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Three Things to Know: Rockets smack down Thunder for 16th straight win

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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) Oozing confidence, Rockets comfortably roll past Thunder for 16th straight win. Going into the season, the question was who would be the second elite team in the West, Houston or Oklahoma City? Both had loaded up on stars, both were led by MVP-level talents, and both had questions to answer.

Houston has emphatically answered their questions all season and Tuesday emphatically put the rest the question of which of these teams would step up (although we already knew). The Rockets defensively controlled the Thunder — Oklahoma City didn’t have a shot at the rim until midway through the second quarter — plus they rained threes (17-of-33, 51.5 percent from deep) and went right at every mismatch (over and over). Houston took control of the game in the second quarter and ultimately coasted to a 122-112 win.

That’s 16 straight wins for the Rockets, who remain half a game up on Warriors for the best record in the West. Houston has left no doubt they are elite, and they are the one team that is a legitimate threat to a healthy Golden State squad. That starts because of their defense, which could not stop Russell Westbrook (32 points) but made him work for it, as they did everyone in blue.

Oklahoma City’s defense, which has not been the same since the loss of Andre Roberson (ruptured left patellar tendon, they are now 8-9 without him) had no answer for the Rockets.

Chris Paul had 25 points, James Harden 23 and 11 assists (but 10 turnovers, Paul George did not make his life that easy), as they exploited the Thunder defensive holes all night long, to the tune of a 120.8 offensive rating.

Paul George had 17 points on 16 shots, his offense hampered by the fact he was assigned to guard Harden most of the night and expelled a lot of energy on that end. This team’s play of late, and its potential fate in the playoffs the way they are playing right now, is going to make this an interesting July for George.

2) Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis — and with them the Trail Blazers and Pelicans — keep on rolling. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard have been clear and away the two hottest players in the NBA of late, leading their teams on win streaks that have them looking like solid playoff teams (as much as that can be said about any team below third in the competitive West). That continued on Tuesday.

Davis suffered a blow to the ribs during the second quarter trying to box out DeAndre Jordan and had to go to the locker room for X-rays. DeMarcus Cousins told AD to get back out there — or give Boogie his Achilles — and Davis did that, and then took over: he had 31 second-half points, on his way to 41 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Pelicans to a 121-116 victory. That’s nine straight wins for New Orleans, who sits as the four seed in the West now three games clear of the nine-seed Clippers.

Lillard had  37 points — hitting 8-of- 11 from three — as the Trail Blazers cruised to their eighth straight win, 111-87 over the hapless New York Knicks. Portland is currently the three seed in the West, four games clear of the nine seed.

3) Kevin Love did the most important thing in the NBA Tuesday, opening up about mental health issues. We tend to focus on the games, the highlights, and the on-the-court action around here, but it was Kevin Love who did by far the biggest, most important thing in the NBA Tuesday:

He opened up about his battle with panic attacks in a Player’s Tribune article.

Inspired by DeMar DeRozan opening up about his battle with depression, Love talked openly about his mental health challenge.

It was November 5th, two months and three days after I turned 29. We were at home against the Hawks — 10th game of the season. A perfect storm of things was about to collide. I was stressed about issues I’d been having with my family. I wasn’t sleeping well. On the court, I think the expectations for the season, combined with our 4–5 start, were weighing on me.

I knew something was wrong almost right after tip-off….

After halftime, it all hit the fan. Coach Lue called a timeout in the third quarter. When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk. I remember our assistant coach yelling something about a defensive set. I nodded, but I didn’t hear much of what he said. By that point, I was freaking out. When I got up to walk out of the huddle, I knew I couldn’t reenter the game — like, literally couldn’t do it physically.

Love talks about overcoming the stigma, about not being afraid to tell people this is what he was dealing with, about figuring out with help how to better cope with panic attacks — that’s what happened when he left the blowout loss to the Thunder that became so controversial — and doing that in the macho world of sports is important. There are a lot of people dealing with panic attacks — or depression, or a host of other mental illnesses — that don’t seek help because there is still a stigma attached to them. But that is changing. Love found support from all over the league.

Love’s move helps change that stigma and can help other people step forward. From the outside it would be easy to say “look at him with his NBA championship ring, his All-Star appearances, his nine-figure salary plus endorsements, his supermodel girlfriend, he has no problems” when in reality he is dealing with many of the same issues and pressure all of us are. That a star of Love’s stature steps forward is a step in the right direction for society.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.