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Three Things to Know: Paul George loves Los Angeles, playing there is something else

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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) Paul George loves Los Angeles, but after his current team sweeps city does he want to go there? It’s the siren song of leading your hometown franchise vs. a team built to win right now. Paul George has a decision coming up this summer, and both sides made their case in the last 48 hours.

There was plenty of fodder for the “George wants to play for the Lakers” camp this week — buzz that started with his agent telling the Pacers exactly that last summer. (George seemed disinterested in the Clippers when it was brought up.) The best example of what playing in L.A. could offer was George draining a three against the Lakers Wednesday then running over to hug his mom courtside. Also, there was no shortage of quotes from George about how much he loves his hometown.

“It was awesome,” George said of his welcome in L.A. after his current team, the Thunder, thrashed the Lakers by almost 40. “For one, just being home, being in front of friends, family, and then just the respect, the love, the recruitment. It was awesome. It was awesome to get that love.”

On the other side, there’s the game on the court. The Thunder are winning, and the young Lakers look years away from contending even with a superstar. George got a view of that firsthand this week. Oklahoma City kept up its hot streak — the win over the Clippers Thursday 127-117 was the team’s eighth in 10 games — which should lead to plenty of optimism in the “George is going to stay with the Thunder” camp.

Or there’s this quote:

“If (the Thunder are) trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation — it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave.”

George hasn’t made his call about next summer yet, he seems torn and is being patient. Westbrook is all in for Oklahoma City, having signed his max extension. Carmelo Anthony almost certainly opts into his $28 million final year (that money isn’t out there for him as a free agent). Meanwhile, George is playing it LeBron style, keeping all his options open and waiting until the summer. (The financial dance for the Thunder to keep George is a tough one for GM Sam Presti and ownership — they maxed out Westbrook, they would need to max out George, and everyone expects Anthony to opt in, sending the Thunder deep into the luxury tax, maybe too deep for a small market. No matter what ownership says.)

It’s not championship or bust to keep George in OKC, but the Thunder’s slow start dug them a deep hole. OKC is currently the fifth seed in the West and may well climb up to fourth, but they are four games back of the three-seed Spurs who just got Kawhi Leonard back, and the Rockets are out of reach. If the Thunder are the four seed it means a challenging first-round series (likely against the Timberwolves), then in the second round would be the Warriors. If Oklahoma City gets spanked by Golden State in that series it sends a message, if OKC pushes the defending champs hard it’s another.

George is going to wait and see. But we do know he loves Los Angeles.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of LeBron James in first fan All-Star voting returns. It is a testament to what a superstar the Greek Freak has become: He, not LeBron James, would be one of the two captains to pick All-Star teams if All-Star voting ended today. In fan voting so far, Antetokounmpo is just 7,336 votes ahead of LeBron (with more than 85 million votes cast for each), but it’s a lead.

Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant would be the captains, although Duran’s lead in the West over just-returned Stephen Curry is only 32,287 votes.

Just as a refresher: The NBA has thrown out the stale old East vs. West All-Star format for this year’s game — Feb. 18 in Los Angeles — and gone to a playground-style picking of teams format: The top vote-getters in each conference will be the captains and they will make the picks (from a pool of All-Stars). They can choose anyone from either conference — Durant is free to pick LeBron instead of Curry. Fan votes combined with select media will choose the starter pool of two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference (consider those media votes Zaza Pachulia insurance, fans almost voted him as a starter last season). The coaches will pick the seven reserves from each conference.

If the voting ended today (and the media agreed) the frontcourt players from the East would be Antetokounmpo, James, and Joel Embiid, paired with guards Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. Kristaps Porzingis is not far behind Embiid, and Victor Oladipo is close to taking DeRozan’s spot as a starter.

Out West, the starters voted into the pool would be Durant, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins (yes, two Pelicans). The guards are Curry and James Harden. Draymond Green and Paul George are within striking distance of Cousins, while Russell Westbrook is third in the guard voting.

Voting is open through Jan. 15.

3) Warriors without Kevin Durant beat Rockets without James Harden. Do I even need to write “don’t read anything into this?”

No Durant or Harden throws a preview of playoff defensive matchups largely out the window (although overall the Rockets did a good job sniffing out the Warriors backcuts and floppy actions that usually lead to easy buckets). Aside the missing stars, Gerald Green went off for 8-of-15, and while that may give the Warriors something to think about it’s also not sustainable for Green (although someone on the Rockets always seems to step up).

Plus, we are more than four months away from a playoff series between these squads — both teams will evolve between now and then.

Basically, this game felt like a one-off. It was familiar only in Golden State’s pattern of owning a game late — the Warriors took over the final nine minutes to win 124-114. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 57 points. With that the Warriors keep their perch on top of the West secure. But that’s about it.

LeBon James takes over, leads Lakers to NBA Finals with win

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The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half because of it. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

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This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

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Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).

Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps shifts to become Jazz assistant coach

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While teams have moved away from anyone in a dual coach/GM role, some people bounce between coach and the front office around the NBA: Steve Kerr was once the Suns’ GM before being the Warriors coach; Sean Marks was on the bench in San Antonio before moving to their front office and eventually the head guy in Brooklyn.

Now Dell Demps is making that move. The former general manager for the New Orleans Pelicans, who was let go a year ago, will be an assistant coach on Quin Synder’s staff in Utah. Demps was the GM of the Spurs G-League team years back and hired Snyder to coach it.

“I was fortunate to work with Dell to begin my career as a head coach in professional basketball and I know he will delve into his role on the bench,” Snyder said in a statement. “He has an incredible work ethic and commitment to his craft. His vast experience both as a player and in front office roles brings a unique perspective that will be invaluable to our team. We’re excited to welcome him to the Jazz.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Snyder again,” Demps said. “I have always had tremendous respect for Quin and the Jazz organization. I look forward to joining this talented coaching staff and working with our players. My wife Anita and I couldn’t be more excited to make the move to Utah and become a part of a tremendous community.”

Demps was not the only hire by Snyder, who is also bringing former NBA player Keyon Dooling. He played for 13 years in the league and then has worked with the National Basketball Players Association in various roles — most recently as a wellness counselor and mental health advocate — in recent years. Dooling played for two years at Missouri in college, a team coached by Snyder.

“Keyon is a fantastic addition for us on multiple levels and someone I’ve always had tremendous respect for since our time at Missouri where we formed a close bond that has continued throughout the years,” said Snyder. “He’s a natural leader who was a captain on multiple teams in the league and I have no doubt that the way he approached the game as a player will translate to the work he puts in with our roster on the court.”