James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis finalists for Most Valuable Player

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James Harden will almost certainly win Most Valuable Player this season.

It doesn’t matter that LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo advocated for themselves. It doesn’t matter that Harden’s style of play grates. It doesn’t matter how he performs in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals tonight.

The Rockets superstar will likely claim the NBA’s premier regular-season award when it’s presented June 25.

Until then, we just know he’s one of three finalists:

James Harden (Rockets)

LeBron James (Cavaliers

Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Harden scored an NBA-high 30.4 points per game, maintaining his efficiency and distributing, to lead the league’s best offense. Add improved defense in Houston’s switching scheme, and Harden was the main reason the Rockets finished with the NBA’s best record.

LeBron was mostly awesome, but his effort and focus waned in January. Davis did a great job lifting the Pelicans into the playoffs after DeMarcus Cousins got hurt.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is a tough exclusion. I bet LeBron, Davis and Antetokounmpo were 2-4 in varying orders on many ballots (which called for five selections).

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.

Kevin Durant: ‘Knick fans, those Knicks media, they bothered me the whole year’

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No, I never planned on it — going to the Knicks. That was just the media putting that out there… So around February, as I was thinking, I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York. I didn’t care about being the King of New York, that never really moved me. I didn’t care about being on Broadway or that s***.”

“I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now. You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Kevin Durant has not held back from taking shots at the Knicks since signing with Brooklyn. Saturday, Durant turned his attention to Knicks fans and media.

Durant appeared on rapper Joe Budden’s podcast Saturday and, among other things, fired shots when asked if he could “leave the Knicks alone.” (Hat tip Nets Daily.)

“What you mean? They bothered me for a whole year! I was just trying to chill and just play and worry about my season. All the Knick fans, those Knicks media. They bothered me the whole year. But when it’s my time to talk about it, I gotta shut up now? I’ve been wanting to ask these questions for a year. Now that I’m available, it’s a problem?”

Before his free agency, the conventional wisdom around the league was that Durant was headed to the Knicks, possibly along with Irving or another star (there was a lot of smoke on the topic). Durant denied that after the fact. Either way, there certainly was anticipation in Manhattan, which means Durant was reading about it in the media and seeing it on social media. Durant pays attention to all that, and it doesn’t motivate him (it seems to have the opposite effect, actually).

Durant made his choice, and he went to the more stable organization right now, the one with the better foundation of players. Now he and Irving have to win, which will not be that easy with Durant coming off a torn Achilles.

That doesn’t mean he’s done taking shots at that team just over the bridge.

Steve Nash on Kevin Durant: ‘I plan to use him in all five positions’

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What makes the Brooklyn Nets potentially dangerous next season is not just the elite talent on the roster — talent coming off injuries, but championship talent nonetheless — but the versatility of it. Kyrie Irving has handles as good as anyone in the league, won the Three-Point Shooting Contest seven years ago, and can create looks with the best of them, but he also is dangerous off the ball. Caris LeVert can play anywhere on the wing and even some small-ball four in a pinch. Spencer Dinwiddie can play on- or off-ball.

And then there is Kevin Durant, as versatile a player as the league has seen.

New Nets coach Steve Kerr has plans for him, as JJ Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast (hat tip to SNY).

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

That’s smart — and that’s what the regular season is for. Coaches need to experiment with lineups and test ideas during the season, even if it costs them games, to be better prepared for the playoffs.

With Durant, Irving, LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and a roster filled with whatever other offseason moves the Nets make, the Brooklyn roster will have talent and versatility. Will the key players be healthy enough — and will they stay healthy — will be the bigger question facing Nash and his team.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.