’ player excited about the hire.

Bradley Beal, a former Donovan player at Florida, loved the hire.

Donovan takes over a Chicago team that seems on the cusp of something. How big a something remains up for debate. The roster has young talent: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter, and the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Donovan is an upgrade over Boylen, both in terms of player relations and tactics, making the Bulls better.

Even with Donovan, what is the ceiling for these Bulls? Next season they are not going to be better than the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, or Nets, and likely not the 76ers or Raptors either (unless Toronto tears down the roster). That’s six. And a lot of people would put the Indiana Pacers on a level above the Bulls as well. Bottom line: Even with a coaching upgrade and player improvement, the Bulls are likely scrambling for a bottom playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls are looking beyond next year. Expect Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to spend the next season deciding who fits and who doesn’t, and shake up the roster accordingly. By then the Bulls may be in a better place to be a threat in the East.

Whatever happens, the Bulls got better with this hire, and their biggest star likes it.

Vanessa Bryant sues sheriff over Kobe Bryant helicopter-crash photos

Kobe Bryant crash site
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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorized photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

After the Jan. 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was “shocked and devastated” by the reports, the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The victims died when the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, during cloudy weather. They were traveling to a youth basketball tournament at Bryant’s sports facility in Thousand Oaks. The National Transportation Safety Board has not concluded what caused the crash on the outskirts of Los Angeles County but said there was no sign of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76. helicopter.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously told news media that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene and he ordered the images deleted. The sheriff said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it does not apply to accident scenes.

“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva previously told NBC News. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did that.”

Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit alleges the sheriff’s actions constituted a “cover-up” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” the lawsuit states.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.

A statement from the sheriff’s department Tuesday incorrectly said such actions are now criminal. The bill has not yet been signed into law.

“Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take and share non-official pictures of this nature,” the statement said. “Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Gary C. Robb, declined to comment.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the allegations that the graphic photos had been taken and disseminated in February.

Bryant previously filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in May. The suit was filed Thursday.

Separately, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a lawsuit alleging the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.

The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, says it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.

Chicago Bulls hire Billy Donovan as coach

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder-Bulls
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Billy Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering a new contract. Maybe it wasn’t as much money as he desired to coach a team that could be entering rebuilding. But active head coaches rarely turn down an NBA job unless they know they’ll land on their feet.

Donovan will land on his feet – with the Bulls.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first broke the story, the Bulls confirmed it soon after.

“We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls. The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level,” Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago.”

This is a major credibility upgrade for Chicago, which fired Jim Boylen. Donovan is a solid NBA head coach who adapts to his players rather than putting them through extreme measures.

Considering they just hired Arturas Karnisovas as president, the Bulls might have the patience for a rebuild. Donovan will be tasked with overseeing the development of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft. Donovan’s time as a college coach at Florida shows he can help players progress.

But Chicago also frequently faces pressure, especially internally, to win sooner than later. Donovan inherits veterans like LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky. Donovan showed at Oklahoma City he could manage a team with immediate expectations.

Is this group’s long-term future inspiring? No. Is this group’s present inspiring? No.

But Donovan provides a little boost in both areas.

Celtics: Romeo Langford out rest of playoffs after wrist surgery

Celtics guard Romeo Langford
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The Celtics don’t have quite enough dependable players to fill a playoff rotation. So, beyond its core, Boston has juggled deep-bench minutes throughout the postseason.

One of those options – Romeo Langford – will no longer be available.

Celtics release:

Celtics guard Romeo Langford this morning underwent successful surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist. He will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA season.

A rookie, Langford also suffered a right-hand injury last season at Indiana. A pattern? Probably not. But it’s another interruption in the 20-year-old’s development.

For Boston’s playoff hopes, this is a minor setback – one made even smaller by Gordon Hayward returning (and staying). Though more of a forward, Hayward clears the way for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to handle more guard minutes, a few of which could have gone to Langford.