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Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Durant, Westbrook look fearsome

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There are so many good options on television these days. Personally, I’m just finishing up season three of House of Cards, am just a couple of episodes behind on The Knick (my current new favorite), Fargo is brilliant, and I’m a Top Chef addict. I fall behind on all of that because League Pass dominates my television this time of year, I even watched some of Nets/Sixers, so you don’t have to (and I’m not going to subject you to a recap). If you chose other shows, here’s what you missed on an NBA Thursday.

1) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be striking fear into the heart of the league. There are still a lot of things Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to work out — from the spacing Andre Roberson is on the court to the inconsistent bench play of Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Anthony Morrow and others — but they have the ultimate trump cards: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When those two are on the court together the Thunder outscore their opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions.

The Thunder played that trump card beautifully in beating the Hawks Thursday. Durant came out facilitating — he had five assists and took just one shot in the first quarter. The ball was moving for the Thunder — the team had 24 assists and Westbrook and Durant had 20 of them (10 each). Durant had his first triple-double of the season (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), and Westbrook had 23 points and 10 assists. What was impressive was they got those numbers in the flow of the offense, being efficient and getting everyone involved. If that keeps happening those other questions become almost moot.

2) Chicago keeps winning in spite of their offense. The Chicago Bulls beat the Los Angeles Clippers 83-80 — it was all because of their defense. The Bulls had an offensive rating of 90.2, which pulled their season average down to 97.1 — only the Philadelphia 76ers are worse this season. Pau Gasol was his usual efficient self (24 points on 19 shots) but Jimmy Butler was 4-of-14, Joakim Noah 1-of-5, Nikola Mirotic‘s slump continued he was 2-of-8, Doug McDermott was 0-of-5. It wasn’t all the Clipper defense: Chicago shot 33 percent on uncontested looks, according to NBA.com. The Bulls are 12-8, but their point differential is that of a team barely over .500. The Bulls need Derrick Rose to pick his spots, they need to find offensive rotations that work, and they need to start knocking down their looks, or they will slide fast in an improved Eastern Conference. 

3) Rajon Rondo is back. The Rondo playing for the Sacramento Kings — the one that helped lead them to a 99-97 win over the Knicks — is the best Rondo we have seen since his days in Boston. He’s healthy, he still knows how to dish the rock, averaging 11 assists per game. But I wasn’t sure he still had this in him.

4) All-Star voting open. In case you missed it, voting is open for the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto come February, so of you want to cast your ballot for Nick Young or Elfrid Payton you can do it. 

There are roughly 8 million ways to vote: at NBA.com; through the NBA app on your phone; Twitter (use the hashtag #NBAVOTE); Facebook; Instagram; or you can text the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”) on any wireless device. You also aren’t limited to one vote a day.

5) DeMarcus Cousins throws it down. Rajon Rondo wasn’t the only King player dunking on the Knicks Thursday.

Report: Stephen Curry targeting return for Warriors-Wizards on March 1

Stephen Curry
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Stephen Curry has been busy since breaking his hand in the Warriors’ fourth game – challenging Chris Mullin in pop-a-shot, recruiting Giannis Antetokounmpo, sideline reporting and nothing else.

When will Curry return to his main role?

Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

The question is not if Stephen Curry is coming back this season, but when. And, from what I’ve been told, you might want to clear your schedule for March 1. The Warriors host the Washington Wizards that night.

That’s not set in stone, of course. More like a target date. But expect a return by the face of the franchise before next season.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the exact date. That’s a ways off. But Curry having a specific target in mind speaks to his progress.

Golden State is the only Western Conference team not in the playoff race. It’s too late for Curry to change the arc of the Warriors’ season. They’re headed toward excellent draft position.

But Curry is a basketball player, and if he’s healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Returning this season could set him up to thrive next season, when Golden State – with Klay Thompson healthy plus whatever D'Angelo Russell and a high pick become – will again hold big-time potential.

