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Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis every bit the MVP contender

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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) Anthony Davis looks like an MVP going off for 36 points, 19 boards in Charlotte. Early in the first quarter Sunday in Charlotte, Hornets fans started chanting “M-V-P” when Kemba Walker went to the free throw line. With good reason. Walker is having a monster season, averaging 27.1 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 37.2 percent from three, and carrying the Hornets’ offense.

But if there was an MVP candidate in the building Sunday, it was the Pelican’s Anthony Davis. And he showed it. Davis finished with 36 points and 19 rebounds, plus played his usual stellar defense, in leading New Orleans to a road win.

While Walker is playing at an All-NBA level, Davis is playing at a real MVP contender level — 27.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.7 blocks a game. Plus, he is playing Defensive Player of the Year level defense. Davis is second in the NBA in PER (28.7), fourth in win shares (3.6), fifth in B-R’s value over replacement player and third in ESPN’s real plus/minus. What could hold Davis back is the Pelicans as a whole — they are 12-12 despite Davis’ best efforts (they are 0-4 when Davis sits).

Right now Giannis Antetokounmpo is the likely frontrunner for the award (just talking to other voters early on) with some sympathy for LeBron James as well. Davis deserves to be mentioned in that group, especially if the Pelicans start to win. Walker, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry (he might lead if not for injuries), Kevin Durant, and everyone else is in a group after those top names. That said, it’s very early and the race is still wide open.

Just don’t talk about the MVP award without mentioning Davis.

(P.S., someone is going to want to talk about the Pelicans trading him. Don’t bother to even discuss it before next July, it is not on the table, sources say New Orleans is trying to win and keep him. They are buyers at the deadline, not sellers. This July 1 the Pelicans will put a $240 million designated veteran max contract extension on the table in front of Davis and his agent. If Davis says no to that — and only then — the Pelicans will be forced to seriously consider a trade, with the Lakers and Celtics waiting at the front of the line. But don’t be so confident he walks away from all that money, and before he does there is no trade to be had, no matter how impatient you are.)

2) Clippers’ Patrick Beverley ejected after throwing a bounce pass to a fan who insulted his mother. If you sit within the first few rows of an NBA game, there is a little postcard sitting on your seat when you get there warning you that you can be ejected for what you say to a player, coach, or referee. The reality is that is inconsistently enforced across the NBA — fans cross the line all the time and all too often arena security doesn’t do much about it.

Which brings us to Sunday in Dallas. A fan sitting courtside along one baseline — a long-time season ticket holder and regular in those seats — was going after the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley’s mother. Beverley said the fan said “f*** your mother” while the fan said he did not use profanity but did insult Beverley’s mother. Security did nothing. Eventually, a frustrated Beverley threw a bounce pass to the fan during a break in the action. That got Beverley tossed from the game.

The fan? He got to stay and watch Dallas eventually knock off the Clippers. Here’s Beverley’s quote, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I just, I can accept the ‘F— you, Beverley,’ the ‘F— you, Pat,’ but out of the lines of my mother, anybody who knows me, man, knows I’m a family-first guy, and there’s some things that are unacceptable. After I told the refs, I told security, the Dallas security, told both of them and again, he said it again. So if no one going to control fans, what are we supposed to do as players?”

Bingo.

What happened to Beverley just wrong. In my book, if you sit courtside and decide to verbally joust with a player than you opened the door and he has the right to come right back at the fan verbally without retribution. Cross a line — say, insult a player’s mother/wife/kids — and he has the right to ask security to remove that fan. If security isn’t going to do its job then if Beverley wants to fire a chest pass into the face of the fan, so be it (the bounce pass was mild). To use the sentiment our parents used, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”

I get it, probably not a good look for the league to have players yelling back at fans or firing passes into their faces. And when in the past I have asked a league official about the apparently growing number of people sitting courtside verbally going hard at players — often baiting them while camera video rolls, looking for a gotcha clip — the response was we don’t see how many fans are tossed for this behavior. Maybe so. But in a sport with this level of close interaction between fans and players, the players cannot be expected to restrain themselves while the fans have no such boundaries. There has to be a better give and take here.

By the way, Beverley was involved in more than just that play, he knocked out Dennis Smith Jr.‘s tooth, too.

3) USA Basketball qualifies for 2019 World Cup with a win — bring on the NBA stars. Jeff Van Gundy and his rag-tag crew — actually, a few different rag-tag crews, there was very little continuity — have done it.

With the USA’s 78-70 win in Uraguay, the United States became the latest team to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which takes place in China starting next Aug. 31. Travis Trice, the former Michigan State star who went to training camp with the Knicks in 2015, led the way with 17 points. John Jenkins, the former No. 23 pick of the Hawks who played in 145 NBA games but is now out of the league, added 13. Van Gundy coached a rotating group of similar G-League players to an 8-2 record to qualify for the World Cup, and his teams performed admirably.

Why the G-Leaguers? Because FIBA decided to flex its muscle and try to be like it’s soccer brethren, where international World Cup qualifiers take place during the club season. It was a pure power move, although FIBA sold it as wanting to see qualifying games played in home countries (there was a group play spread out over different weekends played in different countries, rather than one big regional tournament). The difference is in soccer there is a tradition of the major leagues taking mid-season breaks to let the players compete for their countries. Did anyone think the NBA was going to do that? No. The major European leagues? Limited, but mostly no. So what was left was countries around the globe scrambling to put together teams without their best players (Giannis Antetokounmpo did not suit up for Greece, for example).

