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Three things we learned Sunday: Amid trade rumors ‘Melo is brilliant, but Knicks still lose

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Sunday you were probably busy playing reggae music for your dog — you certainly weren’t watching the Pro Bowl — so here is what you missed around the NBA while all that was happening.

1) The frustration builds: Carmelo Anthony is fantastic scoring 45 for Knicks, but they still fall in 4 overtimes to Hawks. Phil Jackson apparently is so set on trading Carmelo Anthony that he may be willing to take Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and whatever flotsam from the Clippers it takes to make the salary numbers work out, then Jackson doesn’t want to keep Crawford. (Not that Jackson is wrong in wanting to retool around Kristaps Porzingis, but why wasn’t this the drive last summer when every Knicks fan and most around the NBA were thinking they should go down that road? Now the Knicks are looking at bad deals just to get it done fast. Amazing.) No doubt Porzingis is the future in NYC, and Sunday was making plays like this against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks.

But it was Carmelo Anthony who the Knicks best player on Sunday — he put aside the off-court distractions and played like Olympic ‘Melo. It was a veteran, professional performance. It just wasn’t enough as the Knicks fell in quadruple overtime 142-139.

Anthony came out scorching hot with 17 first quarter points on just 11 shots, and he still had it at the end with 11 points in the four overtimes. He was doing it from the midrange — Anthony took just two shots in the key, but was 13-of-25 from the midrange (particularly killing it on the right baseline) during the game.

It felt like the Knicks wasted a great Anthony game, but the game itself was one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the season — 23 lead changes, 21 ties, and a dozen players scoring in double-digits (with five fouling out, including ‘Melo). Paul Millsap played 60 minutes (37 points, 19 rebounds), one of six players to log at last 48 minutes. That showed on guys, particularly Courtney Lee, who was fantastic all game but didn’t seem to have the legs on his shots when he missed a game-winner opportunity in the third OT and a couple of chances to send it to a fifth.

I can’t describe this game’s wild final 20+ minutes, so just watch the video of every made bucket late in regulation and overtime.

2) Portland almost got Golden State. But not quite. Golden State was on the second night of a back-to-back, playing without Stephen Curry, and Portland was desperate for a win to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets for the final playoffs slot in the West. The recipe was in place for the upset.

It wasn’t enough. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now for a reason. With the game on the line a cold-shooting Klay Thompson (6-of-21) drained a three with 37 seconds left, and when Evan Turner got the chance to give the Trail Blazers the win late, he couldn’t. It ends 113-111 Warriors. Kevin Durant dropped 33 like it was nothing.

3) Donald Trump’s immigration ban leaves NBA world unhappy, scratching its head. Safe to say there’s not a lot of love for Donald Trump around the NBA, but his executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations left the NBA league office looking for clarification from the State Department. Sudan — including the independent South Sudan — was on the list of seven countries where people from that nation were restricted entering the USA, and there are two NBA players from there: the Lakers’ Luol Deng and the Bucks’ Thon Maker. Their situations are a little different: Deng has dual citizenship with England, Maker the same with Australia, and both have lived in the USA for many years. Still, the NBA had questions, particularly with the Bucks playing in Toronto and questions about whether Maker could get back in the country. He did.

Still, the NBA world was part of the massive backlash against the ill-conceived executive order. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — a former Air Force man, don’t forget — had this to say (via ESPN):

“As you already know, I have lots of thoughts about what we’ve done to ourselves as a country and what we’ve allowed to happen. But we’ll see where this goes. Obviously the rollout today was Keystone Kops-like by any measure with objectivity. Whether you want to say it’s good or bad is irrelevant. But it was Keystone Kops, and that’s scary.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the order was “really going against the principles that this country is about.”

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.

 

Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

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Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

After 0-6 start, Raptors coach Nick Nurse celebrates successful challenge like he won a championship (video)

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After the Raptors won the 2019 NBA title, Toronto coach Nick Nurse hugged Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri.

Some of the hug recipients changed, but Nurse’s celebration didn’t look that different last night.

Nurse missed his first six coach’s challenges then finally got one right during the Raptors’ win over the Lakers. He responded by hugging everyone – including a Los Angeles fan – around him.

This was a long time coming. Even after a couple early failed challenges, Nurse sounded exasperated.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

Maybe Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a noted challenge critic, will eventually experience this euphoria.

Report: Gordon Hayward to have surgery on left hand

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How good would Gordon Hayward be if he could just stay healthy?

Hopefully we will find out someday, but probably not for the next couple of months after his agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Hayward will have surgery on his non-shooting hand to repair a broken bone.

There will be no official timeline for recovery until after the surgery, but after going under the knife Hayward is likely out at least six weeks. Stephen Curry is out three months after surgery on his non-shooting hand (that is a different injury, but it shows how long the timeline can be).

The play where the injury happened was innocuous.

Even so, it has left Boston with some big questions to answer through New Year’s Eve, or whenever Hayward returns. Hayward was having a bounce-back year, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics.

For Boston, this likely means a lot more Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, and maybe Javonte Green.