Three Things to Know: Paul George makes MVP case, Thunder bottle up Greek Freak in win

Associated Press
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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) Paul George makes MVP case, Thunder bottle up Greek Freak in win.
Games like this make one think the Thunder truly are the second best team in the West.

They have the two qualities that make them elite. One is that they defend well — third best defense in the NBA on the season and on Sunday they focused everything on slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo. OKC players blocked seven Antetokounmpo shots in the game (the most blocks on any one player in a game this season) and they held him to 0-of-6 shooting in the first half. Mostly Thunder defenders were just in his face: The Greek Freak shot 3-of-15 on contested shots in the game (via player tracking). Antetokounmpo still finished with 27 points and 18 boards — he is the Greek Freak, after all — but the Thunder reigned in one of the leading MVP candidates.

Then Paul George made his MVP case — including a massive dagger slam over Antetokounmpo.

George finished with 36 points on 21 shots and went 8-of-12 from three sparking the 118-112 Thunder win.

One game does not win anyone the MVP award (or even a vote), but George is having the best season of his career and was in the mix for a spot on the ballot already. This is the kind of big national game that sticks in voter’s minds when it comes time to cast a ballot in April. George also is in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year the way he has played this season.

Oh, and almost as an afterthought, Russell Westbrook had 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

2) Chris Paul returns, James Harden drops 40, Rockets get the win against the Magic. James Harden scored 40 points to continue his insane streak Sunday, and that wasn’t even the best news in the Rockets’ locker room.

Chris Paul is back.

The future Hall of Fame point guard missed 17 games with a strained hamstring, and while the Rockets went 12-5 in those games it was because Harden went supernova and carried the team. He needs some help (Harden can sustain this longer than some think, but remember how he’s worn down in the playoffs before?).

CP3 was solid: 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 2-of-5 from three, six assists and a key steal, all in 25 minutes of action. There were moments he looked rusty, but he was also making plays like this.

Harden was just Harden, where the amazing has almost become the expected.

3) Carmelo Anthony gets standing ovation back in New York. If ‘Melo needed something to build up his confidence, he got it.

Anthony — currently in NBA limbo on the Bulls’ roster but not with the team as they look for a trade, then after the Feb. 7 trade deadline they will buy him out — went to Madison Square Garden Sunday to watch his friend Dwyane Wade in his final New York appearance.

The reaction ‘Melo got was amazing, they still love him in NYC.

After a rough season of not fitting in, Anthony could use that.

Anthony said to reporters he just wants to go somewhere where he is happy. It’s hard to envision what that is in a way that would fit with teams and where his game is at, but hopefully he finds that place.