The World Cup will not be that way — expect the USA Basketball World Cup team (and, subsequently, the Olympic team for 2020 in Tokyo) to be stacked with the NBA’s biggest names. Not many guys are backing out, unlike like we saw with the Rio Olympics. Why? Pride for playing for their country? Sure, some of that. Also, the World Cup is being played in the massive and fast-growing basketball shoe market of China so you can be sure Nike wants Kevin Durant to go, Under Armour wants Stephen Curry to go, Adidas wants James Harden to go, etc. (The same is essentially true of the next Olympics in Tokyo, the same region of the globe.) The stacked USA roster will be heavy favorites in China last this summer.

But it took some G-Leaguers to get the USA to that stage, and they deserve credit, too.

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.

Raptors outlast Bucks in 2OT to take Game 3 of ECF

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Don’t count the Toronto Raptors out yet.

On Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and his bench mob outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 118-112, in 2OT.

Finally back at home, Toronto showed up in the biggest way possible, and in exactly the way they had been needing in Games 1 and 2. Pascal Siakam, a non-factor in those contests, scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, grabbing 11 boards to go with three steals. Norman Powell scored 19 off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers.

Of course, the Raptors were led by none other than Leonard, who had 36 points and dominated at the free-throw line, going 12-of-13. Toronto’s best player also had nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, Game 3 was about Toronto finally hitting on all cylinders from the 3-point line. Where before almost no players outside of Leonard were able to get it going from deep, Game 3 was a much different story. Eight Raptors combined to make at least one three each, and Toronto shot 37.8% from the arc.

By the same factor, the Bucks struggled. As the home crowd pushed Toronto forward, Antetokounmpo and his squad just couldn’t get it going. The first half only treated the Raptors right, who scored 58 points. And although Antetokounmpo started to come on a bit better in the third quarter, the game eventually developed into a bit of a rock fight by the fourth.

Toronto looked like it had sealed up the win the end of regulation. Fred Van Vleet came up with a crucial block on Khris Middleton on the final possession, but the Milwaukee guard scooped up the loose ball and put it back in the hoop to push it to extra time.

By the time the second overtime rolled around, Antetokounmpo only had one foul left to give. The Bucks’ superstar then fouled out just 36 seconds into the second overtime while trying to draw a charge on Siakam.

That allowed Leonard score eight of Toronto’s 15 points in the second OT en route to the six-point victory.

It took a wondrous night on defense for the Raptors to force Antetokounmpo to shoot just 5-of-16 from the field. Even still, Milwaukee’s star had 23 rebounds and seven steals, and it took until he fouled out in the second overtime for Toronto to grab a win.

The Raptors should be happy about what they were able to accomplish on Sunday night. Getting wins at home in a crucial playoff games is what championship hopeful teams should do. Still, it took every single ounce of what Toronto had, and even then it was only just barely enough to grab their first win of the series at home.

Nick Nurse will need to build on what he learned from Game 3 and see if they can improve upon it to level the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Report: Grizzlies interviewed Igor Kokoskov for head coach gig

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The Memphis Grizzlies now have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Many believe that Memphis will trade Mike Conley and draft Ja Morant as a means to move the franchise forward.

The only problem? The Grizzlies still don’t have a head coach.

Memphis fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff and demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout back in April. The Grizzlies are moving forward with some non-traditional front office hirings that include Jason Wexler, Zach Kleiman, Rich Cho, and Glen Grunwald.

According to one report, at least one inquiry has been made about the head coach position: former Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov got a shot to interview with Memphis.

Via Twitter:

Memphis is taking its time selecting their coach, and it’s not necessary that the team has someone in place leading into the draft. Whether the next guy will be “the guy” or simply “the guy who helps them rebuild in the future” we aren’t yet sure.

Kokoskov got a raw deal in Phoenix, with many feeling as though the Suns wasted their hiring of the Slovenian national team’s coach by not drafting Luka Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick last year. It would be nice just to see him back on an NBA bench at the start of next season.

Draymond Green on techs: ‘I was doing more crying than playing’ (VIDEO)

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Draymond Green believes he’s the best defender ever. The Golden State Warriors star was certainly incredible against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, with the Warriors beating the home team, 110-99.

But one thing that has bothered Green’s detractors over the years is how much he speaks to the referees, particularly to his own detriment. It’s one thing to work referees the way that Chris Paul or Damian Lillard or James Harden does. It’s another to continuously antagonize refs en route to a whole mess of technical fouls, which have been a problem for Green in the playoffs in the past.

But Green has been pretty subdued when it comes to technicals this postseason, and that’s apparently in due to a concerted effort by the Golden State forward to curb his attitude and realize that he’s doing more damage than good.

Via Twitter:

This postseason, and particularly this Western Conference Finals, have been an interesting shift in the narrative around Green. Where before it seemed like haters could glom onto how much Green whined, at this point he’s simply dominating the Trail Blazers from a play standpoint and nothing else.

It’s been impressive to see, and I think all of us are happy to watch Green play the way he has without flapping his gums and putting the Warriors at a disadvantage because he wants to yell at the boys in gray.