Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin has been NBA’s hottest player so far

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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) Blake Griffin remains red-hot, drops 50 on Sixers in Pistons win. On the latest edition of the PBT Podcast, guest Keith Smith pointed out Blake Griffin as one of the players who had left a big impression on him to start the season. Often overlooked in the discussion of the game’s best forwards, Griffin had 26 points and 8 rebounds, against the Nets and 33 points and 12 boards against the Bulls (torching Jabari Parker) in his first two games.

And he was just getting started.

Griffin dropped 50 points — including hitting the game-winner in overtime — on the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night, keeping the Pistons undefeated.

Great play design by coach Dwane Casey on the game-winner (he had run that before with Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto). The key is the ball-fake to Reggie Bullock is enough of a threat to draw over Joel Embiid, but Amir Johnson isn’t in place for the switch on Blake Griffin, which leaves an open lane to the hoop. Griffin may not jump-over-cars explode like he used to but the man still knows how to attack the rim and Robert Covington wasn’t going to stop him. All night long the Pistons ran their offense through Griffin — sometimes at the elbow, sometimes bringing the ball up as a point forward — and all night long he responded. It was the kind of night that had Pistons fans chanting MVP for him.

Griffin is averaging a league-leading 36.3 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting overall and 61.1 percent from three, plus grabbing 11.3 boards and dishing out 5.7 assists a night. If he can stay healthy this season (and that’s a big ask, based on history), the Pistons are a playoff team, and Griffin is an All-Star. Long way to go, but that’s the dream in Detroit.

Also from that game, watch Joel Embiid flop and then draw a technical foul on Andre Drummond, which gets the Pistons’ center tossed (it was his second tech of the game). All night long Embiid was yelling “you can’t guard me” at Drummond on his way to 33 points and 11 rebounds. After the game Embiid said “I feel like I own a lot of real estate in his head.”.

Drummond, however, got the “W.”

2) Anthony Davis, Pelicans keep on rolling. If anyone is going to challenge Griffin for the hottest player in the league to start, it’s Davis — 30.3 points a game while shooting 59 percent, and grabbing 13 rebounds a game. And he has the led the Pelicans to an undefeated start.

That continued Tuesday night when Davis had 34 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks to lead the Pelicans to a 116-109 win over the Clippers.

The Pelicans have scored 396 points in three games.

3) The (verbal/social media) fight after the fight: Rajon Rondo calls Chris Paul bad teammate, Daryl Morey has a perfect retort. The fight that left Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, and Brandon Ingram suspended just will not go quietly. Well, Ingram tried to do that, offering the standard “I have to know better” apology after getting a four-game suspension.

Rondo, however, was defiant. Rondo and CP3 don’t like each other and have had a running feud for a decade. (Heck Rondo’s girlfriend and Paul’s wife don’t like each other.) So when asked about the incident Rondo said first Paul is “a horrible teammate. (Fans/media) Don’t know how he treats people)” and that he didn’t spit at Paul, it’s just that with his mouthpiece in when he talks some spittle flies out. Not sure I believe him, but that’s Rondo’s case and he’s sticking to it.

Daryl Morey, the Rocket’s GM, then Tweeted.

Well played — and you’ve got to love a league where a GM Tweets this and the league loves it. Can you imagine if an NFL GM did this?

Rondo is right on one level, there are plenty of former teammates who have issues with the highly competitive, constantly critical, hard-driving style of Chris Paul (Blake Griffin had his problems with it). However, the list of teammates/coaches/executives who are no fan of Rondo and his attitude is plenty long as well, as Morey points out brilliantly.

Circle Dec. 13 on your calendar, that’s when the Rockets and Lakers face off again.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.