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Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George has 47 in comeback 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) Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George scores 47 in Thunder’s dramatic comeback win. There was a point, right when Oklahoma City’s Terrance Ferguson missed a three with 7:16 left in the game keeping Brooklyn ahead by 16, that the Thunder’s win probability was down to 1.4 percent — there was a 98.6 percent chance the Nets would pull the upset.

But this was to be OKC’s big night.

It was that night because Russell Westbrook would finish with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 17 assists — his 108th career triple-double, moving him past Jason Kidd into third on the all-time list.

It was OKC’s night because Paul George — having arguably the best season of his career so far — dropped 47 points, including hitting the game winner. (As a side note: How do both Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson go with Westbrook and nobody slides over with George when George slips the pick> He was wide open because of it.)

The Thunder are one of the NBA’s hottest teams, having won four in a row and 9-of-11, with the NBA’s best defense as the cornerstone of what they do. Built on that defensive foundation, and between their two superstars, the Thunder find a way to get enough offense to rack up the victories. This was the Thunder team management there pictured a season ago, and this year they still get Andre Roberson back at some point.

The Thunder are one of the best teams in the West and look to be a threat next April and May when the playoffs roll around.

2) Toronto’s win shows they are the current class of the East, while Philadelphia has work to do. In the latest PBT Podcast we did a deep dive on the Sixers with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters — the team’s sideline reporter if you are watching on League Pass — and I asked her if the Sixers believed that they were right there with the East’s best. She said the team felt like right now it was half a step behind the elite, but that they could get there before the season ended.

Wednesday night that played out.

Toronto was clearly the better team in a 113-102 victory. It was a lot of things adding up.

• Philadelphia turned the ball over 21 times — 20.4 percent of their possessions or one in five trips down the court — as Toronto’s length and athleticism on defense threw the Sixers off their game.

Kawhi Leonard had his best game as a Raptor, looking like an MVP-level player again, scoring 36 points on 24 shots, hitting 5-of-6 from three, and on the other end disrupting Ben Simmons on offense and making five steals. Leonard was the best player on the floor.

• The Raptors have three big men they can throw at Joel Embiid, giving the Sixers cornerstone both different looks and keeping a fresh body on him at all times, plus really make Embiid work on both ends of the court. Embiid finished the night with 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting. In contrast, Jonas Valanciunas had 26 points in 17 minutes of play.

• The Toronto guards — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and in spots Fred VanVleet — also did a great job of digging down and helping on Embiid in the post and still getting back out to challenge J.J. Redick and other Sixers shooters.

• Toronto’s bench was back to its dominant ways for a night, outscoring the Philadelphia bench 41-18, led by OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and VanVleet.

There were bright spots for the Sixers — Jimmy Butler had 38 points and impressed.

As Winters’ said, the Sixers can get to the level of the elite by the end of the season, maybe with more time for their core to gel, maybe with some trade/waiver wire pickups just to bolster the depth. Philadelphia is good and they are close.

But right now, Toronto is the class of the East.

3) LeBron James takes over the fourth quarter for Lakers, but is that part of the problem in L.A.? Magic Johnson may want a more egalitarian offense for the Lakers, with multiple playmakers and scorers, but that ignores one fact:

Nobody takes over a game like LeBron James.

LeBron had 20 points in a dominant fourth quarter, leading the Lakers past the struggling Spurs 121-113. The Lakers have won four in a row and are 15-9 now on the season because LeBron is playing at a level that puts him in the MVP conversation.

The question Thursday became: If LeBron is that dominant, does it make it harder for the Lakers to attract a second superstar?

Kevin Durant said yes it can, for some players. It wasn’t a dig at LeBron, it was an honest statement — not every superstar in the NBA is at a place in their careers where teaming up with LeBron in Los Angeles is what’s best for them. It wasn’t for Paul George, who last summer decided he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City, when one summer before his people were saying he was destined to be a Laker.

More importantly, the Lakers may not be a fit for free agents coming up this summer. Look at Durant, for example. He struggled to find a balance of alpha status in OKC with Westbrook, in Golden State he may well be their best player (he has been in the last two NBA Finals) but that is Stephen Curry‘s culture and team. If KD wants to carve out his own legacy now is playing next to LeBron how to best do that? Durant notes playing with the greatness of LeBron forces even elite players (Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, etc.) to change their games to fit around him. Plus, the combination of LeBron in the celebrity culture of Los Angeles creates an off-court environment that is not for everyone (Durant called it “toxic”).

The Lakers will get their next superstar to pair with LeBron. Maybe next summer, maybe in 19 months, but it will happen. Just don’t assume that every superstar wants to rush to play with LeBron on the Lakers — it’s just not a fit for everyone.

