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Three Things to Know: Kevin Durant goes off for 51 but Kawhi Leonard, Raptors get 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) Kevin Durant goes off for 51, but Kawhi Leonard has 37 of his own, Raptors get the win on a big stage. This game may well be an NBA Finals preview…

In the sense that two teams wearing these uniforms could meet in June.

Beyond that, don’t go drawing broad conclusions. It’s November. There was no Stephen Curry, no Draymond Green, no DeMarcus Cousins, and besides that, every team making a deep playoff run is very different in May and June than it is in November. Teams evolve.

That said… I’ll take six or seven games of this in June if it’s going to be as close and entertaining as this one was.

Kevin Durant looked like the best scorer on the planet dropping 51 including a baseline fade-away late in regulation to cap an 18-point comeback and force overtime.

But these are not your fold-under-pressure Raptors, they have Kawhi Leonard — he scored 37 on the night — and in overtime they had Danny Green hitting a key three and fast-rising Pascal Siakam who had 7 of his 26 points in the extra frame.

Toronto won, 131-128 in one of the most entertaining games of the season.

In the past, this was a Toronto team that was a regular season beast but seemed to find a way to lose on the biggest stages. It’s just November, but this win felt different. Led by Leonard and Green — who come from a Spurs organization that just expected to find ways to win — this team did not role over after KD forced overtime, after they blew a lead, these Raptors came out and found a way to win.

There are no statement games in November. If this is a Finals preview there are no conclusions to draw about the matchup.

However, if it’s the kind of win that makes the Raptors genuinely start to believe in themselves and what they can do against the best teams on the big stages (Thursday night on TNT), then it can change the trajectory for one team. And that can matter come June.

2) Kevin Durant gave the shirt off his back to Drake. I would tell you that Drake was courtside in Toronto for this showdown, but even if you didn’t watch the game you probably would have just assumed that anyway.

Drake and KD go way back — the rapper even has a “35 Snipe” tattoo on his left arm in honor of Durant (he has a “30 Gifted” tattoo for Curry, too). When KD went to the locker room at the half he had a special greeting for Drake.

That probably left Drake wondering of KD, “Do you love me? Are you riding?”

After the game, one where Durant dropped 51 on Drake’s hometown crew, Drake asked for Durant’s jersey, and he got it straight off the All-Star’s back.

It’s good to be Drake.

3) LeBron James scores 38, takes over late in Lakers win over Pacers. Thursday afternoon, Magic Johnson went on the radio and denied that LeBron James was ignoring Luke Walton’s play calling, saying the Lakers move the ball on offense and it’s not a one-man show like that. Magic also said the Lakers were working hard to keep LeBron’s minutes down.

Did he watch the end of the Lakers’ win over the Pacers that night? LeBron had 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, and with the game on the line in the second half of the fourth quarter he absolutely took over(12 points in the fourth) and did what he wanted — and got his team the win. He also played 38 minutes on the night.

This is why the Lakers got LeBron — he is once again playing at an MVP level. He takes over games late. You want the ball in his hands and him making decisions when it matters.

The question has always been what other Lakers can perform at that level with him (and, what other star players can he help recruit to make this team a contender). While with think we have some answers — Josh Hart knows how to finish and fits very well — this is still a work in progress. A process, if you will. LeBron admitted after the game that when to defer to teammates and when to just take over is something he is struggling with this season. It’s not an easy balancing act for anyone. But this was always the plan, and it was always going to be a season of learning more than contending.

For now Lakers’ fans, savor watching LeBron be LeBron. Players like this don’t come around often.

Report: Despite rumor to contrary, Suns would draft Zion Williamson over Ja Morant with No. 1 pick

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The rumor the Suns might draft Ja Morant over Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick? It was never that believable.

Now comes concrete reporting to the contrary.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

The Suns need a point guard and clearly like Morant. But Williamson is the far-superior prospect. That’s the good reason to take Williamson. There are even bad reasons, too – like Williamson’s marketability.

Remember, there’s only a 14% chance Phoenix gets the No. 1 pick. So, this probably won’t matter.

But good for the Suns settling this quickly. The rumor only made them look bad (which might have been part of the point of people spreading it). James Jones’ regime has hit at least a tolerable level of credibility.

Report: Lakers offered to retain Luke Walton as coach after Magic Johnson resigned

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Johnson clearly intended to fire Lakers coach Luke Walton. Then, Johnson stunningly resigned as Lakers president.

Still, the Lakers and Walton “mutually agreed to part ways,” as team described it.

Most people figure Walton got fired, but had his departure put into kinder terms. But maybe it wasn’t that simple.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

sources say Walton was given the chance to stay on as head coach in a subsequent meeting that included owner Jeanie Buss. But Walton, who was already aware that Buss had given Johnson the full authority to fire him and who had long harbored concerns about general manager Rob Pelinka’s style, was ready to head for the exits himself.

Why is this leaking now? Walton is being sued for sexual assault. The Lakers say they didn’t know about the alleged incident while employing him. Kelli Tennant claims it occurred while Walton was still a Warriors assistant coach, and it didn’t become public until after he left Los Angeles. That the Lakers invited him to return supports their claim (or opens the door for them to look far worse if it turns out they did know).

From a basketball standpoint, it’s unclear under what terms Walton could have returned. Perhaps, the Lakers would have required him to change his coaching staff and/or schemes. It might not have been as simple as Walton continuing on the job as he was doing it previously.

