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Three Things We Learned Thursday: Warriors still figuring out no Durant life, good teams like Celtics expose that

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It was a busy night around the NBA with 11 games, but if you were binging Luke Cage we understand, here are the big takeaways from Tuesday around the league. 

1) Golden State still has not figured out life without Kevin Durant, and good teams like Boston will make them pay.
The Celtics came into Oracle Arena and did what they do in the fourth quarter: Play disciplined defense, count on role players such as Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk to step up, and lean on Isaiah Thomas. It’s a model that works.

Golden State still hasn’t figured out what works with Kevin Durant sidelined. KD — who said he “got a boo-boo playing basketball” — watched the game from the locker room at Oracle and had to be itching to get back out there seeing the mess that unfolded.

The Warriors were up a bucket heading into the fourth quarter, then in the next 12 minutes they scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting with eight turnovers. Boston thoroughly outplayed Golden State in the fourth, went on a 15-0 run midway through the quarter, and pulled away for a 99-86 win. While there was still more than four minutes left, this Thomas three felt like the moment the Celtics closed the door on the game.

We need to give Boston credit here. They prioritized defending the arc and the Warriors shot 6-of-30 from deep. Thomas led the way with 25, but Olynyk’s 17 off the bench were huge (he was +29 on the night). They executed with the game on the line, as they have all season.

But the Warriors are just not right.

When Durant went down, I said that for the Warriors to hold on to the No. 1 seed they needed Stephen Curry to return to his MVP form of previous seasons. He has not been anywhere close to that. There were fourth-quarter “M-V-P” chants in Oracle Tuesday night, but they were for Boston’s Thomas. Maybe we can blame a harsh and packed stretch of the schedule for Curry’s 2-of-9 three-point shooting against Boston, or the fact Curry is shooting 29.5 percent from three in his last five games, but the Warriors can’t afford that now (although coach Steve Kerr postgame talked about resting key players coming up). With no Durant there is no safety net, no rotations where Curry can just coast and be fine, or where Warriors role players don’t have to step up.

It’s not just Curry struggling, and not just Klay Thompson either (2-of-8 from three Tuesday), you can throw coach Steve Kerr in the mix. He has not found rotations that work, particularly in the fourth. Kerr’s regular rotation this season was to rest Durant and Curry both to start the fourth, then bring them back midway through and at that time give a brief rest to Thompson and Draymond Green, then have them re-enter for the final three or four minutes as needed. Kerr hasn’t really varied from that, but most of the Celtics game-deciding 15-0 run had come before Curry got back on the court, and when he did he couldn’t begin to reverse it by himself. Having two of the Warriors three best players on the bench for three minutes in the second half of the fourth quarter is going to get them beat by good teams, such as Boston. Kerr can’t lean on James Michael McAdoo and Patrick McCaw in these moments without KD on the court.

When Durant first went down, I thought the idea of San Antonio catching the Warriors for the No. 1 seed was a crazy longshot (I didn’t think the Warriors would lose that many games). No more. As the Warriors stumble to reshape their identity, the Spurs are just 1.5 games back and poised for the run to the top.

2) Utah went into Houston and — thanks to Rudy Gobert and his hair — beat the Rockets. Utah is going to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and if they play then against the Clippers (most likely the opponent) like they did against Houston on Tuesday, the Jazz could be in the second round. Do not sleep on this team.

Houston got 23 points each from Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert (the latter of whom has some interesting hair going on), they made James Harden work for his buckets (he was 0-of-8 from three), and the result was a 115-108 Jazz win. Also, of course, the Jazz were playing good defense and getting blocked shots — from Hayward.

With this win (and a Clipper loss to the Timberwolves) the Jazz are 2.5 games ahead of the Clippers for the four seed. That means Utah is going to be the four seed and have home-court in the first round, and that is going to be an interesting series (Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan, how do the Jazz defend Chris Paul?). The Jazz could well win that series, which would be a massive boost to their efforts to retain Gordon Hayward this summer (and would lead to some real soul searching for the Clippers).

3) It’s just fun to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo play the game. Here he drops 32 on the Knicks. The Greek Freek’s line for the night — 32 points on 21 shots, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks — is far from out of the ordinary for him. Of course, he led the Bucks to a win over the Knicks, keeping their playoff dreams alive (both the Bucks and Heat are just half a game back of Detroit for the final playoff slot in the East).

However, we’re running these highlights just because it’s a joy to watch him play if you love the game of basketball.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

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Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Vote on NBA restart format expected next Thursday, here are four plans on the table

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
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The NBA is almost guaranteed to return to action in July, with the games taking place in Orlando.

What format the return takes is undecided, but the owners are expected to vote on that next Thursday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On Friday’s conference call with owners, Adam Silver reportedly laid out four options for them, something Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

There was no consensus behind any one option, teams are all lobbying for what they want to see. Come next Thursday, Adam Silver is going to have to make a recommendation and get everyone to line up behind it, something the owners and players will do. This is Silver’s call.

Let’s break those options down.

• 16 teams going directly into playoffs. This is the cleanest, most straightforward option, and it has support from a number of owners. This keeps the number of people in the bubble relatively small, making it easier to maintain the safety of players, coaches, staff, and everyone involved. The league likely would keep the conference format rather than go to 1-16 seeding (many owners from the Eastern Conference and coastal cities reportedly are not fans of 1-16 and fear if they do it once, even in this unique season, it would become a regular thing).

One downside is players have asked for some regular season games — or games with meaning — before the playoffs to get their legs under them, this does not provide any (increasing the risk of injury). The other downside is this takes almost half the NBA’s markets and tells them “you’re done, no games from March until Christmas (the expected date for the tip-off of next season, or maybe a week or two earlier). That’s a long time without games and can hurt momentum for those franchises.

• 20 teams, group play for the first round. This is the World Cup soccer idea, with four groups of five teams each and the top two teams in each group advancing to the playoffs. Some fans and teams backed this idea because it provided a bit of randomness to the mix — soccer sees a lot of upsets in this format. On the flip side, the top teams were not fans of this plan for the same reason.

The buzz around the league is this format is basically dead to the owners.

• 22 teams with regular season games to determine seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to the 16-team playoffs. This idea, in a couple of different forms (one with just 20 teams, some with 24) has some momentum. The idea is the 22 teams — all teams within six games off the last playoff spot in each conference, which is the Wizards in the East and the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns in the West — would play eight regular season games, then standings at the end of those games would set up the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. After that, the playoffs would start. This gets more markets involved, gets some regular season games (helping some regional sports networks), and still has a full playoffs.

There are downsides. It brings more people into the bubble and is that risk worth the reward? There are going to be some meaningless regular season games here, both by teams eliminated and teams locked into their playoff spots (the Lakers and Bucks will treat these games like exhibitions). It also adds a couple of weeks to the season and pushes the end-date back deeper into September and maybe October.

• 30 teams, a regular season to get to 72 games, then a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs. This is the idea to “finish” the regular season. We’re not going to waste time on it because my sources, and those of other reporters, have called this one dead on arrival.

Silver is going to get lobbied all week by different factions backing different plans, but by next Thursday he has to pick a one he can sell to owners and to players. There are no good options, he has to choose the least bad one.

From there, players will get called back to market for workouts and the clock will start.

So long as the league can keep everyone safe.