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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.

Watch Klay Thompson scoff upon learning he missed All-NBA, super-max eligibility (video)

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James Harden, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker were All-NBA guards this season.

Not included: Klay Thompson.

That’s a costly missed opportunity for Thompson, who also finished behind Bradley Beal in voting. Thompson’s max contract in free agency this summer projects to be worth $190 million over five years. If he made All-NBA, it would have been a projected $221 million over five years.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Thompson:

That’s cool and all, but when you go to five straight Finals – I respect those guys. But, holy, when you go to five straight, it takes more than just a couple All-NBA guys.

But whatever. I’d rather win a championship than be third-team All-NBA. So, it’s all good.

Do I think there’s that many guards better than me in the league? No.

To me, the All-NBA teams should honor the players who had the best regular season that year. It’s not about who the best players are. It’s not about who advanced furthest in prior years. It’s about who performed the best during that regular season. (Obviously, better players are more likely perform better.)

That wasn’t Thompson, and I didn’t think he was particularly close.

Maybe Thompson conserved energy for the playoffs. That would have been the right approach. The Warriors are good enough to bank on reaching the postseason, and the organization should emphasize this time of year.

But a side effect is being less deserving of regular-season awards.

That’s why super-max contracts probably shouldn’t be tied to All-NBA. A player’s value to his team stems so much from the playoffs, and these awards are voted upon immediately after the regular season.

For the most part, it will work out fine. But Thompson is the exact type of player to get slighted. I wouldn’t blame him for resenting the system.

He’s focused on a different question – who are the best guards, especially in the playoffs? – than most All-NBA voters were answering. Incidentally, Thompson’s question is much more similar to one teams ask themselves when determining players’ salaries. Unfortunately for Thompson, the All-NBA voters’ considerations will matter much more in how much he gets paid.

Warriors: Kevin Durant likely to miss start of NBA Finals

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The Warriors have a historically long nine-day layoff before the NBA Finals.

It probably won’t be long enough for Kevin Durant.

Warriors release:

Warriors forward Kevin Durant (strained right calf) and center DeMarcus Cousins (torn left quadriceps muscle) were evaluated by the team’s medical staff earlier today.

Durant, who has not yet been cleared to begin on-court activities, continues to make good progress with his rehabilitation. At this point, it is unlikely that he will play at the beginning of the 2019 NBA Finals, but it’s hopeful that he could return at some point during the series.

Cousins also continues to make good progress with his rehabilitation and practiced with the team today for the first time since suffering the injury on April 16. It’s anticipated that he will play at some point during the 2019 NBA Finals, but the exact date is to be determined and depends on his progress.

The status for both players will be updated next Wednesday.

The Warriors are better with Durant. They’re also really darned good without him.

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala still make Golden State extremely talented. Those players fit well together.

The competition will get harder against the Bucks or Raptors, but the Warriors can still prevail without Durant.

Of course, as soon as he’s healthy, Golden State will welcome him back with open arms. Whatever complications he brings, his ability justifies dealing with them

DeMarcus Cousins is trickier. He’s been out longer and not the same level of player. He could help in small doses, but it’s harder to find a place for him in the rotation, even if he’s healthy enough to play.

Kemba Walker gets super-max eligibility with All-NBA voting; Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson miss out

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Super-max contracts have made All-NBA teams incredibly important.

This year’s selections (first-team votes, second-team votes, third-team votes and voting points in parentheses):

First team

G: James Harden, HOU (100-0-0-500)

G: Stephen Curry, GSW (91-9-0-482)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (100-0-0-500)

F: Paul George, OKC (71-25-3-433)

C: Nikola Jokic, DEN (59-38-2-411)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, POR (8-87-5-306)

G: Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-52-39-195)

F: Kevin Durant, GSW (29-71-0-358)

F: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (0-73-23-242)

C: Joel Embiid, PHI (40-57-4-375)

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC (1-43-44-178)

G: Kemba Walker, CHA (0-4-39-51)

F: Blake Griffin, DET (0-13-76-115)

F: LeBron James, LAL (0-13-72-111)

C: Rudy Gobert, UTA (1-5-69-89)

