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Three Things to Know: Curry, Durant cover up another sloppy Warriors outing in win over Dallas

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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) Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant cover up another sloppy Warriors game in a win over Dallas. “Who cares? We know how to play good basketball. We end up winning 54 games or 60 games it doesn’t matter. As long as we go into the playoffs in a good rhythm with good habits and healthy it don’t matter.”

That was Durant speaking to ESPN about the regular season, summing up the Warriors attitude overall — and what has concerned Golden State fans this season. The Warriors have the NBA’s top-ranked offense, a middle of the pack defense (16th overall, 12th if you take out garbage time as Cleaning the Glass does) and this is a team on pace to win 55-58 games (depending on what measure you use). That will have them at or very near the top of the West. But that is not enough for some, because this is a team not living up to its own standards, not pushing 70 wins, and it leads to questions.

Sunday’s win against Dallas was a perfect example. The Warriors defense was unimpressive — Dallas had a 120 offensive rating, getting to the line 29 times against a late-rotating and reaching Golden State defense — and they had no answer for Luka Doncic, who had 26 points (there’s a growing club of teams without an answer for him).

But the Warriors won because Stephen Curry had 48 points and 11 made threes — one of those with 44 seconds to go put the Warriors up for good.

Kevin Durant pitched in 28 points. The Warriors as a team shot 42.2 percent from three (despite the return Klay Thompson’s slump, he was 2-of-11 from deep). It overwhelmed the Mavericks and got Golden State another win.

Only in Golden State are their questions about a 55-win team not being worthy. Durant is right, the regular season is long and for contenders is about building “a good rhythm with good habits.” It’s fair to ask, though, are the Warriors doing that on defense?

By the way, Doncic grew his rookie legend with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.

2) Lakers lose to Cavaliers in a game that’s a reminder both of these teams stink without LeBron James. The Cavaliers came into Los Angeles having lost 12 in a row, with the league’s worse defense (and on pace for the worst defense in NBA history), a bottom 10 offense, and the worst net rating in the land. The Cavaliers are both terrible since LeBron left and in full Zion Williamson mode.

But they beat the LeBron-less Lakers 101-95 Sunday night.

The Lakers are now 3-7 without LeBron (and have fallen into a tie for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West with the Jazz, who beat the Lakers on Friday). Their offense in the halfcourt has struggled without the gravity and ability to read the play of LeBron — Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka intentionally created a team of “playmakers” rather than shooters around LeBron, and the result is a team that can’t shoot. Shocking, I know. In the fourth quarter Sunday the Lakers shot 40 percent, were 2-of-9 from three, and were just 8-of-17 from the free throw line. On the night, the Laker offense scored less than a point per possession against the worst defense in the NBA, in part because the Cavaliers were able to slow the game down (the young Lakers are fine in transition but this game had 5 fewer possessions than the Lakers’ season average).

It was a rough night for Lakers fans dreaming of trading key parts of this young core for Anthony Davis. Actually, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for them.

The Lakers will get LeBron back at some point (he will be re-evaluated later this week, he is increasing his basketball activities according to the team) and with him they will be fine and will make the playoffs. But right now this team is exactly what Magic didn’t want: Cleveland 2.0, a team entirely dependent upon LeBron to win. And that’s not about Luke Walton, it’s about the roster he was handed.

As a side note, the return of Matthew Dellavedova has been big for Cleveland. He played less than 17 minutes off the bench in this game, but he’s a solid, smart veteran who knows how to run a team, make the right pass, and that helps their second unit immensely.

3) Nikola Jokic drops 40 points, 10 boards, 8 assists to lead Denver past Portland. Just a reminder that Nikola Jokic is very good at basketball — All-Star good (as a reserve). All-NBA good. He got his big contract extension and has lived up to it, improving this season and stepping up in big games.

Just ask the Trail Blazers. Denver beat them 116-113 Sunday night behind a 40 points, 10 rebound, 8 assist night from Jokic.

Denver may not be the best team in the West, but they are not a fluke either.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.