No matter how amazing it is to watch LeBron take over games in the fourth quarter.

Stephen Curry on moon-landing conspiracy: ‘Obviously, I was joking’

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Stephen Curry said he didn’t believe we went to the moon.

That caused an uproar to the point NASA offered him a tour of a lunar lab.

Curry, via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“One thousand percent,” Curry told ESPN on Wednesday of accepting the invite. “One thousand percent. Obviously I was joking when I was talking on the podcast. I was silently protesting how stupid it was that people actually took that quote and made it law as, ‘Oh my God, he’s a fake moon landing truther,’ whatever you want to call it, yada, yada, yada. So I was silently protesting that part about it, how the story took a life of its own.

“But in terms of the reaction that I’ve gotten, I am definitely going to take [NASA] up on their offer. I am going to educate myself firsthand on everything that NASA has done and shine a light on their tremendous work over the years. And hopefully people understand that education is power, informing yourself is power. For kids out there that hang on every word that we say, which is important, understand that you should not believe something just because somebody says it. You should do your homework and understand what you actually believe. But I’m going to go to NASA and I’m going to enjoy the experience whole-heartedly.”

Curry said he believed we didn’t actually go to the moon. I don’t find it unreasonable people took him at face value. I don’t find it unreasonable people thought he was joking, either. His sincerity was unclear.

I’m glad he set the record straight now.

We obviously went to the moon. There’s no way everyone who would’ve had to help fake the moon landing would have stayed quiet. People don’t keep secrets that well.

As for Curry, he got the NASA invitation and a lot of publicity. But it’s time to move on. Whatever he actually believed a few days ago, Curry has clarified his current view.

That separates him from Kyrie Irving, who also initially delivered a conspiracy theory during a lighthearted podcast segment. But Irving doubled down on his flat-Earth claim in several subsequent interviews.

Curry put this to rest fairly quickly.

Suns owner threatens to move team if city does not spend $150 million on arena upgrades

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The great professional sports team extortion of cities tour has come to Phoenix.

The Suns are pushing a $230 million renovation of their home since 1992, now named the Talking Stick Arena. As part of the deal, the City of Phoenix would pay $150 million from its “Sports Facilities Funds” and the Suns $80 million plus any cost overruns, and they would build their own new practice facility to free up room in the arena for the changes.

However, spending city resources on a stadium rebuild to enrich Suns owner Robert Sarver has proven unpopular. Understandably. Wednesday, Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams asked to postpone the City Council’s vote on the issue rather than watch the plan go down in defeat, reports the Arizona Republic.

Sarver threatened to move the team if the deal is not ultimately get approved, according to the report:

Whether they get a continuance or not could mark the beginning of a showdown between the city and Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is telling some council members that he will take the team to Seattle or Las Vegas.

This is a favorite tactic of sports teams owners across the country, regardless of the sport — threaten to move the team, hopefully scaring the hardcore fans of the team to back whatever changes they want. Teams often are part of a city’s identity and a local institution, and the owners use that as leverage to get their business demands.

Public money for arena upgrades are in general a flawed used of city resources — there are far more pressing needs for public money than arena renovations. Studies have shown the economic benefits for a city from these arena renovations (or a new arena) are limited at best — it is more a redistribution of where money is spent, pulling it from other areas into a concentrated downtown than it is generating new income.

That said, standing up to Sarver comes with risks, he could follow through on his threat and try to move the team. Seattle pushed back on spending on upgrades to Key Arena and that is part of — although certainly not all of — why the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. (Then commissioner David Stern liked sending the message that cities should pay up.) Steve Ballmer wants to build a new arena in Southern California for the Clippers, but it would be privately funded (on land he purchased from the City of Inglewood).

The Suns’ lease for the arena currently runs through 2032, however, it could be broken in 2022 if the Suns could prove certain criteria saying the city did not live up to its end of the deal. If the upgrades are made the lease would run through 2037.

If the vote is postponed there will be public hearings to discuss what the money would be used for specifically, and the potential economic impact of the renovations. Postponed seems most likely because the other option is it gets shot down entirely.

Kawhi Leonard is returning to his vintage form, which means ignoring all the talk around him

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LOS ANGELES — There is a lot of noise around Kawhi Leonard, and it’s not just Kyle Lowry playing music and rapping along in the locker room pregame while his teammates try to ignore him. Although there’s that, too.

It’s noise from outside the locker room, speculation and constant chatter about Leonard and his plans as a free agent next summer: Is Leonard still leaning toward coming to Los Angeles? Lakers or Clippers? Or New York? Or somewhere else? Is he happy in Toronto and thinking of staying? Can he handle the weather in Toronto? Is he fully healthy?

