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Three Things to Know: Warriors take over first in West after routing Denver

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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) Any questions? Warriors take over first place in West after scoring 51 points in the first quarter, routing Denver. Injuries. A lack of depth. Infighting. Disinterest that has led to them dropping big games on national television. These Golden State Warriors are not the same, they are in real tr…..

Oh, forget it. They are who we thought they were.

Despite all of the drama and fixation — bordering on obsession in some quarters — on what is wrong in Golden State this season, the team is 30-14 and has taken over first place in the West with an emphatic thrashing of the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night, 142-111.

That win included an NBA-record 51 point first quarter with the Warriors shooting 10-of-14 from three (and putting up an offensive rating of 212.5 (points per 100 possessions).

The Warriors didn’t slow down much the rest of the game, check out this shot chart.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had 31 points, Kevin Durant added 27.

When the Warriors hit some early threes, get a few easy buckets, and get to play downhill and have fun, it becomes an unstoppable avalanche. That’s what rolled over Denver Tuesday. When you look back at the Warriors’ high profile losses — to the Raptors on national television, to the Lakers on Christmas Day — the games were more of a grind, a slog, they felt more like work and the Warriors just get bored with that in the regular season. They don’t care, and it shows.

But when they care, they remind everyone who has the Larry O’Brien Trophy and how hard it will be to take it from them.

The Nuggets contributed to their own demise, this was not a team that looked ready to defend with energy from the first tip. In transition, the Nuggets were slow to match up. When Curry would make a cut to the corner, defenders were a couple of steps slow going with him and we all know what happens when Curry has space. Denver’s defensive switching was sloppy. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in the last 10 games. Denver is in a defensive rut and that will come back to bite them against more than the Warriors if they don’t turn it around.

2) How did that Jimmy Butler trade work out? Sixers rout Timberwolves in the first meeting of teams since the trade. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been better without Jimmy Butler — they have gone 17-13 with a +3.7 net rating since former coach/GM Tom Thibodeau finally realized Butler’s antics were destroying his team and shipped the All-Star off to Philly. Karl-Anthony Towns has led the resurgence, returning to his All-NBA level of play.

You would know none of that if you watched the what Butler’s Sixers did to the Timberwolves Tuesday night.

On a night the Timberwolves should have shown up with some fight, they rolled over. It made what Butler said as he torpedoed the Minnesota season look prophetic.

While Butler’s return was the storyline coming it, it wasn’t what keyed the win. Joel Embiid owned KAT, scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while holding Towns to 14 points, leading Philly to a 149-107 destruction of Minnesota. Embiid was trash talking after the game on social media.

So was Butler, who had 19 points on the night and said after the game “It was everything that I thought it would be.” Butler helped spark an 83-point first half from the Sixers, this game was over early. For all the questions about the fit of Butler, Embiid, and Ben Simmons, things looked a lot better in Philly than they did when Butler was calling out Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Minnesota played terribly, particularly on defense where they looked like they had never seen a dribble hand-off before. You can say it was a flat outing, something that happens over the course of 82, but they looked more like a team that was intimidated. They made Butler look right.

Ryan Saunders needs to figure out how to get his guys back on track and back in the playoff chase in the West, where the Timberwolves remain 2.5 games out of returning to the playoffs with a lot of work to do.

3) Atlanta continues it’s improved play, routs Oklahoma City 142-126. While nobody was looking, the Atlanta Hawks have been playing pretty good basketball — they are now 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch (not great for most teams, but a vast improvement for the Hawks).

They capped off that run of good play Tuesday with a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young had 24 points and 11 assists, and he has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter, who finished with 17 points of his own.

The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the last five games that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). Teams have bad stretches over the course of 82, but the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for this run to last much longer.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.