Associated Press

Three things we learned on Thursday: One strong Warriors quarter enough vs. Pistons

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It was an international day for the NBA, with games in London and Mexico City. If you missed it because you were trying to decide what to do with a giant inflatable Trump rooster balloon, we’ve got your back, here’s the big takeaways from the day.

1) When the Warriors play at their peak — even if only for one quarter — it is a thing of beauty. And the Pistons can’t stop it. So far this season, the Warriors are beating teams by a league-best 11.6 points per 100 possessions — the exact same net rating they had last season. But it doesn’t feel the same. Golden State hasn’t played with the consistent focus we saw the last two seasons from this team, they have tended to “flip the switch” more. Of course, two years ago they were just bursting on the scene, and last season they were pushing for 73 wins. This season they are trying to integrate Kevin Durant (which certainly hasn’t always been smooth) and focused more on being right for the postseason. It hasn’t seemed the same, but they are still blowing teams out.

Case in point, Thursday night against the Pistons at Oracle Arena. The Warriors seemed to coast through the first half, then they turned it on in the third and won that quarter 41-19. From there, Golden State coasted in for the win, 127-107. The Warriors ball movement was phenomenal, beautiful to watch, and left the Pistons’ defense scrambling. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combined to score 72 points.

Of course, the Warriors are not going to be judged on regular season wins, all that matters is how they play in June. To that point, Golden State has the weekend off, then will face Cleveland at home on Martin Luther King Day Monday.

2) Knicks pick up a needed win at the expense of Bulls. It was the second night of a back-to-back after having blown a late 10-point lead to the Sixers, and Kristaps Porzingis was sitting out with a sore Achilles. The Knicks had lost 9-of-10, and this set up to be another “L.”

So, of course, they beat the Bulls. Comfortably.

This game lacked star power — no Jimmy Butler, no Porzingis — but the Knicks role players stepped up, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas scoring 19 and Kyle O'Quinn adding 12 points and 11 boards. The Knicks seemed to get whatever they wanted in the paint, and that started with Derrick Rose drives.

The Knicks need more wins like this, they currently sit two games out of the playoffs in the East. The Bulls are one back of the eight-seed Wizards. These are both teams where the front office made win-now moves this summer bringing in pricey veterans, and both of these teams need to string together some wins or they will be able to book early tee times this spring.

3) London gets to see the Nikola Jokic show. Mexico City saw the Devin Booker show but a Mavericks’ win. Remember, the NBA makes a healthy chunk of its revenue overseas — broadcast rights, merchandise sales, etc. — so it’s going to keep taking the product to foreign lands when it can. Enter the international slate of games Thursday: Nuggets and Pacers in London, then Mavericks and Suns in Mexico City.

In London, it was the Nikola Jokic show as he dropped 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and dished seven assists to lead Denver to a comfortable 140-112 win. Also, this may have been Danilo Gallinari‘s best game as a Nugget this season, he had 18.

In Mexico City, Devin Booker dropped 39 points for the Suns, but it wasn’t enough in the battle of Western Conference lottery-bound teams, the Mavericks got the 113-108 win behind 23 from Deron Williams.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.

Report: Suns signing Jimmer Fredette to two-year contract

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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The Suns didn’t meet with Jimmer Fredette just for fun.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Fredette is a relatively high-profile signing because he scored a lot of points at BYU eight years ago and fills a great-white-hope narrative to some.

He’s also a 30-year-old who hasn’t played in the NBA in three years and faced questions about his athleticism even when younger. Don’t count on much.

Fredette’s season just ended in China, where he was dominating. But his high-usage style doesn’t translate cleanly to the NBA.

Fredette won’t change the course of the Suns’ season. They are and will remain one of the NBA’s worst teams. Though they need a point guard, especially with Tyler Johnson injured, Fredette hasn’t shown the playmaking ability to handle that position regularly.

At best, Fredette entertains late in a lost season and gives himself a chance to earn a role next season. The team option gives Phoenix upside if Fredette pans out at no additional cost if he doesn’t.

At worst, he interferes with the development of younger Suns over their final 10 games. That seems more likely.

Did Oklahoma City fan yell n-word at Pascal Siakam? (video)

AP Photo/Rob Ferguson
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Pascal Siakam was awesome in the Raptor’s win over the Thunder yesterday. The Most Improved Player favorite had 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.

He also shot free throws as an Oklahoma City fan shouted something:

Did the fan yell the n-word? Did she yell “Nader,” as in Thunder Thunder forward Abdel Nader? Did she yell something else entirely?

I can’t tell. It’s a noisy arena, and she wasn’t speaking directly into the microphone.

Her shouting drew the attention of a couple Toronto players, though.

Fred VanVleet:

Siakam:

The Thunder should investigate this. Talk to arena workers who were in the area. Maybe fans, too. Racist jeers obviously shouldn’t be tolerated.

I’d be surprised if she shouted the n-word without it immediately becoming a major incident, though. As the Donald Sterling saga reminded us, that’s the type of racism is not tolerated by society. Discrimination in housing and employment – things that destroy lives – get ignored. People can get away with coded racist language and terms with racist undertones some are ignorant to. But get publicly exposed saying something clearly racist – especially the n-word – and a firestorm usually erupts.

