Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Thunder look dominant, figuring things out

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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. Here’s what you missed while raiding your kids Halloween candy bag (not that I would do that, no, never… just ignore that bag of Skittles).

1) Thunder starting to look elite, figure out their defense in win over Bucks. Nobody is going to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s going to get his. The Greek Freak did that on Halloween night with 28 points on 14 shots, although he was held in relative check by foul trouble that limited him to less than 28 minutes.

What the Thunder did with their aggressive, swarming defense on Tuesday was shut down the other Bucks — Milwaukee players who do not play for the Greek national team shot just 37.1 percent on the night. As a team the Bucks shot 9-of-30 from three. That’s not good enough against Oklahoma City — the Thunder starters put together a 16-0 run in the first and the team never looked back, cruising to a 110-91 win. Paul George had 20 points and Carmelo Anthony 17 in the win, and the big three combined for 49 points and 21 assists.

There were a lot of good signs for the Thunder out of this game. The first half they were flat-out dominant against a pretty good Bucks team, and during that time ball moved and it led to a lot of open looks (more midrange shots than some would like, but they were clean, open looks). Westbrook controlled the flow of the offense without just scoring a lot. Maybe the best sign, OKC owned the defensive glass, an area it has struggled this season up to now.

Going into the season, the questions about the Thunder were “how long will it take them to get it together?” and “is the bench good enough?” The jury is still out on the second question (although Jermi Grant had 17 in this one), however the answer to the first question might be around Halloween.

2) Just a reminder, Eric Bledsoe is still a member of the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe doesn’t want to be. The Suns are trying to trade him, but they have not found a deal as the reported asking price is turning teams off. Suns GM Ryan McDonough tried to gain a little leverage on Tuesday saying there is no timetable for a trade, but the reality is with Bledsoe sitting at home his trade value is not going up. So we all wait.

The reality is this: The Suns are going to get hosed on this trade. Look at what better players went for in the past year — DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Jimmy Butler — and you see the market for Bledsoe is not going to be that strong. Most teams are not looking for a point guard. Those who are — Denver, maybe Milwaukee, a handful of others — are not going to offer genuine quality. Sorry, the Knicks are still not throwing in Frank Ntilikina. Eventually, McDonough and the Suns will settle on a deal where they get a prospect/pick but also take on a bad contract. It’s not going to be a good deal for them, but welcome to reality. The only question is when it goes down.

3) It was tricks, not treats, for Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja, Kevin Looney, and Josh Huestis on Halloween — their teams did not pick up their fourth-year options. NBA teams pick up fourth-year options on rookie deals almost out of habit, even if they don’t think they want the young player long term, they hold on to him in hopes of a trade so they can get some value back for the pick in a trade.

However, with the deadline to pick up options on Halloween, two of the top five picks in the 2015 NBA Draft did not have their fourth years picked up, and they will be unrestricted free agents next summer. They could be on the market even sooner.

In Philadelphia, Okafor is the odd man out in the Sixers young and impressive frontcourt rotation, and after a year of trying to trade him and getting nothing of value they did not pick up his option. The Sixers are still looking for a trade, and he could push for a buyout.

In Orlando, Hezonja has shown flashes of his athleticism and potential — this season he’s knocking down 62 percent of this threes — but his development has stalled out, he has never stood out, and Frank Vogel and company just decided they would move on. He also could potentially still be traded, but Orland tried (talking a lot to Sacramento) and nothing came of it and likely will not now.

The Golden State Warriors did not pick up the option on Kevin Looney, but their reasoning was less about his play (which hasn’t been great) and more straight forward — it’s about saving luxury tax money. In Oklahoma City, in 2014 Huestis was the rare  “domestic draft and stash” — the Thunder drafted him with the understanding he would not sign his rookie deal and would play for a season in the D-League, then sign with the Thunder. He’s never developed into the player the Thunder made that bet on (although he has played in all seven games this season), and they have decided to move on.

Report: Brooklyn near deal with Lance Thomas for restart

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Still rounding out their roster for the NBA restart in Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets have reached out to bring back veteran forward Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who went through training camp with Brooklyn but was cut right before the season, will sign as a substitute player for Brooklyn, reports Alex Smith with SNY.TV.

Thomas is an eight-year NBA veteran who spent the last four of that with the Knicks. He can play the three or a floor-spacing small four, with New York using him more as a power forward in recent years. He’s averaged 5.2 points per game in his career and is known more as a good player to have in the locker room and guy who can soak up 15-20 minutes a night and not hurt a team. Brooklyn had Thomas in at training camp and liked his fit, but they didn’t have a roster spot for him.

