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Three Things to Know: Dwyane Wade turns back clock for a night, drops 35 in loss

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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) Dwyane Wade jumps in the hot tub time machine and puts on a show, drops 35 on Raptors. This was so much fun to watch. It wasn’t enough — Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and the Raptors are the far superior team, so they won 125-115 — but for one night we got to watch vintage Dwyane Wade, Hall of Fame Dwyane Wade, again.

Wade was driving and dishing. He was knocking down step-back mid-range jumpers. He was 4-of-7 from three. He was posting up and showing spectacular footwork. It was just a joy to watch.

Those 35 points were the most scored by a Heat player off the bench in franchise history. It’s also the most points scored by a bench player this season in the NBA.

Wade can’t do this nightly, and it’s not enough for the team to get wins (they miss Goran Dragic badly), but it sure is fun to watch.

2) Jimmy Butler drains another game-winner, 76ers keep on winning since the trade. In the seven games since the Jimmy Butler trade, Philadelphia is 5-2. That despite a Net Rating in those seven games of +0.1 — basically that of a .500 team. The Sixers have a top five offense but a bottom five defense since they made the big trade.

How they keep winning is Jimmy Butler makes plays at the end of games. He was 7-of-7 in the fourth quarter Sunday against Brooklyn and drained another game winner.

That felt just like the OT win against Charlotte.

This was one of the reasons Philly went all-in on Butler. Ben Simmons can drive the lane with the best of them but his lack of a jump shot can limit him in crunch time. Joel Embiid, for all his brilliance this season, is not a guy who will create his own shot at the buzzer. Butler wants the ball and thrives in that situation.

Those shots have covered up play that is not as good as the team’s record since the trade. Butler should improve the Sixers defense, they will get things figured out on that end eventually (and they miss the depth traded away). Until then, they just need Butler to keep making shots.

3) Nikola Vucevic exposes problems in the Lakers’ defense, scores 35, Magic sweep season series. With the game on the line, tied 104-104 in the final minute at Staples Center Sunday afternoon, Orlando’s Terrence Ross got the ball on the wing, drove the lane… and nobody was there to stop his dunk. It proved to be the game-winner (although the Magic scored again).

Why? Where was the contest at the rim? All season long the Lakers have dropped their bigs deep, playing back off the pick-and-roll and prioritizing rim protection.

But when they have done that against Orlando, they have paid — Nikola Vucevic had 31 points Sunday (plus 15 boards and 7 assists). He was knocking down threes and forced JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler to come out high, away from the bucket, to guard him. When they didn’t he drained a three from the top of the arc (he was 2-of-5 on straight on threes in the game).

“That’s the advantage of having Vuc out there,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “Normally, if you don’t have a range shooting center, they’re going to have somebody in the paint there. He’s so involved, especially [late] in the game, there’s a lot of room to drive the ball.”

The problem is, when the Lakers did come out, he just drove around them. Vucevic was the key to Orlando’s 108-104 win Sunday.

This is the second game in a row where the Lakers struggled to stop Vucevic, he had 36 points against them in Orlando last week (another Magic win).

The Orlando offensive strategy Sunday was to have Vucevic set a screen, then pop out. If either McGee or Chandler sagged back (the Lakers preferred defense), then Vucevic got a clean look at a three. If the Laker big stuck with Vucevic the ball handler would attack the rim and bet the help would be too slow to arrive (and it almost always was late). Switch the pick-and-roll and the Magic posted Vucevic up, he was 6-of-8 shooting in the paint in the game. The Lakers tried going small for a stretch, with LeBron guarding Vucevic, but that didn’t work either (he had a nice baseline spin move and drive for a dunk on LeBron).

“When he’s in the game, it’s hard for [the other team to go small] because he’s good at posting and our guys are good at finding him…” Clifford said. “Every team that’s downsized when he’s on the floor, we’re good. We struggled when he wasn’t out there.”

Orlando won this game in the second and third quarters when they outscored the Lakers 67-42. While the Lakers had gotten off to a fast start they were down 16 late in the third, and while they got all the way back to a late game tie, it was not enough as the defensive execution issues caught up with them late. That and matchups that pulled their bigs away from the rim.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.