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Three Things to Know: Activated? Laker bench veterans are disaster in ugly loss to Grizzlies

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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) Activated? Disconnect more like it. Laker bench veterans disaster in an ugly loss to Grizzlies. How much trouble are the Lakers playoff hopes in? Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Clippers and Spurs to finish with 44 wins and get the final two playoff seeds in the West. For the Lakers to get to 45 wins and be in they need to go 16-6 the rest of the way.

LeBron James said he activated playoff mode early — and Monday night he had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (which moved him into fifth, past Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time triple-double list) — but the Laker bench was a disaster in a 110-105 loss to a Memphis team that traded away Marc Gasol, is without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson due to injury, and is trying to lose games so they keep their pick in the draft. Yet those Grizzlies played with more poise, cohesion, and passion.

LeBron keeps blaming guys not focused on the game — is basketball the most important thing in your life? After this loss it was, “If you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise to be a part of.”

It feels like that is a shot at the young Lakers.

It shouldn’t be. It’s the veterans — the guys Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed last summer who have been the problem. It was that way Monday night — the Laker bench of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, the traded for Mike Muscala, and Josh Hart went 3-of-14 shooting for 7 total points in 70 minutes of game action. It’s not just this one game, either.

Rather than put shooters around LeBron, Magic said the Lakers wanted to go their own way, bring in the veteran playmakers, but only the ones they could get on one-year deals. This is the result. The Lakers get pushed around inside, they lack a game-managing point guard (Rondo isn’t that guy anymore, and it is not Lonzo Ball’s strength, plus Ball is out with a bone bruise in his ankle anyway) and they have stopped caring on defense. And if LeBron wants to complain about defensive effort, well…

Brandon Ingram had 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting against Memphis and was aggressive again — he had another strong game. Although, Avery Bradley broke Ingram’s ankles at one point.

Kyle Kuzma had 22 points in his one. He continues to play consistently well.

Which is to say the guys at the heart of all those Anthony Davis trade talks were just fine, maybe the trade talks did not destroy the psyche of this team. It’s the veterans that are the issue.

Going 16-6 seems like a longshot at best after this loss. The way the Lakers are defending right now, they might as well start ending their team huddles with “1-2-3 Cancun.”

2) James Harden’s 30+ points per game streak comes to an end in Rockets win over Hawks. It had to end eventually. And when James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games did end it was not going to be because some team just locked him down, it was going to be a game where he didn’t need to take over to get the win.

That’s what happened in Atlanta.

Harden wasn’t sharp — 7-of-21 shooting to get to 28 points — but this was a night he could be off and the Rockets still got the 119-111 victory.

Harden had 28 as time ran down, but rather than go for 30 he dribbled it out — while the Hawks threw a quadruple-team at him just in case.

Harden’s streak reached 32 games, second longest 30+ points streak ever behind Wilt Chamberlain’s ridiculous 65 games. Harden admitted he didn’t expect to reach that number. So he settles for the second-longest streak ever, and in doing so got his team back in the playoff picture and himself back in the MVP race.

For the Hawks, Trae Young knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 on the night.

3) Classy move by Doc Rivers in tribute to Dirk Nowitzki. And by the way, the Clippers look like a playoff team. With 9.4 seconds remaining in a decided game (the Clippers won 121-112), Doc Rivers called a timeout. He then walked over to the scorer’s table, picked up a microphone, and got the crowd at Staples Center to give Dirk Nowitzki one last standing ovation.

Classy move by Rivers.

This was a big win for Los Angeles, which is now in sole possession of seventh place in the West. On a night where the Lakers/Kings/Spurs all lost the idea of the Clippers in the postseason seems more secure, much to the delight of owner Steve Ballmer. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Clippers with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason.

Which is incredible for a team that two trade deadlines in a row has sent away its best player (Blake Griffin last year, Tobias Harris this year). The Clippers were shrewd with those moves, staying competitive while setting themselves up to be bigtime players in free agency.

This season the Clippers have leaned on Lou Williams to score, watched Montrezl Harrell develop into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in his own right, and had solid seasons from veterans such as Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari (who has stayed healthy this year), plus the move of trading up in the draft to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems. The Clippers rebuilt on the fly — all while freeing up cap space to chase two max free agents next summer.

The Clippers have been a model “how to rebuild on the fly” example, and this summer may land Kawhi Leonard or another free agent, they are in the mix for the big names. Do that, and this will be one of the great rebuilds of all time in the league.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.