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Three Things to Know: No Curry? Okay, Warriors just give ball to Kevin Durant

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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 Stephen Curry, no Draymond Green, that just means more Kevin Durant.
It’s really not as simple for Golden State as “Curry’s out, let’s just give the ball to Durant more.”

Although sometimes it is that simple.

From the opening tip Wednesday night, Kevin Durant decided to take over the game against Charlotte. With All-Stars Curry (ankle) and Green (shoulder) out and replaced in the starting lineup by a guy just called up from the D-League (Quinn Cook) and a rookie (Jordan Bell), Durant went into MVP mode, put the Warriors on his back, racked up a triple-double of 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, and led the Warriors to a 101-87 win in Charlotte.

This was KD’s night, but it’s not going to be like this every game. Things will get challenging for the Warriors without Curry. To use the cliché, his gravity as a shooter — his ability to pull defenders to him 30 feet from the basket, with or without the ball — is what provides the space in the Warriors offense and makes it elite. That spacing is gone for a couple of weeks, and it will be up to Durant to create shots and rack up points, but also Klay Thompson (22 points) and others to pick up the slack. That said, Durant is capable of winning a few games on his own.

More importantly against Charlotte, the Warriors came out and played focused defense for 48 minutes — something they have not done consistently all season. The Warriors have coasted a lot, but with Curry out they can no longer do that and still win a lot. Wednesday in Charlotte was one game, but it was a sign that the loss of Curry snapped the Warriors out of their sleepwalking ways, and gave them focus. If it stays that way, Golden State will barely miss a beat the next few weeks.

2) LeBron James drains threes, including dagger late, to push Cavaliers win streak to 13. LeBron James is shooting 43 percent from three this season. He still has as quick a first step as anyone in the game, and once he gets rolling downhill he’s an unstoppable force, but now he can consistently just shoot over the top of the defense and make them pay, too. Good luck stopping that.

Just ask the Sacramento Kings, who came into Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday night and were scrappy. However, LeBron was 5-of-8 from three, including a step-back with 16 seconds left that sealed the game, and the Kings could not match him. LeBron finished the night with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.

The Cavaliers win streak is now at 13 games, tying a franchise record (LeBron’s Cavs did it in 2009 and again 2010). They can break that tie Friday night in Indiana.

3) DeMarcus Cousins sets history with another 40-20 night. With Anthony Davis out for a third straight game, the Pelicans are leaning more on Cousins to keep them in the crowded playoff mix in the West — and he’s responding. On Wednesday night he had 40 points and 22 boards in the Pelicans’ win against Denver.

That’s Cousins’ second 40-20+ game this season. The last guy to do that was Patrick Ewing back in the 1989-90 season. Back when “Do The Right Thing” was in theaters and we couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “Funky Cold Medina.” It’s been a long time since we’ve seen something like Boogie’s recent run.

More importantly for New Orleans, thanks to Cousins the Pelicans are 3-1 in games Davis has missed. That is keeping them in the playoff mix.

 

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.