Also receiving votes: Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-31-34); Klay Thompson, GSW (0-3-18-27); Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN (0-0-20-20); LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS (0-2-11-17); Danilo Gallinari, LAC (0-1-4-7); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-0-7-7); Mike Conley, MEM (0-0-4-4); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-0-4-4); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-0-4-4); Nikola Vucevic, ORL (0-0-4-4); Dwyane Wade, MIA (0-1-0-3); Luka Doncic, DAL (0-1-0-3); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-0-3); DeMar DeRozan, SAS (0-0-3-3); D’Angelo Russell, BRK (0-0-3-3); Tobias Harris, PHI (0-0-2-2); Devin Booker, PHO (0-0-1-1); Eric Gordon, HOU (0-0-1-1); Jrue Holiday, NOP (0-0-1-1); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-0-1-1); Lou Williams, LAC (0-0-1-1); Marvin Bagley III, SAC (0-0-1-1); Domantas Sabonis, IND (0-0-1-1); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-0-1-1); Myles Turner, IND (0-0-1-1)

The fallout:

  • Kemba Walker is now eligible for a five-year super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million over five years. Will the Hornets offer it? Would he accept it? Difficult decisions for both sides as he enters free agency this summer.
  • The Wizards dodged a bullet with Bradley Beal placing a fairly distant seventh among guards for three All-NBA spots. A super-max extension for him would have been too large a commitment right now, and not offering it threatened to alienate him. Forces would have been pushing toward a trade. Now, Washington’s options with Beal – who has two years left on his contract – are wide open. If he continues to play well and earns All-NBA in a future season, the Wizards could justify giving him the super-max then.
  • Likewise, the Warriors avoid their payroll skyrocketing as far into the stratosphere. Klay Thompson didn’t make All-NBA and therefore his max contract is capped at five years, projected $190 million. Considering he seems so happy in Golden State, the extra spending power of the super-max likely would have only cost the Warriors money without actually making Thompson more likely to stay.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns missed his last chance to trigger the super-max in his rookie scale extension, which will pay him a projected $158 million over the next five seasons. He would have earned about $32 million more with an All-NBA selection. The Timberwolves now have Towns secured at the lower amount. They surely hope the sense of urgency he showed late this season persists.
  • Damian Lillard has clinched eligibility to sign a super-max extension this offseason (four years, projected $193 million) or the 2020 offseason (five years, projected $250 million). He’ll reportedly ink the deal this summer with the Trail Blazers.
  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible in the 2020 offseason for a super-max extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years. He’ll probably sign it. But until he does, all eyes will be on him.
  • Anthony Davis can this offseason sign a five-year, super-max extension projected to be worth $235 million with the Pelicans. He doesn’t want to. David Griffin has made noise about keeping Davis into 2020 free agency. But because he missed All-NBA this season, Davis isn’t guaranteed to be super-max-eligible then. He’d have to make All-NBA next season. So, New Orleans would have less of an upper hand in re-signing him – which makes a risky strategy even riskier.
  • The actual All-NBA teams look good to me. I would have picked Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday over Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker, but it was close. I have no significant complaints about the players chosen.
  • On the other hand, some of the stray votes: Dwyane Wade (second team!),  Eric Gordon, Domantas Sabonis, Marvin Bagley III. Wow.

Report: Mavericks conclude Kristaps Porzingis was just ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’

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Kristaps Porzingis got bloodied, reportedly while being jumped, in Latvia a couple weeks ago. Details were scarce. Reliable details were even rarer.

But the Mavericks are apparently ready to move on.

Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News:

a team source told The News that Porzingis returned to Dallas several days ago and that both of his hands are fine.

Furthermore, the source said, Mavericks officials investigated the incident in Latvia, have spoken at length to Porzingis and are satisfied that the incident was a case of the 7-foot-3 23-year-old being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The Mavericks do not deserve benefit of the doubt with their investigations. Their investigation into sexual misconduct in the workplace didn’t name team photographer Danny Bollinger, whom multiple women accused of sexual harassment. (Dallas later fired him.) The Mavericks also traded for Porzingis, who had been accused of rape, and then claimed they didn’t know about the accusation at the time of the deal.

Dallas has called Porzingis its No. 1 offseason priority.