Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Thunder win third straight, are they figuring it 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.

1) Thunder come from behind to win third straight, are they turning a corner?
This was the kind of game playoff teams — and teams that believe they are top four seed in the West — win. Put more directly, it was the kind of game the Thunder should win. Oklahoma City was rested, and while Utah had won six straight it was coming in on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz play as a unit and get as much out of their roster as coach Quin Snyder can squeeze, but the Thunder have way more talent.

Yet at the end of three quarters, Utah was up by 12.

This is the kind of game the Thunder have lost all season but not on Tuesday, coming back to win 100-94. What turned it around for OKC was elite defense and Russell Westbrook — a combination the Thunder can ride into the playoffs. Maybe deep into the playoffs.

The Jazz scored 12 points on 30 percent shooting in the fourth, going 1-of-8 from three. Part of that was tired legs on the back-to-back — Joe Ingles has been nailing threes all night, and suddenly his shots were short and hitting the front rim — but part of it was a more aggressive Thunder defense. OKC had been on its heels in the first half (in part due to a lot of turnovers) but now was pressuring Jazz shooters and taking away easy buckets.

Westbrook had dominated the third quarter and finished the night with his seventh triple-double of the season — 34 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists — but in the fourth he got help from his fellow stars and deferred to them. Carmelo Anthony entered the fourth shooting 2-of-13 but hit 4-of-6 in that final frame, while George hit 3-of-4 and found his rhythm in the quarter. Steven Adams was a beast in the paint all night and finished with 20 points and six offensive rebounds, and he outplayed Rudy Gobert (who was back but clearly not yet himself again) down the stretch.

This is three straight wins in close games for the Thunder. We can pick those games apart — Minnesota doesn’t play defense, San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Utah was on a back-to-back — these are the kinds of games the Thunder were not winning before. It feels like this team is starting to turn the corner into becoming what we expected of them, and with a fairly soft schedule coming up they can build on these wins at home and turn their season around.

They have found a combination that works — defense and Westbrook. Now they just have to bring it nightly, and play better down the stretch, like they did against the Jazz.

2) Stephen Curry out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle. When it happened, it was the kind of injury that made everyone wince — it was nasty. Curry stepped on the foot of E'Twaun Moore while going for a steal and… ouch

The good news is the X-rays and MRI showed no structural damage, but his ankle is so swollen that he is going to miss some time.

Golden State is the one team in the NBA that can lose a recent MVP and keep on winning — more Kevin Durant with the ball is a good thing. Shaun Livingston will sub in nicely (with Patrick McCaw behind him). The Warriors just can’t coast like they have been doing — not playing hard got them into overtime against the Lakers, down 20 at the half against the Pelicans — but a focused Warriors team is going to keep winning, Curry or no.

 

3) Bradley Beal dropped career-high 51 points on Portland. The Trail Blazers, surprisingly, have been one of the NBA’s better defensive teams all season, fourth best in the NBA allowing just 100.8 points per 100 possessions.

But Tuesday night they had no answer for Bradley Beal.

The Wizards two guard, playing at an All-Star level all season, scored 51 points on 21-of-37 shooting, doing a lot of his damage getting to the rim (6-of-9 there) and from the midrange where he was 8-of-12. Beal put on a show, and a Wizards team that has not played hard and respected every opponent this season did so on the road in Portland and got the 106-92 win.

Trade to/buyout from Hawks clears way for Carmelo Anthony to join Rockets

Associated Press
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There were a few things that were a given back on July 1 heading into free agency: Kevin Durant would re-sign with the Warriors, Chris Paul was going to stay in Houston, the Washington Wizards would find a way to make their bad locker room chemistry worse

And Carmelo Anthony would end up in Houston.

Every source I have talked to through free agency and at Summer Leagues saw ‘Melo as a Rocket as all but inevitable. Anthony’s people have not exactly been subtle about their efforts.

Thursday’s three-team trade that sends Anthony to Atlanta — where he will be bought out at full price, no discount — clears the way for him to become a Rocket. After Anthony clears waivers, the deal will get done.

Is that a good move for the Rockets is another question.

Anthony and coach Mike D’Antoni had their problems in New York. Both say they are past those now, but when issues flare up again, will the history? And issues will flare up.

With James Harden and CP3, the Rockets offense is built on efficiency — there may be a lot of isolations, but they get threes and shots at the rim with a team of guys willing to move the ball for a better shot. That’s not Anthony. He can still get buckets, and he shot 35.7 percent from three last season, but Anthony is not a guy who moves the ball or is efficient anymore (40.4 percent shooting overall last season). He relies heavily on post up and isolations ( 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season), and he’s still reasonably efficient on those. But he’s a ball stopper, something Harden and Paul are not for all their isolation plays.

Defensively he is nowhere near Phoenix-bound Trevor Ariza or Clippers-bound Luc Mbah-a-Moute. Anthony will get targeted on switches and played off the floor at the end of games and in the playoffs. James Ennis is a better option for the Rockets in many lineups.

If Anthony can accept a sixth man role, he could really help the Rockets. However, after the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs last year, Anthony was asked about doing that for OKC and literally laughed the question off. Maybe playing with Harden and CP3 on a contender changes things, but I will see it when I believe it.