Curry returning would also make the Warriors more entertaining the last month and a half of the season. It’s important for them to keep their big-spending fans satisfied.

Watch Klay Thompson’s emotional jersey retirement at Washington State

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Klay Thompson will forever be No. 1 at Washington State.

In his three seasons as a Cougar, Thompson set the school record for three pointers — 242 — and set the school’s single-season record for points scored (733), became the school’s third all-time leading scorer (1,756) and averaged 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals a game.

We all know what happened next: He was drafted No. 11 by the Warriors and went on to an NBA career that includes three NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors, twice being named All-NBA and five times an All-Star, he holds the NBA record for most made threes in a game (14), and he has a gold medal from the Rio Olympics. And he’s still adding to that legacy.

Saturday, Thompson had his No. 1 jersey retired by the school.

Stephen Curry was in Pullman for the ceremony.

Even LeBron James shouted it out on his Instagram story.

Thompson is the second men’s basketball number retired by WSU, the other being Steve Puidokas’ No. 55 (the school’s all-time leading scorer, he played there in the 1970s).

 

 

Luka Doncic on Kings: ‘I honestly thought they were going to pick me’

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Luka Doncic, in just his second season and at age 20, is an MVP candidate who is showing himself to be an elite, franchise-changing player.

Which lead fans in Phoenix and Sacramento to ask, “How did we pass on this guy in the draft?” He was the MVP of the second-best league on the planet at age 18, what led two teams to pass on him and a third — the Atlanta Hawks — to trade him on draft night in June 2018.

Doncic himself thought he was going to the Kings’ at No. 2, he told Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“They came to Madrid (to see him play for Real Madrid and to share a dinner on June 5, 2018),” the 20-year-old Doncic told The Athletic about the Kings’ contingent’s visit during the draft process. “They came with the owner. Everybody came, so I honestly thought they were going to pick me.”

So, I asked, was it ever made clear to him why they didn’t?

“I mean, I think it’s because of Euroleague; it’s different basketball,” Doncic said.

Kings GM Vlade Divac instead drafted Marvin Bagley III, believing the Duke big man would be a better fit next to emerging point guard De'Aaron Fox. Bagley has put up nice numbers this season, 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a game, but missed 30 games with a foot injury. He has not looked like a franchise-changing player.

Sacramento isn’t the only team where fans have questions about the top of the 2018 draft. In the Suns case, they drafted Deandre Ayton out of in-state Arizona, a move that it is rumored to have been pushed by owner Robert Sarver (and a number of teams had Ayton and Doncic rated close to equal, which is a misread of the increasingly positionless direction of the NBA, but that’s another topic). Atlanta drafted Doncic third and traded him to Dallas, but got back Trae Younghimself on an All-Star trajectory in his second season — and another first-round pick. Young says it is still too early to judge that trade.

Meanwhile, the Kings appear on track to miss the playoffs for a 14th straight season. The luster of the beautiful new Golden 1 Center arena is starting to wear off, and fans in the California capital want some wins. Hard to blame them, but they may need to be patient. Again.

Royce O’Neale agrees to four-year, $36 million contract extension to stay in Utah

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Royce O'Neale is a name casual NBA fans may not recognize.

However, GMs around the league recognize him is the kind of role player teams need to win. O’Neale is asked to guard the opposing team’s best wing player nightly, while on the other end of the court he’s shooting 44.3 percent from three. He’s become a critical part of Utah’s rotation.

So the Jazz have locked him up with a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Jazz — who have won 16-of-18 — just got Mike Conley back in the rotation, and have jumped up to a top-four seed in the West (as of this writing). Things are looking up, and also they have set themselves up well financially for the future.

Bigger bills are coming in Utah, in the summer of 2021 the Jazz will need to max out Donovan Mitchell with an extension plus re-sign Rudy Gobert. Which is why locking in a quality role player like O’Neale at a fair price now is a smart move.