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Three Things to Know: Devin Booker tells fan he’s going for 50, then does it

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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) Devin Booker tells a courtside fan he’s going for 50, then does it… just ignore how the Suns keep losing. Devin Booker had 30 points in the first half against Washington, and told a fan sitting courtside “I’m going for 50.”

Then he did.

At age 22, Phoenix’s Devin Booker has become the youngest player in NBA history with back-to-back 50 point games — after dropping 59 on the Jazz Monday, he turned around Wednesday night and had 50 more against the Wizards.

Only nine other players in NBA history have had consecutive 50-point games and it’s some impressive company: James Harden, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Bernard King, Antawn Jamison, Allen Iverson, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

Booker has three 50-point games in his career — and has become the first player in NBA history to lose his first three of those games.

The latest loss came because Washington’s Thomas Bryant hit the game-winner with 2.8 seconds left after taking the pass from a triple-teamed Bradley Beal.

The Suns are an objectively bad basketball team — even with Booker entertaining us — that has a bottom 10 offense and a defense that is even worse. There is some potential there with Booker, the addition of Kelly Oubre Jr. on the wing, plus Deandre Ayton putting up numbers in the paint and improving defensively. Other players such as T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson might fill roles on the team.

The Suns need more talent. And a direction/identity. The question is who is going to have the job of bringing in that talent and setting the course? Suns owner Robert Saver fired GM Ryan McDonough at an odd time in the calendar, then replaced him with the confusing duo of James Jones and Trevor Bukstein. The Suns are looking for a new GM — hopefully one that can manage the melding Sarver, although good luck with that — and what that ultimately means for the fate of coach Igor Kokoskov is unknown.

The only thing we know is Booker is putting on a heck of a show.

If he can average 35.2 points per game over the Suns’ final six (211 total points) he will pass Tom Chambers for the highest single-season scoring average in franchise history. It’s an entertaining thing for Suns fans to watch while ignoring the losses.

2) Thunder use a 24-0 third-quarter run to beat Pacers on a night Paul George drops 31. Indiana was the better team in this Wednesday night matchup, moving the ball, defending well, generally looking like more of a team…

Except for one 6:45 stretch of the third quarter. But that stretch was a 24-0 Oklahoma City run that defined the game.

The Pacers shot 0-of-14 in that stretch while the Thunder got 4-of-5 shooting inside from Steven Adams. Paul George had seven of his 31 on the night during the run.

The Thunder needed the win, having lost 4-of-5 coming in. The victory keeps them as the seven seed in the bunched-up West, just one game back of five-seed Utah. The Thunder are now three back of the four-seed Rockets and home court in the first round of the playoffs, but with seven games remaining OKC is not going to make up that ground.

What the Thunder need is to get some momentum and find their groove again — led by Paul George playing like an MVP again — heading into the playoffs. That third-quarter stretch helped with that.

3) Mike Conley makes history, becomes Grizzlies all-time leading scorer. Mike Conley is going to go down as the greatest Grizzly ever. Some day his jersey will hang in the rafters of the FedEx Forum.

On Wednesday night he made a little history. With a catch-and-shoot corner three in the second quarter, Conley scored his 11,687th point as a member of the Grizzlies moving him past Marc Gasol on Memphis’ all-time scoring list.

Conley is all over the Grizzlies’ record books. He is also the Memphis all-time leader in assists, three-pointers, steals, and games played. Only two other players lead a franchise in all those categories: LeBron James (Cavaliers) and Reggie Miller (Pacers).

Conley’s name is going to come up in a lot of trade discussion this summer and Memphis has gone all-in on a rebuild, but whatever happens he will forever be associated with the Grizzlies and that franchise.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.