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Three Things to Know: Deandre Ayton outduels Luka Doncic in rookie showdown

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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. This was the first full slate of games this season and three of the first four were #LeaguePassAlert games — welcome back NBA.

1) Suns, Deandre Ayton gets best of Mavs’ Luka Doncic in rookie debuts. It’s tedious but let’s start with the required-by-law caveat: It’s just one game. Almost any reaction here is an overreaction. What matters is not where Ayton and Doncic are right now but how much better are they around Christmas. And March.

That said, Ayton showed an offensive game that comes to him with ease and looked the better of the two promising rookies in an opening night showdown.

Ayton had to go up against DeAndre Jordan and did a good job of letting the offense come to him, not forcing it, and he finished with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds, and an impressive six assists. (Credit to new coach Igor Kokoskov, the Suns moved the ball very well and assisted on 78 percent of their baskets.) Ayton did most of his damage deep in the post, mainly when smaller players were switched onto him, but also nailed a few midrange jumpers. His first bucket came with an and-1 against Doncic down low.

That said, on the defensive end of the floor Ayton has a lot of work to do. He just looked lost, without recognition. The book on him coming in was he had never really been taught to defend until college and he just doesn’t have the understanding yet, and that showed. It’s just a reminder he has a LONG way to go on that end.

Dallas’ Doncic couldn’t get his shot to fall (5-of-16 overall and 0-of-5 from three) but the Dallas offense did look smoother with him running it. He still finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists — and a few highlight moments to remind you what he can be.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker was the real offensive star of the game — he scored 17 points in the final five minutes to seal the win and had 35 on the night for the Suns.

2) Pelicans beat down Rockets in opener, win by 19 (and it wasn’t that close). Last season, Houston’s switch-everything defense was seventh best in the NBA and the stops/steals it got helped fuel an elite offense. There were a lot of questions through the summer about how much the losses of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and defensive guru assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik (retirement) were going to set them back.

It’s just one game, but the returns are not good.

The Pelicans picked apart the switches, got mismatches and clean looks, and flat-out thrashed Houston in its home opener 131-112. This was a 17 point game at the half and the Pelicans led by as many as 29 at points. Anthony Davis feasted on the Houston defense on his way to 32 points,16 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks. He looked stronger and was scoring in the post on Clint Capela at times.

The Pelicans big-man trio dominated this game — Nikola Mirotic hit his first six threes and finished with 30 points, and Julius Randle punished switches inside on his way to 25 points and eight rebounds. New Orleans is an interesting combination — they play as fast as any team in the league but will punish teams that go small ball on them. The Rockets struggled with all of that.

Houston will play better — James Harden and Chris Paul were good but not playing at their otherworldly potential, and the defense will improve. But there were other concerns. Carmelo Anthony came off the bench for the first time in his career and looked pedestrian and out of sync, not like a guy who can help the team in May, and shot 3-of-10. Worse yet, Michael Carter-Williams was a mess, getting torched defensively, and on offense the Pelicans at points literally did not guard him and that messed with the spacing and flow of the rest of the offense. Houston has some work to do to get back to the level we all expect of them.

3) Kawhi Leonard looks good — if a bit rusty — in Raptors debut. We saw it with Gordon Hayward in Boston on Tuesday night (and to a degree Kyrie Irving as well): Miss a large chunk of the last season and there’s going to be some expected rust and struggles in the first game of the next season.

That was the Kawhi Leonard story in Toronto. He put up 24 points in his first game, but on 9-of-22 shooting. Early on it was clear the Raptors were feeding him to try to get him rolling, but that had a limited effect (although he did look better in the second half).

It’s just one game, and Leonard was moving and defending well, we need to give him some time to get his game fully back. The Raptors beat the Cavaliers 116-104 and as long as they keep winning Leonard can find his game again without pressure.

BONUS NOTE: Could not end this without a shout out to Allonzo Trier. You might remember him as the player who, when you tuned in to watch Ayton at Arizona last season, you said, “hey, who is No. 35, he’s pretty good?” Trier went undrafted but played his way onto the Knicks’ roster through a solid Summer League (17 points a game) and camp (14.2 average in preseason games, better than Kevin Knox).

Opening night he impressed dropping 15 and making some highlight reel plays. This is a rookie to keep an eye on.

Report: Suns’ Kelly Oubre out for rest of season

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Kelly Oubre has a lot of tantalizing raw talent. He’s young, energetic and feisty.

But just as it appeared as his game was rounding into form, Oubre – who averaged 20 points and two steals in 12 games since moving into the starting lineup – will get shut down.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will undergo a minor procedure on his left thumb and miss the rest of the season, league sources told ESPN.

Oubre is expected to make a full recovery in four to six weeks, sources said.

This could be a blessing in disguise for Oubre, who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. He ends his season on a high note on the court. There’s no opportunity for regression to the mean. This also isn’t an injury that will last long into the offseason.

The 23-year-old Oubre is a versatile defender. When his 3-pointer is falling, he looks really good. In a league that can’t get enough productive wings, he should draw a solid contract.

Nick Collison: Thunder should retire Kevin Durant’s number

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Kevin Durant made himself public enemy No. 1 in Oklahoma City by leaving the Thunder for the Warriors three years ago.

Nick Collison, on the other hand, remains beloved in Oklahoma City. Like Durant, he moved with the franchise from Seattle. But Collison stayed until retiring last year.

With the Thunder retiring his number yesterday, Collison vouched for his former teammate.

Collison, in a Q&A with Royce Young of ESPN:

Kevin Durant gave you the nickname “Mr. Thunder.” Do you think the Thunder should eventually retire No. 35?

It’s their decision to make, but I would certainly think so. He’s meant a ton to Thunder basketball and spent a huge majority of his career here. A lot of these honors are just kind of what the team decides to do, and I think players are appreciative of them. I don’t get too worked up about it. I’ll let other people debate that, but to me, he’s a big part of what we did here.

The Thunder will probably retire Durant’s number. Time heals most wounds, likely including this one.

Durant spent eight seasons in Oklahoma City. He won MVP and made five All-NBA first teams and an All-NBA second team there. He helped the Thunder win 10 playoff series.

No matter when each player retires, Oklahoma City will almost certainly retire Russell Westbrook‘s number first. He’s the one who stayed.

But some time after that, I’d bet on Durant getting his number retired.

Kobe Bryant: I wanted to play for Knicks, because of Madison Square Garden

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Kobe Bryant, who spent his entire career with the Lakers, has said he wanted to play for the Wizards and Bulls.

Add the Knicks to the list.

Bryant in a Q&A, via Frank Isola of The Athletic:

What other teams would you have liked to play for besides the Lakers?

There are some teams … I always kind of dreamed about playing in New York and what that would have been like. It’s true. As a fan, the Garden was the historical arena.

So, I always wanted to be a part of that history and play in it. So, New York was a team … it would have been pretty good to play in that city.

For a while, the best thing the Knicks have had going for them is their arena. That gets them only so far.

They need better ownership, better management, better coaching.

Maybe Kevin Durant will help turn the tide. If he chooses New York, it surely won’t be for only Madison Square Garden.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.