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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.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

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When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.