Even if he stayed, Walton would have been on the hot seat. His record was underwhelming, and LeBron James‘ camp reportedly wanted him gone.

He found a soft landing spot with the Kings. The security of the Sacramento job might have been more appealing than continuing with the Lakers.

Also add Walton to the list of people concerned about Pelinka. For better or worse, the Lakers appear to be going forward with Pelinka in charge, anyway.

Igor Kokoskov joins unfortunate ranks of head coaches fired after first NBA season

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Igor Kokoskov worked 18 years as an NBA assistant coach. The Serbia native worked tirelessly to convince teams he was more than just a mentor for European players. Finally, the Suns hired him as their head coach.

“It’s a dream job,” Kokoskov beamed. “And it’s a special day for me.”

Less than a year later, Phoenix fired him.

What a tough business.

The Suns gave Kokoskov a roster ill-equipped to win. They were comically thin at point guard. They had one of the NBA’s least-experienced teams. Even rising star Devin Booker still has significant flaws that inhibit his ability to win. Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler appeared apathetic in Phoenix.

And now Kokoskov will pay the price for the Suns’ 19-win season.

His time as an NBA head coach is over already, and he might not get another opportunity. Kokoskov is the first coach to get fired after his first season as an NBA head coach since Mike Dunlap with Charlotte in 2013.

Here’s every coach to get fired after only one season, or less, of his first head-coaching job since the NBA-ABA merger. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following year.

Season Tm Coach W L Future jobs
2018-19 PHO Igor Kokoskov 19 63
2012-13 CHA Mike Dunlap 21 61
2010-11 GSW Keith Smart 36 46 SAC
2008-09 DET Michael Curry 39 43
2007-08 CHA Sam Vincent 32 50
2003-04 PHI Randy Ayers 21 31
2003-04 TOR Kevin O’Neill 33 49
2000-01 WAS Leonard Hamilton 19 63
1999-00 WAS Gar Heard 14 30
1999 DEN Mike D’Antoni 14 36 PHO, NYK, LAL, HOU
1997-98 DEN Bill Hanzlik 11 71
1996-97 PHI Johnny Davis 22 60 ORL
1995-96 TOR Brendan Malone 21 61
1993-94 DAL Quinn Buckner 13 69
1992-93 SAS Jerry Tarkanian 9 11
1987-88 PHO John Wetzel 28 54
1983-84 SAS Morris McHone 11 20
1980-81 CLE Bill Musselman 25 46 MIN
1979-80 LAL Jack McKinney 10 4 IND, KCK
1977-78 SEA Bob Hopkins 5 17
1976-77 BUF Tates Locke 16 30

Of the 21 coaches fired in or following their first season as an NBA head coach, only five – Keith Smart, Mike D’Antoni, Johnny Davis, Bill Musselman and Jack McKinney – got another head-coaching job. Kokoskov faces long odds.

At least he got to finish the season. Phoenix had a late 5-2 stretch that included wins over the Bucks and Warriors. That could be a selling point for Kokoskov.

Randy Ayers (2003-04 76ers), Gar Heard (1999-00 Wizards), Jerry Tarkanian (1992-93 Spurs), Morris McHone (1983-84 Spurs), Bill Musselman (1980-81 Cavaliers), Bob Hopkins (1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics) and Tates Locke (1976-77 Buffalo Braves) all got fired during their first seasons as NBA head coaches. Jack McKinney (1979-80 Lakers) lost his job due to a bicycle crash during the season, and Los Angeles officially fired him after the season to keep Paul Westhead, who guided the team to a title in McKinney’s absence.

The Suns weren’t necessarily wrong to fire Kokoskov. Under his watch, they were sloppy and undisciplined and had chemistry problems – areas where the head coach usually gets credit or blame. General manager James Jones deserves a chance to hire his own coach.

Kokoskov might be a good coach. Even if he’s not, he could grow into one.

But he didn’t do enough to secure his job, as tall as that task might have been.

The above list is filled with coaches who had awful records. McKinney is the only one with a winning record, and his situation was complicated by the bike crash. Michael Curry (2008-09 Pistons) is only first-time head coach to take his team to the playoffs and still get fired since the merger, but Detroit had a losing record and got swept in the first round.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate Kokoskov didn’t get a better chance to prove himself. His job security took a major hit when the Suns fired the general manager, Ryan McDonough, who hired Kokoskov before the coach’s first season even began. Kokoskov survived rumors of a potential firing in February, but that was clearly only a stay of execution.

The Suns’ problems go way above the head coach, and Kokoskov’s experience in Phoenix could dissuade potential candidates from replacing him.

But there are only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. Except for the most-coveted candidates, many coaches would rush to take this job.

As precarious as it can be.

Blake Griffin joined in on the “refs you suck” chant in Detroit

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The Pistons didn’t get swept by the Bucks because of the officiating, but the calls did frustrate Detroit and their fans throughout the series. (Good luck finding a fan base that doesn’t believe the officials have it in for them.)

During the Pistons’ Game 4 loss, frustrated fans started a “refs you suck” chant that reverberated throughout the arena. Blake Griffin got in on the act, quietly joining in with the chants.

Griffin continued to express his frustration with how the game was officiated from the podium after the game.

Griffin missed the first two games of the series, then tried to play through a knee issue the last two, wearing a bulky brace the entire time. Griffin made plays and the Pistons looked better, but it was never going to be enough. When his pain caught up with him and Griffin was taken out of the game in the fourth, Pistons fans gave him a standing ovation.