Three things we learned Thursday: Kevin Durant may be human, Warriors roll anyway

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Just four games on the slate Thursday night, but if you were busy tickling rats here is what you would have learned watching NBA games…

1) Kevin Durant is human, but Warriors offense just keeps on rolling anyway. We knew that with Kevin Durant getting added to a lineup that already had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and the most firepower in the league, he was going to have nights where he just wouldn’t put up jaw-dropping numbers — and it wouldn’t matter.

That happened Thursday night — Durant “only” had 18 points on a night he was 1-of-7 shooting outside the paint. That ended his streak of 20-point scoring games at 72. Which is still just a ridiculous number and tied Michael Jordan for fourth all time (the record is 126 by Wilt Chamberlain, a man who scored at will on and off the court). Still, this is what qualifies as an off night for Durant.

And it didn’t matter because Stephen Curry’s ankle was fine (Steve Kerr almost rested him), he dropped 33 with seven threes, and the Warriors blew out the Nuggets 125-101. Curry was just being Curry (and his shot chart was an analytic dream night, with 16-of-17 shot attempts being either threes or at the rim, just one midrange jumper).

In a development as surprising as the Browns losing a football game, the Warriors have taken over the top spot in NBA offensive rating — they are scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions after this win, which puts them in front of Cleveland and Boston for the top spot (but still just slightly off their 112.5 per 100 pace of last season). On offense, the Warriors are figuring it out fast. Defensively they have not yet been consistent, but they had a good night against a solid Denver team Thursday, doing it while on the second night of a back-to-back. The Warriors may be figuring out how to assemble Voltron.

2) Dwyane Wade goes home, picks up some love and a win. It may gnaw at the gut of Pat Riley, but fans in Miami love Dwyane Wade — and they let him know it Thursday night as he returned to American Airlines Arena  in a Chicago Bulls uniform. Wade showed the hometown fans some flashes of what they miss.

However, this night reminded everyone why Wade should be rested on the second night of back-to-backs — 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting, 0-of-4 from three. The difference Thursday night was Wade had help in the form of Jimmy Butler, who had eight of his 20 in the fourth, while the Bulls defense held Miami to 39 percent shooting in the fourth (despite strong efforts from Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson). Thanks to that Chicago came out with the win and improved to 5-4 on the young season.

3) New Orleans wins! New Orleans wins! This game was fun because Anthony Davis (32 points) and Jabari Parker (33 points, with more than half of his shots uncontested somehow) put on a show.

The difference was Davis got some help — E’Twaun Moore had 20 points, while Tim Frazier put up 15 points and 10 assists. For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 10 boards (however five fouls made him a useless defender down the stretch), but take Paker and the Greek Freak out of the equation and the Bucks shot just 40.8 percent. That’s two games in a row the Bucks have let a team secure its first win of the season against them, which is not a good look.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins


To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture


Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Bulls’ Zach LaVine not available via trade


Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.