They do now. Three Nets players — Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince — tested positive for the coronavirus and will not be at the Orlando restart. Wilson Chandler opted out of playing. All four of them can be replaced by substitute players for the remainder of this season, so the Nets signed Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley, and Donta Hall. Thomas rounds becomes the fourth member of that group. (Note: The Nets cannot sign players to substitute for Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant because they are out due to injury; substitute players are only for players missing due to coronavirus issues.)

Thomas will be a free agent this offseason.

Lance Thomas and Brooklyn enter the bubble in Orlando as the seven seed in the East.

Like LeBron, Anthony Davis also to wear own last name on jersey in Orlando

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis will wear his own name on the back of his jersey when the Los Angeles Lakers return to action.

Davis confirmed his decision Sunday in a conference call from Orlando, where the Western Conference-leading Lakers are beginning team workouts.

Davis and LeBron James both declined to choose a social justice message to replace their names on the back of their jerseys during the NBA restart.

Davis, a seven-time NBA All-Star, said he was “torn between” choosing from among the 29 approved messages and sticking with his name.

“For me, I think the name ‘Davis’ is something I try to represent every time I step on the floor,” he said. “I just think my last name is something that’s very important to me, and also social justice as well. But (I’m) just holding my family name and representing the name on the back to go through this process … and people who have been with me through my entire career to help me get to this point, while still kind of bringing up things that we can do for social injustice.”

James said he decided to forgo a social justice message because the available options didn’t “resonate” for him or his particular feelings about the movement. James would have liked to choose his own slogan, but wasn’t angry that it wasn’t allowed.

Both James and Davis have been outspoken about social justice causes in the past, although the younger Davis is less vocal than James.

The Lakers open play in Orlando on July 30 against the Clippers.

 

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo fractures thumb, out 6-8 weeks

Rajon Rondo injury
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The Lakers guard depth is getting hit hard. First, Avery Bradley chose to stay home from the NBA restart in Orlando for family reasons. Now this:

Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb during practice on Saturday and will need surgery that will sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced.

On the optimistic side, that timeline should have Rondo back for most or all of the conference finals and NBA Finals. Rondo has a history of hand injuries.

The Lakers cannot sign a substitute player to replace Rondo (that is only for players with COVID-19 related absences, or who opted out, but not injuries).

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court, something that will be difficult to replace. He is not the defender and player he once was, but he fit with the Lakers.

Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook will get some extra run, plus it opens up room for veterans Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.

The Rondo injury is not going to put the Lakers in danger in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but if he is not back and 100% in the conference finals (very possibly against a deep Clippers team) and the Finals, this will be a blow to L.A.

Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley join “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” on NBC family

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In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests that followed, citizens of the United States have started to have a long-overdue and challenging discussion of race and systemic racism in America. Black celebrities — guys such as Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley, plus other NBA stars — have stepped into the middle of that conversation and are using their voices.

That discussion, along with Barkley and Curry, comes to the NBC Sports family of networks Monday in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations.” The roundtable discussion show airs at 8 p.m. ET simultaneously on NBCSN, the Golf Channel, the Olympic Channel, and every member of the NBC Sports regional broadcast network.

The wide-ranging conversation (recorded in Lake Tahoe) included discussion both of the recent protests that swept the nation and the calls for police reform — Barkley said he wants to see that.

“The first thing we need, listen, we need police reform.  We need to, listen, I got in trouble for defending cops.  And I’m always going to defend cops.  I don’t want them out there killing unarmed Black men, but we need cops…” Barkley said. “But we need good cops.  We need to hold cops accountable.  If they do something wrong — the way the system is set up now, if cops do something wrong, other cops judge them.  That’s not fair in any aspect of life.  If you are a cop and you saw what happened to Mr. Floyd and you think that was all right, you shouldn’t be a cop.”

Curry spun the discussion of police reform into the need for people to vote for change — particularly at the local and state level.

“Same concept around reforming police, getting the bad ones out, is in every form of leadership in government in terms of how important voting is.  Not just at the national presidential level, but in our local, city, state elections…” Curry said.

“That’s where the real change happens.  So when it comes to voter suppression which we’ve seen since George Floyd’s passing in Georgia, we’ve seen long lines; people have been standing there for 12, 13 hours trying to vote.

“And that’s where a local election, as we look forward from a year from now and beyond, every single cycle, how do we continue to let our voices be heard, not just what we’re saying and crying for and asking for help, but how can we actually use our given right to go vote, to go put people in positions of power that they’re going to look out for us in a very meaningful way that’s going to make a true difference.”

Beyond the two NBA stars, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins, James Blake, Jimmy Rollins, and Ozzie Smith take part in the discussion.

Tune in Monday night across the NBC Sports family of networks for a can’t miss discussion of race and sports in America.