Three Things to Know: James Harden goes off, Kevin Love goes down

Associated Press
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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) James Harden astounds the NBA with first-ever 60-point triple-double. Everything was on James Harden’s shoulders — Chris Paul (groin) and Trevor Ariza (hamstring) were in street clothes (or singing in a car), then Eric Gordon left the game in the first half with a sore back. Their other primary playmakers sidelined, the Rockets needed the full Harden experience to beat Orlando.

They got it — 60 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists. The NBA’s first-ever 60-point triple-double (breaking Russell Westbrook‘s record from last March for most points in a triple-double, when he had 57, also against Orlando). Harden scored or assisted on 86 points. He did it on 30 shots, attacking all night long — he had 12 shots at the rim and 18 trips to the free throw line on the night. But words don’t do his game justice. Just watch.

The rest of the NBA took note.

James Harden makes no bones — he wants to be the NBA’s MVP this season (he did last season, too, when he came in second to Westbrook the voting). This season he’s the frontrunner right now (missing only seven games with his hamstring injury helps his cause) and ridiculous games like this are something voters remember.

2) Another blow to Cavaliers, Kevin Love out 6-8 weeks with a fractured hand. The Cavaliers came into Tuesday night having won a couple in a row, seemingly stopping the bleeding for a bit. Everyone seems to be waiting for them to flip the switch, maybe this is where it happens.

Nope. Tuesday night things got much worse in Cleveland.

Early in the first quarter against Detroit, Love made contact with Anthony Tolliver, and started grabbing his hand in pain. Love tried to play through it, but eventually came out, went to the locker room, got X-rays, and found out he would have to miss 6-8 weeks due to a fractured fifth metacarpal bone in his left hand — the bone that connects your little finger to your wrist.

This injury creates a couple big problems for the Cavaliers. The first is simply just winning games — Love is averaging 18.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, and he’s shooting better than 40 percent from three. They don’t have anyone who can replace his offensive production, draw defenders, and make sharp passes to teammates. Love can get buckets, and the Cavaliers need that to cover up their horrid defense.

The second problem is the injury also throws a wrench into the Cavaliers trade plans at the deadline. Almost every trade scenario for the Cavaliers involves Channing Frye going to another team to balance out the salary, but now he’s needed along the front line, making it harder to move him. The Cavaliers also will have to play Tristan Thompson more, but that’s not going to help their offense.

Cleveland will be the four seed in the East if they can’t beat Miami on Wednesday, and you have to wonder with Love missing all this time exactly what seed they will be when the playoffs start.

3) John Wall to have knee surgery, out 6-8 weeks, and that could spell real trouble for the Wizards. For much of the season, Washington didn’t take playing the NBA’s weaker sisters seriously — they had flat games against teams such as the Lakers, Nets, Hawks, Mavericks, and others, losing games the Wizards should not have because they didn’t play hard and the other team did. For a while they were below .500 against teams below .500. As you read this they are 16-11 against teams below .500, the worst record of any NBA playoff team against that group.

Now that may come back to bite them. John Wall is going to have knee surgery to “clean up” some issues after he had to deal with irritation and swelling all season (remember he has surgery on both knees before signing his designated player max extension). He will be out 6-8 weeks, which means Wall is out for at least about 20 games give or take — and 15 of the next 19 are against current playoff teams. The Wizards are currently the five seed in the East, but are just 2.5 games above the eight-seed 76ers. Washington may see itself as a team that can hang with anyone in the East when healthy, but if they start the playoffs on the road in Boston or Toronto or Cleveland it could be over fast.

Washington got a big win Tuesday night without Wall, ending the Thunder’s eight-game winning streak. The Wizards need more of that. They will start Tomas Satoransky at the point (he’s played solidly this season earning the backup PG slot), and on Tuesday Otto Porter stepped up with 25 points. Bradley Beal will go off for some big games, and the Wizards will probably hang on to their playoff slot.

But they have made their postseason a lot harder because they didn’t bring it every night like elite teams do.

Three things to know: Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

Luka Doncic vs. Stephen Curry.

The schedule makers gave us a showdown of early-season MVP candidates but also two guys who have had to carry a massive load this season, waiting for their teams to come together around them. Curry has gotten more of that lately as Klay Thompson has started to find his legs and some rotation shifts have improved play off the bench.

Luka is still on a Brunson-sized island waiting for help. Tuesday night that island got smaller when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of the Warriors’ Jordan Poole.

That just meant more Doncic, and he reminded everyone why nobody wants to play the Mavericks in the playoffs with a 41-point triple-double (12 rebounds, 12 assists).

Doncic was a force of nature, although Curry had his chance in the final 10 seconds but got called for traveling (a call the Warriors disputed).

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas, but this was the Luka Doncic show.

Doncic has been asked to carry a massive load for Dallas this season. He has a usage rate of 38 through the first quarter of the season, a number that would rank in the top-10 all time (right around 1987 Michael Jordan and 2006 Kobe Bryant).

How long can Doncic do this without starting to wear down? Without risking injury? Sure those other players like Jordan and Kobe got through the entire season, but they also didn’t make the kind of playoff runs Dallas is hoping for. Coming off EuroBasket, Doncic entered this season in the best shape he has ever been in to tip-off an NBA campaign, but there have already been stretches where he has started to look worn down. Then there are nights like Tuesday when he carries the Mavericks to a win and looks unstoppable.

Doncic is young, but asking him to carry this load also puts a ceiling on how good this team can be. Curry is getting that help. Giannis Antetokounmpo is also putting up historic usage percentage numbers this season, but Khris Middleton will return to the Bucks and take on some of that load. The Mavericks touted Christian Wood as an answer, but he is coming off the bench and his defense does not have him in Jason Kidd’s good graces. It’s a one-man show more than ever in Dallas.

If the Mavs want to win in the postseason, it can’t just be the Luka show. But during the regular season, some nights that is enough. At least until he wears down.

2) Damian Lillard to return Sunday, not soon enough for Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard (calf strain, his second this season) — they are 1-4 in the current five-game stretch without him, playing their worst defense of the season. The latest of those losses — a come-from-ahead loss to a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — was maybe the team’s worst loss of the season. Anfernee Simons put up 37, the Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, and yet they collapsed against a team whose best offensive weapon was Nicholas Batum (32 points).

The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is due back on Sunday, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

If you didn’t watch the late game on TNT, you missed a battle of two teams trying to keep their heads above water while their star (or stars) sit out injured.

Portland is still 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week. What was ugly about Tuesday’s loss was the team just let go of the rope. This was a winnable game, but when it got tight they let go.

Powell scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and took over to get the 13-9 Clippers another win.

Los Angeles has done it against a soft schedule, but they keep finding ways to win until their stars return. Nobody is sure how good this team ultimately can be, but Tyronn Lue has got his squad defending and finding ways to win until everyone does get right. It’s an impressive coaching job.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns out weeks with calf strain (likely more than a month)

The MRI is in and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports Towns likely will miss 4-6 weeks.

Not good, but it looked a lot worse when it happened.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his stats are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

The Timberwolves are not off to the start they thought they would be, and if they don’t figure out a way to win without Towns the next month this season could get sideways on them.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).