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Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis is playing like an MVP of late

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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) Anthony Davis has historic night against Suns, Pelicans win sixth straight. Phoenix’s Devin Booker would have been the star of the game most nights — 40 points on 18 shots, plus 10 rebounds.

Monday night it wasn’t close to enough. Continuing a run of insane play, Anthony Davis went off for 53 points on 29 shots, grabs 18 rebounds, and had five blocked shots.

More importantly, Davis led the Pelicans to a 125-116 win that they needed (their sixth straight) in a tight playoff chase in the West. The Pelicans are up to the five seed as of Tuesday morning (just 1.5 games out of the three seed, but still just two games clear of the nine-seed Clippers and being out of the playoffs in the tight West).

Since Cousins went down Davis has been playing at an MVP level (and will get serious bottom half of the ballot consideration from voters). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Davis has 196 points and 72 rebounds total in the past five games (39.2/14.4 per game average). The last guy to put up those kinds of numbers in a five-game stretch? Shaquille O’Neal in March 2000.

This run of play by Davis is going to make the All-NBA ballot interesting:

Not so fast with the forward thing, my friend. Davis has been brilliant both of late and all season, but is he having a better season than LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo? The All-NBA ballot is specific: Two guards, two forwards, one center. So far this season, Davis has played 60 percent of his minutes as a forward, 40 as a center, but the center numbers are climbing fast with Cousins out. If voters choose to classify Davis as a forward (and the NBA has some say in this, by whether he’s made available as a center on the voting list), then one of LeBron/Antetokounmpo/Davis gets screwed and pushed back to the second team. If Davis is the first team center (as he was last season), the Joel Embiid gets pushed back to the second team. It’s not going to be an easy call for voters.

2) Rockets recover from a sluggish start, surge to beat Jazz and extend win streak to 13. Houston had one of the tougher back-to-backs in the NBA: The high altitude combo of Denver Sunday night followed by the Utah Jazz the next night.

Didn’t matter, they kept on rolling. Utah had the lead early as the Rockets looked understandably sluggish (and the Jazz are playing well), but Houston found its groove later — Mike D’Antoni went extra small against Rudy Gobert and put Luc Mbah a Moute at center, where he went 7-of-7 and finished with 17 points — and the Rockets won. Their win streak is now at 13 and they remain on top of the Western Conference (one up in the loss column on those pesky Warriors).

James Harden had 26 points on 13 shots, plus pulled down 11 rebounds, and he combined with Chris Paul dominated the game.

Although the best play of the night? Chris Paul tries to dribble the game out in the final seconds, high fives Harden’s mom courtside, and gets called out of bounds because she’s out of bounds.

Utah has dropped two-of-three out of the All-Star break and remains 1.5 games out of the playoffs in the West (but still have the easiest schedule of anyone in the conference the rest of the way).

3) Kawhi Leonard is coming back to the Spurs lineup in March (we think), and that changes everything. After a week of “what is going on with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs?” questions, and the inevitable “is this the start of a divorce?” speculation, we learn that Leonard is coming back — both to the Spurs now and the court this March (knocking on wood).

Leonard isn’t already all the way back, but after three weeks of meeting with doctors for second opinions in New York (it leaked the team said he was medically cleared, but I have no idea why the team would leak that and damage the relationship), Leonard is going to practice with the team starting soon. The goal is to get on the court in March, play his way into shape, and be ready to go for the playoffs.

If Leonard is back for the playoffs and back to being his MVP-level self, the Spurs just become a much more significant threat in the West. (They’re not a contender, but they will be dangerous and would no longer be the team everybody wants in the first round).

As for the overblown speculation about Leonard’s future and relationship with the Spurs, I can think of 50 million reasons that gets smoothed over. Leonard is eligible to be offered a “designated veteran” supermax extension this summer (the same deal that Stephen Curry and John Wall got). It would mean an extra guaranteed year and as much $50 million more than any other team can offer — no player offered this full deal yet has turned it down, and I doubt Leonard would be the first. Remember, LaMarcus Aldridge came to Gregg Popovich last summer when he demanded a trade, Pop smoothed it over and Aldridge is an All-Star. He will do the same with Leonard.

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.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.