Three things we learned Wednesday: Anthony Davis shows Towns why GMs used to pick him

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Have a happy Thanksgiving, travel safely, and remember the real first Thanksgiving meal would have been very different.

1) Anthony Davis reminds Karl-Anthony Towns, everyone why all the GMs used to pick him to build around. It’s an annual question on the NBA’s preseason GM survey: If you could build your team around one player, who would it be? Two years ago the GMs overwhelmingly chose Anthony Davis. This year it was Karl-Anthony Towns, which made sense after his breakout rookie season while Davis battled injuries. GMs tend to be fickle (watch the GMs pick Joel Embiid next year).

Wednesday night, Davis reminded Towns and everybody else why he is the guy who should be on top of that list.

Davis was a dominant force for New Orleans, putting up 21 points in the first quarter on his way to 45 points on 17-of-27 shooting for the game. Davis did much of it in the paint — he was 7-of-7 in the restricted area and 6-of-8 in the rest of the paint. It was unfair as Davis just shot over or blew by Gorgui Dieng or Towns (his defenders) and scored at will — including a personal 8-0 run during the third quarter when the Pelicans pulled away for the win.

Towns is undoubtedly still a great player and a franchise cornerstone — eventually, Tom Thibodeau will get Minnesota playing defense and figuring it how not just to come apart in the third quarter. But the Timberwolves have work to do and look like they will be next year’s breakout team, not this year’s.

The Pelicans have won four in a row (and now 6-of-8), and make you wonder if they can overcome that ugly 0-8 start that looked like it doomed them.

2) Maybe one shouldn’t just leave Kevin Love open. Love’s first points of the game Wednesday night came with a difficult baseline 15-foot fadeaway over Mason Plumlee. It was a high degree of difficulty shot that fell that showed Love was on his game.

So the Trail Blazers responded by leaving him wide open from three for his next several shots, so he could really get his stroke and confidence going.

The result was Love dropped 34 points on Portland — in the first quarter. Love was 11-of-14 from the floor, including 8-of-10 from three, and seemed like he could not miss.

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A lot of his shots came on pick-and-pops where both Portland defenders went with the ball, or where Love’s man just flat-out lost him at the arc and couldn’t recover. That said, Love hit some tough fade-aways and made plays in the post.

3) James Harden’s triple-double: 29 points, 15 assists, 12 turnovers. That led to a loss. When you are not just the primary but one-and-only playmaker on the team, as James Harden is, it’s not enough just to put up numbers — you have to be efficient doing it. Or your team loses.

That’s what happened when the Rockets took on the Raptors Wednesday night. Harden was wheeling and dealing, with 29 points on 13 shots, plus 15 assists. But, he turned the ball over 12 times — 26.5 percent of his possessions used ended in a turnover. As a team, the Rockets turned it over 28 times — 27.9 percent of the team’s possessions ended in a turnover. Do that against a good team like the Raptors and you’ll watch them score 33 points off turnovers, you’ll watch DeMar DeRozan drop 24 points (a slow night for him of late), and you’ll watch the Raptors win 115-102.

It’s the unfair burden on Harden (and Russell Westbrook) this season — putting up numbers is not enough, they need to be efficient doing it or their team will lose.

Bonus thing we learned (which we already knew): The Warriors and Cavaliers can put up points. Fueled by Kevin Love’s ridiculous hot hand (see above), the Cavaliers put up 81 points in the first half on the Trail Blazers. Not to be outdone, the Warriors hung and 80 on the Lakers in the first half. It was a scoring free for all night around the NBA where eight guys — Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Love, and Davis all had at least 30 points (and Harden had 29).

LeBron James: Neighbor’s walls, not Breonna Taylor, got justice

Lakers star LeBron James
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Louisville police officers were not charged with killing Breonna Taylor. However, former officer Brett Hankison was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing firing recklessly into nearby apartments during the incident.

That outcome left NBA players unsatisfied.

LeBron James:

The emotions LeBron – and many others – are feeling are completely understandable. This was a tragedy. Faced with an obvious injustice, it’s easy to demand the harshest-imaginable punishment. That didn’t come.

But it is not too late to address the injustices – which were always far larger than the officers at the scene returning fire – at play in Taylor’s death.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Tyler Herro after Heat-Celtics Game 4
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If the Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”