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Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard drops 44, drops Warriors to second in West

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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) Kevin Durant drops 50, but Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers get win. The malaise — I’ve been calling it “senioritis” — that the Golden State Warriors have had of late (they have gone 4-4 in their last eight, with their defense falling to the middle of the pack in the league in that stretch) has finally cost them.

The Warriors have fallen to the second seed in the West after a loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers 123-117, where Damian Lillard went off for 44 points, and Kevin Durant had 50. It was one of the most entertaining fourth quarters of the season to see two of the best scorers in the game go back-and-forth.

Portland needed the win because they are playing for their playoff lives. With the win, the Blazers are now the six seed in the West — just one game up on the nine-seed Clippers and two up on the 10-seed Jazz, who won their 11th straight game Wednesday. The back half of the West is one of the most interesting races to watch for the final 20+ games of the season, just two games separate six seed Portland and 10 seed Utah. Evey win counts.

If the Warriors finish with the two seed, that doesn’t matter to them too much (it would matter more to the Rockets in a likely Western Conference Finals showdown). Steve Kerr has tried to find ways to spark his team of late — such as letting the players coach time-out huddles — but this is a veteran team that has been to three straight Finals and won two. They know when it’s time to flip the switch. After the All-Star break and some time away from each other, expect them to get their focus back. There is nothing wrong with the Warriors, let’s not go there.

2) Celtics fall to Clippers, is it time to worry about Boston’s offense? Here’s a little-discussed fact: While the Boston Celtics have the best defense in the NBA over the course of the season, their offense is bottom 10 in the league (21st). Remove garbage time from the equation (as is done at Cleaning the Glass) and the Celtics move up to 20th in offense, hanging around the likes of the Pistons and Knicks in the rankings. While the Boston offense is pretty good when both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are on the court together (and they will be more in the playoffs), the lack of a secondary playmaker is going to be an issue when teams can really dial in on what the Celtics do during the postseason.

Right now, like the Warriors, the Celtics just look a little mentally tired and in need of a break — Brad Steven’s team is all about effort and execution, and that has not been the same recently. For example, in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers the Celtics gave up 129 points, the second consecutive game they have given up the most points they have allowed this season. The Celtics have dropped four-of-five, and Steven said after the All-Star break he will consider rotation changes to turn things around with his squad.

The seeming turnaround in Cleveland after the trade deadline provides a little urgency to Boston’s moves. Expect the team to be a little more focused when they get back to work next week.

Let’s give the Clippers some credit here — DeAndre Jordan owned the paint and scored a career-high 30 points, Montrezl Harrell make key plays late, Tobias Harris had 21 points, and the Clippers made good play after good play to get this win. Los Angeles is part of that clump of five teams within two games of each other battling for three playoff spots in the West, and they have a tougher schedule than most the rest of the way out. That makes wins like this — beating a top team in the East on the road — all the more crucial. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Clippers a 61 percent chance of making the postseason after this win, but it’s going to be close — Cleaning the Glass projects the Clippers, Pelicans, and Nuggets each to have 43 wins when the season ends while the Trail Blazers would have 42 (the Jazz are seen with 45, they have the softest schedule the rest of the way of the group). Every win matters. This was a big one for a Los Angeles team that looks good and deep enough to get into the dance.

3) Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo ejected after getting tangled up. Was this really worthy of an ejection? Maybe the players said something, but it didn’t look that bad.

That said, there is a history of bad blood here — Rondo questioned if Thomas even deserved a tribute video in Boston. On Wednesday night, Rondo was guarding Thomas on an inbound pass — getting in his face — and the two got tangled up. That led to a couple of technicals, but Rondo (and both players) continued talking after being separated, and that was enough to get them tossed.

Still not sure that was ejection worthy.

Lakers coach Luke Walton was ejected later in the first half after storming on the court to protest a call against Kyle Kuzma. That was not enough to spark the Lakers’ defense, which was a mess and the Pelicans got the needed win 139-117.

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

View this post on Instagram

Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.