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Three Things to Know: Harden gets his 42 but Bucks, Antetokounmpo will take the 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) James Harden’s 42 not enough, Milwaukee make a statement with win in Houston. Can you say you did a good job defending a guy who scored 42 points on 30 shots?

Milwaukee can make a good case. Or, at least the Bucks can say they enough to keep the superhuman James Harden from beating them on Wednesday night. Harden got his points, but he also had 9 turnovers to 6 assists, plus after Harden led the charge to get a 15-point Buck lead down to three late, Harden went 0-of-4 in the clutch. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was making plays like this to seal the win.

This was billed as an MVP showdown between Harden and Antetokounmpo, although one January game is not going to decide the award. Harden got his with that 42 and was making plays. But the Greek Freak had 27 points and a career-high 21 boards, playing a more physical and well-rounded game, including strong defense. Antetokounmpo also had five assists, although this is the pass that had everyone talking.

While the Greek Freak gets the headlines, the key to snapping Houston’s 10-game home win streak was Brook Lopez.

Lopez only had 7 points, but he was vital on the defensive end. Bucks defenders — Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, others — slid alongside Harden on his left side when the Beard drove, those defenders trying to funnel him to Lopez, who cut off the drives and used his size to block (4) and alter shots. Harden had 9 turnovers, and Lopez was able to recover well enough to force the normally efficient Clint Capela into a 4-of-16 shooting night (he had help there).

The MVP race was not decided Wednesday (not that it was ever going to be), but the Bucks made a “you better take us seriously” statement on national television.

2) Is Kyle Kuzma the Lakers’ second best player? He drops career-high 41 on Pistons. This season for the Lakers was about seeing who was their second best player and who could step up in big moments. More accurately, the goal was to see which of the young Lakers was ready to be on the big stage and could adapt to playing next to LeBron James.

It hasn’t been Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram, not consistently. With LeBron still sidelined with a groin strain, the two guys the Lakers drafted No. 2 and expected to step up were off again, combining to score 15 points on 16 shots.

Kyle Kuzma — a decisive, attacking scorer — has emerged as the second best Laker and the guy who has thrived next to LeBron (at least on offense). Wednesday night he attacked Blake Griffin off the dribble to get to the rim and finish (8-of-8 in the restricted area), knocked down threes from the left wing, and had 41 points to lead the Lakers to a 113-100 win over the Pistons.

Kuzma’s 41 was the most points by a Laker who played fewer than 30 minutes in the shot clock era. Kuzma did all his work in three quarters.

The Lakers have some roster issues to address this offseason, but they know that Kuzma fits as part of their short-term future with LeBron.

3) Celtics rout tired Pacers team and impress doing it. Sometimes the NBA schedule maker provides you a win — five of the six NBA teams on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday lost by double digits. Count the Pacers among that group.

Indiana is one of the better defensive teams in the league, but on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday night in Boston they were flat and could not slow an attacking, aggressive Celtics team. “It just looked like we were gassed tonight,” is how Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan put it after the game.

Boston took full advantage scoring a season-high 135 points. It was a balanced attack with seven players in double digits, and the Celtics had their most well-rounded game of the season. Jayson Tatum was putting up the highlights.

It’s a quality win for Boston against one of the other top teams in the East. They should just give an assist to the schedule maker.

Mike Budenholzer no fan of Drake’s free run on Toronto sideline

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Drake is the Mayor of Toronto.

Actually, he does fewer drugs than some former mayors of Toronto, and Drake was not elected, but he’s The Mayor in any meaningful way. The man can do whatever he wants.

Such as walk up and down the sidelines of a Raptors game with impunity, and give Nick Nurse a massage during the game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has much bigger things to worry about — such as were Eric Bledsoe misplaced his shot — but somehow during his conference call with the media on Wednesday, before a critical Game 5, Drake was the topic of discussion. Budenholzer is not a fan of Drake getting to patrol the sidelines. Via ESPN:

“I will say, again, I see [Drake talking to Raptors] in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach,  I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

My guess is the league (and maybe the referees before Game 6 in Toronto) will reach out to Drake and tell him he can’t go Joe Biden on a coach during the game, and to stay near his seat. This is precisely the kind of distraction from the game that fans love to talk about and annoys the league office, which wants the focus on the court.

Personally, the more personality around the game, the better. It’s entertainment people, enjoy the show.

Knicks president Mills says Porzingis threatened to return to Europe if not traded in seven days

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If you thought the Knicks thrashing or Kristaps Porzingis on his way out the door was over, well, you haven’t been paying attention to the Knicks.

Team president Steve Mills was at a Knicks fan forum on Wednesday and was asked about the Kristaps Porzingis trade and dropped this bomb: Porzingis gave the Knicks the ultimatum of “trade me or I’m going back to Europe.”

“When he walked into our office, my office, and Scott [Perry, Knicks GM] was sitting there with me, and point blank said to us, ‘I don’t want to be here, I’m not going to re-sign with the Knicks, and I’ll give you seven days to try and trade me or I’m going back to Europe.'”

