Three Things to Know: Kevin Durant, welcome to the modern NBA

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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) Kevin Durant pushes back on media narrative about him and the Knicks, but that’s the modern NBA. Ever since the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, opening up two max salary slots this summer for the Knicks, the rumors around the NBA have run rampant — Durant had already signaled the Knicks he was coming. More specifically, he and Kyrie Irving were both coming. That’s not media speculation, that’s plugged-in team executives/agents talking.

Since the day of that trade, and through all the speculation around it, Durant himself did not speak to the media. The internet (and sports talk radio/televised talking head shows) abhor a vacuum, so speculation off those KD rumors filled the space.

Kevin Durant didn’t like that and lashed out at the media on Thursday night from the postgame podium at Oracle Arena.

All I can say is: Kevin Durant, welcome to the modern NBA.

KD, you don’t have to like it, but player movement — and discussion of it — is what has helped fuel the spike in popularity of the NBA (and with that drove up players salaries). It’s the new reality. When one of the handful of best players walking the face of the earth — Durant, Anthony Davis — comes upon a crossroads and could change teams, that talk grows deafeningly loud.

Durant wants to blame the “media” — a popular move for everyone from the White House on down who don’t like the coverage about them — but here’s the reality: the press doesn’t drive this, fans do.

The “media” gives the people what they want — and they want trade talk and rumors about player movement. Durant wants more talk about “the game” and I’m with him. In an ideal world, I would love to write more game stories and breakdowns, discuss why fake dribble handoffs are a hot trend around the NBA, and analyze why Portland is an entirely different team on the road than at home. The reality is those kinds of stories draw far less of an audience than a sourced report that Durant is staying/going/is still unsure about his future plans. Or that Kemba Walker could be the other star in New York. Or whatever rumor you want.

Put simply: Even during the playoffs and NBA Finals, when we will do a lot more game stories/analysis, a report about a non-Finals team’s major player planning to bolt to the Knicks/Lakers/wherever in free agency will get more traffic here at NBC. It’s the same at ESPN, Bleacher Report, independent blogs, and wherever else you get your NBA news. (And remember, the media is a for-profit business. We’re not here just to make people eat their vegetables, if they want rumors they will get them, we just try to keep them reliable.)

That’s the reality of the fishbowl Kevin Durant lives in. Again, he’s welcome not to like it — we know he hates being psychoanalyzed, nor does he like the infamy that followed his decision to go to the Warriors — but he’s paid handsomely for what he does, and the speculation about him and his future is part of that package. It’s why so many players have learned from the PR pros and give bland non-answers about these kinds of things. Durant could say “I am not worrying about free agency until July 1, I’m focused on this team getting a three-peat and that’s all I’m discussing right now” and it would help. Personally, I prefer his honesty, I like that he’s a bit raw on these topics. But the speculation would not go away no matter what he said or didn’t say.

That’s the modern NBA. Like it or not.

2) The trade deadline has reshaped the race for the final playoff spot (or spots) in the West. The Sacramento Kings are going for it. They entered this season with the longest playoff drought in the league, 12 seasons, and it was expected to extend to 13. But a funny thing happened on the way to sending their lottery pick to the Celtics — they became a pretty good team. A fun one to watch. The Kings found their identity in pace, De'Aaron Fox made a huge leap forward, Buddy Hield thrived, and the Kings have hung around .500 and hung around the playoff race in the West.

That race changed a lot in the past few days — and the Kings have gone all-in.

Right now the Clippers are the eight seed in the West, but with their trade of Tobias Harris to the Sixers (another team going all-in) Steve Ballmer and company have set themselves up for a big summer push. The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and also have been linked to Kevin Durant (whether he likes it or not). The Clippers won’t quit, but without their best player this season (and with Danilo Gallinari out injured) it’s difficult to picture them holding on to that final slot.

That should open the door for the Lakers, who have gotten LeBron James back and looked pretty good before his injury set them back. However, the drama around them — with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and every player not named LeBron being mentioned in Anthony Davis trade rumors — hit their psyche hard, as evidenced by an ugly loss in Indiana (and the Pacers were without Victor Oladipo). The Lakers also are entering a brutal stretch of their schedule, and 1-2 so far on their Grammy road trip. The Lakers are 2.5 games back of the Clippers and are they ready to make a push up the standings?

That opened the door for the Kings and they have decided to go all-in and bust through that door. They traded for the kind of big wing/four they wanted in Harrison Barnes of Dallas. We can debate the series of moves that essentially swapped out Iman Shumpert — who had a bounce-back season in Sacramento and will help the Rockets — for Barnes, but it’s a sign that the Kings — the current ninth seed in the West, 1.5 games back of the Clippers — are making a push to end that playoff drought. They are all in for this year. In an NBA where tanking isn’t a dirty word, this is good to see.

(If you believe in them, you can say Minnesota could get back in this race with a run, they are four games back of the Clippers. I just don’t believe in them this season.)

Can the Kings pass the Clippers and hold off the Lakers? Not sure I’d make that bet, but it’s going to be fun to watch.