Some have suggested she couldn’t have been yelling “Nader” because he wasn’t in the game. That doesn’t hold up. Fans often yell at players on the bench.

Again, I don’t know what she said. VanVleet’s and Siakam’s interest should prompt the Thunder to investigate and explain their findings.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid in middle of everything leading Sixers past Celtics

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid in middle of everything leading Sixers past Celtics. Bench play? Philadelphia don’t need no stinkin’ bench play.

When GM Elton Brand made the mid-season trades to bring in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, he sacrificed depth to create the best starting five in the East: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid. For one night at least, it worked the way Brand envisioned it — the Sixers starters scored 110 of the teams’ 118 points, were +11 on the night, and propelled the Philadelphia to a confidence-boosting win over Boston, 118-115.

Joel Embiid was the instigator in the middle of it all. Before and after the game.

It’s not just the 37 points and 22 rebounds, although the Sixers don’t win without that performance. Embiid also was the guy who elbowed Marcus Smart on a screen — then Smart lost his cool, wildly overreacted in shoving Embiid to the floor, which earned Smart an ejection (and a fine in the next 48 hours).

Boston was never the same after that.

Embiid scored the next eight points after the ejection, and the fired-up big man was a force the rest of the way. Embiid bullied his way inside — determined to show he can score on Al Horford — and in doing so led an attacking style that got Philly to the free throw line 46 times in the game. Also late in the game, Boston ran plays to get Kyrie Irving switched onto Embiid and both times Embiid got the stop, including one impressive recovery and block.

Then in the final minutes, the Sixers turned the keys over the Jimmy Butler — he had two critical threes, then a dagger jumper along the baseline followed by a meme-worthy celebration.

After the game, Embiid stayed the center of attention with this interview where he said he was the most unstoppable player in the NBA (somewhere James Harden’s eyebrows raised).

If you’re a Sixers fan, there were certainly things to like out of this win, particularly down the stretch. They now have a matchup that works against Boston — they went right at Kyrie Irving’s defense and bullied him inside, then shot over him. Having Smart on the court would help Boston, but it doesn’t completely solve that problem. With this Sixers starting five, there is no place to hide Irving.

(Not that a meeting of these teams in the playoffs is any kind of lock, the Sixers are looking like the three seed, Boston will be four or five, meaning if they meet it will be the Eastern Conference Finals. And if that happens both teams will have evolved since this game.)

That said, there are Sixers questions still, specifically can they lean on the starters like this in the playoffs (Simmons played 42 minutes, Embiid 41)? There are no back-to-backs and more rest is built in, but it’s still asking a lot and at points Philly is going to need something from its bench. With staggered minutes for the starters the weaknesses can be hidden better in the postseason, but the bench still needs to step up. It’s a puzzle for Brett Brown to put together.

What we know now is this: These starters make the 76ers a threat and can take them a long way in the playoffs.

2) James Harden drops 57, Rockets still lose in overtime to the Grizzlies. Interesting stat of the night: James Harden has seven 50+ point games this season, but the Rockets are 4-3 in those games.

The one-man Harden show was back and it carried the Rockets again — he scored 28 of his 57 points on the night in the fourth quarter and overtime, and had 15 during a 17-2 Rockets late run. That included three free throws to tie the game and force OT after a ridiculously bad foul by Justin Holiday. The kind of foul that will give J.B. Bickerstaff an ulcer.

However, the Grizzlies are scrappy, and as an organization they are trying to win — they have to give a pick to Boston one of the next three years, they would rather do it this season. The pick is top 8 protected this draft, and currently Memphis has the seventh worst record in the league. If the standings do not change Memphis has a 14.2 percent chance of giving up the pick, but make up the 1.5 games it is behind Washington and that jumps to nearly 40 percent. Memphis wants to win games.

Jonas Valanciunas got the memo and helped them do that. He grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled with 0.1 left in overtime, sinking the game-winning free throw (he finished with a career-high 33 points).

Houston remains the three seed, but they are just half-a-game up on four seed Portland. Houston needs some more wins to make sure they don’t slide down the standings (and into the Warriors side of the bracket).

3) Toronto beats slumping Oklahoma City in overtime. It was the night Oklahoma City celebrated Nick Collison, retiring the jersey the ultimate glue guy who put the franchise first.

The Thunder could use a guy like that right now.

Since the All-Star break, the Thunder are now 5-10 with the worst offense in the NBA over that stretch (104.6 offensive net rating). That was on display Wednesday in a loss to Toronto, where the Thunder had a 100.9 offensive rating.

Toronto led most of the way and was in control, complete with Kawhi Leonard seeming annoyed by Paul George‘s defense.

At home in OKC you knew it was coming — Thunder made a run and ultimately tied the game with 4.8 seconds to go on a driving Russell Westbrook layup.

It forced overtime, but there Paul George fouled out, the Raptors scored nine in a row, and that was the ballgame.

With the loss, the Thunder fell into a three-way tie with the Spurs and Clippers for the 6/7/8 seeds in the West, with OKC technically being the eight seed based on tiebreakers. That would mean Golden State in the first round, the worst possible outcome for Oklahoma City. There are 10 games left in the Thunder season and they need to find wins fast or it could be a quick postseason for a team that just a couple of months ago was talked about as potentially the second best team out West.