To be clear, Porzingis had to mean going back to Europe to work out and hang out, he could not have played professionally this season. European clubs honor commitments to NBA contracts — they will not sign and play a guy under an NBA contract — the same way the NBA does with European clubs (as well as China and all FIBA leagues).

Saying he wasn’t going to re-sign makes things clear, it’s one of the reasons the NBA touted the “super-max” contract extensions because teams would find out earlier about player intentions. The Europe part, he could have signed there this summer, but the most a European team would pay him would still be eight figures below his NBA contract (the top Europeans players make less than $3 million annually). Porzingis would not leave that money on the table.

For the Knicks brass, speaking in front of Knicks fans, this was the chance to make themselves look good — “see, we already had a good trade in place” — and thrash the guy they had been selling as the franchise savior a year before. It’s all about perception.

The Knicks have a lot of cap space this summer and their perception as a front office will hinge on what they do — or do not do — with it.

Porzingis landed in a good spot with Luka Doncic in Dallas, and the Mavericks will give Porzingis a max contract. Then it’s on him to earn it.

New Suns coach Monty Williams: ‘I’m here at the right time, and I’m here with the right people’

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PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns have gone through coaches like tear-away racing visors, the count up to five in five years.

The instability has hurt them on the court, the run of playoff-less appearances stretching to nine straight seasons with this year’s 19-63 finish.

Monty Williams, the man GM James Jones hired to coach the Suns, hopes to change the trend.

“Continuity, having a staff here for a while and putting in a system that the players can rely upon, but ultimately it will come down to James, myself and the players pushing this thing forward,” Williams said during his introductory news conference Tuesday. “The players are going to have to embrace a level of work and commitment that it takes to be a champion.”

Williams was hired on May 3 to replace Igor Kokoskov, who was fired after one season in the desert.

Williams’s arrival in Phoenix was delayed while he finished out the playoffs as an assistant to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. The 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs last week by Toronto on Kawhi Leonard‘s hang-on-the-rim buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Williams’ name had been linked to numerous head coaching jobs, including the Lakers, but he wound up in the Valley of the Sun after multiple discussions with Suns owner Robert Sarver.

“In my conversations with Mr. Sarver, I saw someone who didn’t duck the tough questions,” Williams said. “We both had tough questions for each other and in this day and age where people throw each other under the bus, make excuses, blame, I didn’t see that. I saw a man who really wants to bring success to this city and I mean that with all of my heart or I wouldn’t have come here.”

Williams had a previous stint as an NBA head coach, leading New Orleans from 2010-15. A year after he was fired, Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was killed in a car crash.

He didn’t know if he wanted to get back into coaching after her death, but was pushed by his kids to return to coaching the sport he loves.

“When everything happened to my family, my focus was just take care of my children,” said Williams, who has remarried. “That led me to believe I might not ever be able to coach again, and I was cool with that. But they weren’t. And to have your children want you to go back to doing what you love to do gave me even more confidence, more strength. Hopefully that translates and the players can pick up on that.”

The Suns have been known as a dysfunctional franchise, but were lauded for landing Williams, a well-respected, well-rounded coach.

Williams played nine NBA seasons with New York, San Antonio, Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia. He’s been a head coach, an assistant and spent two years in San Antonio’s front office.

“His experience in all facets of basketball as a coach, player development on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball, in the front office gives him a unique perspective that I think is well suited for our franchise,” Jones said.

In the Suns, Williams takes over a young team with two star-quality players at its core: Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Booker has developed into one of the NBA’s best scorers, leading the Suns with 26.6 points per game. He had five 40-point games the final month of the season, including 50 and 59 in consecutive games.

Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft and didn’t disappoint, shooting 59% while averaging 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Phoenix should add to its talent base with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.

“There’s so much room to grow,” Williams said. “I think we have a young team that’s learning how to win and they will and I have to do my job. I have to enhance the strengths but be honest about our weaknesses and get the players to consider a new way of doing some things. I think I’m here at the right time and I’m here with the right people.”

Hornets’ Miles Bridges on All-Rookie: ‘I didn’t get snubbed. I played like a— all year’

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The NBA released its All-Rookie teams yesterday. Hornets forward Miles Bridges missed out, getting only one first-team vote and four second-team votes.

Bridges:

I love this attitude. Bridges didn’t deserve to make it. It’s silly to for anyone, including him, to pretend otherwise.

He’s obviously being too hard on himself. He had an OK rookie year. It just wasn’t one of the NBA’s 10 best this season.

Players often hold inflated opinions of themselves. That might help them succeed in a high-pressure job, and that’s obviously their priority. To be clear: I’m not criticizing them for adopting an approach that helped them reach this high level. But it leaves them as lousy analysts of their own performance.

Bridges doesn’t have that problem. It’s easy to see how this will drive him to improve.

His humility won’t work for everyone. But it works for him, and it’s a refreshing change of pace.