Anthony is going to be a Rocket next season. How well that works is something to watch.

 

 

Report: Thunder trading Carmelo Anthony, first-rounder to Hawks for Dennis Schroder

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The Thunder were going to cut loose Carmelo Anthony.

The Hawks were determined to trade Dennis Schroder.

The 76ers needed a stretch four after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal.

Hence…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Royce Young of ESPN:

The Thunder save money in this trade next year by going from Anthony to Schroder. But they could have saved far more simply by stretching Anthony themselves.

Stretching Anthony would have meant a cap hit of $9,309,380 each of the next three seasons. Instead, Oklahoma City will pay Schroder $15.5 million each of the next three seasons.

Why increase that financial burden?

Schroder is an intriguing backup to Russell Westbrook and just 24. Even if he’s overpaid and facing the prospect of felony battery charge, he can play. Anthony’s stretched cap hit can’t. Raymond Felton provided steady backup-point guard minutes last season and re-signed, but he’s 34. Oklahoma City can’t rely on him forever.

The Thunder might have viewed Schroder as worth the difference between his salary and Anthony’s stretched cap hit, and there’s some logic to that. But if Oklahoma City tries to flip Schroder down the road, potential trade partners will evaluate his full salary.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot isn’t nothing, either. The 23-year-old former first-rounder is a project with 3-and-D potential.

On the other hand, the Thunder also surrender a potential first-round pick in the deal. And with Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams locked into lucrative contracts, the upcoming season isn’t the only one Oklahoma City must worry about the repeater luxury tax. Schroder’s future salary could become extremely burdensome.

In a pure basketball sense, this trade could make sense for the Thunder. Anthony didn’t fit, and Schroder brings more talent and has a clearer role. Luwawu-Cabarrot has upside. A lottery-protected pick could warrant going from Anthony to Schroder and Luwawu-Cabarrot, though that’s far from certainly worth it.

But I especially wonder about the long-term financial cost. Will Schroder’s salary the following couple years eventually lead ownership to cut costs and shed better players? If Clay Bennett’s willingness to pay extends beyond the following season, more power to him.

And more power to Anthony, who gets all his money and free agency. Expect him to sign with the Rockets once Atlanta waives him.

The Hawks – nowhere near the luxury tax, let alone the repeater tax – could handle waiving Anthony more easily than the Thunder could have. They get a nice draft pick for their trouble – and to unload Schroder.

Schroder was a leftover from the previous Atlanta regime, and Travis Schlenk is ready to build around Trae Young at point guard. Jeremy Lin is the stopgap veteran backup. There was no place for Schroder.

Justin Anderson only adds to the Hawks’ return. It might be getting late quick for the 24-year-old, but he’s strong and athletic. If he improves his shot, he could be a very helpful 3-and-D player. There’s such a premium on wings, it’s well worth betting on developing him – especially for a rebuilding team like Atlanta.

The 76ers have shifted into winning mode, and Mike Muscala should help. He’s a good 3-point shooter for a big and capable of defending inside and out. Philadelphia adds no long-term cost, as Muscala is entering the final year of his contract with a $5 million salary.

The 76ers also clear a roster spot in the 2-for-1 swap, which could lead to last year’s second-rounder, Jonah Bolden, signing.

Report: Lakers eager to use LeBron James at center flanked by top four young players

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Why did the Lakers, after securing LeBron James, sign Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson? Their explanation leaves plenty to be desired.

What will the Lakers do with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma now that none of those four are being traded for Kawhi Leonard? Their plan there is far more intriguing.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.

LeBron at center is a dangerous weapon. The Cavaliers showed it more during the 2017 playoffs – to positive effect.

But LeBron isn’t Draymond Green, who makes Golden State’s Death/Hamptons Five Lineup function. Green possesses a unique combination of rim protection and – through his ball-handling and especially passing – ability to get into offense quickly. LeBron isn’t as good at protecting the paint, and though he’s lethal in transition when he wants to be, he’ll be fighting years of slow-down habits.

I also wonder how much LeBron embraces the physical toll of playing center. The Lakers have only JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner at the position. Are they banking on LeBron playing there a significant amount during the regular season?

LeBron would likely accept the role more enthusiastically in the playoffs. But Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma will be tested – at least initially – by the heightened level of play. I’d be wary of overly relying on that lineup.

But this is the best way for the Lakers to get talent on the floor and overcome spacing concerns. I’m absolutely excited to see it in action. Whatever concerns I have about it are only multiplied with other potential Lakers lineups.

Report: Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. undergoes another back surgery

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Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery in November, missed nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri then slipped to No. 14 in the draft amid injury concerns.

The Nuggets have been noncommittal about their plans for Porter, but they’ve given an eyebrow-raising update.

Nuggets release:

Michael Porter Jr. has undergone surgery of the lumbar spine at The Carrell Clinic in Dallas, Tex. The Procedure was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett. There is no timetable for his return to basketball participation.

Porter is a talented forward with the length and skill to make a major impact as a scorer.

But, as this latest surgery underscores, drafting him carried terrifying risk. Denver will have to bear that for a while.