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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.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
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The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.