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Three Things to Know: Kyrie who? Celtics win streak reaches dozen

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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) No Kyrie, no problem — Celtics keep finding ways to win, streak up to 12. Brad Stevens has turned the Boston Celtics into the embodiment of every coaching cliché: one man goes down and it’s next man up, they are just taking it one game at a time, they just have to worry about themselves and play their game, they play a full 48 minutes, they are focusing on defense, and they are giving 110 percent effort.

Bottom line — it’s working, and the Celtics are winning. Twelve in a row now.

Kyrie Irving was out Sunday due to a facial fracture suffered at the elbow of teammate Aron Baynes (he is expected back Tuesday at Brooklyn wearing a mask, which could be bad news for the league, last time Irving had to wear a mask he tore it up for a couple of weeks).

Next man up. Marcus Smart started for Steven’s Celtics, Al Horford returned from missing games with a concussion and scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, Jaylen Brown added 18, the Celtics again played strong defense, and they held on through a tight fourth quarter to knock off a good Raptors team 95-94. The Raptors had the chance to win with a couple late pull-up jumpers and an offensive foul call on Jayson Tatum that a kid hated and screamed about, apparently into a courtside mic. However, DeMar DeRozan missed both chances, the second one was the kind of shot he hits a lot of (he is shooting 42.9 percent from that area of the floor this season).

The Celtics have been the NBA’s most surprising and impressive story to start the season, losing Gordon Hayward but shifting the offense around, getting well-rounded games out of Irving, Horford playing like he’s 26 again (but with a three-point shot), and the team is defending like mad, all game long and especially in the fourth quarter. It works. They get a real measuring stick on Thursday against Golden State, but so far all the clichés sound good in Boston.

2) Rudy Gobert out 4-6 weeks with a bone bruise in his knee.
Utah Jazz fans breathed a huge sigh of relief Friday night when Rudy Gobert returned to the court after this injury where Dion Waiters went crashing into his knee.

They may have exhaled too quickly — Gobert is out four to six weeks with a bone bruise.

That’s not good. The Jazz defense, third in the NBA this season allowing just a point per possession (100.2 per 100), is focused around forcing penetration into Gobert, who is the best shot blocking/rim-protecting big in the game right now. Utah is going to struggle to get stops the same way, because Derrick Favors is not that same kind of athlete (nor the same kind of athlete Favors himself was before the injuries).

What might help Utah compensate for this is an improved offense — the two-big starting lineup with Favors and Gobert, and Ricky Rubio running the show, has an offensive rating of 94.7 points per 100 possessions this season in 108 minutes — they are still struggling with those starters despite the defense. They miss Gordon Hayward’s shot creation and shooting with those two bigs on the court. Forced to go to just one big, maybe they find better spacing and options. Maybe.

It still could be a rough time between now and Christmas for the Jazz.

3) Paul George drops 37, Thunder win second in a row… but let’s not say they have figured it out yet. Hey, Paul George, what did you get Russell Westbrook for his birthday.

PG13 dropped 37, Russell Westbrook had 16 of his 27 in the third quarter when the Thunder pulled away, and Oklahoma City beat Dallas 112-99 for a comfortable win on Sunday. The kind of win the Thunder need — that’s two wins in a row now.

You know why Oklahoma City has back-to-back wins? No, not the team meeting, good luck finding a player who actually thinks those things are useful other than to vent. No, I’m nowhere near convinced the Thunder have started to figure it out (they were without Carmelo Anthony on Sunday).

The Thunder have won two straight because they have played a Clipper team that’s falling apart (they are 1-7 in their last eight) and then a Dallas team that is last in the Western Conference. Maybe the Thunder needed a couple easy wins as slump busters, just any wins to turn the team around, and with Chicago up next the streak could well reach three wins. But talk to me after the games against the Spurs, Pelicans, and Warriors, then we will have a measuring stick.

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.