3) They still play NBA games during the trade deadline: James Harden extended his streak, Luka Doncic had a triple-double. Let’s make Durant happy and talk about the games for a bit. There were no shocking results on Wednesday night — feisty Brooklyn at home beating Denver was as close to an upset as it got, and that’s not a huge one — but there were some impressive performances.

James Harden’s 30+ point streak extended to 28 games when he dropped 36 on the Kings in a Rockets’ win (not helping that Sactown playoff push).

Luka Doncic doesn’t have his new running mate in Porzingis yet, but the guy the fans wanted in the All-Star game did have a triple-double in Dallas’ win over Charlotte (a team that could use to make a trade for Marc Gasol).

Portland, Memphis where they want to be as play-in series tips-off

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Heroics were needed to get Portland and Memphis on the doorstep of the playoffs.

For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard averaged more than 50 points — with a shot from a step inside midcourt in there as one of his many highlights — to lead the way in three consecutive down-to-the-wire, season-on-the-line victories.

For the Grizzlies, Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas became the first teammates in Memphis history to post triple-doubles in what turned out to be a must-win game as well.

And now, the mission isn’t done yet for either club. Portland and Memphis meet Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (Eastern) in Game 1 of the Western Conference play-in series. The Trail Blazers have the upper hand by finishing the seeding-game portion of the NBA’s restart ahead of the Grizzlies. Portland needs one win, Memphis needs two to advance to a first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We’re where we want to be,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “And so, I don’t think anybody’s over the moon right now. We know that we’ve got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no time to really celebrate.”

Had the Blazers lost any of their last three games, they could be home already. Lillard has scored 51, 61 and 42 points, respectively, in those three games — and had to sweat out a last-second shot by Brooklyn in a one-point Portland win on Thursday night that determined their play-in fate.

“I think mentally I’ll be fine,” Lillard said. “I think physically, it’ll obviously be some fatigue here. But I think it won’t be as hard as you might think because there’s a lot riding on these games. Every game that we’ve been playing, our last three or four games, has been like our season is on the line.”

The Grizzlies came into the restart at Walt Disney World in control of the play-in race, then sputtered before winning the game they needed to on Thursday against Milwaukee to clinch a spot.

Morant said he remembers when the Grizzlies were ranked 27th coming into the season in a 30-team league. He’s used that slight as fuel ever since.

“Now look at us,” Morant said. “Being that underdog doesn’t matter to us at all. We love being the underdog. It’s just extra motivation, fuel to the fire. It just makes our success even better, coming in and being the underdog.”

Game 2, if necessary, will be Sunday. The series for the play-in winner against the Lakers begins Tuesday.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell expected to play Monday against Dallas

Montrezl Harrell play
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When the Clippers take the court Monday for their first playoff game in the bubble, going against Luka Doncic and a dangerous Mavericks’ team, Montrezl Harrell will be suited up and ready to play.

The Clippers’ Sixth Man of the Year candidate, who excused from the bubble due to the death of his grandmother and missed all eight seeding games, will be out of quarantine and cleared to play, report Adrian Wojnarowski and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Doc Rivers said he plans to play Harrell against an active Dallas front line.

“I’m just going to throw him in there, he’s earned that right,” Rivers said. “The challenge will be just how ready he is. I don’t know if I have ever had a guy that hasn’t played in eight games or whatever and hasn’t had any practice and we’re just going to throw him out on the floor in a playoff game. We’re hoping that at this point.”

Harrell came off the bench to average 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. Harrell was often part of the Clippers closing lineup this season because of his improved defense, but he always brought relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. They will need that against a Dallas team that rolls out a front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and former Clipper Boban Marjanovic.

Not having Harrell for eight games in the bubble added to that versatility, Rivers said.

“We got to play JaMychal [Green] at the five far more than we ever thought we would. We needed to work on that because he’s such a floor spacer,” Rivers said. “We got way more work on that than we thought, but we actually liked it.”

Expect to see more of that — and some Harrell — against Dallas starting Monday.

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin denies ex-wife’s abuse accusations

Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin
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Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin – filling in for Nick Nurse – served as Toronto’s acting head coach for a win over the 76ers on Wednesday. “For one night, I felt like Cinderella,” Griffin said afterward.

Griffin’s moment in the spotlight drew attention to abuse claims his ex-wife, Audrey Griffin, had been making online for months.

Audrey Griffin:

Raptors release:

The Toronto Raptors and lead assistant coach Adrian Griffin have issued a joint statement addressing accusations of domestic abuse shared in social media posts by Griffin’s ex-wife on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Statement from Adrian Griffin:

“This morning, accusations were made against me on social media by my former wife that I vehemently deny. We are involved in a longstanding legal dispute over alimony and child support arrangements. I am disappointed to have to address false accusations in this way, and I apologize for any distraction this has potentially caused for our team at this important time.”

Statement from the Toronto Raptors:

“When we saw these allegations this morning, we were dismayed – Adrian is a valuable member of our team. Our leadership immediately spoke with him, and he flatly denied the allegations in the posts. We will support the process as he and his former partner settle these matters.”

Griffin was also reportedly a candidate for the Bulls head-coaching job, which opened today.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge and justice will be served.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.