This chatter fills sports talk radio shows, Twitter debates, message boards and more.

The noise also ramps up when Leonard goes to places he has been linked, such as Los Angeles.

“I focus on what we’re doing,” Leonard said of his reaction to all the speculation prior to his Raptors knocking off the Clippers Tuesday night (without him due to a sore hip). “I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me. At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

Does what is being said bother him?

“Not at all. I don’t watch TV too much,” Leonard said, adding he uses apps to watch movies and TV shows.

What Leonard is not doing is consuming NBA media.

However, the NBA world has obsessed over him in the past year.

Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio last offseason after the proper course of treatment for quadriceps tendinopathy (which sidelined Leonard all but nine games last season) became a wedge between him and the franchise. How much the people around and advisors Leonard helped drive in that wedge to grow the gap — to get Leonard out of San Antonio and to a larger market where he could be more of a star — is one of those topics of gossip and speculation. The Spurs are known as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the league.

Leonard got his wish, was traded to Toronto, and has looked like a top-five NBA player again this season, especially of late, shaking off the rust to average 26.1 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three, taking charge of the offense for stretches and locking down players on defense. If people forgot how good Leonard was last season, he’s reminding them — and helping lift the Raptors to a 22-7 record and the top spot in the East.

Yet everyone still has questions, and Leonard is not about to fill in the gaps in that knowledge, either.

For example, what does he think of the Raptors organization?

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard said of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Are the Raptors different than the Spurs as an organization?

“It’s still two goals and a basketball, just different teammates,” Leonard said.

What about Toronto as a city?

“It’s pretty hard to enjoy the city when you’re playing every other day,” Leonard said. “You usually take those off days to take some treatment and get your body ready for the next day. Just rest so you have the energy.”

Is the cold bothering the Southern California kid? That one he did answer.

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Leonard also confirmed that he’s not feeling the effects of that quadriceps injury last season and it isn’t slowing him down (the hip injury that had him out Tuesday in Los Angeles was separate, just the kind of bumps every player deals with over the course of a season).

“I was able to take my time and get the right treatment to make me feel comfortable, taking the right steps through training camp and throughout the season to have trust in myself,” Leonard said.

Will he be playing in back-to-backs soon?

“I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, we’ll just see as it goes on,” Leonard said. “It’s not that big a deal to play into a back-to-back.”

That’s all we get. No hints of his mindset or what he is planning for next summer. No deep thoughts on the organization or situation. He’s playing up the image that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs loved — a guy obsessed with the game who considers everything else a distraction.

That image isn’t completely accurate, either. Leonard is focused on his family as well. He has other interests. And you can be certain he has thoughts about what he does and does not want to do next July as a free agent.

He’s just not letting any of us in on it. Which is vintage Leonard.

Report: Rockets interested in Kentavious​ Caldwell-Pope​ in possible three-team trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers are interested in trading for Trevor Ariza, an upgrade on the wing for a team now looking at the level playing field in the West (outside Golden State), realizing they have LeBron James, and thinking there could be a deep playoff run in their future.

However, to make a trade for Ariza work the Lakers want to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and his $12 million salary. That’s not happening in Phoenix. For one, the Suns don’t want KCP, he doesn’t fit with their rebuilding plans, and the Lakers are not throwing in a pick/young player as a sweetener. More than that, KCP shares an agent with LeBron and Anthony Davis and the Lakers are not about to do anything that pisses off Rich Paul, like banishing a player to struggling Phoenix. The two sides needed a third team.

Enter the Houston Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In desperate search for an upgrade at the wing, the Rockets are targeting Caldwell-Pope, league sources said. The Lakers have pursued Suns forward Trevor Ariza, along with several other contenders, according to league sources…

There is no deal imminent, league sources said, and Caldwell-Pope can remain a Laker. He becomes trade-eligible on Dec. 15.

In this scenario, the teams involved would need to search for a fourth team to acquire Houston’s contract of Brandon Knight along with draft picks, sources said. Knight is under contract for $14.6 million this season and $15.6 million in 2019-20.

A fourth team? That makes this trade highly unlikely, four-team trades are very rare (in any sport) because making four teams happy with a deal is exponentially harder than just two, or even three. In this case, it might take a first-round pick to get some team to take on Brandon Knight’s contract from Houston, and you can be sure the Lakers and Rockets don’t want to surrender those picks just to get Ariza or KCP.

Neither Ariza nor Caldwell-Pope can be traded until Saturday.

This sounds like either an agent pumping up his client — how much interest is there in Caldwell-Pope? — or a team trying to start a bidding war or get other teams involved.

That said, with players who signed as a free agent this summer available for trade on Saturday (Dec. 15), the market is starting to really heat up and the rumors are flying.